You Say Your Wife’s Attractive, She Says No. Now What?

I got into a conversation recently with a husband about how his wife doesn’t feel attractive. He continues to tell her she’s beautiful, she continues to downplay or dismiss his statements, and at the end of the day, she still feels unattractive and he feels discounted.

Some of you —husbands and wives — can relate.

I’ve written before about the importance of wives embracing their bodies and being naked with their hubbies (you’re welcome, guys), as well as what a husband can do to help his wife feel beautiful.

But let’s revisit the issue today, because I’ve had a few insights since then. Especially since my own body has been changing a bit in the last few, menopause-is-frustrating years.

Why does she feel unattractive?

Numerous husbands don’t understand why their reassurance about their wife’s beauty isn’t enough to quell the worry in her heart. Shouldn’t a hubby’s view of the matter be the controlling one? If God and her husband say a woman’s pretty, why isn’t that enough?

If God and her husband say a woman's pretty, why isn't that enough? @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Let’s demonstrate what’s going on with a scale.

On the left are all the times throughout a woman’s life she has felt less than attractive — based on slights she received from others, comparisons where she felt short, trying on clothes that sent a message of not-good-enough, watching the “prettier” girls get more attention, witnessing her body change due to pregnancy, aging, weight gain, etc. Each of those is a small piece, but together they weigh down the side that concludes Not Attractive.

On the right is hubby’s assurance that his wife is lovely, and yes, each of his pieces is bigger, more important. But it’s still not enough to balance out the scale, because she’s internalized so many other messages.

Consequently, the answer may seem to be just tell her she’s pretty a lot. Eventually, the scales will balance and everything will be a-okay.

Except many of you already know that approach often doesn’t work. Certain obstacles make it unlikely that just heaping more compliments on your wife will convince her of what you already believe — that she’s genuinely attractive.

What are her specific wounds?

Author Leo Tolstoy wrote a brilliant first line for his novel, Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I don’t know that happy families are indeed all alike, but it’s so true that unhappiness can be very specific.

Likewise, your wife’s inability to believe your words about her beauty is not about a simply balance of unhappy versus happy. Rather, she carries wounds from her experiences, such that the answer isn’t re-balancing the scales on the whole as much as healing her specific hurts.

I’ll share a personal example. Nothing my husband could say about my breasts being enough for him could erase the daily memories of the junior high locker room, where I was so clearly the flattest chest in 6th grade. And 7th grade. And 8th grade.

Don’t get me wrong: His reassurances were meaningful and beautiful and welcomed. But they didn’t get at the core issue of this young girl inside me still wounded by judgmental glances, inconsiderate taunts, and feelings of inadequacy. My difficulty believing my husband wasn’t personal against him; it was rooted in my woundedness. And I didn’t shed that sense of not-enough until I addressed the underlying hurt.

What are your wife’s specific wounds? Was she teased about her body? Has she struggled with weight? Was she actually the “pretty one” valued for her beauty, but now her body doesn’t measure up to that standard? Was she sexually harassed in part because of her shapeliness?

I don’t know what’s going on with your wife, but you should. You should ask why she feels unattractive and what incidents in her life have caused her to feel less-than.

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Should you validate her viewpoint?

I’ve gained a lot of weight in the last few years. I’m still not a large woman, because I spent most of my life being rather skinny. And no, skinny isn’t fun either, ladies. Just trust me that a lack of curves can be as difficult as an excess of them. But I’ve added about 25% to my body mass, and it’s been a challenging adjustment. I don’t know how many times now I’ve mentioned to my (beleaguered) husband that my midsection is Out Of Control.

Spock, beautiful husband that he is, tends to respond with statements like, “Just more of you to love!” Does that make me feel better? Sure, it does. Right up until the next time I look in the mirror.

My hubby has also turned to such options as suggesting diets, exercise, and other ways to address the Michelin tire inflating just below my waist. This did not make me feel better, despite his good intention to help me address the weight gain.

