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February 3, 2015 2:25 am

Why Wives Put on Weight

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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A Torah scroll. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Vancouver, Canada – I’m on a Canadian lecture tour gearing up for the launch of my new national TV show on Canada’s Vision TV network called Family Fix. On Saturday night, I lectured on “Kosher Lust,” which argues that desire and covetousness are more important than love and companionship in marriage. Raw, magnetic attraction – rather than compatibility – are the foundation of a relationship. And by attraction I mean not a focus on the body but on the electric gravitation of masculine to feminine and vice versa.

A  man stood up in the audience. “That’s all well and good if your wife is really beautiful. But what if your wife let herself go? What if she simply doesn’t care about her appearance?”

I hear the question often.

Husbands contest my assertion that loss of attraction has more to do with too much familiarity and less to do with appearance. “Let’s get real,” wrote one man. “When we married my wife was a size six. Now she has trouble squeezing into a size eighteen.” Another husband nastily echoed the sentiment. “Being married to my wife makes me feel like a polygamist. It’s like being married to two women.” Yet another husband: “I’ve tried my wife to go on a diet or go to the gym. She get angry at me and kicks me out of the bed, which is OK since I barely fit in anyway.”

Struggles with weight are no laughing matter, especially for a woman. Feeling overweight can make one’s self-esteem plummet. I have earlier written that we live in the age of the visual medium of TV.  Television is a linear medium that relies on lines and pixels to create an image. Therefore, since men today make love with their eyes and focus on a woman’s linear qualities, “thin is in.” But in an earlier age, when men made love with their hands, “meat was neat.” The woman with curves was preferred. It’s far more pleasurable to make love to soft, supple flesh then a bag of bones and a rib cage. Here, however, I wish to offer a different argument.

Husbands who are married to women who “let themselves go” use it as justification for an indulgence in pornography, affairs, or having little or no sex with their wives. It’s a convenient way of passing the buck and blaming a woman for the loss of what Judaism says is a marriage’s most important ingredient: teshuka, desire, lust.
Firstly, there is something hypocritical in the contemporary notion that only women have to be sexy while men can have endless folds of whale blubber hanging over an ever-expanding torso. Sorry guys, but just as you don’t want to be married to Aunt Jemima she doesn’t want to be married to the Pillsbury dough boy. You say you’re not drawn to the Goodyear blimp but she’s not into the Michelin man either. If you want her to get rid of the thunder-thighs perhaps you should work on those love handles.

More controversial is my assertion that husbands are largely to blame for wives putting on weight in the first place. A lot of women today have to balance family and career leaving them little time for a healthy diet and exercise.
But from my experience in counseling couples a woman often diminishes effort in appearance in the face of a neglectful or distracted husband. Why give up the sensual pleasures of food when the sensual pleasure of touch is not offered as a substitute?

To be sure, we all need to live healthy, attractive lives for ourselves before anyone else. Self-respect and dignity are key. But I also reject the idea that loving ourselves can in any way compensate for the love of another.
And a sexually distracted or uninterested husband gives little incentive to prioritize looking great, especially when a woman feels pulled by a thousand different priorities, especially when coming home from work also means come how to work – in the home. We all enjoy being attractive so when a woman in the prime of her life no longer cares as much we ought to ask why.

Often the blame lies with a husband who long ago stopped noticing.

There are so many famous diets, from Weight Watchers to the Atkins diet to the South Beach diet. But the most effective and natural of all is the compliment diet.

It’s where a woman feeds off her husband’s sincere flattery. The most mystifying thing about compliments is how they are free and yet we find it so difficult to offer them. A marriage survives on a minimum 3 to 1 compliment to criticism ratio. A great marriage has at least a 5 to 1 ratio.

When told by the man she loves that she is beautiful a woman is given the incentive to live up to the compliment. Silence and indifference, however, are no match for a calorie-rich diet. A 2010 University of California, San Diego School of Medicine study showed a direct link between depression and eating chocolate, with the sweet treat serving as “a sort of natural Prozac.”

I realize that we all need our own self-esteem and no woman, be they married or single, should allow her identity to be subsumed by a man. Nevertheless, we can’t overlook how in marriage both men and women are deeply influenced by one another’s opinion. A romantic spouse brings out the beauty in their partner.

A man from Los Angeles sent me an email. “There is no easy way to tell your wife she’s overweight. “Perhaps,” I said. “But there is was a very easy way to focus on the positive. Are you in the regular habit of telling her how beautiful she is? When was the last time you went shopping for clothing with your wife and told her what she looks best in?” Husbands are often blind to the wife who lives in the solitary island of a lonely marriage.

Because of my experience over the weekend with a few husbands complaining about “unattractive wives,” I have focused this column specifically on the failure of many men to make their women feel beautiful.

Of course, it cuts both ways.

I was asked by a Rabbi over the weekend, “Since you maintain in Kosher Lust, Shmuley, that what a woman most wants is to be chosen, what is it that a man most wants?”

