This guest post submission comes from BCC reader Martin.
A few years back, a man I home taught, whom I’ll call Dave, left his wife of 25+ years to pursue a younger, more attractive woman. He said he’d been having problems with his wife for years and that he simply had too much life ahead of him to waste it living the way he had.
His wife’s take? He didn’t love her anymore because she’d gotten too fat.
She was crushed. She loved Dave and had taken her future with him to be a given. In an effort to win him back, she not only hit the gym with a vengeance, but she even underwent cosmetic surgery. Too late. Dave was gone, and he wasn’t coming back.
An unremarkable story, I suppose, except that similar things were happening in other wards in the stake. The word was, men were leaving their wives for younger, more attractive women. It was an epidemic. The good women of the stake encircled their wounded sisters, and grieved. And fumed.
In response, the stake president went from ward to ward visiting the Relief Societies, gathering their thoughts and complaints, and giving counsel. My wife was in primary at the time, so I don’t know exactly what sorts of things were being said, but those meetings always went over the allotted time, and the SP wasn’t doing most of the talking.
The next skate priesthood meeting, the SP discussed with us what he’d discussed with the sisters. It was interesting. It was also surprisingly short. He’d expected us to have as much to say as the sisters, but we mostly sat and nodded attentively. He described to us the grievances the sisters had and the unrealistic expectations they felt to look a certain way. He told us that our responsibilities were to love our wives, to make love to our wives, and to make them feel beautiful. It was our responsibility not to buy into the world’s vision of what women should look like, and especially to stay away from p0rn, because these things would destroy the intimacy in our marriages. He said he was telling us the same thing he had told the sisters: if we men strayed, it was our own fault, and had nothing to do with them.
The men left the meeting relatively quietly, humbled, and maybe feeling a little guilty by association. As I got in my car, I was thinking about Dave and how angry I was at him. I’m not the best home teacher, but I did feel love for the family I felt he’d abandoned. Good Christians don’t judge, so I tried to feel charitable towards him as well, especially since in my mind he was clearly destined for hell.
But I couldn’t help but wonder. Had he really divorced his wife because she was fat? According to her, he hadn’t really looked at her in years. Had he brought up his dissatisfaction with her weight before? Likely. What had happened? Obviously, losing weight is hard, and for some people, nigh impossible. Maybe she tried and gave up. On the other hand, maybe she just ignored him, thinking it was a misplaced priority. Maybe she’d dissolve into tears over his “unrealistic expectations”, leaving him feeling guilty for bringing it up and yet seething in frustration at the same time. Maybe he just learned not to bring it up because she’d become upset and just continue to get heavier anyway. Were the “problems” they’d “been having for years” really just her weight?
Seems to me both partners in a marriage are equally responsible to make it good, and marital intimacy is obviously based on a lot more than sexual attraction. Some things are more important to one spouse than to the other, so building a good marriage requires communication, negotiation, responsiveness, and sacrifice. What if Dave’s biggest complaint wasn’t his wife’s weight, but her non-responsiveness to his complaints about her weight? After all, she had a weakness for nice furniture, and their house was loaded with it. Maybe he felt like he was providing the things she valued while she was ignoring the things that were important to him.
I do think there are a lot of people who screw up their marriages with misplaced priorities. It’s quite possible Dave had bought into the “don’t you wish I was your girlfriend” messages and images from the media. Maybe he was into pr0n. Maybe the SP one-sided words were spot on.
I’d been thinking about Dave again because of something that recently happened in my own marriage. It’s an exceptionally silly story: I asked my wife to change her hairstyle.
My wife is of the low-maintenance variety – she rarely wears makeup, never paints her nails, has no interest in fashion, and never wears earrings. Her naturally athletic body has become more matronly with age and the bearing of six children. She does, however, sport some beautiful blue eyes on a cute freckly face framed by dark wavy hair, and I’m quite attracted to her. But a few years into our marriage she changed to a lower maintenance haircut, and I didn’t like it. Like most marriages, ours hasn’t always been smooth, and getting her to change her hairstyle was the last thing I was going to spend emotional capital on, so she continued to wear her hair that way for many years. Recently, though, I suggested she change it a little, explaining what I thought would look good. She was a little annoyed – “I’d have to use a little gel for that” she said. But she started doing it occasionally, and I made sure to compliment her.
The last couple weeks, I noticed she looked extra nice, and after complimenting her, I asked her what she’d been doing. “Oh, my hair’s getting too long so to keep it out of my eyes I have to blow-dry and curl it a little. Don’t get used to it – I’m getting it cut so it doesn’t take so much time.”
I thought long and hard about what I did next. That night in bed, I asked her not to cut it. I liked it. She looked great. She said she didn’t like spending so much time on it. It takes nearly ten minutes! (an exaggeration – but any woman with children knows how valuable that time in the morning is). I said it was worth it. She grumbled something about having to put on high heels and lipstick for when her husband comes home from work. We went to sleep.
She hasn’t cut it. Yet, anyway. And every night when I come home and see her, I get a little thrill. She’s been looking mighty fine. I don’t think she realizes how similar it is to the hairstyle she wore when we dated and married, but I do.
I don’t know what she’s thinking during those “nearly ten minutes” every morning. She’s probably grumbling a bit. I can’t even compliment her now because it would just come off as pressure or manipulation. But I know how good I feel when I see her. And it’s not just because she looks nice.