Unless you’re under the age of seven, or living in a bubble world, you’ve probably analyzed your body and potentially even compared it to whomever the media considers to have the “perfect” body. Loving your body, however hard that may be, allows you to live out your priorities—whether that be hiking, elongating your life to spend time with your grandchildren, or maintaining a healthy intimate relationship or marriage. Your perception of your body and the decisions you make to support a healthy life are in your control. When you are involved in a committed relationship, however, you partner’s priorities for his or her body and health and their body image affect your connection. If your partner struggles with their body image, your words and actions can deeply impact them and therefore either weaken or strengthen your relationship.
In a couple, generally speaking, there is one partner who expresses their struggles with their body image, while the other reassures and affirms their partner while thinking less deeply about their own body image. When your partner asks for reassurance, whether in your mind’s eye they need approval or not, be cautious of defining their want as needy. Instead, consider their need as a way to connect with you. Consider your partner’s vulnerabilities and choose your words and actions wisely. A partner asking for affirmation of good choices may be carrying just as much hurt or need as one who isn’t taking care of their body. Compliment their body and take the opportunity to tell them how much you appreciate how they take care of their health.
Those who have chosen a less than desirable health path may or may not ask for their partner’s opinion or approval. Regardless, their poor health choices usually have some negative impact on the relationship, whether that stems from their own frustration with their choices or your concern for their health. Always consider that no one likes to be told how to care for their body. Offering your partner suggestions regarding what they need to improve or how to improve their body and health creates hurt feelings. Instead, create a situation where your partner can freely express their feelings. Suggest playing cards or taking a walk together to create an environment conducive to conversation. These types of activities may help your partner express something they feel they need or feel is missing in the relationship or in their life. Once expressed, ask your partner how you can help support their goals. Offer extra support, such as increasing your involvement with housework or childcare to allow your partner more time to focus on health-supportive habits or activities.
Affection is key to supporting your partner’s body image. All human beings feel better about their body when they receive affection, especially when it is not requested. Hugging and kissing your partner every day tells him or her that you like touching them, and that you love the person inside the body.
- Touch. While making love, touch each and every part of your partner’s body. Tell your partner that you enjoy touching their body and/or be specific about the parts of their body you love.
- Talk. Express to your partner what attracted you to him or her during the beginning stages of your dating life and what attracts you to your partner now. Touch on a physical, spiritual, or emotional aspect of your attraction to your partner.
- Connect. Give your partner a five-minute shoulder massage or foot massage, the day after you make love. It’s one more way to say that you love the person inside the body.