Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V, My Wife Dresses Too Sexy!

Venus Nicolino holds a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships. This week: my wife dresses too sexy!
Dear Dr. V,

I read your answer a week ago to a husband who was infatuated with his wife’s office clothing. I have the opposite problem: I feel as though my wife dresses too sexy to the office.
I’m talking about her low cleavage where you can sometimes actually see her bra! She wears very short skirts, extremely high heels … just very provocative clothing overall! A few times she was wearing black fishnets.
Not only do I find this kind of attire at the office inappropriate but when I try to talk to her about it she gets super defensive … I mean c’mon! She’s a mother and a wife and it’s totally age inappropriate. Forget about the office — she also dresses this way when we’re out with our son. All the other mothers (and fathers) look at her like she’s a weirdo. And I don’t want my two-year-old son to grow up having other people look at his mom like she’s a freak show.
I really love her very much and I’m trying to accept this change (when we married she didn’t dress this way … only after the birth of our son). What can I do? What can we do?
Marc from the OC
Dear Mark,

Of course I can understand why you are so upset by this situation. Like many of the dilemmas we face in relationships, the solution lies in finding a balance of empathy, honesty and acceptance. Before you approach your wife about this you may want to try and see the situation not just through her eyes, but through those of your son as well.
There are parallels between your situation and Kevin from New York who wrote in a few weeks ago, but the main difference here is that a child is involved; a two-year old boy, whose feelings and perceptions must be considered in how you address this. So, before we discuss a possible solution, I’d like to examine what’s going on here a bit more closely.
No doubt you both have discovered parenting is perhaps the hardest job in the world. Your son is just two, and I’m sure you both realize you are still in the intensive, formative phase. At the same time, neither you nor your wife has ceased to exist as adult, mature, sexual beings. In fact, your wife may feel disconnected from what she believes to be her youthful, sensual self. It could be that her present extreme manner of dress is an attempt to recapture this.
And while she is now a mother and needs to honor her responsibilities to her child and to you, this does not mean she needs to give up the facets of herself she finds appealing. It does mean that the two of you will need to have some agreed upon boundaries for what is acceptable where and when. So here is the real conflict of your situation, what’s good for the self vs. what’s good for the family. Too far in either direction will result in unhappiness and dysfunction for everyone. As I said before, the answer lies in finding the balance and harmony of these needs.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t initiate this conversation when you’re in the thick of your own feelings, and it is imperative that you are coming from a loving, nonjudgmental place if there is to be effective communication between you two. It might prove beneficial for you both if you were able to talk about why your wife has changed her style of dress since your son arrived. Are you still able to find a time and space for intimacy in your relationship?
Perhaps, if you were able to find your wife’s emotional motivation to dress in what you feel is a provocative manner; you could both develop a more acceptable way for her to channel these feelings. For instance, let’s say that your wife dresses the way she does because she’s seeking assurance, possibly subconsciously, that she’s still a vital, attractive woman. This could explain her defensiveness over the phrase "age-inappropriate." Here’s where we parallel my suggestion to our friend Kevin in New York: maybe you could set the clothes up as special occasion outfits. Such as if it’s just in the bedroom, or only when you two are out as a couple and the little guy’s at home with a sitter. This would hopefully neutralize any concerns you might have over your son, his friends or their parents getting the wrong impression. I agree that nightclub attire has no place on the playground.
However, if these clothes are a complete turn-off for you no matter what the setting, that’s another story. At some point, there will have to be some compromise if there is to be peace in your house. It is true that when we have children, we have to think about our actions and behaviors and how they will affect our offspring. This holds just as true for you as it does for your wife.
Consider how your son’s brain will process the scene of Daddy repeatedly looking at Mommy with disapproving eyes. I’m sure you don’t want to model disapproval as the normal dynamic between a man and woman for your son (what a blueprint for his future relationships with women!), and I’m sure that’s not the norm you want in your marriage.
There is what I would call a disappearing point of acceptance here, where you might have to understand this is a need your wife has at the moment and accept it. You may want to reflect on if there’s anything about yourself you can’t accept, and how do you cope with it? This is not to say your feelings are invalid; moreover the fact that this is a relatively recent behavior makes me think there’s something deeper in play here. Regardless, it is a situation that won’t be resolved through forceful intervention but rather loving support and understanding. Remain empathetic and kind and speak to your wife without the expectation of resolving things in a single discussion. So long as you both keep talking and listening to each other in a loving, honest way, you’ll discover the solution together, and be a stronger couple and better parents for it.
Dr. V
Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.
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