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Unconventional Wisdom: No Physical Attraction

Advice on rekindling marital sex and guilt over break-ups.

I am not physically attracted to my husband of five years. Even in the beginning I was more attracted by his kindness, wit, and intelligence. He has always been overweight. We have a 2-year-old and both work. I've had to initiate dates with my husband, who is never romantically spontaneous although he is very caring and a great father. I take care of my body, but he makes no attempt to eat well or exercise. I believe we can all make an effort to not let ourselves go. Over the past year I have become even less attracted, started noticing other men, and have dreams of sexual encounters with them (which make me feel guilty, but which I still enjoy). Occasionally my husband initiates sex and I might go along, but never enthusiastically. Even that has slowed. A few months ago I told him I am not so physically attracted, and his losing weight would probably help. He said he was worried I might find someone else. I told him I am committed to him, and he seemed to feel better, but he has not taken any measures to lose weight. I feel resentful that he does not care enough about our relationship or my sexual fulfillment to make changes. I want to have sex for fun again. I don't want to keep thinking about other men.

Image: Hara Estroff Marano

HARA ESTROFF MARANO askhara@psychologytoday.com

Don't nag your husband to eat better or get more active, just make it happen and become his active partner in the enterprise. Don't regulate portions; don't make diet food for him and "real" food for the rest of the family. Stock the house with and serve one kind of food to everyone—tasty, healthy, and easy-to-prepare vegetable-rich meals that can satisfy a hearty appetite but that help promote weight regulation. Have on hand the ingredients for a satisfying treat (one that many people love is cocoa powder, powdered skim milk, and a little sugar whirled through a blender with some water, ice cubes, and a dash of liquid milk). But most of all, build physical activity into your life together. Begin weekend mornings with an hour walk en famille . Announce that you want to add some action to your lives and you want the pleasure of his company: "This is what we're doing." Put your child in a stroller and choose an interesting route. Maybe you can eventually work some running into the walk. Or, if you have bicycles—or can rent them—make it a bike ride. The pace may be slower than you'd like at first, but it is likely to pick up. So is your life together.

Post-BreakUp Guilt

I recently broke up with my boyfriend of two years. At first, he treated me well; then he turned into a horrible person. He worked hard to transform himself into a better person, but it was too late. He was heartbroken—alone, depressed, crying. The guilt of breaking up with him is now crushing me. Knowing that I inflicted that pain on another human being is tearing me apart.

One good thing about feeling bad is that it should prompt people to consider how to deliver unwelcome news as gracefully as possible. Your decision to break up appears well-founded. Character counts, and treating a girlfriend horribly does not bode well for the future of a relationship, once life applies its many stresses. Dating is a time for testing out other people; it's an experiment, and he failed the test. Your rich supply of empathy should keep you from being cavalier about the feelings of others in the face of difficult decisions, such as whether to end a relationship. But it should not deter you from making those important decisions. Learning to cope with breakups and other disheartening news is a necessity of life for everyone, and your boyfriend alone, not you, is responsible for his reactions.