And Spock has tried various other approaches to assuage my fear that I will increase in belly size until I look like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the girl who inflated to a large blueberry before being rolled away by the oompa loompas.

And only recently did it occur to me what I really want when I discuss this issue. I suspect it’s what most women who feel unattractive want.

I just want to be heard.

I don’t want my husband to validate my viewpoint. Indeed, I hope he genuinely believes I’m more attractive than I often feel.

But I do want him to validate my feelings. I want him to sympathize with my woundedness and my struggle. I want him to let me tell my story and work through how to address the issues. I want to know he’s on my side — not just believing that my beauty is worthwhile, but that my story is worthwhile too.

So how can you help your wife feel attractive?

Ah, I made you wait until the end to give you actual tips! (Unless you cheated and scrolled down to this heading, in which case go back up and read the rest.) But at least I’ll make this part easy with bullet points!

  • Ask her to share her story of why she feels unattractive. What messages has she received throughout her life about her beauty, and how does that impact her feelings now?
  • Listen and validate her feelings. Not her viewpoint—her feelings. You can say that you don’t agree but you understand better now why she feels that way and how hard it is for her to believe she’s beautiful.
  • Tell her why she’s attractive to you. Be specific, including aspects like what drew you to her, what parts of her face and body are particularly appealing, what you see when you look at your wife.
  • Don’t expect a one-and-done. This should be an ongoing discussion, not a single conversation. In fact, be willing to listen again and again and spread out your compliments, so they build up and help to tilt the scale some.
  • Offer to support her positive efforts to address the issue. That could mean treatment for an eating disorder, counseling for past wounds, a gym membership, walking the neighborhood with her, helping her update her wardrobe with more flattering clothes. Mind you, this doesn’t involve cooperating with negative efforts, like fad diets or obsessive behaviors, but rather positive efforts that address physical and emotional health.
  • Don’t offer your own treatment plan. A corollary to the previous point is not to play fix-it with your wife’s beauty concerns. For instance, if she’s overweight, she doesn’t need you to tell her that more exercise and less food will result in less weight. If she feels flat-chested, don’t point to a plastic surgery billboard and say, “Well, we could buy you ones like that model!” Whatever your wife’s specific issue, you get the point.
  • Pray for her. This struggle doesn’t make sense to a lot of men, but it’s a fairly universal concern for women. Like it or not, what’s-acceptable beauty messages are pushed at us throughout our lives, and they take a toll. A loving husband can do a lot to ease that burden, but a loving husband praying for his wife is even better. As Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

I was tempted to say, “Tell her to search Scripture to see what God says about her.” Except such advice often comes across as offering a treatment plan: “Take two verses and call me in the morning.” Citing Scripture at her could be helpful or it could backfire, depending on your wife. So while it’s important for your wife to recognize that she was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that she is wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14), maybe talk about those principles instead of throwing verses at her.

Now despite this post clearly being aimed at husbands, I invite the wives to chime in, so men can better understand and address this our body image worries.

Ladies, what would help you to overcome your concerns about attractiveness? What could your husband do to help?

29 thoughts on “You Say Your Wife’s Attractive, She Says No. Now What?”

  1. You covered this generally, but to be more specific, some women may have been verbally assaulted by their fathers when young, making a lasting impression. That said, I think your advice is backed up with the Word. Ephesians says,

    “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”

    Commonly, this verse is interpreted as encouraging men to use Scripture to somehow improve their wives, but we must realize the example was Christ using His own word. By example, husbands are therefore instructed to use their own words to build up their wives. I would add, words should be backed up with action, and be frequent. Does a husband frequently tell his wife she’s sexy, and constantly seek to seduce her? Or does he tell her she’s hot while he’s also indulging in pornography? Does a wife frequently catch her husband desirously staring at her? For a wife to believe her husband’s words he must be believable.

