Where Logic Meets Love

Serving Your Spouse with Your Appearance

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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Serving Your Spouse with Your Appearance | Faith Permeating Life

Today I want to have an interesting (and potentially controversial) discussion.

Here are my questions:
  • To what extent should you have a say in your partner's appearance?
  • To what extent should you change your own appearance to please your partner?
You might be surprised to hear me asking these questions since I pride myself on being such an independent person, but don't forget that I also think service is vitally important in marriage. And you have to find a balance between preserving your independence and joining your life with your partner.

Emmy at Love Woke Me Up This Morning posted a similar question a few weeks ago:
"Is there really anything wrong with wanting to look nice for your hubby, with clothes he likes or a hairstyle he enjoys? ... On the other hand when do you draw the line? Is there a line between sacrificing who you are for a man and simply wanting to make him happy?"
Since the topic of what you do with your own body is a potentially volatile one, let's step back a minute and look at a different example.

A friend of mine in college once took me home to her parents' house on a weekend when she was filming interviews on relationships for a class. I got to sit in on her interview with her parents. During the course of the interview, her mom said that she tries to keep the kitchen clean because although she's naturally a messy person, she knows it's important to her husband to have a clean kitchen, and that's a way she can show she cares about him.

Afterwards, my friend said to me that she'd always figured her mom tried to keep the kitchen clean because her dad might get annoyed and complain otherwise, and that her mom was just trying to prevent an argument. It hadn't occurred to her that her mom was doing it as an act of service and love because she knew it was important to her husband.

With that in mind, here was my response to Emmy's question:
"I think it is more about the motivation: Are you doing it as a way to serve your husband out of love, or because he is controlling and expects obedience from you? There's a huge difference. As long as you feel like you have control over your decisions, then I don't see a reason why you shouldn't dress one way or another."
So if you say, "I'm wearing my hair long because my husband likes it that way," should I assume that your husband is controlling and dictates every area of your life? No. It may very well be that you don't care how long your hair is, so you decide to do what your husband will like.

Usually we think of women changing their appearance to please men, but what about the other way around?

Here's something you may not know: When I first met Mike, he had a 'fro. A big old curly white-boy 'fro. He'd gone to a Catholic all-boys high school for four years where he had to keep his hair short, so when he graduated he decided to see how long it would grow. (The answer: Long enough that at the end of our freshman year of college we both donated to Locks of Love.)

This was, honestly, something that made me resist dating him for a long time. I have always disliked long hair on guys, and I thought it made him look ridiculous and unattractive, despite the fact that I liked most everything else about him.

Eventually I got over it and got used to his hair, but once he cut it off I made it pretty clear that I found him much more attractive with short hair. And he was fine with that because he wasn't particularly attached to the 'fro. (Though he does like to threaten to grow it out again when he turns 40, I think just to needle me.)

Then it was the facial hair. I generally dislike facial hair, and Mike has never had any sort of permanent facial hair as part of his look, so it was really just an issue of when he wouldn't shave for a few days and looked kind of scruffy.

I resisted saying anything about it for a long, long time. I didn't want to be a "controlling" girlfriend. I didn't want to tell him what to do or how he needed to look. I was very protective of my own body and felt it would be hypocritical to say anything about his appearance.

Finally I couldn't deal with it anymore. I told him, "Look, I'm tired of feeling guilty about this. It's just a straight-up fact that I find you unattractive when you haven't shaved for a few days. You totally have the right to do whatever you want and look however you want, but just know that I am not attracted to you when you look scruffy."

He thought about it and said it wasn't a big deal to him, and he'd try to shave before he took a shower every day. We've been together 7 years now, and sure, it's not every single day, but it means a lot to me that he tries to honor that.

By the same token, I could be perfectly happy never shaving my legs again, but I do it because I know he likes it, and it's not a huge burden on me.

