Marriage Tip: Recognize that taking care of yourself says “I care about you” to your spouse; it isn’t about looking like you walked off a magazine cover, but about your spouse seeing you are willing to make the effort to take care of yourself for them.
Most of us are not the size we were when we first got married. And honestly, whether we’ve popped out three kids or had one too many donuts during 20 years of driving a rig, most of us will never fit back into the honeymoon bikini or the high school football jersey we remember so fondly.
And we might wonder: how important is that to our spouse, really?
I have definitely wrestled with that question – both as a social researcher on relationships, and as a wife! Especially since – perhaps like some of you — I have a body type and metabolism that wants to gain weight from the mere sight of the chocolate chip cookies across the room. (Am I the only one who gets really irritated at the people who can walk around the block and lose five pounds?)
But just because it can sometimes be difficult to stay healthy, fit and at a healthy size is no excuse not to make the effort. Because, it turns out, it matters far more to your spouse than he or she will ever tell you.
It is awkward to discuss but in twelve years of research I’ve seen that both husbands and wives have this deeply-held thought: If my spouse is willing to make the effort to take care of herself/himself, it means they care about me – and if they aren’t willing to make that effort, it means they don’t really care about me.
I first saw this in my research on how men think, and it shocked me to learn that almost every man deeply cares if his wife is out of shape, never makes an effort to look nice, has no energy to go out and do things together, and makes no real effort to change that. A lot of men (perhaps because they are so visual) even became a bit depressed and unhappy. Whether a man ever says it out loud (and ladies, for your sanity and his, don’t ask him to!), and whether he “should” feel this way, his bottom-line feeling is that his wife simply doesn’t care about him.
Now, the good news for those of us who aren’t the naturally-petite-size-twos is that the men were also ultra-clear that they didn’t secretly wish their wives looked like the models on the magazine covers. On my completely anonymous nationally-representative survey, on which the men were very honest about some other challenging things, their response to this subject was truly encouraging: five out of six men said that what mattered most was not a wife shrinking back to the bikini she wore twenty years ago, but simply seeing that she was making the effort to take care of herself for him today.
Believe it or not, many men mentioned that even the willingness to go for a walk after dinner, or do her hair and makeup just for him – instead of just when they were going out with other people – made him feel cared for. It was truly the effort that mattered.
Since that time, I have seen a parallel response from wives – but with a slightly different focus. For many women, seeing their husband being willing to get off the couch and take a walk or do things together is important – but equally as important is his willingness to go to the doctor when he has health issues instead of seeming to ignore them!
Yes, guys, I’m talking to you. Just as you feel cared for when you see her being willing to try to get to a healthy weight, she feels cared for when you stop (in her mind) being stubborn when there is or could be something going on with your health, and are willing to consult a medical professional. That willingness means more to her than you can imagine.
The effort to get and stay healthy – for both men and women – sends such an important message in your marriage. It says I care about you enough to do something that is uncomfortable for me, in order to take care of myself for you.
And I have seen not just in the research but in my own life that sending that message that we care (rather than the message that we don’t) has far-reaching impacts that go far beyond this one issue and truly do bless the whole relationship.
Join us next Monday for the next in our Marriage Monday series, and learn the truth about successful second marriages.
Drawn in part from Chapter 9 of For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. (Inquire about Shaunti speaking, or visit www.shaunti.com for more.)
The post originally ran at the Christian Post for Marriage Mondays.
Welcome to Marriage Mondays! Each Monday, join us here in the Book Corner as I share my top findings on the little, eye-opening things that make a big difference in creating great marriages and relationships. Today’s post is one of a series on what makes happy marriages so happy, based on nationally-representative research with more than 1,000 couples.