“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series Post 2
Couples face many obstacles to maintaining sexual compatibility and satisfaction. Some find the challenges too daunting and give up on this vital part of marriage, because they believe their spouse will never understand their needs and desires.
However, there are many resources that can help you each see things a little more as your partner does, giving you a glimpse at what it takes to improve your intimacy. Many obstacles seem out of your control, but in fact, you can do a lot to encourage your spouse. For example, if your spouse suffers from a poor body image, this can put a wet blanket on your sex lives.
It’s interesting that research shows most men have a very positive body image—even when they’ve gained a little weight over the years. Women, on the other hand, overwhelmingly obsess about every dimple and compare the shape of their hips and breasts to the world’s top supermodels. A constant barrage of media advertising “perfect” bodies and “how to achieve the perfect body” exacerbates the problem. The fact that many women bear children and have subsequent body changes is also a factor. However, the issue of negative body image can affect both men and women.
Case in point, Scott Means at Journey to Surrender did a terrific post recently on Shame and Intimacy in Physical Appearance. He writes about the shame he felt with his body image battle as he turned 50 and had gained some extra weight. It was the first time he had felt shame with regard to his appearance, and it impacted him every time he looked in the mirror. He didn’t want to undress in front of his wife, and he thought about it when they were intimate.
Scott concluded that his negative self-image was negatively impacting his marriage and suggested that individuals with self-image problems are less able to receive affection, may even doubt their spouse’s love, will be less bold sexually, and will have less interest in sex. In the worst cases, the person may give up on their appearance or lose interest in sex altogether.
I thought it was a brave post, because no one wants to admit they have insecurities. I also wanted to share it because we rarely hear this kind of honesty from men. On the other hand, I would bet the vast majority of female readers have a number of body-image issues with which they struggle.
Better Body Image
I know many of you have New Year’s resolutions to “get in shape” or “lose weight.” By all means, stick to your health plans as long as they are not obsessive. However, your size and shape should not determine how you value yourself and how you interact with the love of your life.
Why is it that some people who aren’t the best looking according to our cultural standards can feel great about their bodies, while others that look fabulous suffer from insecurities? The reason is that sex appeal and feeling sexy are 90% attitude and 10% appearance, according to Scott. He adds, “Confidence, a positive outlook and a healthy sense of self-worth can easily overshadow any perceived physical flaws you may have. Remind yourself about your best features and the things your spouse most admires. Choose to focus on these things. Believe in your inherent beauty as a person. Accept at face value the praises and admiration of your spouse …”
Dr. Patricia Love in Hot Monogamy reminds us that individuals report passion is much more important in a lover than a hot body. Lacking passion and interest in sex is a turn-off. Most spouses care much less about the shape of the body than about how their partner responds to them. Giving full attention, showing enjoyment, showing interest in sex—these are all things that heat things up and keep them hot.
Dr. Love suggests you give honest praise to your partner regularly about the things you like about their body, and about the things you value in them as a lover. These comments can substantially improve your partner’s body image and self-image as an intimate partner.
If your partner struggles with body image, please do not tell them they need to get in shape. Encourage healthy habits, but express your love and desire regardless. You may want to read my past post Loving a Woman’s Body. Also, Scott’s popular post The Body-Image Battle offers a Christian perspective on this issue to help men encourage their wives.
“If you want to fan the flames of sexual intimacy, think of yourself as the hot woman or man you want to be and act as if you are. You will be amazed at the difference it will make,” says Scott.
Do you believe body image—either by your or your spouse—affects the quality of your intimacy? Do you feel self-confident, or do you struggle with your feelings about your physical appearance? If you have overcome body-image problems, how did you do so? Are you open with your spouse about your struggles? Is your partner demeaning about your appearance? How do you handle it?
OK, since you’ve read this far, you’re not embarrassed to read discussions about sex. Which is good, because Julie Sibert doesn’t mince words in this article for The Generous Husband, Why Your Wife Thinks Sex is Gross. It might open your eyes about how sex can be more mutually enjoyable, messy and all. Julie’s blog, Intimacy in Marriage, “Encourages Christian women toward healthy sexual intimacy.”
Simple Marriage is now enrolling couples and individuals in the Blow Up My Marriage course. Check it out. Corey Allan, PhD, offers weekly online workshops that have a unique perspective.
Thanks to Paul Byerly of The Generous Husband for naming Marriage Gems a 2010 Hot Marriage Blog!