I want to know your thoughts on this. How much do your partner's wishes dictate your appearance? How much have you shared your opinions with your partner on their appearance decisions? And how do you make that distinction between "control" and "service"?


  1. I think that a decision falls within the realm of 'service' when you make it freely. If I wore a red gingham shirt home, I know that my partner would physically recoil (his hatred of that pattern is IRRATIONAL), but there would be no question as to my 'right' to wear it. Because of that, my choosing to not have any gingham in the house doesn't feel like I'm being controlled, it feels like I'm being considerate.

    We're both very protective of our autonomy, so our baseline starts with the understanding that we control our own bodies, no exceptions. *And*, because we love each other, we try to take the other person's comfort into account. It's like how he only plays loud, discordant music in the car when he's alone, and I wear headphones when I watch TV shows with insipid dialogue on my laptop.

    For me, the key is making sure that whatever the baseline is in a relationship, everyone needs to find it to be fair. Service needs to come from a feeling of generosity, rather than resentment.

  2. Hi! You've put up this issue so beautifully! I feel, it is fine for a husband-wife to dress like how the other wants them to, as long as it is done out of love. It is bad when any of the two forces his/her views on the other. On the personal front, I wouldnt like my partner dictating his views on me. I enjoy my freedom to dress as I please, but yes, since he loves me a lot, I will dress as he would like me to, once in a while, just to see his face light up with a smile. I loved your views on this topic! Have a great day!

  3. @alice
    I loved reading all your examples of how you and your partner serve each other by being mindful of one another's preferences. It seems like it's too often true that people are considerate to strangers but more "I'll do what I want" with their own family.

    my choosing to not have any gingham in the house doesn't feel like I'm being controlled, it feels like I'm being considerate.
    Well said! I do think it comes down to how you see your own actions and your reason for doing them.

    Service needs to come from a feeling of generosity, rather than resentment.
    What I try to be careful of is that my desire to be generous doesn't lead to resentment if it's not noticed. Gretchen Rubin had a great post recently about how she catches herself saying, "I'm doing this for my husband; he better appreciate it." Better to just do it out of love, regardless of the consequences.

    Thanks for your great comment!

  4. @Shreeja N
    I love what you said about making your partner's face light up. I've... well, let's just say I've made some trips to Victoria's Secret that I wouldn't have for myself, but to see the look on my husband's face! :)

    I am also grateful to be in a partnership, like you said, in which Mike doesn't dictate anything about me, but gives me the opportunity to do things out of love for him!

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. This is quite a bone of contention in my house. And in my case it's not usually my husband making requests, it's me. I also hate long hair and scruffy beards. I've mentioned it quite a few times (probably too many if I'm honest), however my husband currently has hair much longer than my preference, and hasn't shaved in a couple of weeks. It's hard because I really don't like hurting his feelings, or sounding like I'm telling him what to do. At the same time however, I do feel it is a loving thing to do something if it is the other person's preference.

  6. That distinction between control and service is crucial! Reminds me of this Mister Rogers song. I think it's important, too, to be careful what you SAY about it to other people, to avoid giving the impression that you're being controlled when it's really a service you choose.

    I gradually quit wearing make-up because my partner doesn't like it. He emphasized how beautiful I looked when I wasn't wearing it, more often than he ranted scornfully about make-up in general, and he almost never criticized my appearance when I was wearing it; that approach was crucial to my feeling supported in making the decision for myself rather than feeling bullied into it. It seems strange now, but I really struggled with giving it up because I grew up in Oklahoma in the '80s and it was considered shockingly improper for a female over age 12 to appear in public without at least lipstick or eye shadow!

    I've found that when Daniel admires some detail of the appearance of women in general, it pays to ask him specifically whether he would like me to have that style. Sometimes he wouldn't, and it can be very interesting to find out why. For example, some things LOOK good but aren't pleasant to touch. Also, when we talk about this he always reinforces how important it is for ME to be happy with my appearance and the tasks I have to do to maintain it.

