She Said, He Said: Don’t sweat the sweats, but think about the deeper issue
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My wife is a beautiful, amazing, multifaceted woman. We’ve been together eight years and throughout our relationship she would play hard and get dirty just as often as she would put on a dress. Since COVID hit, I’ve really only seen her in sweats. I completely understand why — there hasn’t been much reason to dress up, and with all the stress it’s nice to just be comfortable. We still have fun together, but I miss relating with my feminine, sexy wife. I’m not expecting makeup and heels, but is there a way I can encourage her to wear something other than her daytime pajamas once in a while?
Sick of Sweats
Lori and Jeff: In relationships, there’s a difference between trying to get your partner to change and helping them to reconnect to an aspect of who they are that has, for whatever reason, faded. Your wife’s girly side is an example of the latter. Because it was a part of her that she also enjoyed, helping her to reconnect to it could be beneficial for both of you.
Lori: While it’s true that our clothing shouldn’t define us, how we show up in the world, even if it’s only in our own home, can have an impact on how we feel. In 2012, researchers from Northwestern University found that what we wear has measurable impacts on our mental state, a phenomenon called “enclothed cognition.” Essentially, it means that what we put on has an impact on how we see ourselves and our sense of confidence and competence. This construct is a double-edged sword in that we can use clothes to enhance our mood, but alternately, living in baggy T’s and sweats can drag us down.
So, SOS, I support you in encouraging your partner to dig some of her happy, flirty and feminine frocks out from the shadowy recesses of her closet. But how you approach this needs to be thoughtful. You have to shift your own focus away from this energy of what you’ve lost (and are subsequently fighting to get back) to one of playful curiosity. The question is not how do you get her to, but rather how do you create a dynamic that invites her to? It may have to start with up-leveling your game. Send her an invitation to date night in your own private, exclusive dining room, and add “cocktail attire requested.” But remember if you’re asking her to make the effort, the setting needs to match: light candles, play music, order takeout and of course, suit up (or at least put on a tie). After a few experiences of having a reason to dress up, she’ll likely remember why she enjoyed doing so for herself for all those years before.
Jeff: There definitely has been a sharp decline in the reasons a lot of us have to get dressed up. We don’t go out as often and more of us are working from home, only needing to look presentable for our video meetings (and even then, just from the waist up). We also are experiencing stronger feelings of depression and anxiety, which can often lessen our motivation to do things that make us feel good about ourselves — like getting dressed up.
Given this shift in our realities, you may need to give your wife a bit more wiggle room in your expectations of her fashion choices. Instead of trying to encourage her to dress differently, try being more supportive of her emotional state by asking her how she’s holding up, what concerns she might be having or how you might best support her during these unusual times. She may respond more positively to a loving and open heart than a request for more sexy clothing.
Lori and Jeff: Our emotions can affect what we choose to wear but scientific research also suggests that the clothes we put on can further impact our moods. These times are tricky for all of us. Increased stress and unpredictability can create different and more intense feelings than we’re used to having. Your wife needs the space to experience her emotions and a loving invitation to feel something different with you.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column. For more relationship advice, subscribe to our “Love Matters” podcast on iTunes.