I said, “Men are judged from the earliest age by competiveness, productivity, and winning. What they most want is to be appreciated for their being rather than their doing. Sixty percent of husband’s affairs are platonic. They connect with women not for sex but for the ego boost of feeling admired for who they are and not what they produce. They’re looking for a relationship which is not focused on the practical, which never excuses it, but it does explain it.
A lot of husbands I speak to feel like ATM’s. They feel appreciated for what they provide. They too need to be complimented for their hearts and not just their hands.

Last summer I bumped into a couple with whom I was friendly more than a decade ago. I remembered the wife as a woman of beauty with sparkling eyes. But now some of the light was lost. She still smiled brightly but the glow had diminished. I subsequently discovered her husband had gone through a rough financial period. Unable to support his family and falling increasingly in debt, his self-esteem plummeted. He would come home after work and offer his wife monosyllabic responses to her questions. Whereas once he had been attentive, he now came home and surfed the internet for hours.

A week turned into a month, a month into a year, and soon he was barely noticing her. True, he had lost a lot of money, but he still had life’s greatest blessing, a beautiful woman who was devoted to him.

So the next time you believe that your wife has added a couple of pounds, perhaps it is you, rather than her, who should be looking in the mirror.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” has just published “Kosher Lust.” He is the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary and his book “Kosher Sex” is considered a modern relationship classic. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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  • Gary Gene Friedly

    Since I stumbled (led by God) onto your site, I have appreciated your perspectives.
    Just this week, practically an annual occurrence, my wife, Linda, told me that she and our daughter (halfway across the country) are planning on doing a diet together.
    I usually try convincing Linda that she does not need a diet, but now you have me believing that I might have been going at this backward.
    I am now telling Linda how beautiful she is to me, and that will not be difficult because I am able to convince her that what I see in my bride is lovely. Sometimes I do need to repeat it a time or two to make it stick, but she is likeable and loveable, and she does believe me when I tell her that there are features that I enjoy in her.
    Thank you, Rabbi.

  • Maria Rivero

    I love this artlcle. I truly appreciate an educated man’s point of view on this subject. I am not married (divorced), I was raised Catholic, with heavy Jewish influence, and I follow your blogs and columns. This one, in particular, has hit a nerve. I am not fat, but I have seen this happen many times and wondered why, and suspected a relationship dynamic working its “evil magic” in this case; I find it so sad, how we can become indifferent to each other as people, once we become a couple. Thank you for putting this in writing and pointing out that, it’s not all about women sitting in front of a television eating bon-bons.

  • Martin

    Shmuley, it is simly stupid. If You write about it, You always blame men. I live in marriage with a wife and problems You write here. It is not worth of my time and English to write more in detail about it, so only several sentences and main thought:
    I know most problems described here and in other similar articles of You from my life. Nothing worked and now when I am almost 50, I do not care any more. It is behind me, so I am not so unhappy as before, and it is the best of it for me. We still live together but we are not really together… but as I said, it does not worry me so much any more.
    Just what I want to say is: Do not blame men again and again, maybe sometimes thats true, but not often and certainly not always. As probably men about whom You write also in this article can easy prove.
    You also write about Israel etc. And this is what I like Your direct opinions about it. So I tell You this parable (which certainly is not accurate, but in some sense is): Certaily You do not excuse Arab terrorists for they have a hard life and are oppressed people etc., so we have to understand them etc. etc… I think You know what I mean and what stupid talks we can listen from many western (European) media about it. So, similarly, do not put so much blame on men when You do not know their women and situations. Women are blame for unhappy marriages too!

  • Kitra

    as I read this piece my husband is sitting on the couch watching sports. Again. After 9 years of marriage I feel like he’s still mystified by responsibilities at home when we both get home from work. I feel ignored and like I’m a burden when I ask him to even pick up his socks from the den floor. The house is a mess. Laundry is piled up. And I’m tired from shoveling snow and ice. I wish I were noticed. I wish he’d ask me out on a date instead of me planning an evening out for us. I must sound miserable but I wonder with sadness if our marriage will last. I can’t keep doing it all with so little from him.

  • Vivian Warshaw

    There are many reasons for women being overweight. One is depression – when a woman feels trapped and unappreciated for what she does and gets to feeling her husband just doesn’t care any more. The second one (very common) is overeating during pregnancy. There is no reason for a woman to gain more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy – the old rule 10 pounds for the baby and 10 for the stuff that goes with the baby – is still true. The third is dieting is HARD. Too many men sabotage their wives diets by eating taboo food in front of her or urging her to have a bite of something (like cake) or insisting on putting temptation in front of her when she is struggling. Weight Watchers is successful not because there is magic to their program but because it offers positive encouragement and companionship during the dieting period. Physicians who should be part of the support system too often know very little about nutrition. I have been married for 52 years (same man) and while I have been thin and not so thin I have never doubted his love and support. All women should be that lucky.