    I like long hair and beards, but I don't like the indecisive stage. Either grow a beard, or shave!

  7. @Lozzz123
    I do feel it is a loving thing to do something if it is the other person's preference.
    Ah, that's the tricky part, isn't it? You can't *make* someone do something out of love for you, you just hope that they would. But if something's really important to a person, then their partner's wishes aren't going to trump that.

    You said you've mentioned it to him a few times. I wonder how you are going about it? I've found Mike is more responsive to things if we have a serious conversation and I tell him something is bothering me than if I make half-joking digs at him about the thing I don't like (which is easier and more tempting most of the time!). Perhaps it could be the way you're approaching it?

    Best of luck :)

  8. @'Becca
    I think it's important, too, to be careful what you SAY about it to other people, to avoid giving the impression that you're being controlled when it's really a service you choose.
    That's very true. A few months ago I was at a wedding reception and a friend who was attending without her husband kept making comments about how "I can do such-and-such (or eat such-and-such) because he's not here." It wasn't clear if she meant she usually avoids it because it bothers him, or if she really doesn't feel free to be herself around him. Knowing both of them I would guess the former, but everyone seemed a bit uncomfortable by her comments.

    That's a really interesting point about not assuming that your partner would want you to adopt some style because s/he compliments it on someone else. I'm a fan of clarification and open communication whenever possible!

  9. These are some really great questions. My husbands views on particular looks actually got me to step out of my shell. When I was single I would have NEVER stepped out of the house without makeup and I would have never felt confident without it. My husband actually felt he had to have a discussion with me saying how pretty I am without makeup and he had that discussion with me a couple times before I had the courage to go out without it. My skin thanks him for that lol. To make him happy I tried it and it was kind of refreshing. Don't get me wrong..I LOVE my makeup. But now I don't feel that I need it.

    How much do your partner's wishes dictate your appearance?
    Once in a while. Before he met me he tended to go for the tomboy type...which is not me lol. I love dresses, jewelry and all that stuff. But to make him happy I will put on hoodie and jeans instead of leggings, tunics, and statement jewelry. Though as we have gotten older and closer our wishes on how I dress kind of morphed together. Depending on the day I will feel sexy in a regular hoodie and jeans and not have to get all dressed up.

    How much have you shared your opinions with your partner on their appearance decisions?
    This is where our communication is off. I tend to not voice it very often. The couple times I have he did what I hoped for with love.

    And how do you make that distinction between "control" and "service"?

    To me control would be you literally feel forced to do something you don't want to do. Or even resentment towards the spouse asking it.

  10. @melissa
    Thanks for sharing your experiences! It sounds like you've tried a lot of new things out of consideration for your husband. I think it's really interesting that his preference is for you to put less time into your appearance--in terms of putting on makeup, accessorizing, etc.--when I think a lot of women believe that all men prefer them "dolled up." My husband is the same way; he hates makeup, to the point that he was distressed when I said I was going to wear some on our wedding day until I explained it was just going to be a little bit to avoid looking washed out. I've always been a dress-down, no-makeup type of person, so it works out well for me :)

    I think it's very cool that you have found you feel good with or without makeup, and in different types of clothing. You're right that our partners can be good at pushing us outside of our comfort zones sometimes!

  11. Really interesting topic! We've definitely talked about this a few times-- how much say do we have in the other person's appearance?

    For us the answer is "very little"... control, that is. But we feel free to let the other person know our opinion, and then it's their choice : )

    So thanks to *lots* of compliments from me, he's started letting his face get stubbly a little more often, and letting his hair grow a little longer between cuts (sounds like we're opposite!) : )

    And for him, I've agreed to not pierce my eyebrow... at least for a while ; )

  12. @April
    It does sound like we're the opposite in our preferences :)

    Compliments are a good way to share your opinion without making demands. I always try to compliment Mike when I like something in particular about his look!


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