Col21_SexualSabotageAs a personal fitness trainer, my mom meets many “interesting” characters on a regular basis and every single one of them, inevitably, has a “story to tell”. Beyond seeking her guidance to shed unwanted pounds, her clients also frequently position her within the “therapist” role, given that body image, weight maintenance and lifestyle choice are deeply intertwined with one’s psychological state; credence to said notion can be found in the case of those afflicted with serious eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Allow me to elaborate:

Despite the physical changes that their bodies undergo, sufferers of the aforementioned psychoses commonly report being continually plagued by distorted “body image”. In some cases, psychologists have noted that the extreme weight loss associated with these two disorders goes far beyond having mere self-esteem issues. Instead, highly regulating one’s sustenance intake can be seen as attempt to regain mastery over a minor “controllable” aspect of one’s life, typically brought on by an overall feeling of “loss of control” (Psychology Today).

Our topic for today, however, spans beyond individual attempts to “dominate” oneself. Rather, I’d like to discuss something I refer to as “sexual sabotage”: a phenomenon that occurs within romantic relations when one partner is threatened by the success of the other and accordingly attempts to botch that success, typically in a passive aggressive fashion.

For those of you unfamiliar with passive aggressive behaviour (you’re lucky, first and foremost!), in a nutshell, it can be summated as: a form of “indirect” manipulation wherein “aggression” or attempts to “control” are thinly veiled under what is presented, on the surface, as “care” or “concern”. As explained in The Angry Smile, “passive aggression involves a variety of behaviors designed to get back at another person, without the other recognizing the underlying anger.” Now, the reason I opened this piece with a focus on my mom and her profession is because a story she once relayed to me, on this very subject, has always stuck with me.

A few years ago, a well-off married woman in her early forties hired my mom to help her get back to her ideal weight. It’s important to note that the woman’s motivation for doing so stemmed purely from personal reasons and her relationship with her husband appeared both stable and healthy.

As the months rolled on and the woman increasingly became fitter, more confident, happier and more energized, her husband started to act very odd. Irrespective of the fact that the woman was clearly very proud of the strides she had made, his initial proclamations of support started to mutate into “I’ve always loved you just the way you are” sorts of statements. Taken on their own, these words seem nothing but romantic, sincere and very thoughtful. However, they were shortly followed by comments about how the woman should skip exercise class this or that week, as according to the husband, they just don’t seem to have enough recreational time together anymore. The final nail in the coffin came when in order to apparently “congratulate” the woman on her weight loss success, the husband went out and bought her PRE-exercise/healthy regime favourite high calorie, full fat, sugar-heavy dessert item so they could both gorge out! I mean REALLY?!

Like so many other displays of psychological immaturity we’ve covered thus far, “sexual sabotage”, too, stems from feelings of insecurity. In this particular case, given that the husband had a “beer belly” of his own that certainly wouldn’t be missed, it’s easy to deduce that his passive aggressive behaviours were rooted in an unconscious fear that he may lose his spouse to another mate with more desirable “physical fitness.” But, instead of going down the mature introspective path wherein he acknowledged both his own weight issues and fear of the potential consequences of his wife outshining him physically, he attempted to bring her “back down to his level”.

For many people (and I’m sure you’ve seen this even among your own group of friends), when they become attached, they begin to put less and less effort into their everyday appearance. As the popular expression states, “they” in effect, “let themselves go.”

From an evolutionary psychological perspective, this phenomenon actually makes perfect sense. At their most basic primal level, relationships are sought out for the purposes of reproduction (ie: to carry on one’s genes). Once a desirable mate that can fulfill this role has been secured, there truly is NO need to attempt to attract others; ergo, out goes the makeup and hair coiffing and in comes the muffin top!  

But of course modern day society with its impossible ideals of beauty and social standards (particularly for woman) adds complication to the mix. As the above story demonstrated, a desire to keep up one’s appearance may not have anything to do with pleasing one’s mate at all. And that, my friends, IS JUST FINE! It is YOUR life after all.

What I’m trying to get at is this: in psychologically healthy and mature adult relationships, there is room for BOTH “us” activities and “his” or “her” activities; neither of which come at the expense of the other. A truly mature and well-adjusted partner is supportive, understanding and accommodating to their spouse’s needs. Above all, each partner ALWAYS maintains the “best interests” of the other in mind.

With that said, if you should find yourself in a similar situation as the husband in the above tale, perhaps having read this piece, instead of attempting to sabotage the efforts of your spouse to protect your own ego, you’ll celebrate her triumphs. An even better case scenario? Your spouse’s desire for self-improvement ignites a spark within YOU to assess YOUR own situation and determine how YOU TOO can become the “best” possible you! Now that’s a goal worth striving for 😉