“My husband considers himself something of a fashion-maven and he always has opinions on what I wear. When I pick out a pair of jeans, he asks me, ‘Aren’t those a little last season?’ When I wear a blouse, ‘Isn’t that a little low cut?’ We fight about it all the time, and it just ends in him sighing and saying, ‘OK, whatever.’ How can I get him to stop, and keep on wearing the clothes I love?”
Your husband’s behavior is coming off as controlling, no doubt. There may be an underlying reason (we’ll get to that), but the fact remains: You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you choose to dress your body, especially a partner who should be building you up instead of knocking you down. I’m glad you know his behavior isn’t cool, and don’t intend to change who you are.
But, since this a person who you love and decided to spend your life with, let’s talk about how you fix this—with a two-pronged approach.
Step 1: Tell him how his comments make you feel.
It’s important for you to explain the effect of his comments on you emotionally, rather than fighting about the shirt or shoe in question. (Although I get it—you want to defend those funky, retro clogs!) After all, anger is a secondary reaction to an underlying hurt, and, in this case, it’s hurtful that your husband doesn’t like what you wear, doesn’t trust your choices or is trying to police your body. In no way does that signal love, support and attraction.
Make sure you clearly state your feelings. It might be something like, “Babe, it really hurts me when you insinuate that, by choosing a certain pair of jeans or blouse, I’m doing something wrong.” Or, “I feel controlled when you make comments about all my clothes; it’s like you don’t trust me, or think I’m inviting attention.” Let him see that this isn’t a petty spat. Rather, his comments are causing a real sore spot in your relationship. Be brave. Be vulnerable.
Step 2: Ask how what you wear affects him.
But ask him this gently, outside of an argument. In other words, don’t phrase it as an eye-rolling comeback, like, “Omg, why do you even care?” but rather as a clear and direct question: “What bothers you so much about these jeans? I’d really like to know if this is triggering you in some way. Can we talk about it?”
Maybe it’s unrelated to the clothes, and more broadly has to do with your marital health or your individual phases of life. Maybe he feels insecure in your relationship and is trying to give himself added security. Or perhaps these comments are in response to a change in one of you, or both. Has he been in a funk? Have you been hitting the gym and gaining more confidence? If your life is going great and he’s been striking out, he might subconsciously be grasping for control mechanisms to keep you close, as if he’s afraid you’ll grow wings and fly away.
And then, of course, there’s the possibility that this has to do with a different form of insecurity: The fact that he sees you as a reflection of himself and his social standing. Does your shirt not “fit in” at the country club he wants to go to? Is he worried you’re not dressing “cool” enough for his new music buddies? Once you press him on the why behind his comments, chances are he’ll see the error (and the hurt) of his ways. And remind him that you love him for him, not for anything on the surface.
I know this is tough. But in relationships, vulnerability is almost always the answer. If you can approach this conversation with a lot of love, I think you might be able to end these comments altogether.
Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a dating and relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.