Q. I've been a lot less interested in having sex with my wife since we had our twin girls last year. Today, I finally made the mistake of telling her the truth about why: She's too fat to turn me on!
My wife gained 70 pounds during the pregnancy and is still 50 pounds overweight. I feel bad about hurting her, but she just doesn't look like the woman I married. How can I get her to see that it could save our marriage if she just stopped stuffing her face?
Your wife definitely gained more baby weight than is advisable; she is well aware of this fact. That said, there's nothing quite so damaging to a woman's ego as hearing that her body is too flawed to be sexually appealing -- particularly if the words are coming out of her husband's mouth!
You can't take those words back, so the best way to salvage this situation "is to behave in ways that are loving," says clinical psychologist Edward Abramson, PhD, author of Body Intelligence (McGraw-Hill).
Part of being loving means understanding the reality of new parenthood. It takes some time for a new mother to change eating habits she adopted during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so what you perceive as "stuffing her face" may in fact be vestiges of the eating your wife had to do to sufficiently nourish not one, but two children. Of course, becoming a parent changes more than eating habits.
"It's doubtful that the whole problem in your relationship is her weight," says Abramson. If your wife's overeating isn't a leftover habit from pregnancy, she's probably as unhappy as you are.
"Eating is tied into your feelings, and often food substitutes for love. Your wife may be eating to nurture herself," he observes. If your wife is stressed and tired, for instance, she might "reward" herself with a candy bar just for getting through the grocery store with the twins. If she's feeling resentful because you're not helping out enough at home, that might also provoke comfort eating. Talk to her about what's going on, and find ways to support her.
While you may be disappointed in your wife's appearance, your physical distance may also revolve around your own emotional reaction to parenthood. Other than your wife's weight, what new conflicts have surfaced in your marriage? Are you feeling ignored or left out because she devotes all of her attention to the children?
Discuss the hurt and distance you both feel. If you listen, instead of accusing or getting defensive, you will probably hear your wife acknowledge that she isn't happy about her weight either. Once it's out in the open, you can work together to find activities that make you feel close. If it's difficult to find babysitting for the twins, look for a movie theater that offers parent nights, try a family- friendly restaurant, or take the babies around the park in their strollers.
"You can't lie about how you feel about your wife's body, but you can find other things about her to compliment or admire," suggests Abramson. Comment on what a great job she's doing at motherhood, or how well she's handling having twins. "That way, even though the words are still out there, you can counterbalance them with appreciation and affection in other areas, and work your way back toward intimacy."
Holly Robinson, a mother of three, is a writer who lives outside of Boston.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2005.