Diane Sollee, author of the marvelous Smart Marriages newsletter, recently asked marriage educators on her mailing list to address a complaint from a husband contemplating divorce.
As he put it, "You end up thinking you are marrying a Ferrari and you get a Mini Van." He'd lost his libido as his thin, sexy wife became an overweight soccer mom, and he wanted out. But first, "I am writing to you because my divorce isn¹t final and I want answers."
In most cases where a spouse complains of an unmet need, I'd suggest first trying to find a way to get that need met outside the marriage. But sexual attraction is one of those needs that must be met within the marriage. And for that, we need a Third Alternative.
His initial alternative? My wife returns to Ferrari condition.
Her initial alternative? My husband needs to accept me as I am. Our children's needs make it too hard to stay in good shape or eat right.
If they drop both of those, they can stop opposing each other and join hands to seek a third alternative. To work, this new alternative must give them both what they seek from their initial alternatives and none of what they fear about their spouse's initial alternative.
For him, that's a wife whose appearance turns him on. She'd love that, too. For her, the goal is meeting her children's needs without running herself ragged to achieve that appearance. These are not incompatible goals. The way to achieve them becomes apparent as soon as they spell them out.
The Third Alternative
Now all they need to do is figure out how to get the kids' needs met while she works on exercising and changing her diet.
The husband could meet them, doing homework with them while his wife attends a Weight Watchers meeting or goes to the gym.
Someone else could meet them, paying a housekeeper to clean the house, prepare meals, or do the laundry while mom gets out to walk or run every day.
The kids could help meet their needs and hers at the same time, walking with mom to the soccer game instead of taking the car, or cooking a healthy meal while she goes to Overeaters Anonymous after sitting through their Little League game. Or the whole family could go hiking or rowing together on weekends and let the kids drop a team sport.
The husband could encourage his wife by exercising with her, by preparing healthy meals, or by providing rewards for meeting the goals she sets for herself. He could also shop with her to select clothing that appeals to his desires and her tastes.
A good Third Alternative is one that both of them can support and one that gets each of them the benefits they sought from their initial alternative, a win-win solution. It sure beats a "change or I'll divorce you" ultimatum.