I’m writing to you about a marital problem I am facing. I have been married for four years, three of which I was happy in, Alhamdulillah. In the fourth year, after having my second baby, I had some baby weight which made me feel sort of insecure.
I also noticed my husband’s interest in other women. I confronted him a couple of times before he confessed that he does have a weakness for women. He always had. Although he's religious and doesn't show it, he has always struggled with this.
What’s worse is that I’m not really what he had wanted for himself. He was always attracted to very slim women like those he sees on TV. I have always been a healthy average. He also criticized a couple of my features. I felt hurt and betrayed, especially that this was not an arranged marriage, and that I trusted him so much and had so much confidence in our marriage.
We went through therapy, and Alhamdulillah, I let go of the idea of leaving the marriage. But now I’m not comfortable with him. I hate going out with him and seeing him looking at other women. He says he's trying his best to stop himself, but this is all he can do. It makes me feel bad about myself.
I lost my baby weight 8 months after delivery, but if I go on diet, I don't lose a lot, and I gain them back easily because this has been my weight since I was a teenager; I have always been a healthy average.
Anyways, my question is: now I don't feel attractive to my husband. When we have sex, I have to fantasize about him being with another slimmer, more attractive woman. Is that haram? It makes me feel guilty, but I never fantasize about another man. I hope your answer gives me peace. Thanks for your time and effort.
Answer from Dr. Maryam Bachmeier:
As-Salam `Alaykum Sister,
I am not a scholar of Islamic Jurisprudence; therefore, I am not qualified to tell you whether what you are doing is haram or not. However, from a psychological and emotional perspective, I do have a few words to share with you.
You and your husband seem quite young. I can see that you are feeling hurt by your husband’s silly, immature behavior. I have a feeling that he is manipulating you and that there is an element of a power struggle going on. In fact, he may actually be worried that you are too pretty, and he might feel insecure.
Men are funny; he will never ever admit to this, so stay with me. He may actually want you to feel insecure so that he doesn’t have to worry about being “good enough”. This is just immature behavior.
Here is what I know from what you just wrote to me. Your husband is having sex with you. If he was not attracted to you, he would not have sex with you. I have observed the behaviors of men for many years now, and I can tell you, if he were not attracted to you, he would be looking for a second wife, or even worse.
This is what I want you to do:
- Ignore his nonsense talk about skinny women.
- Be your best beautiful and healthy self, just for you.
- Love the beautiful body that Allah (swt) gave you. I guarantee you that you are sexy and beautiful. How do I know this? Well, because you are a woman.
Indeed, so many young women miss out on enjoying their own beauty because they are so busy comparing themselves to other women. Then they look at those pictures of themselves 20 years later and realize how beautiful they were and say to themselves, “If only I knew”.
Sister, don’t lose these precious years. If you mature emotionally and accept yourself the way you are, then your husband will have to either take it or leave it. If he takes it, you will have great sex, in sha’ Allah, and I doubt that he wants to leave it (you).
When he sees that you don’t care about what is on TV or the billboards, and you pity women who need to first be painted to hide all flaws, then be photographed, then have the photographs airbrushed in order to feel like they are worthwhile women, then he will have more respect for you. That is what he lacks as an immature, young adult husband: respect.
As you may know, models and movie girls are fake – their pictures are airbrushed. They are not really as “pretty” as they look on TV or in the magazines; they are not real. You meet one in person, and you will be surprised. The skinny ones will appear physically ill; you will be very surprised how these girls look like in real life.
Walk in confidence, sister. You are a beautiful woman Allah (swt) created. Your husband should appreciate Allah (swt) for giving him such a gift. Remember this.
Answer from Dr. Razia Bhatti `Ali:
The situation you describe has clearly knocked your self-esteem, and obviously, your husband has not learned how to treat a wife and life partner. The crucial issue is that if you were comfortable with yourself, you would not need to ruminate about your physical appearance and feel the culprit in the relationship. For example, why should you have to fantasize about your husband being with a slimmer woman? His fantasies are not your problem but his alone. It seems to me that he has the free will and intelligence to know right from wrong, and so long as you do your duty as a wife and mother, you should not be trying to please his extracurricular desires.
