Dear Rebbetzin Feige,
I am a newly married woman who was raised in a Jewish home with Torah values. My question is this: It seems that all men have a 'yetzer hara,' an urge, to look at other women. How is a married women supposed to come to terms with this? I am so insecure every time we go out. I feel like my husband might look at another woman and think that she is prettier than me.
Of course he assures me that he loves me and thinks I am beautiful, but I am scared he won't be attracted to me if I gain weight (which I have because I am pregnant). This insecurity is so painful and I know I hurt him every time I bring it up. He feels like I don't trust him, which I guess I don't. What can I do about this?
The 'yetzer harah' (evil inclination), that you speak of is, as you correctly assessed, a fact of life. This is true not only in the area of gender relations but also in everything else around us that lures our senses and beckons for our attention and participation. This has been part of the human condition since the beginning of time.
Consider Adam and Eve in paradise, surrounded by unprecedented abundance -- yet they nevertheless found themselves drawn to the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that is described as "good for food, tempting to the sight, and a delight to contemplate" (Genesis 3:6). Though they had so many other trees to choose from, they succumbed, ate of its forbidden fruit, and the rest is history.
It is only the mastery over our urges that constitutes our unique eminence and grandeur.
The same conflict exists in our day-to-day lives. Moment to moment, we all stand before the "Tree of Knowledge" as did Adam and Eve in their day. We are constantly confronted by the choice between our animal instincts and desires, and our mindfulness of a higher calling that exhorts us to subordinate our nature to obey the Voice of God.
Indeed, moral freedom is the foundation of man's higher dignity and there can be no moral freedom without the ability to err and to sin. Moreover, man cannot sin unless his senses are attracted to evil and repelled by goodness. It is only the mastery over our urges and subordination of the less-than-lofty inclinations of our nature to the Will of God that constitutes our unique eminence and grandeur.
As Stephen Covey, a contemporary writer, states, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom."
All of us can only hope and pray that we will opt to express the better part of ourselves and that our decisions in life will reflect the will of the Master of the universe. Ongoing learning, prayer, and surrounding ourselves with friends of like values can be helpful to keep us on track.
Your anxiety and insecurity about your looks evokes a number of points. The first is that attraction and chemistry between two people is seldom comprised exclusively of facial features or body dimensions. There are the unquantifiable components of personality -- attitudes, sense of humor, spirit, vivaciousness, body language, refinement, character, etc. -- that are all major factors in the composite of 'looks.'
Consider the common experience of a first impression, the initial glimpse of a person who at first blush may strike us as less than beautiful, but after greater exposure and expanded knowledge of the person we cannot even remember how we could have thought him or her to be anything but captivating.
The converse is true as well, that of a physically striking individual whose appeal totally wanes as we come to realize that they are bereft of heart, soul or personality.
Moreover, the 'beauty in the eyes of the beholder' truism dictates that physical appeal cannot be reduced to a science or logic. I have often encountered young men who share with me their list of requirements for the spouse they are seeking. To my chagrin, good looks are all too frequently a top priority item. Ironically, more often than not, I am amazed by the end product of their search which, in my opinion, belies any approximation to what they initially insisted they must have. It proves to me over and over again, that an objective definition of beauty is as elusive as reducing the essence of all people to one given formula. Beyond any doubt, the saying "different strokes for different folks" rings true every time.
If physical beauty is the exclusive criteria and basis for a relationship, it is doomed at the outset.
If beauty was objective, it would create a sad state of affairs. Every man and woman respectively would gravitate and seek out the same person. The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, created a world where people have very subjective taste in all things. In the words of our Sages, "Just as no two people look exactly alike outwardly, similarly no two people think alike or value the exact same things." The Talmud, in discussing the various supra-logical biases that exist in human nature, identifies the special charm that a woman has in her husband's eyes -- a status reserved for her alone.
I would strongly advise you, dear reader, to direct your attention inward, to take inventory of your own personal assets, to look deep inside yourself, to find the root of your insecurity. Clearly, looks alone can never be the basis of an ongoing successful marriage. Indisputably, by definition, all that is purely physical wanes with time, and dedicating one's life and efforts to the maintenance of youth and beauty (face lifts and cosmetics notwithstanding), will ultimately prove futile. Hence, if physical beauty is the exclusive criteria and basis for a relationship, it is doomed at the outset.
By doing things that are enduring and respectable, you will feel worthy of your spouse's attention.
For a lasting relationship your sense of self-esteem must flow from inside, from inner substance. You need to feel good about yourself. This vital attitude can be generated only by doing things that are enduring and respectable. See yourself as a worthy human being, giving, contributing, learning, becoming, and making a difference. Only then you won't be so vulnerable and dependent on the opinion and the approval of others, and perhaps, more importantly, you will feel yourself worthy of your spouse's preeminent attention.
A healthy sense of self, born of an ongoing spiritual, emotional and intellectual journey, is the best antidote to the insecurities that might threaten one's equilibrium. There are times that outside intervention -- i.e. therapist, qualified good friend or spiritual guide -- might be helpful in launching a positive course of action towards self-esteem. Before one can successfully consummate a relationship with another, they must first consummate a positive relationship with themselves.
In conclusion, I would strongly urge you, dear reader, to cease the barrage of attacks of overt and covert insinuations on the lack of integrity of your husband. The saying of "look at a person as they are and that is all they will be, or look at a person as what they might become and that then is what they will be," strongly applies here. Concentrating on flaws and blemishes is self-defeating and can become self-fulfilling. Instead, put your effort toward making your time together enjoyable and nurturing. Be assured that a pleasant, positive and happy wife is the greatest of all blessings for a husband, and is more likely than anything else to keep him looking in your direction.