"He Flirts with Other Women Because I've Lost My Looks"
The Counselor's Turn
"Judy and Ted were fighting like children," said the counselor. "Neither had ever truly grown up emotionally. Because Judy had low self-esteem, she was always preoccupied with her looks. As for Ted, he was still handsome enough that he could continue to think of himself as the hot guy he'd been in his youth.
"On top of that, they were dealing with a fairly common marital problem: One partner's insecurity was driving a wedge in the relationship. What made it worse is that being a charmer is just part of Ted's DNA. Still, he needed to acknowledge how much this behavior hurt his wife and be willing to curb those tendencies for her sake. In a private session with Ted I gently explained that although his bantering and wisecracking with other women was just his way of having a little fun, it was a slap in the face to Judy. He gave me a hangdog look and said, 'It just comes naturally to me.' But finally he said, 'I really don't want to make Judy upset. How can I change?' I told him that every time he found himself surrounded by women at a social gathering, he should make sure Judy was at his side and the center of his attention. He should make frequent eye contact with her so it's clear to everyone that his wife is number one with him. He agreed to try that. At our next private session, he reported that he had done it and that Judy had apparently felt special and included. At a joint session she told me the same thing.
"Even more important, I taught Judy and Ted a tried-and-true communication technique. Set a kitchen timer so that each person has one minute to speak without interruption. Then you must be silent for another full minute while both of you reflect on what was said and the other can come up with a civilized reply or a request for clarification. This kind of structure can have an artificial feel to it, but it is a huge improvement over shouting matches.
"As a result of their new communication skills, Judy was able to help Ted understand how inadequate she felt. He had never really heard her before because he always felt she was attacking him, but when he finally got it he was moved to tears.
"Not long after that, Judy once again brought up the subject of cosmetic surgery, but I encouraged her and Ted to reignite their sex life before moving forward with it. I wanted them to establish a sexual relationship that went beyond the trigger of appearances. They said it worked -- that there was more tenderness and it was more satisfying.
"Eventually Judy did decide to have cosmetic surgery, but it was motivated by the simple desire to look better, not by the need to keep Ted's attention. 'I feel so much happier about myself these days,' Judy said.
"Ted likes her new look and Judy is pleased by his reaction. But she says that knowing he'd always loved her just the way she was is now the real turn-on. Ted says he couldn't agree more."
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Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December/January 2010.