Your husband does not have the right to put you down about your weight, particularly as you have gained weight to give him the gift of a child.
The point is that your low self-confidence allows for your husband to get away with negative comments about your weight gain and, therefore, a new boundary must be to not listen to him when he starts criticizing your appearance by telling him your weight is off limits for a conversation as you find it rude and inconsiderate. Be totally honest and clear about what you want from him and how you want to be treated.
In reality, your husband won’t be the first or the last man to have desires for other women, but the difference is whether he will act upon it or just fantasize about it. Realistically, this may just be an adjustment phase that he is experiencing as it is not uncommon for the arrival of a baby to set off insecurities in both men and women.
In this life, we cannot always change other people, but we can choose to change the way we react to them. I would suggest that you make some real effort to improve your self-esteem as it will lead to an increase in your confidence, take away the anxiety about what your husband thinks about you, and stop you from comparing yourself with other women which your husband may or may not find attractive.
Face your fears: challenges seem scary, but your fears are usually exaggerated. Don’t let the fear of your husband straying keep you on edge and undermine your own worth. Face the fact that he is what he is, and rather than expecting him to stay, decide to face that bridge if it ever comes as realistically his behavior is somewhat childish and unlikely to be anything more than words.
The birth of a baby gives rise to many challenges, and often unpredictable behavior may start to manifest itself. Facing your fear of what might happen will ultimately increase your confidence and boost your esteem.
It is important to make realistic appraisals of life’s problems as coping effectively with life’s problems and failures requires realistic expectations. Life events aren’t a problem unless we appraise them as such. Life is never perfect and, to some degree, hassles, and problems are a part of normal everyday life. If our appraisals are realistic, we’re better able to react to day-to-day life events with a sense of proportion. Therefore, your husband’s behavior is currently more upsetting than it might have been before being pregnant as your self-appraisal is poor because your body has gone through a major change, and you feel less attractive.
The appraisals we make are a product of our belief system. If we hold unrealistic, inflexible beliefs, then our appraisals may not be the most appropriate for the situation. Irrational beliefs often include ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’, with an emphasis on perfection. “I have to be attractive all the time”, and “I must be slimmer and perfect” are all irrational beliefs. They’re difficult to achieve and put a lot of pressure on women.
It is possible to put an alternative interpretation in the place of an irrational judgment. When your husband treats you rudely, you may be tempted to think that that person is horrible, or everyone must think I’m unattractive. An alternative interpretation could be: “I wonder what’s happening with that person for them to behave so rudely?” We have the choice how to frame our perceptions just as you could wonder what is happening in your husband’s head for him to be perpetuating your insecurities by being openly disrespectful to you rather than being self-critical.
If we feel helpless to change things or incompetent when facing challenges, then we’re less likely to come up with a suitable coping response. Therefore, we need to develop self-efficacy which comes from life experiences. But we can’t succeed if we don’t have goals.
Start focusing on your own needs, set reasonable goals for your life, and give yourself credit when you achieve them.
Find a good role model or mentor who can be a positive force and then you will also start to become positive.
Instead of belittling yourself for the tiniest faults, which have been put in your head by a very insecure man, build yourself up for the smallest successes and start making constructive use of the network of people around you as a coping skill. People with good support systems are more successful at overcoming low moods, and anxiety, maintaining self-esteem, and overcoming loneliness. The mere task of building your own support system is a coping skill because it requires personal effort. Instead of passively waiting for things to get better, get on with your life by talking to people who make you feel good as it will help an increased feeling of competence and self-esteem.
If your husband really loves you and wants the relationship to work, then he will make some positive changes. Give him some time to show that he is willing to improve on your relationship and treat you the way you want to be treated.
If he does not respect or honor your wishes, and if he puts you down for even trying to make some positive changes, then you should reevaluate your relationship altogether and seek some further serious marriage counseling. Ask your husband to attend counseling with you, and if he refuses, go yourself. Many relationships can be improved even if only one of the partners seeks outside help. A good counselor can also help you build back your self-esteem.
May Allah (swt) help you,
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