A Reader Writes…
Seven years ago, when I was 8 months pregnant, I discovered my husband was cheating on me. I was suspicious because he was so uninterested in me, only barely interested in the pregnancy, and I put a tracking program on our computer. It took screen-shots of when he sent emails or used messaging programs and I discovered a great deal of pornographic use and other women that he was having one night stands with or several night stands with.
For five years our relationship was a struggle. He had some counselling, admitted he has always been an unfaithful partner with previous relationships and has always used porn in place of intimacy. There were other discoveries of new women he was plotting to be with, and more discoveries of porn after the initial shocks when pregnant, but gradually he seems to have changed and for the past two years has made real efforts to repair our relationship.
I do not believe he is cheating any more and he has moved on from the pornography, again to the best of my knowledge. He has changed his circle of friends, no longer goes out with the boys, we have many couple friends and he is very focused on family and church.
But I am miserable. All day long I have flashes of things I read, saw, pictures of the other women he cheated with, things that are both real and what I am only imagining. I hear someone with a similar name and I feel physically ill. I hate myself, I hate how I look, I am so disgusted with myself I don’t even look in the mirror any more except to quickly do what I have to do and be out of there. We have only had sex maybe three times in the last year. He is trying, but it am completely uninterested. I don’t even want him to see me naked let alone touch me.
All the women he was with or watched are different from me. I am short, overweight, with small breasts. He apparently has a real attraction to very large breasted thinner women. I know you are thinking, well he picked you to marry so he must like you, but here’s the thing, I was the pursuer, I was the chaser early on in our relationship. We got pregnant too soon, unplanned, and now, I think he is settling for me and that just makes me feel repulsive.
During fights or break ups in the past he has said he wasn’t attracted to me, we have always had a less than normal sex life, and all that combined with his cheating and porn use with women that look nothing like me has left me feeling so hideous I don’t even want to leave the house if I don’t have to.
He is trying to fix things, telling me he does want me, that he thinks I am beautiful, but I can’t ever believe that. I used to wear lingerie and worry about being sexy or flirting with him, but after all this, I can’t even think of putting on that stuff. It would feel so fake. When I wore it before and acted that way before, it was because I believed he wanted me, then I found all the other women, saw what they looked like and realized what a fool I was. I feel embarrassed and humiliated that is actually thought a little lace and lipstick would make me attractive – what a moron. It makes me hate myself for being so stupid.
I don’t even feel like a woman, just a blob. I’m a mom and housewife, but in terms of gender, I’m a nothing.
I know I can’t go back to believing I had any appeal or value as a woman or sexual partner, it’s like going back to believing in Santa Claus once you know the truth, but is there some way you can help me at least get to a stage where I can tolerate filling his sexual needs in some way?
I hope you manage better than just ‘tolerate filling his sexual needs’ and instead will actually enjoy sex together, have a happy marriage and if I’m really shooting for the moon and the stars to like yourself (just a little bit.)
So where do I start, let’s go with the positives. You’re going to think I mean that your husband has turned his life round. Sure that’s good but the REAL positive is that you’re no longer going to believe in Santa Claus! By that I take it, you’re not going to think lipstick and lingerie is going to fix this problem or a hundred and one other magical solutions to help you feel better.
I know it’s really tough to stop believing in Santa but it does at least mean that you can roll up your sleeves and get on with it – rather than waiting for a man in a red coat to arrive and make everything better.
In a strange way, you’ve been asking your husband to rescue you. (I call it out-sourcing your self esteem or welfare to someone else) I know you didn’t need him to kick you when you’re down – sadly men never realise what affairs will do to their wives shaky body image – but asking him to make you like how you look is something way past his pay scale.
- How can he possibly counter-attack a multi-million beauty and fashion business aimed at making women hate themselves and buy their products?
- You’re also asking him to sort out the unfortunate influence of a whole line of other people who pulled you down long before he showed up. For example, your mother (who probably had poor body image too and passed her inner critical voice onto you), the girls at school who were cruel and earlier boy friends who cheated or preferred your friend. Guess what? I doubt your Dad made you feel very wanted either.
- He’d also need the training of a counsellor to be able to hear your pain (without getting defensive, full of shame or angry and therefore pushing you away when you need him the most).
I know this is really tough but we all have to take responsibility for our own self-esteem or we’re constantly pulled down by a glance from a stranger in a shop (or at least what we THINK they thinking) or some bad behaviour from our partner (which is normally about their unhappiness and messed up childhood rather than us).
I also think you’re asking things of yourself that’s above your pay scale – like asking yourself to combat a multi million porn industry that is dedicated to making men feel dissatisfied with their love lives. (They also know how to get into the dark corners of men’s sexuality and create desires most had never even considered.)
I hope it will help you if you realise that men and women view porn entirely differently. Women have been trained to compare their bodies with other women (hence all the magazines with arrows pointing at famous women’s bodies). Men just use porn as escapism to switch off and de-stress from work – it only has a passing reference to their true sexuality, tastes or desires.
The average man honestly doesn’t realise (or understand) how women think it is a critique on them. In the same way, you have to take responsibility for your own self-esteem, your husband has to take responsibility for turning himself on – rather than outsourcing to porn or expecting you to magically get him in the mood and combat being tired from work or cranky because the kids have wound him up. (I explain more in my book Make Love Like a Prairie Vole)
So what next? First off, my book How Can I Ever Trust You Again? will explain that these feelings after betrayal are perfectly normal. (They have probably come up to the surface now because your husband’s turn around has made it safe to express them.) It will also explain how infidelity has the knack of finding the cracks in our lives and making them chasms – i.e. your self-esteem issues. I also have a book that will help with this problem (Learn to Love Yourself Enough) and if you want to put the spark back into your sex life there’s the book I mentioned previously.
However, returning to Santa Claus, I don’t believe my books will save you either. You will probably need counselling too. However, they can be a building block to help you make the changes – and that ultimately will make you feel a whole lot better.