If your wife spends less time making herself beautiful, does it mean she cares less about you? If she starts wearing nicer makeup, does it mean she's cheating on you?
Probably not. In research reported this month's issue of Psychological Science, we learn that women choices in makeup vary with the testosterone levels in their saliva. We also know that overall interest in her appearance varies with ovulation, but the testosterone differences are unrelated to difference in ovulation-related hormones.
Claire I. Fisher, Amanda C. Hahn, Lisa M. DeBruine, and Benedict C. Jones of the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology, University of Glasgow, report that when they measure it over time, "women's preference for attractive makeup increases when their salivary testosterone levels are high."
Polycystic ovarian syndrome can cause excessively high levels of testosterone. Removal of the ovaries, or damage to them from chemotherapy, can lead to low levels. Levels drop with menopause and increase if a menopausal woman is prescribed testosterone cream for low libido or vaginal dryness. So can pituitary problems or enough physical exercise or weight loss to stop a woman's menstruation.
Almost any change in our spouse is enough to trigger a sudden fear that we are no longer loved or valued. It's a panicky feeling. That's why we must Assume Love and ask why what's happening might occur if we were certain a loss of love had not occurred.
Just knowing that the reason may be physical and have nothing to do with our relationship is greatly reassuring. It brings the threat level down. We might even decide we like the change, and a compliment or a request to continue is a lot easier when we feel less threatened. Curiously, even if the reason really was a shift in feelings toward us (or new feelings for someone else), an unthreatened compliment can turn those feelings around.
If the change is a problem -- if we strongly prefer a spouse with more attractive makeup or a more natural appearance -- then we also need to Find a Third Alternative.
And this is one of those situations where it might be very easy to find one, if testosterone or ovulation is affecting a preference.
For many of us, when we get up in the morning, we prefer to linger in bed or with our coffee cup, but we'll gladly forget our preference if keeping our job requires moving faster or if we take up a morning exercise regimen that makes us feel great later in the day.
All we need is another reason to override the preference we wake up with. A request from a spouse, compliments, expressions of gratitude, or even a friendly bit of humor might make enough difference. And if the reason might be a medical change in testosterone level, a nudge to ask the doctor about the change may get those levels changed back.
Remember, your wife is not an opponent. None of the natural, self-protective responses that help in more threatening situations are helpful in dealing with someone who has seen the best in you and promised to love you for the rest of your life.