Are husbands responsible for their wives becoming overweight?
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Are husbands responsible for their wives becoming overweight?

Between Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme, Americans consume something like 14 million doughnuts per day. Now, given that about half of that is eaten by New York City cops, that still leaves a good few million to be eaten by women, including wives. If I had a dollar for every email I’ve received from husbands who complain that their wives have let themselves go and are too fat, I’d be the Bill Gates of the rabbinate.

These husbands write to me in order to contest my assertion that their loss of attraction to their wives has less to do with a wife’s appearance and more to do with too much familiarity and a laziness on the part of husbands who don’t strive to bring erotic playfulness into marriage. “Oh yeah,” said one writer, “nothing would make me happier than for me and my wife to rediscover our lost passion. But let’s get real. When we married she was a size six. Now she has trouble squeezing into a size eighteen.” Another husband echoed the sentiment. “Being married to my wife makes me feel like a polygamist. It’s like I’m married to two women.” There are other nasty comedians out there, like Larry, who wrote, “I’ve tried everything to encourage her to diet, go to a gym. I have even suggested we diet together. She takes offense at each suggestion and kicks me out of the bed, which is OK since I barely fit in anyway.”

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.

Firstly, there is something hypocritical in the contemporary notion that only women have to be sexy, while we men can have endless folds of whale blubber hanging over our stomachs. 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 necessarily 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 important, however, is the question of whether husbands are to blame for a woman putting on weight. 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, I know that a woman often puts on weight because of a neglectful or distracted husband. Why diet when there’s no one noticing anyway?

All woman, including the brainy career-oriented, enjoy being attractive, especially to a romantic husband. So when a married woman suddenly doesn’t care much about her appearance it’s important to ask why.

Often, as painful as it sounds, the blame lies with a husband who long ago stopped noticing when she did get dressed up. So she concludes, why bother? With all the responsibilities I have with the kids, my job, and running the home, who has time for appearances?

The healthiest diet in the world is what I call the compliment diet. It’s where a woman feeds off her husband’s sincere flattery. 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.

I realize that we all need our own self-esteem, and no woman, be she 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 the other’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,” she wrote. “Perhaps,” I answered. “But there is was a very easy way to focus on the positive. Did you tell her how beautiful she was when she was a bit thinner?

“When was the last time you went shopping for clothing with her and told her what she looks best in?”

If a woman lives in the solitary island of a lonely marriage, will she not sometimes console herself by indulging in the sensual pleasure of food when bereft of the sensual pleasure of touch?

Of course, it cuts both ways. Telling your spouse that she is attractive and beautiful is an even better weight loss program than the Atkins, South Beach, and Dr. Phil diets combined. It might sound simplistic, but simply said, it works.

Last summer I bumped into a couple with whom I had been friendly more than a decade ago. I remembered the wife as a woman of beauty, with sparkling eyes. But now some of the light of her countenance was lost. She still smiled brightly, but some of the glow was lost. 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. Whereas once he had been attentive, he now came home and went straight to his computer. A week turned into a month, a month into a year, and soon he was barely noticing his wife. True, he had lost a lot of money, but he still had life’s greatest blessing, a loving spouse who was devoted to him.

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

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