Dear Emuna,

I love my wife very much. She is beautiful, smart, devoted, and has a heart of gold. My issue lies with her choice of clothing. We constantly butt heads over what seems to be appropriate attire. She tends to wear clothing that's considered to be too provocative for our community standards.

I've gently told her that she should be a little more self-conscious about what she wears in public as it could have an affect on our social life. She implies that I'm clueless when it comes to women's fashion and that there are more pressing matters to deal with other than how much or little she decides to cover up. I've also noticed people giving her weird and uncomfortable looks whenever she wears pants or very short (not mini but very close) dresses/skirts. She dresses the way she does because she wants to feel pretty about herself but sometimes I feel that she crosses the line. I've been showering her with compliments and told her that she is gorgeous as she is. How can I convince her to cover up and dress more conservatively in public without coming off as a control freak (which I'm sometimes accused of)?

Thanks,

Concerned Husband

Dear Concerned,

I think the issue may boil down to what exactly it is you are concerned about. I think that whether you will be effective or not depends on three things – your motivation, your tone, and your wife. The last is out of your control (freak or not!). You can’t make her change. You can’t force her to understand your perspective. She has her own free will and her own choices to make.

So let’s focus on what does lie within your power. The first issue is your motivation. You need to engage in a little introspection to determine why you want her to dress differently. If it’s because of community standards, I doubt you will be successful. I can imagine that she may feel that you care more about what other people think than about her. She obviously doesn’t find community standards compelling and will be resentful of you for trying to impose them on her.

If, however, it’s her you’re concerned about, then you need a more loving approach.

You mention that she dresses that way to feel pretty. She is clearly insecure in this area (like most women I know!) and needs to build up her self-confidence. I think it’s very positive that you are “showering her with compliments.” I think it might be helpful to compliment her particularly when she’s dressing more conservatively if – and this is a big if – she will experience it as sincere and not just as a manipulation to get her to dress the way you prefer. (You did mention that you are controlling…)

The second issue is your tone. Your wife needs to feel unconditional love and acceptance from you. If she feels you are judging her, if your tone suggests a condemnation of her wardrobe, she will be hurt and resentful. She will pull away from you and definitely not respond to your “suggestions”.

A woman’s physical presentation is a VERY sensitive topic and it needs to be approached delicately. Look for opportunities to praise her, work on your own growth, and have patience.

Your wife may not ever change her mode of attire but if she does, it will only occur when she feels good about herself, strong, and loved. That is what you need to give her – with no ulterior motivation.

Botox – Go For It?

Dear Emuna,

I’m 54 years old and my face definitely shows it. I’m thinking of trying Botox and other mild cosmetic procedures but I’m embarrassed by my own vanity. What do you recommend? Should I just forget about it and take pleasure in every hard-earned wrinkle?

Passing Beauty

Dear Normal Woman,

Whew! That’s a tough one. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here and I believe it comes down to a matter of degrees.

Let me clarify that actual hospital procedures that carry significant medical risk are a totally different issue. That’s not what’s at stake here. We are discussing relatively mild interventions that could take place in a doctor’s office. It’s only (only!) a matter of time, money – and focus.

If it’s a real source of pain for you, then go for it. It doesn’t matter whether it should or shouldn’t be; the fact is that you are extremely disturbed by it and you have the power to do something about it. There is no reason to force yourself to live with the psychic angst and forgo the procedures.

Is it that different from all the anti-aging creams we stock in our cabinets? What sets it apart from makeup and manicures and dieting for appearance not health?

It is human nature to want to be attractive. It is a woman’s nature to want to appear beautiful (see previous letter).

I think we need to have a realistic acceptance of our age and stage of life (I never understood the point of lying about your age; it doesn’t change the reality) yet I believe we also have an obligation to take care of ourselves and present an attractive image particularly to our husbands – and to the world at large as well.

How we manage that is very individual.

I don’t believe it’s an area where someone else can judge for you. As long as you recognize that your physical self is not your true essence, as long as you keep your motivation simple and maintain perspective on what’s really important, then who am I to judge?

Clash with Ex-Wife

Dear Emuna,

I was married for 15 years and my ex-wife and I have 4 children. Our divorce was messy, leaving us both struggling financially. My ex-wife’s brother and sister-in-law have moved in with her to help supplement her income. I never got along with them and let me just say that we don’t share the same values. My ex and I have shared custody of the children and I’m really not happy that they now live with my ex-brother-in-law and sister-in-law. I’m not sure what to do. The house is in both of our names and I could institute some legal proceedings but I’m not sure if that’s the best route. What do you recommend?

Betwixt and Between

Dear Torn,

There is one important point that all divorced and divorcing parents must keep in mind. Once you have children with someone, you are tied to them for the rest of your life. However much you now “can’t stand” that individual, you still need to interact with them – frequently. And you need to do it in an amicable fashion for the sake of your children. This is crucial. (In fact, couples who are thinking of divorcing may change their minds when they recognize and accept this reality).

I’m not sure why you jumped immediate to the most extreme response i.e. the courts. Perhaps you could begin with a more civilized conversation with your former wife: “The kids tell me that your brother and sister-in-law have moved in. I know you are as concerned for the children’s welfare as I am. Are you comfortable with their potential influence on them?”

This may solve the whole issue. You may discover that your wife has safeguards in place to deal with problem. Or she may acknowledge that, in her desperation for greater financial security, she briefly lost sight of the deeper issues. She may propose an alternative solution. Hostilities and courts could possibly be avoided.

If things don’t go as smoothly as I suggest, you still need to be careful. You don’t want your children stuck in the middle. Your goal is to protect them not to make them pawns in your arguments. Never lose sight of this fact.

Like I said, even though you are no longer married, you need to maintain a good relationship in order to co-parent your children. So proceed with caution. For their sakes.