Looking for help dealing with body-image challenged wife…

July 27, 2009

My wife is challenged by her body image.  It is driving me nuts.

waist measurementI am a recovering alcoholic with a few years sober.  I have done a lot of work dealing with my issues.  So I know solutions are out there for seemingly hopeless states of  mind.  I am living proof to myself.

My wife is slender.  Yet has body image issues.  Let me say it a different way…. I am at a loss for how to understand and support her in this problem.  I am finding it wearing and frankly, painful.

The constant comparisons and negativity really puts a damper on our relationship.  The constant statements of ridiculous, inaccurate ‘absolutes’…. such as…

  • I cannot get into shape.
  • Nothing I do makes a difference.
  • I am fat.
  • Men have it so easy.
  • I should just get liposuction.

My wife works out regularly and is a tall, attractive size 4-6 depending on cut.  So none of these statements are accurate.  Not even close.

The 12-step program that I live teaches me to surrender.  So this situation remains in a surrendered state.  I also know that I did not cause it, can’t control it, can’t cure it.  I am weakening.  Frankly, I am tired of hearing the statements that to me, contain a strong thread of self-pity.  There are many underlying factors to these statements, but the one I hear the most loudly is self-pity.  Many women will kill for a body like my wife’s and here she is wallowing.  That’s how it sounds.

My wife has been to a special counselor for eating disorders…. but didn’t continue.  She read one book…. said it was good, but does not maintain her recovering thinking and won’t pick up another one.

I have shown her blogs that she can read on a regular basis, but she does not follow through.

In my mind, she would prefer to live in the pain of her misconceptions.  Or fear or something else is keeping her there.  She does not seem to even want anything different.  She reminds me of an alcoholic who would rather live with the pain of his drinking and thinking than even consider that there may be something different.

I do not want to nag her.  Nagging never helped me get sober.  I have put many things in front of her but she does not seem the have the willingness to pick them up.  She seems to prefer to stay stuck then complain about her body to me. Her husband.  Who finds her attractive.

This is really tough.  Any suggestions?





  1. Okay, here comes Mr. Negativity, but I’m not sure there’s anything you can do. It’s possible she doesn’t have the ability to compartmentalize these feelings, and see them for what they are. My wife is this way. Stuck in self-pity land. She’s comfortable with the role of ‘victim.’ I believe nothing I or anyone else can say can change that.

    Not the answer you were looking for.

  2. Thanks Teev… I feel better already.

    Ya… I honestly do not know what to do which is why I am posting. If the answer is “nothing”, then that is what I will do.

    People surrendered me when I was at my worst and somehow in doing so, I found a way out of my stuff.

    So will just see what comes back to me. In mean time, will tolerate a day at a time and make the best of it.



  3. Wow, this sounds like me! I go through this battle myself constantly. I’m always tearing myself down, yet I work out 6-7 days a week and am in pretty good shape. It’s a bad cycle, I admit and not good for the self-esteem at all! So I know exactly what your wife is going through (and your frustrations), yet don’t really have an answer either, unfortunately.

  4. Hi Chaz,

    Just tell her every single day that she is perfect and beautiful, if you don’t do so already. Tell her the nice things you said about her in this blog post. Even if it doesn’t ‘fix’ her self-esteem, it will make her feel good. Perhaps when she shares her insecurities with you, she just wants to hear you deny them.


  5. Jolene…. thanks. It seems to be something many women go through.

    I guess it just seems so unnecessary. Why have these argument in our heads over something that isnt true. Then affect others by it?

    The part that I find so challenging is a lack of willingness to get help. She seems to be stuck where she is at. Content in a way.

    Thanks for the reply.



  6. Hua… I do tell her constantly how good she looks. And I am genuine about it. She is very attractive.

    I don’t think she says negative things just to hear me deny them. If it were this case, this is a taxing game on a relationship.

    I simply think she feels this way and needs to express it to someone. But to say it to me and not do anything about it is the painful part.

