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"She Doesn't Take Care of Herself"

Also: "Taking Sides"

Q. My wife used to look good and keep herself in great shape. But now, after two kids, she doesn't care what she looks like. She's overweight, constantly wears sweats, her hair is in a ponytail, and she doesn't wear makeup anymore. Half the time I wonder if she's even showered! The last time I mentioned anything about it, she didn't talk to me for three days. What gives?

A. Do you have any idea what's involved in parenting young children and maintaining a home? Most women I've worked with care immensely about how they look. The women who don't are usually in situations where they're so exhausted by their lives, they don't have the time to do what they'd like. Or no matter how hard they try, they know they'll never look good enough for their husband. 

How much do you help her feel good about herself? When you compliment her (I'm assuming you do!), is it a sincere, straightforward compliment, or is it attached to a semi-sarcastic criticism? Countless men (and for a time I was one of them) compliment their wives with what is really a subtle slam wrapped into a compliment ("You haven't looked this great in years" or "That new makeup really makes you look better"). 

Step up to the plate, and rather than focus on what she's not doing, spend more time on what she is doing that makes a positive difference for you, your home, your marriage, and your kids.  

Find small ways to compliment her. Give her a reason to dress up by inviting her on a special date. Let her know when she does look good. Pamper her with a spa day. Provide her with a break to do something with her friends. Notice when she's cleaned the house and picked things up. Tell her how much you appreciate the clothes she washes and the meals she prepares. Thank her for being such a great mom.

Every spouse has a right to be concerned about their partner's appearance and hygiene. But you need to make sure your expectations are realistic and communicated in ways that build up rather than tear down. When you lead out of sensitive, Christ-like love characterized by a desire to serve, you'll see truly amazing results in her life and in yours.

Taking sides

My best friend and my husband don't get along. I feel as if I'm on the defensive—especially when my friend badmouths my husband. I'm tired of playing peacemaker between two people I care about. What should I do?

A. Here's a two-word answer for you. It's simple, though perhaps not painless or easy. Are you ready? Stop it! Stop playing peacemaker. 

People who tear down other people are insecure people. I've never met a mature, godly, healthy person who gossiped or spread negative things about others. Healthy people don't have to put down other people so they can feel better about themselves. What your friend is doing shows insensitivity and disrespect for you and doesn't say a whole lot about her. Classy people don't trash other people—especially their "best" friend's spouse.

Set some boundaries with your friend. Let her know you value her friendship. But also be clear that your husband is the number one person in your life and that it's unacceptable for her to badmouth him in front of you or trash him behind your back.

Since most coins have two sides, you also need to talk with your husband. Let him know he's number one in your life and tell him what you're going to say to your friend. At the same time, if he is in any way contributing to the problem, he needs to be part of the solution. Ask him not to badmouth her in front of you or others. He doesn't have to like her or agree with her, but since the love of his life (you) cares for this person, the least he can do is honor your wishes.

It sounds like one or both of them needs to practice the spiritual discipline of forgiveness and let go of some hurts and wounds from the past. If so, you aren't the person to mediate. Find a mature leader in your church who'd be willing to sit down with the three of you, share some biblical principles on relationships, listen, ask questions, and help you find some positive next steps. Also, I'd recommend checking out Grown-Up Girlfriends by Erin Smalley and Carrie Oliver for other specific ways to set and handle boundaries.

If over time your friend chooses not to change, then it's time for you to find a new best female friend. That would be sad—but it's her choice, her call. 

Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Mate (Bethany House), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. www.liferelationships.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Appearance; Beauty; Friendship; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2008
Posted September 12, 2008

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