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The question

My husband sat me down this week and told me I had a weight problem. He even talked to my dad about how to tell me. He told me that he loves me but he doesn’t find me as attractive anymore, and he would prefer it if I were thinner. He didn’t meet me at this weight. Meanwhile, he is texting and forming a friendship with a young girl at work. I started with a healthier diet and exercise straightaway, so I feel better that I can control this, but I’m just heartbroken about the attraction thing. It’s made me not want to be physical with him at all – to be touched or hugged or kissed. I’m not sure how to get over this. Help!

The answer

That’s a tough one, and thank you for your honesty. I have a feeling it happens in more relationships than any of us would care to admit.

And I know how you feel. I feel how you feel. I’ve always struggled a bit with my weight myself; meanwhile, I’m married to a total workout queen. My wife Pam came to visit while I was doing some physiotherapy recently for a hip problem (bike accident) and my physio guy asked: “Is she a fitness instructor?”

Meanwhile I live across the street from a gym; I could literally (and I’m not one of these people who say “literally” when I mean “figuratively”) throw a Frisbee from my front porch and hit it.

So I really have no excuse. But my attendance … well, it goes in waves. And every once in a while Pam will sit me down and have a talk something like you had with your husband. In effect: “Dave, you’re getting a little heavy, and I want you to remain attractive.”

Of course it stings. Of course it zings. But there are ways to say these things gently, so they don’t hurt. Sometimes she frames it around my health: “I want you to be around for the kids,” and whatnot. Sometimes she takes another tack: “You’ll feel better.”

And it still hurts a little, because I know what she’s getting at. But it’s always diplomatic, which it sounds like your husband was not. I’m sorry he made you feel “horrid.” I really am.

But it’s important, I think, to hear what he’s saying. As one friend of mine observes, a lot of people fail to heed these types of warnings from their spouses and get divorced – and then that’s when they finally decide to get in shape.

There’s a scene that captures this in the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love where Cal, played by Steve Carrell, having split up with his wife is being shown around his new bachelor digs by the landlady, who admits “it’s pretty no-frills. Unit 2 is pretty much like Unit 1 except you’re downstairs so … the ground is closer. Which is nice.” On the bright side, though, there’s “tons of divorced guys here. You’ll fit right in … oh, and the gym has an elliptical machine. I assume you want to get back in shape?”

You don’t want any of that! So keep it up with the healthy eating and the exercise. It’s still early days, true – less than a week, sounds like – but the point is this: you’re making the effort. It’s when people don’t even try, ignore warnings, pull the rip cord and let themselves go, that the real trouble begins.

True of every aspect of marital interaction, in my opinion, whether it be neatness, niceness, grooming, diplomacy, honesty: it’s the making of the effort that counts.

Speaking of trouble, I’d keep my eye on this little “friendship” your husband’s got going with this younger woman at work. I might even put my foot down about it, or at least get him to invite her to your house.

Of course, a man has a right to friends of the opposite sex. I have several myself, some quite attractive, and will even have cozy tete-a-tetes with them.

But the truly above-board husband will invite these friends into your home to meet you.

If he’s not willing to do that – especially in this context of what you’ve told me – well, I hate to be blunt, but I sense real danger there.

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