    It would be like me complaining about wanting to drink but never going to my AA meetings or working my program of recovery.

    Where in fact, because I do go to my AA meetings and work my program of recovery, I don’t have the urge to drink and I don’t complain about wanting to drink because there is nothing to complain about.

    Thanks for the reply.



  7. Chaz,

    This is a prety common situation with the women we love.

    My girlfriend, amazing, bright, funny, cute, and the beauty of my heart, can’t stop with the “I’m fat” talk. FWIW, what does help is if I say that both of us have a healthy weight range: we don’t want to be either overweight or underweight, and that we are both currently in the good range. Society will say otherwise, but this is how we try to look at the situation.

    Stay well these 24 hours.

    Man Alive

  8. Thanks M/A…

    Ya…. the range…. hmmm…. she seems to always see herself as at the extremity of any range.

    We had a good talk last night and I think things are moving in a better direction. We where able to understand one another on a few things that we previously didnt.

    Will let it unfold…. a day at a time.



  9. Sounds a lot like unfinished amends. Have you completed them yet? Anything left undone or not entered on the 8th step list. Was 4 and 8 thorough and complete?

    Especially in that third inventory, “sex and harms.”

    Won’t guarantee it but it is a BIG, BIG probably. Many of the psychological peccadilloes and aberrations that spouses pick up are caused by us. Not a pretty thought – but very often true.

  10. My girlfriend seems to suffer from this condition. However because she is in recovery now it seems to have dissipated somewhat. but it does still rear it’s ugly head from time to time. I just have to try and let it go as I know I am powerless etc. Not easy though.

  11. Thanks Danny….

    Steps 4 and 8 were pretty brief for me ’cause I don’t have many character defects and I didnt harm many people. Ya right. OK, but seriously….

    I fully anticipate another set of steps will reveal more and dig deeper. First run through seemed to focus on the most glaring defects in the wake of sobering up. I think I was as thorough as possible at the time… but does not mean that there is more work to do. So I will go with a “yes” answer to your question about anything being left undone.

    I really cannot see how a single working of the steps can uncover all we need to uncover given that we embedded our defects deeply over years of practicing them.

    I will say that part of my reaction to my wife’s body image issues is indeed pride and selfishness around sex… meaning that I want her to look good… which she does… but her self-doubt in this respect takes the shine off things. Looks pretty selfish when I write it out here.

    Another thing I should probably note is that am only relatively newly remarried. So kinda discovering these things for the first time as they relate to the marriage.

    Thanks for the input… am sure that looking at this from the 4 and 8 perspective will make huge difference.



  12. RecovBoy…

    Probably not unlike us still having alcohol or drug thoughts well into our sobriety and recovery.

    I have a few years sober and I still think about booze from time to time and even more so with drugs. Gladly… these alluring thoughts are only momentary and I have a place to put them… in the surrender bucket.

    I believe body image sufferers face some different circumstances than us cause food is everywhere and we must all eat. Abstaining from booze and drugs is possible… food not.

    Glad to hear your GF is finding some recovery. My wife is open to it… just hasnt made the plunge yet. Surrender, surrender, surrender… my 3-point strategy of the day.



  13. Hey Chaz,

    I found you through TV’s blog. I too am part of the recovery community (my other blog) but am from the ‘normie’ side, that is, my husband is the addict. So, I just wanted to say, about your wife, and you gotta know this… there is NOTHING you can do. She’s gotta get sick and tired of being sick and tired, just like you did.

    I don’t even think you should go overly into nice and helpful comments about how beautiful she is because you are only being a good codependent in doing so. Not that you should be mean… you should just be.

    If her poor self image is causing too much static in the marriage then all you can do is ask that she seek help with it, other than that “detach with love” – best Alanon statement ever.

  14. Half…. thanks for reply….

    My main emphasis is on seeing what I can do differently to deal with what I feel and do in response to her body image issues.

