When I first started dating my husband five years ago, he told me about a conversation he had with a married female friend. He proceeded to tell me that when he spoke to her about me, he reassured her that she was prettier than I was and that she had nothing to worry about. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Why didn’t he keep that to himself instead of telling me what he said to her? I told him how I felt and how hurt I was. Andrew apologized for what he said; he doesn’t know why he said it. He told me he didn’t know what he was thinking and that he never meant to hurt me. I asked Andrew if what he said was the truth of how he felt. His response was that he did believe that she was prettier than me. But he didn’t know why he said it in the first place and that it was wrong of him to have said that. I eventually forgave him for what he had said; however, one could never forget. Till this day, when Andrew gives me a compliment or tells me that I’m beautiful, I will tell him thank you, but, in my mind, I don’t believe him.
My husband is a great husband; however, after that day, I don’t feel that I’m pretty or even beautiful to him. I know he tries hard now to make me feel that way, but I don’t. Can you give me some advice on how to heal? In case you’re wondering, my husband cut all ties with his friend after we got married. I felt very uncomfortable being around her after I knew how my husband felt. — N.W., Las Vegas
I make no excuses for your husband. His comments are a guaranteed first ballot lock for The Idiot Husband Comment Hall of Fame. It’s beyond ‘nerd.’ It is a supreme violation of the unspoken agreements for gender and marital etiquette. I’d call it "insensitive," but it’s almost too idiotic to be insensitive. I’m saying that you have to be thinking more clearly to be insensitive. This is brain vapor lock. If I was his college beer drinking buddy, I know I’d never let him hear the end of this.
But, for the record, I don’t think it’s possible to be a husband and not eventually get a nomination for The Idiot Husband Comment Hall of Fame.
Now, I could talk myself blue in the mouth here with platitudes about how you’re supposed to be beautiful for yourself, that whether you’re beautiful is your decision and not your husband’s. I could tell you that men routinely don’t marry (or even date) the woman or women they objectively define as "the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen" because their wives are beautiful to them in a way that categorically trumps objectivity.
My girlfriend knows I have a "thing" for actress Julianne Moore. But, if she ever asked if I thought Julianne Moore was prettier than she was, I’d say "Whhaatt?" This would be way past "apples and oranges." It would be like asking me if The Beatles were better than heaven.
But I’m not much for platitudes. Besides, as you say, your man is a great husband.
So, let me try to make it better by first making it worse. The worst part of this story is NOT your husband’s decision to verbalize his opinion that, measured objectively, his female buddy is prettier than you. The worst part is his egregiously misplaced alliance. At the time of your meeting his friend, he was reassuring her! His hierarchy of allegiance was upside down. Painfully backward . You reassure your girlfriend, Doofwad! Not your buddy!
Seen this way, the sin seems even more wrong, yet somehow more comprehensible and therefore forgivable. In the early stages of courtship and commitment, there is always a window of time in which mates are "re-wiring" the hierarchy of fiduciary relationships. It takes some practice, some trial and error before your behavior consistently places your mate No. 1 in your life. Friends of either gender, siblings, mother, hobbies — oh yeah, I’m married now, and my first and foremost allegiance belongs to my marriage. Oops.
If, since then, his behavior consistently demonstrates your cherished status of being No. 1 in his life, then I’d forgive him and let this go. Because if he’s in love with you, then I assure you that, while he might occasionally see a woman more beautiful, he’s never known a woman more beautiful than you.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or skalas@ reviewjournal.com.