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Dear Ask Gemma,
A few months ago, my husband of 20 years told me he sees me as average -- not beautiful, not even pretty -- just average.
He says he loves me and is still attracted to me, but being attracted to someone and thinking they are pretty are two different things to him.
This revelation has crushed me and I’m finding it extremely hard to get past it. As his wife, I feel I should be, at minimum, pretty to him, but knowing he sees me as "just average" seems to be eating away at me. I feel as if a wall has gone up between us and I don’t know how to bring it down. The hurt and disappointment I feel are festering into possible resentment and I don’t know how to stop it.
Any advice on how to get past this would be greatly appreciated.
Hurt and Trying to Get Over It
Dear "Hurt and Trying to Get Over It,"
After reading your letter over and over again, I'm more curious about the moments before the scenario detailed in your letter. What were you two discussing? Did you ask him how he felt about your looks?
Because it’s not detailed here, and because I don’t want to assume, I’ll simply focus on the fact that you received this information and took it to heart.
You are the authority on yourself.
And by accepting your husband's feedback, it's like saying, "I’ll take your word for it." And sometimes people have no clue what they’re talking about, even the people we love most dearly.
You are the authority on yourself. Repeat after me: I am the authority on myself.
We can have very high expectations of our partners -- so high that sometimes it's impossible for them to live up to them. We tell them to be a provider, be a good listener, be spontaneous, be a good father, and the list, oftentimes, goes on and on. But being kind isn't that high of an expectation. It's the bare minimum. At times, we expect strangers to be kind -- hold the door open for us, make room for us on public transportation, help us with our luggage -- so expecting the person we choose to love and marry to be kind as well isn't too much to ask.
But to answer your question, acknowledging that your husband has hurt your feelings is the first step to getting past it.
It was not kind of your husband to say you're "just average." And I'm sorry that happened to you. But thankfully, there are a few ways to help you get past this.
The Five Whys
After being married for 20 years, it's pretty safe to assume that you two have been through a lot. It's also safe to assume that you've been through much worse than this.
So what is it about this comment that pierced your heart so bad that it catapulted you into a mud puddle of resentment? Investigate why.
My dear friend Felicia Jones, who's studying to get her doctorate in urban education, told me about a method she uses in her research to get to the bottom of a core issue. It's called The 5 Whys, created by Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda in the 1930s, and it's a technique used to fully excavate what's causing an issue. Researchers have said that usually when you ask the question "why" five times, you'll likely get to the cause of an issue.
Now, there is a caveat to this strategy: Usually this technique is used in companies to fix issues with their processes. But I've tried it with my own partner, and it can work with uncovering issues we're having in our interpersonal relationships -- questions we're often avoiding, feelings we've turned off and issues we'd rather sweep under the rug than address head-on.
Change Your Story
What was striking to me, along with author Toure Roberts, was that your letter put a lot of power into your husband's opinions of you.
"This is his perception," Roberts, who recently penned a book titled "Wholeness: Winning in Life from the Inside Out,"noted. "And one of the things that I write about in 'Wholeness' is about your storyteller. The most important story in your life is the story you tell yourself."
Roberts added that your husband's remark could be more telling of how he's feeling, rather than what he actually thinks about you.
"He could be going through something. It’s possible he’s going through a midlife crisis ... or this could be a passing whim," Roberts explained. "You can’t govern your life off of someone else's interpretation of you."
Create affirmations for the person you are and the person you want to become.
Radio personality Tracy G., who creates empowering audio vision boards full of affirmations, suggested taking the power out of your husband's opinion of you and "write the script for your self."
For Tracy G., and the more than 25,000 people who follow her, she's created audio vision boards that include mantras for women who need a gentle pick me up, or even a punch in the gut, to remind us who we are, what we have and what value we bring to the world around us.
Affirmations stiffen "up our mental [voices] because we are taking in so much noise from around the world," Tracy G. said. "And your husband -- besides your own voice -- is the voice you're hearing the most, and because our subconscious is so fertile we have to go above and beyond to make sure it drowns out his voice."
And if you don't want to use her affirmations, host a ladies night at your house to create your own affirmations, or encouraging reminders, with your friends. Grab a bottle of wine, tell Alexa to turn on some soft music and begin to write the affirmations you'll later recite daily in private.
Tracy G. said the best affirmations make mention of "the person you are and the person you want to become." She added to write affirmations in the present tense -- instead of future tense -- and be very honest with yourself.
"You don't want to lie to yourself because sometimes that can hurt," she said. "Instead of writing, 'I am confident,' write, 'Even in my darkest moments, not a single soul can diminish my worth.'"
We have to teach people how to treat us.
It’s important for me to highlight that your husband said that he loves you and is still attracted to you. I’m reminding you of this not to give your husband a pass, (because he made a mistake and shouldn’t have insulted you) but to accept this as well.
At times we can be so hurt by what someone said that we miss their other positive remarks. For the sake of your 20-year marriage, hear this too.
Then create a new boundary for yourself and your marriage. When you've spent two decades with a person, you change. Comments that you would've easily disregarded 20 years ago now stick to you like gum on the bottom of your shoe. And that's OK.
You are allowed to change, but when doing so let the community around you know that you've changed as well. Tell your husband that unkind comments -- like calling me "just average" -- hurt my feelings and I don't want to be spoken to like that.
At times, we have to teach people how to treat us. A simple, "that wasn't cool," may help avoid this scenario in the future.
And do remember one thing: You don't have control over what somebody says, but you do have control over how you feel about it. And my beautiful darling, if I were you, I wouldn't feel a thing.
Joi-Marie McKenzie is a relationships writer for Good Morning America. She's also the author of the critically acclaimed dating memoir, The Engagement Game.