    1. Yes. The latter part of your comment there is so so true. My husband is very good at using all the right words, but it’s not until he backs it up that I feel like I can believe him. Words are nice, but sometimes us wives just don’t have the ability to take to heart the words without something to back it up.
      Men (and women in other or maybe the same areas, I know) are typically pretty good at backing it up when you’re dating, but sometimes after marriage, it seems like the conquest is over so to speak. It isn’t intentional. Life is busy. Work is exhausting. There is a lot going on. Make sure to show that you know your words have weight and you really mean them.

  2. I tell you that you’re beautiful;
    applaud you, that you’re smart.
    Every word is truthful,
    and come straight from my heart.
    But you decide you will not hear me,
    for my thoughts are somehow blighted;
    ’tis the strangers get priority,
    and so often you feel slighted.
    Nonetheless, I will speak grace,
    though there’s no sigh you’ve hear.
    This rejection is quite hard to face,
    but I take comfort in the Word.
    The locals at their prophets laugh,
    and nothing good can come from Nazareth.

  3. Fantastic piece J,
    I think the only thing that I could chime in is to recognize that we as women are bombarded with what we are “supposed” to look like everywhere. Magazines, movies etc. we can’t even escape it in the church when we are told our clothes can be an issue. We know in our head that we are all different but there is always something that puts the spotlight on where we fall short of the worlds beauty standards. I would also like to say that if a husband watches porn it doesn’t matter what he says. She will never feel like she is beautiful.

    1. I agree with Active Mom. I’ve always been a solid muscular build, but I was fine with it …until I got married. Knowing that he’s–of course–living in today’s world of bodily perfection bombarded at us and him having been addicted to porn, he’s seen and expected that same sexy perfection… which I’m not. So *I’m* fine with myself, but I feel like he isn’t telling the truth when he says I’m beautiful (even tho he’s never said anything other than that).

      1. That’s a story I hear a lot—that a hubby having watch porn makes a wife feel even more insecure about her appearance. I’m sad that you’ve gone through this. At the same time, I do hear from men that it was the enthusiasm of women that gave porn its primary draw (can’t read their minds, but that’s what they tell me) and that their own wife is their standard of attractiveness. Also, it’s important not to transfer what others believe about beauty onto our own husbands but rather check our understanding with them and try to believe what they say. Unless their words don’t match their actions, husbands genuinely do find their own wives to be the one they value and want.

        1. That’s a good reminder! My hubby doesn’t understand why I don’t believe him when he says I’m beautiful, but it’s my own imagined motives/thoughts I think he has I that I project on him that are the problem!

  4. Ohhhhh this is good stuff!! I spent the first 3 yrs of marriage telling my husband, ” I don’t want you to fix it I just want you to listen!!” That was true in many many areas not just body issues. I was use to confiding in other women whom of course listen and sympathize…men tend to want to take action and just fix it.

    1. closertotheheart

      @RNmom – ” I don’t want you to fix it I just want you to listen!!” That’s fair, I often feel the same way with my wife. What’s funny is she does the same thing with me. I just want her to listen, but she’s offering me solutions.
      ” I was use to confiding in other women whom of course listen and sympathize…men tend to want to take action and just fix it.”
      I’ve been part of many conversations that my wife has with girlfriends (just sitting back and listening to their conversations) and honestly, most of the women don’t just listen, they offer solutions just like I would. But it seems she’s more receptive to other women than she is of me. I’ve worked hard at changing my tone and approach and it does help, but I just don’t see the generalization you make about women listening and sympathizing, but not interjecting advice.

  5. “I would also like to say that if a husband watches porn it doesn’t matter what he says. She will never feel like she is beautiful.”

    I wish this statement could be engraved on every man’s heart.

