I'm starting to get fine lines and strands of gray hair - added to the fact my body has experienced seven full-term pregnancies and I have the added curves, stretchy skin and post-nursing breasts to prove it. I still hear the words, "If you want a flat tummy you're going to have to suck it in," ringing in my head from my seventh-grade P.E. teacher, but now my stomach muscles aren't even in the sameΒ ZIP code. My body is not the same.

I don't want it to be. My body tells my story.

As it has matured, given and strengthened, so has my relationship with my husband. How I view my body, impacts not only me, but my marriage as well. Our relationship changes every day because he and I change, in small and subtle ways, and we're constantly adjusting to these shifts - in the same way my body has evolved and will continue to do so.

There are many ways body image may be affecting your relationship - especially the way you feel toward intimacy.

Negative self-talk

You may tell yourself, "I hate my fat neck," "I wish my hair weren't so stringy," or, "If only I could have longer legs." Sometimes we aren't even aware of these thoughts because we are so used to hearing them in our heads each time we glance in the mirror, try on clothes or see someone we think is more attractive.

Imagine if you said those thoughts, out loud, to one of your friends, about her. How would she feel? After being bombarded by statements like that, how would she feel about getting physically intimate with her husband? Probably not great.

Unrealistic expectations

I really hate the headlines that read, "See Kate's amazing post-baby body!" Next to it is a picture of some celebrity looking as if she never had a baby. You immediately begin either planning to look the same after your baby, or wondering what's wrong with you that you don't.

We tend to set very high expectations and either do damage to ourselves trying to attain them, or giving up altogether and shaming ourselves for the rest of our lives. How often, then, are we keeping our spouses from seeing our partially naked, or fully naked body because we haven't quite "lost that baby weight." Or, when he reaches his arms around us we may tense up because he just might encounter something "flabby?"

Negative comment hoarding

Often, to our detriment, we seek outside affirmation that we're, "OK," but tend to focus more on negative comments instead of positive. I call this "comment hoarding." We hoard even the tiniest, or even unintended, negative comment.

Here's a classic example: A woman gets ready for a date with her husband. Her hair is done, she likes her outfit and is feeling good about her face. She walks out to greet him and he smiles, but hesitates slightly. She picks up on this immediately and confronts him with, "What?!" He, knowing he's about to step into a big hole, comments how beautiful she is, how good she smells, and how excited he is to be with her. She brushes those compliments aside and still demands to know about the hesitation. Now, no matter what he says, she's going to file that comment away and replay it again and again.

How would that not affect her desire to be intimate later? And yet, she deliberately ignored his positive remarks and chose to focus instead on something negative.

In our world of constant media messages about how we "should" look, it's difficult to not let body image impact our relationship. But, it can be done. Here are some strategies to help you embrace the body you have and the story that comes along with it.

1. Be positive

Be your own best friend. Say the things to yourself you would say to someone else, and really mean them. For example, if you glance in the mirror and notice your jeans don't fit how you would wish, change that into, "My, my, look at your sexy, womanly body. Those curves are curvalicious." Give yourself a wink and a flirty swing of the hips and walk out of the bathroom with confidence.

Try this exercise: For one or two days, keep a log of all the negative comments you give yourself, then really examine them. You'll probably be surprised at the number and at the level of cruelty. Then, begin combatting the negative talk and watch how your confidence will start to change. And confidence is sexy and can translate into you feeling more empowered and positive about your sexual relationship.

2. Understand you're not Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston was once asked how an "everyday woman" could achieve her look and I thought her answer was great. She said the "everyday women" can't be the same because it's her "job" to look the way she does. She has a personal trainer, personal chef, stylist and so on "creating" her look each day because that's how she gets paid. Most of us do not get paid based on our looks, and I for one am grateful.

Keep your expectations intact. If you're a larger-bodied woman, it's unrealistic to compare yourself to a smaller-bodied woman. If you've had children, health issues, or simply gotten older - which we all do - it's unfair to yourself to compare your body to that of an entirely opposite woman. And, more than likely, if you're in a relationship with a fairly emotionally healthy man, he doesn't have those expectations either. He would simply like to feel and be with the woman he loves and is attracted to - curves, no curves, short legs, long legs, wrinkles, flabby skin and all.

A woman trapped in cycles of negative self-talk, and comment hoarding isn't as likely to allow her spouse to see her naked, touch her body or even want to engage sexually. Learning to accept, embrace and be grateful for the body you have and the story it tells, can go a long way toward improving the quality and quantity of your intimate relationship.

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