Marriage communication for awkward topics

Many cultures describe marriage as two people becoming “one flesh.” It’s true–after living together with someone for years, sharing a bathroom, dinner table and bed, the emotional and physical boundaries between you seem to dissolve. You feel like you know your spouse’s body like you know your own. Unfortunately, sometimes your spouse’s (or your own) body can be a source of…displeasure. Farting, snoring, burping, body odor…all bodies do these things. It’s part of being human! And you’re supposed to love your spouse no matter what, right? But what happens when these things start to really impact your marriage? The key is, once again, good marriage communication.

Let’s look a scenario with several possible solutions.

Matt and Lisa have been married for years, and as they have gotten older Matt has put on a lot of weight that has developed some major gastrointestinal problems from his eating. Lisa finds herself really put off by the odors and weight gain, and guilty that she no longer finds him as attractive as she used to. How can she voice her concerns without making Matt defensive?

1. The “Good news Bad news” technique:
“Matt, I love you so much. That’s the good news.  At the same time, I’ve had a problem lately. I am so turned on by the strong male physique you’ve always had.  At the same time, since you’ve rounded out, I find I’m less turned on, and I’m concerned about your health.  How are you feeling about the extra pounds you’ve put on?”
2. Focus on your part in the problem, then offer what you can do to rectify your error:
“Matt, I have to tell you that I feel just terrible about something. I see the extra belly you’ve put on over the past months, and I feel responsible for that.  I used to admire how you’d exercise after work.  I’m afraid I’ve discouraged that habit because I’m really into cooking.  While I appreciate that you come home earlier and skip the exercise to enjoy the food, I think I’ve led you down a problematic path.  Then because I love to linger with you over dinners, I’m probably tempting you to take seconds and thirds. What can I do to help you keep your healthy habits?”
3. Make it a couple issue that you’ve both tripped into:
“Matt, I read that people tend to put on weight after they are married and I’m afraid we have fit into that pattern.  I’ve put on two pounds.  How many have you put on since the wedding?  …..  It’s a real problem for me actually because I feel more sexual when I’m thinner, and react more sexually to you when you are about 10 pounds less than  now….What’s your reaction to our weight gain?  I’d love to start exercising more, like maybe walking after dinner.  Would you be willing to walk with me?  Or maybe, since winter is coming, we could buy exercise equipment.  I’d love to work out with you before we go to bed at night.  How would you feel about that?”
These are just three suggestions for ways to approach sensitive topics. Keep in mind these marriage communication principles for keeping the dialogue as unthreatening as possible:
  • Talk about yourself–your concerns, your reactions, your contribution to the problem.  Ask about the other–his/her feelings and thoughts.
  • Good questions begin with How and What.
  • Say what you are willing to do to help solve the problem.  Ask what he/she is willing to do.
I’d love to have your input. Ever had a moment where a well-meant comment ended in a huge argument? What about an example of when it worked? Which of the above techniques do you think is best?