96% of the women who filled in the 2015 Body Image Survey I ran in conjuction with Journey to Healing and Joy stated that their body image had suffered because of their husband’s sexual addiction. Of the 4% that felt there had been no effect, most felt their body image was already very low prior to discovering the addiction.
Whether we felt compared to “more beautiful women” prior to discovery or only after – our husband’s inability to focus his sexuality exclusively on us tends to feel like our fault. The fault of our bodies, in particular. If only I were more____ or less____ THEN he’d focus in on me alone.
Once we understand more about the addiction/problematic behaviors, we come to realise this is a lie. However, even that knowledge seems to have little effect on our enormous psychic pain. It’s not uncommon for people in pain to take drastic – but unwise – measures to relieve that pain.
I’ve already discussed some of the ways in which women try to side-step the severe pain of their husband’s infidelity in the post Masking the Pain. Today I’d like to share some of the specific ways our survey respondents have tried to deal with the pain of low body image.
Fixing Low Body Image?
When asked what techniques they’d tried (to help deal with low body image) that DID NOT work the most common responses included:
Working out a ton: While very good for our body and mind in general, working out excessively, and with the express purpose of creating a more "acceptable" body (or winning back our husband’s attention), is likely to leave us more unhappy than we started. Moreover, it may take time away from other, more fulfilling and healing pursuits. As one respondent put it: “Going to the gym, so that I look younger… only made me self-focused instead of focusing on hearing God’s affirmation for me.”
Crazy weight loss programs: Making healthy dietary choices can improve our energy and mood. However, like “working out” when we change the way we eat for the express purpose of losing weight (rather than improving health) we are likely to end up frustrated: whether or not we succeed in shedding the pounds. As one respondent said,
I ended up mentally beating myself up for ‘eating wrong’… I had a deep desire to know that I was attractive to the opposite sex but the Lord helped me from the beginning to see that kind of thinking as a black hole. Behavior that would grieve Him. Something that would take me and my whole family down, down, down. I am SO GRATEFUL. I have had real victory here but am always aware that I could slip.
Buying outrageously sexy lingerie: In the earlier, 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts, 11% of respondents listed one of their major regrets as “going along with his addiction.” In his excellent book, Worthy of Her Trust, Jason Martinkus explains quite thoroughly why “becoming his personal prostitute” is destructive to the addict and to the couple’s relationship. The fact that so many women list sexy lingerie, shaving, public sex, etc. as a regret shows that “joining him” never achieves the goal. As one Body Image Survey respondent put it: “All of these made me more depressed and anxious in the end.”
Excessive time getting ready in the morning: Numerous women stated that they worked on making the most of their appearance through buying new (sexier) clothes, getting manicures, pedicures, and otherwise spending a lot of time, effort and money “trying to be as attractive as women in magazines and ads.” This last respondent went on to add: “It is just a surface approach and doesn't change your heart. It doesn't change the relationship you have with yourself, it just tries to manipulate the relationship you have with others.”
Surgical and other cosmetic/medical interventions were also listed as failing, ultimately, to improve body image. Nevertheless, a number of respondents still pondered whether they wouldn’t be happier getting something like a breast augmentation done. Some women are also being pushed toward surgery by their addict-husband. One survey respondent shared this heartbreaking story of her surgery:
"Before I found out about my husband's addiction, I had surgery to remove some fat from around my waistline. My husband gave me an article from the newspaper advertising the procedure. The day after my surgery, I found him in our kitchen at the laptop and he had a guilty look on his face. He was looking at porn. I stood in front of him crying, oozing from the surgical sites and in so much physical pain."
Most women I've spoken to have found that a surgical intervention (depending on what it is for) gave them something of an initial confidence boost... but this didn't change their overall perception of their bodies in the long run. For the husband with the addiction/problematic behaviors, changes we make to ourselves will never satisfy their craving for novelty and pixel-perfect bodies.
A client once said to me that her husband (who chose to continue in his acting out) used to say to her "you'll never be enough for me." At one point in our work she began to ask the question, "what if he is never enough for me?" It wasn't long after this that she left. His committment to their relationship and finding wholeness was certainly not enough for her. She also stated she felt much better about herself soon after.
Next week, I’ll be looking more in-depth at what techniques our survey respondents DID find helpful in moving beyond their body image struggles.