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Here’s the latest in our ‘Ask a feminist’ series. If you would like to submit a question for us to get our teeth in to please don’t hesitate to do so here.

The responses are made at the personal discretion of the individual contributors, and there are no rules saying what can or cannot be said. But let us know what you think, we’d love to hear from you.

Dear F Word

I have been married to my wife for 17 years and it’s depressing to see her letting herself go. We used to have fun, last time we had fun was last year in Italy,but she had a tooth fall out and from then on it’s been an up hill struggle. We have had bad times all round,money problems, I had time off work and it’s getting unbearable. I know my sexy wife and mother of three children is still in there. I have tried everything I can to bring her out again. I buy her clothes, even tell her she is sexy and I love her, but to no avail,help!

What’s the answer?

Yours hoping

Desperate Husband

Dear Desperate Husband

You have said that you have done a lot and see a sexy woman in your wife and I take your word for it. It is, in my view, a right attitude and is to be commended. If only more husbands were doing the same as you do!

You tried all the right things but haven’t mentioned two other important ones. First, you should try becoming more physically attractive for your wife too. I cannot help asking in response to your lament that she is “letting herself go”: are YOU letting YOURSELF go too? Because it is unfortunately far too often that husbands who grew gut and butt and went completely to seed still take it upon themselves to criticise their wives for no longer being the sexy 18 year old they fell in love with!

Make an extra effort in dressing up when you are going out together, try to look good at home too; buy some new clothes for yourself as well. She will notice this and will have an incentive to measure up too. But expecting her to do all the work on herself without doing the same yourself is neither fair nor productive. Looking good for her is also a very important way to show affection and respect for your partner. It shows that you care what she thinks of you. It means you care whether she finds you sexually attractive. (You shouldn’t assume that our partners’ looks are less important for us women than ours are for you. Honestly, I wouldn’t find my husband sexually attractive if he suddenly cut down on number of showers, wore old clothes, didn’t look after his hands, had less than fresh breath and didn’t know what aftershave is. Fortunately his love for me, and realisation that he is married to a woman 14 years younger than he is, keeps him on his toes)

Second, could it be that years of your sitting back and letting her do all the housework and caring for the kids aged her prematurely? It is known that women age and look worn out because they do far too much at home and their husbands don’t do enough. The women who take part in the program “10 years younger” look much older and more tired than their partners, who live on the same income and have the same diet. How come? Then you see this woman’s day: packing kids off to school, going to work, returning home to cook and clean and what does the hubby do? Off he pisses to a pub with mates or to play football, looking all cheerful and sprightly, and we are all invited to sympathize with his sexual needs not being met by an aged tired wife who hates her body! Little wonder then.

So if you don’t want her hands to look rough, do the washing up yourself. If you don’t want her to be too tired for sex, relieve her of the domestic slog. Give her time for herself – be it a walk, meeting with friends, or a visit to a hairdresser or a beauty salon – by doing yourself what she usually does at home. Honestly, the older a woman looks than her real age, the more it shows her husband’s selfishness! Men should be judged by the way how healthy or relaxed their wives look.

You mentioned money problems. It ages both partners and can sometimes undermine the relationship itself. If one of the partners is out of employment, it complicates the matters, and it is easy to be too harsh to a partner in this situation. The important thing to remember is to try not to take it out on another, and not to lump all problems together. As you went through bad times together, tell her that it is important to be defiant in the face of difficulties that life throws at you, at least by not giving up on yourself and not living like you were defeated. And not looking like one. Maybe your wife has other problems you didn’t mentioned, maybe there is something more painful in her life than ageing and losing good looks. It is not to say that she shouldn’t try for you, it is to say that you should be understanding and subtle. Tell her that any age has beauty. Let her stop thinking (if she does) that once something happen (first wrinkle, tooth falling out, etc) this is the end. It is not.

It is good that after 17 years together and 3 children you are finding some time to spend together, like the time in Italy last year. Maybe the more time she spends with you the less she will think of herself as “just Mum” and will start seeing herself as an individual, a woman, a partner. As someone who has needs too and respects herself enough to care of her body and health.

Irina Lester

Photo by Stéfan, shared under a Creative Commons license