I sometimes hear from people who no longer see the same person who they have always loved when they look at their spouse. Many start to believe that their spouse has “let himself go.” They feel that he just no longer takes pride in his appearance or in his health. And this affects the way that they view him as a person, father, and spouse.
One spouse might explain it this way: “when I married my husband, he was a wonderful looking man. Frankly, he took my breath away every time I looked at him. Of course, that was over fifteen years ago and I know that there isn’t a person alive today who looks as good as they did fifteen years ago. I know that this just is not possible. But, it would help if my husband would care even just a little about his appearance. He doesn’t care at all. If I didn’t nag him, he wouldn’t even change his clothes or shower on the weekends. I have to remind him to get hair cuts and I have to tell him when his clothes get ratty and need to be replaced. Sometimes, I am embarrassed to go out with him because he looks disheveled. I don’t expect him to look like a male model, but I would like for him to be fit and to look well groomed. When I mention this to him, he gets annoyed and says that I am a high maintenance person who is too concerned about appearances and not concerned enough about what is on the inside. I don’t think that this is true. I do not go overboard with my appearance, but I want to look like I at least put in minimal effort. Honestly, the way that my husband is acting makes me think less of him. It makes me think that he is a slovenly and lazy person. And I am not sure that I want to be married to someone like this. It reflects poorly on me. The other day, we were watching a movie and the main character was fat, rude and lazy. My husband laughed at the guy and called him a ‘clueless slob.’ But honestly, my husband reminded me of this guy. And he clearly doesn’t even see it. If I push about this too hard or tell him what I’m truly feeling, I am afraid that it will hurt his feelings. I do love him, but I do not love the way that he presents himself anymore.”
As you are clearly already very aware, this is a touchy situation. I don’t think that you need to beat yourself up too badly for wanting your spouse to look his best, so long as you are realistic about it. People do age. No one looks the same as they did on the day that they got married. But part of wanting to be a good spouse in a good marriage is taking care of yourself for everyone’s sake. And I don’t completely mean that in terms of physical appearance. I also mean that in terms of physical and emotional health. Taking health risks put your family at risk. And not being as emotionally healthy as you can be means that you can’t give your best effort to your marriage and to your family.
But, as you already suspect, this is a delicate situation. Because if you approach this the wrong way, your spouse will hear it as a criticism and may feel unloved, which could potentially make the problem even worse. Before I get into suggestions about gently addressing this, I’d like to mention one possibility. Some very common symptoms of depression include no longer caring about your appearance and allowing hygiene to slip a little. I’m certainly not a counselor, but if you are seeing other behaviors that might indicate depression, it’s important to address it. Because a depressed person is going to have a very difficult time making any meaningful change until the depression is addressed.
However, if you don’t think depression is coming into play, then I believe that the best way to handle this is to try to include him into your regimen. Here is what I mean. I had a friend who used to be immensely bothered by her husband’s disgusting, long toenails. She asked him to do something about them but he called her judgmental, and an argument ensued. So, she dropped it, but the next time she went to get a manicure and pedicure, she lured her husband along, telling him that it was going to be a date, followed by dinner and some alone time. The husband could not get dressed fast enough and he ended up enjoying the pampering once he saw other men there. Now, my friend’s husband doesn’t have the nasty toenail problem anymore and she feels closer to her husband. They enjoy this time together.
So take him to your salon. Bring him clothes shopping. Take him to your gym. Now, admittedly, you’re going to have to sell all of these things to him. You are going to have to do this in a playful and flirty way so that he thinks you’re trying to spend time with him rather than trying to change him. And you will often need to make it sound like a fun, romantic adventure that you are sharing in order to get him to participate willingly. But, you shouldn’t have to do this for very long. Because once he sees how happy you are with these changes and once you give him positive reinforcement, he is going to see that these changes were not a lot to ask of him and that they are worth it – because he’s being asked to give so little, but he is getting so much back in return.