  6. YourACUneurodocFriend

    It’s been awhile since I have read my friend’s blogs, and as I sent your site to a friend of mine, I read it and thought, yes she is dead on. God has really given you a gift of expression and shining a light on what women deal with. The book Captivating captures some of that for women who have an eating disorder or who were wounded deeply by their fathers. I did not have either experience, but I too am gaining weight in mid life and feel like I am becoming “the pretty fat girl.” The hormone issue is really ticking me off- no amount of diet or exercise seems to matter. So when people say “calories in and calories out,” I either laugh or want to scream. Thankfully, my husband never says a word about it. We do talk nutrition all the time, and I catch him every now and then looking at me with a worried look, but he also looks at me with a hungry look of attraction and THAT helps a ton! As long as he is still attracted, then I feel I have the support and room to work on my weight without judgment. For me, that means everything.
    On another note, I once had a man tell me that when they are in love with a woman, they don’t notice her flaws until she points them out. I imagine this is not true if a big change has occurred in weight or how well we dress, but all those flaws we know we have, we likely should keep our mouths shut about them. My ex -husband made comments about one particular part of my body that I hate, but cannot change without surgery. Notice I said ex. Funny how God works. My current husband finds that to be a huge attraction for him. I don’t get it, but I don’t question it either! Yay for God and His miracles of second chances!

    1. I love this: “As long as he is still attracted, then I feel I have the support and room to work on my weight without judgment. For me, that means everything.” So very true!

      And what a delight to have you comment! Thanks so much. Miss you. ♥

  7. J,

    A wife only needs to see the reflection of her husband’s eyes to see how beautiful she is, after all she chose him to be her husband.

    When one magnifies a perceived imperfection when her spouse sees beauty in it, she/he should stop magnifying it. Husbands tend to magnify their own perceived imperfection when in truth his wife chose him as well.

    Stimulating one another’s mind by having thought provoking conversations vs sparring on every little thing is going to expose beauty.

    Heck, exchanging mean words or being stingy with the compliments or not holding one another is what makes someone feel unattractive and elevates low self-esteem no matter how attractive someone is.

    1. I agree with so much of what you say here. But I do want to give a little pushback on this point: “A wife only needs to see the reflection of her husband’s eyes to see how beautiful she is…” I wish that was all that was needed, but as I’ve said before and will say again, so many messages are thrown at her the other way and it’s a hard sell for many women.

      Also, our sense of what God sees in us matters. I guess I’m just thinking that the reflection of love in my Father’s eyes is even more important. (I think you’ll agree with that, though. 🙂 )

  8. I’m in trouble, my wife has been overweight since childhood and has never liked her body. Fast forward to two babies, stretch marks, and bad varicose veins (don’t touch my legs)! To top it off, breast cancer caused her to have both breasts removed. —hopeless!

    1. Does she recognize how unhealthy her viewpoint is for herself and your marriage? That could be a starting point, for her to realize that. Praying for her and you!

  9. My wife has many good qualities but one of them is not a normal sex life. I can’t imagine what sex twice a month would be like ( been celebate for 14 yrs). The only time she was interested in sex was to get pregnant to have our two daughters. Other than that, sex was something to endure, a real nuisance! In a Christian marriage for 43 years and sex has been a huge disappointment!!

  10. And what if your husband doesn’t say you are attractive, and doesn’t tell you that you are beautiful?

    Not even on those occasions when you try to look your best. Silence. Nothing.

    I don’t think he is a liar. I believe what he says. If he says nothing positive about my appearance, then I believe nothing positive about my appearance.

    1. I don’t know for your particular husband, but I do know a fair number of men don’t recognize the importance of saying it aloud. I’ve talked to hubbies who genuinely don’t get it; they figure that it’s obvious they think she’s pretty or they wouldn’t have chosen her and continue to be there. Have you let him know how important the words would mean to you?

      It could also be that words of affirmation are a love language for you and not him. If you’re not familiar with the Love Languages, perhaps you (and he) could check out their quiz and talk about your results: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/

  11. Yes, we have discussed this, and yes we have done the love languages quiz multiple times. I have explained that him saying something positive would really help to build me up.

    Sometimes it feels like I’m just not worth noticing. It certainly reinforces the relentless message I receive from society.

