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Tuesday, December 28, 2010
This is part 3 in a series on the negative effects of shame on marital intimacy. The bottom line is that shame and intimacy simply do not coexist well together.  For the rest of the series, start here.

There are an infinite number of possible things that can cause you shame before your spouse. I’m starting off with an area that applies mostly to women, but which is certainly not exclusively a female-only issue.

That issue is shame over your appearance.

I have posted about this issue before (see my take on the body image battle that many women face ). However, I have not dealt directly with the issue of the shame that comes with a negative body image.

Who Me? Shame?

I recently had a thorough physical. Since I turned 50 this year, I am thankful that I passed every test with flying colors. Every test, that is, except one. I need to lose about 15-20 pounds to be in what is considered a “healthy” weight range.

I’ve always been aware that my weight has been creeping slowly upward every year, but I won’t kid you, the directive from the doctor to lose weight did a number on my head. I’ve never been one to be pre-occupied by my physical appearance. I’ve mostly blown off the graying and receding of my hair and the wrinkles that are sprouting up – thinking them just a natural part of the aging process. But suddenly I see myself differently. Suddenly I feel fat. All because someone told me I need to lose some weight.

Perhaps for the first time in my life I have a genuine sense of shame about my appearance.

The Fruit of Shame

Now as never before, when I stand in front of a mirror my eyes go straight to the extra inches around my waist. I feel unattractive. Other flaws that I’ve mostly ignored come suddenly into sharp focus. I have a harder time believing Jenni is attracted to me, and I’m less comfortable being undressed around her. Even during times of physical intimacy my mind has been poisoned with nagging doubts about my appearance. These are all new experiences and emotions for me, and all of them have a negative effect on intimacy between Jenni and I.

While I am resolved to lose weight by eating better and getting more exercise in the coming months, I am also resolved not to continue letting these few extra pounds take a toll on our intimacy.

As I reflected on the shame that was stirred up in me by a single conversation with my doctor, I realized that women, and men to a lesser extent, are receiving negative body image messages almost daily. Everywhere they turn (TV, movies, magazines, friends, and especially advertisements) they are being told their appearance is unacceptable in one way or another. It is a relentless torrent of accusation.

Sadly, the resulting negative self-image about your appearance will hinder intimacy with your spouse in many ways. You won’t be able to receive their affection as easily, perhaps even doubt their love altogether. You won’t be as bold sexually, and it will likely negatively impact your interest level in sex and physical intimacy. In some extreme cases, it may cause you to feel hopeless and give up caring about your appearance altogether, further exacerbating the problem.

The Truth About Your Appearance

The truth is that attractiveness and so-called sex appeal are 90% attitude and only 10% actual appearance. 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 when they are offered and don’t argue back or reject compliments about your physical attributes.

That’s not to say that the ten percent appearance part doesn’t matter. Of course you should learn what colors and styles you look best in and how to accentuate your positive features. Pick clothes (and for women, lingerie) you know your spouse finds attractive and make you feel good. Invest in a good hair cut (and for women, decent skin care and makeup). But don’t get your identity from them. Rather, allow these things to reinforce the true beauty you inherently possess.

Think Differently

As with all issues of shame, getting past your disdain over your physical appearance is largely a matter of taking on a new mindset. Begin to think of yourself as a glorious creation, uniquely crafted by God. Go beyond merely accepting that your spouse finds you attractive, and actually believe yourself to be beautiful/handsome and worthy of desire and affection. Go beyond merely getting comfortable with your naked form, and begin to show off your charms for your spouse. Find joy in being naked without shame. Sure, do what you can to be fit and healthy, but refuse let your sensuality go up and down according to a number on the scale.

As you work to shift your own thinking, so also be diligent in helping your wife or husband think of themselves differently. Affirm her looks. Admire his body. Overtly state your desire and admiration in very specific terms. Use touch to reinforce your words. These words may be the key to overturning your spouse’s sense of shame about their appearance.

All this is much easier said than done. I understand that. But keep in mind that the goal of overcoming shame is increased intimacy. 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.

Remember that your principle sex organ is your brain, and learn to think yourself into sexy.


Anonymous said...

How can you feel good about yourself when in public you constantly notice you husband starring at younger shapely women?

Anonymous said...

Anon, men are still men, and in this carnal world it's very difficult to NOT stare, or atleast glance. most women dress to attract attention.

unfortunately, my husband tells me frequently how girls still give him their numbers, or flirt with him at gas stations. "you are beautiful," he tells me, and almost always follows that statement with "if you could just..." or "but you could do ___ and be better." it's a compliment killer.

just realize that most of the time they don't even realize what they do affects you negatively.

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