    I can see that there is virtually nothing I can do to directly affect where she is at. I do not believe however that there is nothing we can do for the still-suffering person in our lives.

    I too have been involved in alanon. I am of the understanding by their teaching that we didnt cause it, can’t cure it, cant control it. None of these things do I seek to do.

    I can however stay sane while whe is acting and speaking insanely and thereby not cosign or enable her behaviour. And my main emphasis is to stay sane (not get angry, not resent, not judge).

    Keeping one’s head while others are losing theirs does influence people. It is in fact a key characteristic of a leader.

    Also, by continuing to work my program of recovery, I remain a living example in front of her that recovery is out there…. it just has to be wanted, sought and worked.

    My recovery was from booze and cocaine. And neither of these vices were overcome with no work. Surely, if two of the most addictive substances can be overcome, so can body image issues. I have mentioned this to my wife a few times…. she may one day be ready to listen to it in a meaningful way. Until then…. I will just do what I do for all the reasons I do it.

    Both of these things are things that I can do that leave her in a better environment.

    When I was spinning out on booze and coke, people did things that helped me. They put opportunities in front of me and allowed me to choose. Eventually, when I was sufficiently beaten by my ways, I became ready to choose what was in front of me.

    So I don’t quite see that there is nothing we can do. I believe there is much we can do…. but little of it is direct, immediate, or guaranteed to achieve a particular result on a particular timeline.

    In the mean time, being the best husband I can be and the best recovering alcoholic I can be is lots. And these are my goals.



  15. Chaz,

    As other women have posted, this is a common malady for our gender. I recently looked through some old pictures of myself taken after each of my pregnancies and was astounded to notice how slender I looked, even though, at the time, I felt fat and flubbery.

    Even now, at age 44, holding steady at a size 8, I suffer from body image issues. The muscle doesn’t tone and the fat doesn’t burn quite as quickly as it used to. That’s what happens as we get older.

    The problem is (as I see it), society has this awful standard to which women are held. I just saw one of those “best and worst celebrity beach bodies” rags at the grocery store and was astonished at what the writers considered fat and full of cellulite. Most of it was perfectly normal. Yet we’re made to think it’s not, and that we need to look svelte and flawless, with nary a bump or spot or imperfection.

    I’m a perfectionist, always have been. It irritates me to no end that I can’t maintain my weight and shape like I used to. I can really empathize with your wife. Sounds like she’s bothered by it a bit more than I am, and perhaps a bit unnecessarily, but still…

    I think your approach sounds good. You’ve talked about it and you’ve done what you can. So now you’re accepting, letting go. I’m still pretty new to recovery, but everything I’ve learned thus far tells me this is a good plan.

    Good luck staying the course.


  16. Thanks C….

    It seems the message is consistent. It is almost universal that women feel this way about themselves. And we men have our own social maladies too. Thats why we often spend way too much on cars and why some guys spend more time at the gym than learning how to have a basic, respectul conversation with another person… particularly their spouse.



    • Chaz, my heart goes out to you and your wife. I have also experienced a family members extremely negative body image, we also have an alchoholic in the family, not in recovery. Thank you for posting your struggle to cope, it helps me to realize I’m not alone, though I’ve been in alanon for some time. So glad you chose recovery :)) Our experience is this, the body obsession/perfectionism became an eating disorder and we failed to get proffessional intervention and my son is now in heaven. He also did not want to get help, we all just wanted help for the alchoholic, who still refuses it. No matter what the addiction or disease, as you know it’s up to us to choose to accept help or not. Meanwhile I work on acceptance, trust, love and self care and the program because disease affects everyone. Alanon is helpful for me.
      Hopefully, M

      • Monica…. that is some pretty deep and difficult honesty you share about your situation. Thank you for doing so.

        My heart goes out to you in your loss.

        Glad you are finding some recovery in Alanon. You are right about not being able to do anything for someone until they accept help.



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