    And just another thought… You wrote: “…they figure that it’s obvious they think she’s pretty or they wouldn’t have chosen her and continue to be there.”

    What?! Are they really saying that if they didn’t find her “pretty” anymore, then they wouldn’t stay in the marriage?! That is incomprehensible to me. That’s what that statement is saying – “Of course I think you’re pretty. I’m still here, right?”. So commitment to marriage is as fickle as physical attraction to some men? Woe is me after age and birthing several children!

    1. When you had that discussion with your husband, did he agree? Did he really “get” how much those words of affirmation would mean? And did you talk about how to follow-through with reminders and reinforcement? Because it takes time to build new habits.

      As for your breakdown of my statement, I didn’t mean that not finding one’s wife not pretty anymore means a guy would leave. Nor do I think “I’m here, aren’t I?” always means he finds her attractive. I’m sorry if I made it seem that way! What I meant is that some subset of guys out there don’t think to speak compliments aloud because they think their actions, including being there, say enough. Okay, actually as I just typed that, I could hear my husband saying, “Yep, actions speak louder than words.” Which for years in my marriage meant I didn’t get the words, and he didn’t understand that his actions weren’t quite enough for me.

      And by “being there,” I don’t mean location. Rather it’s that “I’m here” in the sense of continuing to be involved, engaged, invested in the marriage. Hope that clarifies!

  12. J – thanks for your reply. Yes, it was a good discussion, and yes, he understood and agreed, and said he would make an effort to do that. We’ve discussed it more than once, and he understood and agreed each time. But still the lack of affirmation continues. It makes me think that I really must be so unworthy of positive affirmation, because even when I explained the situation and he agreed, he still isn’t prompted to say anything. If I was something desirable, then it would make sense that he would say something, especially after he’s specifically been asked to do exactly that. As I said, the silence certainly reinforces the message that I’m not anything desirable.

    1. He may be totally at fault here, but it also sounds like you could work through some self-doubt and inner dialogue for yourself. Regardless of whether he expresses your worth, you need to learn to believe it for yourself. Praying for you!

  13. Perhaps, but then why does any husband need to say anything positive about his wife? If it’s just on the wife to find her own worth, why are husbands encouraged to keep telling her, even when she disagrees?

    Even you mentioned that your husband’s actions (and lack of words) “weren’t quite enough” for you. It seems like it’s ok for wives to have doubts about their appearance/desirability as long as they have a husband there to cheer them on and affirm them – this will build them up in the long term.

    But those who have no encouragement from their husband are told that they need to find their own worth/beauty/whatever independent of their husband.

    Seems like a double standard. Seems like the ones with no help from their husband are told that they shouldn’t need his affirmation anyway – find your own worth! But those blessed with husbands that affirm them constantly are told, “Believe him! He’s right! Just listen to him!”, and those husbands are told to keep saying it, even when she doesn’t accept it – because she needs to hear it!

    But those other poor women – they don’t need to hear it – they have to find their own worth.

    Sounds like a mixed message to me, and one I’ve come across in several blogs, so I’m not singling out this blog in particular.

    1. Hmm. You make some interesting points. But it’s kind of an All of the Above thing, and these issues feed off each other. Our confidence in our worth can help us present ourselves positively and read signals around us as reinforcing. Meanwhile, constant self-doubt makes us question our worth and the messages we receive from others. Oddly, when we speak up for what we want from a place of extreme neediness, it can be off-putting, thus making it less likely we’ll get what we want.

      And look, I could take all of that apart and attack pieces of it as being unfair! But I also think it helps to simply mull over the way things are, why people are the way they are, what can better motivate others to engage with us, and how we can encourage ourselves in the right direction.

      In your case, I think it’s matter of feeling good enough about yourself that you don’t need his affirmation but you still want it. Of course you do! We all want confirmation from our loved ones that we’re still valued.

  14. Pingback: Episode 12: Why Doesn't She Believe You When You Tell Her She's Beautiful? - Knowing Her Sexually

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