What to Do When His Weight is a Turn-off

My husband and I have not had sex even once in the past three years of our seven-year marriage. The reason makes me feel guilty and alone: He's quite overweight, and I am athletic and in shape. I cannot bring myself to feel attracted to him anymore, and he refuses to exercise and improve his appearance. He's afraid of rejection and therefore does not initiate sex (in the past, I was turned off when he did). Despite the fact that I love him a lot, I cannot imagine a life without sex. I've tried to feel sexual toward him, but it feels false. Am I justified in these feelings? --R


Dear R:

Oh dear. Just like in the lightbulb jokes in which the lightbulb has to want to be changed, your husband's weight and body issues belong to him, not you. My mentor, Betty Dodson, taught wisely that "your sexuality, body, orgasm … belong to YOU, not your partner." So, my first advice is to look inside for what you can change about this situation, not about his body. That said, your loving encouragement may help motivate him.

I want to acknowledge your feelings of sexual guilt for your lack of attraction to the man who shares your side and bedside. You are also feeling alone, which is a sad place to be when living with a partner. Sometimes being alone with another person is more challenging than single life could ever be. I suggest that you begin to break the ice by talking about it -- out in the open -- with your partner. He feels your repulsion and aversion. Losing weight is a tough option if you do not know how, or if you use weight gain for protection or as a way of dealing with unresolved life issues, such as fear of success, fear of failure or lack of intimacy skills. Your husband's gotta move that mountain of flesh aside and get to the root cause of his gaining and keeping on the extra pounds.

You also need to realize that this is a process. You both could use a skilled counselor to help you deal with the situation at hand. I suggest that you contact the sexology organizations www.sexologist.org and www.aasect.org to find professionals near you. I am also a strong proponent of honesty and honing in on the foundational issues that get couples stuck. My favorite program is "Imago Therapy," found in the books by Harville Hendrix (Getting the Love You Want). The model points out that we (re)create situations to heal the wounds of intimacy originating from our childhood. Imago Therapy teaches useful techniques and ferrets out the root causes of painful emotional times in relationships. Working through this may lead you both to a new, higher ground, both emotionally and for your shared physical pleasure.

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