After I got past the initial shock of my husband's sex addiction, amidst the constant graphic images I had created in my head of his acting out, there was one question that kept swirling around in my mind. How can I ever feel loved or attractive to him again? No matter how much my husband told me he loved me or that he thought I was beautiful, I couldn't accept it as true. How could I compare to the women on the computer screen and on the "adult" movies at hotels?
As I talk with women today I repeatedly hear this same type of question. Although I have personally found peace with this issue, I still find it a challenge to explain it to other women in a way that makes sense. After all, there were no electives in high school entitled, All About Boys. And while some of our dad's told us, "boys are only after one thing", we still didn't really get what that meant or that this problem doesn't go away as a boy becomes a man.
I'll never forget the first time my eyes were opened to how the male brain works. Months before I discovered my husband's addiction, he purchased a copy of Every Man's Battle, by Steve Arterburn. I picked it up and read the first chapter. I was horrified! "Every man thinks this way!" I exclaimed to my husband. After all, he had assured me many times during our eight years of marriage that he never fantasized about other women and, while he occasionally noticed an attractive women, he never went farther than that. My husband even criticized married men who went to Hooters, saying it was disrespectful to their wives. And once again, he explained this one away as just being a book someone recommended and that he was not like the men described in the book. The wool was sure pulled over my eyes.
Everywhere we turn there is sex. Billboards advertising tanning salons or beer, neon lights inviting men to see "Live Nude Women," Victoria's Secret commercials. And we all hear about "locker room" conversation. So then why is it so shocking when we find out our husband likes to look at naked women? Maybe because, as in my case, we convince ourselves our husband is different. Maybe we think that after marriage the good guys don't think that way any more. Maybe it's just denial.
So how can a woman ever feel like her husband is attracted to her after discovering his desire for other women, whether in his thoughts or in his actions? Unfortunately, sometimes the truth is that a man has become so warped by years of viewing pornography that he no longer is attracted to his wife. There is still hope that if he stops this behavior his desire for her will return. That is the beauty of the plastic mind. It is always changing. While exposing the mind to negative things can cause it to desire negative things, when those things are replaced with positive things (i.e. God, family, bible study), the desires of the mind and the heart will change too.
Right now I want to focus on those men who are getting the help they need, going to meetings and counseling, doing whatever it takes to hopefully salvage their marriage. Clearly these men place a high value on their wife. In so many cases it would be much easier to run, and addicts usually have a habit of avoiding and escaping. So for a sex addict to stay and do the work, he must believe that staying in his marriage will bring him greater satisfaction than immersing himself further in a lifestyle of sexual acting out.
But we women, who are so wounded and scarred, just don't see this as enough evidence. We have been betrayed in the worst way one can imagine. Will anything ever be enough? If we are blessed to have a husband who is succeeding in sexual sobriety, and we have made the decision that to stay in the marriage is what is best, then maybe we need to do some research on our own to understand the male mind. After all, for many of those male minds, it is virtually impossible for them to explain themselves in a way that we can understand and accept. The result can be a whole lot of frustration for both parties.
Here's what I have come up with so far and you might not like it. You are not the most beautiful woman in the world. Not by society's standards, not by your own standards, and probably not even by your husband's standards. Ugh! What a punch in the gut! I'd much rather believe that at least to my husband there is no woman he finds more attractive than me. But you know what? There is something even better than being physically beautiful. After all, no matter how gorgeous a woman may be according to our culture's viewpoint, we all know beauty fades. Pregnancy, age, and stress all take a toll on our bodies. There sure as heck better be something more than my looks that keeps my husband around.
I like the way Bill Perkins puts it in his book, When Good Men Are Tempted. "The magnetism of a magnet isn't based on the physical appearance of the magnet but on the makeup of the magnet. It's what's on the inside that pulls the opposite poles together." Bill continues to explain that when a man turns to God and gets his priorities straight, his wife can become, "his God-given sexual playmate". He is able to "harness his passions and direct them toward his wife".
It is in our nature to want what we can't have. This is even talked about in the Bible, such as when King David desired Bethsheba, a married woman, even though he had many beautiful wives and concubines. You may relate to this if you compare it to dieting. Once you tell yourself cake is off limits, what do you want most?
There's another analogy that helps me, but to share this with you I have a confession to make. I'm a Twilighter. That's right, a wife and mom, no longer in her teens, not even in her twenties, and I have read every book in the Twilight Saga and seen every movie. And I am head over heels for Edward. How can I not be? He is THE perfect man. He's strong enough to physically stop an oncoming car from hitting his love interest, can recite Shakespeare, speaks several languages, always knows what to say, isn't uncomfortable expressing his emotions, and willing to do whatever it takes to protect his lover and make her happy. I admit there have been times I have wished my husband were more like Edward. I see this as innocent fun, but is it that different from my husband fantasizing about another woman's body?
Romantic comedies and romance novels often portray men in a light much more flattering than the men in our reality. If we're not careful we can begin to see our husband as not good enough, without even realizing why we are thinking that way. I wonder how many marriages have ended because of these unrealistic expectations of men we get from TV, fiction books, and movies. I truly believe that movies and books such as Twilight are shaping many teenage girls' view of what romance should look like and could potentially harm future relationships.
My conclusion? Learn to accept that you are beautiful in God's eyes; no matter if you are twenty-one or seventy-nine, no matter if you weigh 105 or 355. Accept that if your husband tells you he thinks you are beautiful, he probably means it. Accept that love and intimacy don't come from what you look like, but from something much deeper, and much more satisfying. Trust that if both you and your husband are willing to turn to Him, God will provide what you need to have that kind of gratifying love for each other.
NOTE FROM ELLA:
I encourage you to read the books I have mentioned in this article to help you further your knowledge on this topic and better understand your husband.