In our last post, we began a series on how attraction can change over time. We looked at a few of the ways levels of attraction can fade based on appearance, overall sexual attraction, and how mental image can affect how you’re attracted to your spouse.
Today, we continue by comparing and contrasting the way men and women process that change in attraction over time.
Part 2: Men and Women
The way we think about attractiveness, as perceived by men and women, is rooted in some pretty hard-to-shake stereotypes. It’s easy to think that all men just want a “hot” woman. We’re constantly reminded that things like wealth and power make a man more attractive to a woman. While these generalizations are true to a certain extent, they are not universally true – and there are plenty of other factors at work.
Women can also be attracted based on looks alone, and men are not immune to the charms of wealth and power. Attraction is a little bit different for everyone, so the way it develops over time will be relative.
It’s important to remember that some of our attraction impulses aren’t really ours to understand or control. The entire process is built upon factors necessary for the survival our species, and is so deeply ingrained in us, we barely notice it’s happening!
Particularly feminine or masculine qualities, signs of healthy, childbearing bodies in women, signs of virility and the ability to provide and protect in men, and other similarly “basic needs” in a partner trigger our animal brains, who have little but procreation in mind!
These underlying desires don’t just go away after we’ve settled into life with a partner. A man’s natural desire for a “healthy” partner is largely responsible for men’s interest in curvaceous women, and even women’s innate desire for a “protector” plays into the broad-shouldered, muscular body type that many women are attracted to.
Over time, however, these factors can become less and less important. Even though people still desire a physically attractive mate, other traits, like being a good caregiver to children, showing leadership, commitment to the family unit, etc., start to come into play – even for our most primal instincts of attraction!
So, with this in mind, it only makes sense that “hotness” only goes so far in a long-term relationship or marriage. At some point, factors like personal responsibility, accountability, and dependability become just as important (if not more) than physical appearance.
Men have a bit of a bad reputation. They’re often portrayed as the drooling cartoon wolf, more concerned with a woman’s curves than her personality. There’s no doubting that there’s at least some truth to this, since men are very visually stimulated (and women know just how to attract their attention).
But over the course of a relationship, what may have begun as a purely physical attraction (which includes things like tone of voice, motion, smell, and other aesthetic elements) has to change to include all of those non-physical qualities that make people interested in spending their time together.
In other words, physical attraction can only get a man so far. He will eventually come to see that a woman’s opinions, interests, habits, and the like have just as much to do with his overall level of attraction.
As the couple grows closer and closer together, a man’s attraction is also dictated by the way he’s treated by his wife! Men tend to want to maintain a certain level of independence, typically want to have their egos validated, and will often seek a fine line where their wives rely on them for certain things, but are not totally dependent upon them. After years and years have passed in a marriage, these qualities may be more important than a primal, physically motivated attraction.
And while sex remains important throughout the duration of a marriage, men’s sex drive, which may be all but insatiable in their younger years, may begin to taper off naturally. This means that the bond formed through the sexual relationship takes on new meaning to a man over time. As trust grows, so does his ability to be vulnerable, and he looks to his wife for a trusted confidant, someone he can admit his concerns, fears, and weaknesses to.
Over time, a man’s attraction to his wife becomes less about appearance and more about companionship. The basic need for physical attraction doesn’t necessarily go away, but it is eventually overshadowed by a much deeper, much more personal and unique interest in the inner workings of his wife’s personality (and how it interacts with his own).
As mentioned above, women are not immune to the purely physical attraction of a nice body, eyes, good looks, etc. However, most women will admit that while physical attraction is important in the earliest phases of finding a partner, elements of personality and other “non-physical” details about a man also come into play.
In some ways, this is little more than a stereotype, but we’ve probably all seen an example of a woman willing to “overlook” some shortcomings in physical appearance for the sake of a winning personality. Women often cite things like sense of humor, attentiveness, stability, or intelligence as attractive qualities in men. If nothing else, this indicates that that initial physical attraction may be less important, and that real attraction takes time for women to develop.
With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how this attraction based directly on getting to know a man’s personality can extend over the course of a long relationship. Some women become more attracted to their husbands over time, as they see him become more comfortable and share more about himself, and as they get a better sense of his true personality.
It’s also worth mentioning that some of the physical qualities that women find attractive in men, like shoulders, hands, jawline, etc., don’t necessarily change very much over time, and can even become more “distinguished” looking as a man ages.
Even for attractions rooted in physical appearance, though, the qualities of a good husband have to emerge over time. As a marriage progresses, qualities like stability, self-control, and compassion become more and more important. Even women who were initially attracted to “alpha male” types will look for more subdued qualities in a long-term partner (even if they are still attracted to that competitive, “alpha” behavior).
In the long-term, most women want a man who will listen to them, who will pay attention to their needs, and provide a certain level of stability and perceived safety.
Physical attraction still plays its part, but those intangible qualities only become more important over time.
Men and Women
Despite all the differences in the way men and women are attracted to one another, maintaining long-term attraction is remarkably similar. As relationships develop and mature, personality, and how couples treat each other, become increasingly important.
For both men and women, the way their partners conduct themselves in the day-to-day of married life becomes a driving force of attraction. It could be the way they attend to the kids, the way they greet one another after a long work day, the way they handle conflict, or even the way they interact with friends and family.
The qualities of an engaged and attentive spouse aren’t just attractive in a sexual way, they are attractive in the interest of maintaining a close and healthy marriage – and as time goes on, couples may start to realize that these two separate “attractions” are equally important.
Now, one of the biggest problems many couples experience over time is complacency. As the marriage goes on, one or both people begin to take the relationship for granted, and may stop putting effort into “attracting” the spouse they already have.
This is even more apparent in the realm of physical appearance. Even though we can’t control our body’s aging process, plenty of married people complain that their spouse has all but given up on maintaining an attractive appearance. Of course this needs to be a two-way street, and it’s unfair to expect a spouse to put extra effort into their appearance if you aren’t willing to do the same – but this is a major difficulty for many couples as they get older, have children, settle into careers, etc.
Next time, we’ll dive into the most important part of this series: what you can do about it.
We’ll look at ways you can stay attractive for your spouse, talk a little more about why it’s so important, and explore the long-term benefits of lasting attraction and connection in your marriage. Until next time, keep thinking about the ways attraction has changed in your own marriage, and let us know in the comments!
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com
I wish my husband would stop looking at other women. He has and would never act on anything (we've been married for 35 years), but it seems like he doesn't think it'll hurt my feelings anymore.
You hit the nail on the head about the fine line of dependency!
Hi, Otto - I'm glad you agree, and I hope you're working to be a great spouse as well.
Hi, Cheryl, I know you find that hurtful, but I hope after 35 years (congratulations!), you know he doesn't mean anything by it. You can look at a nice car without wanting to take it home or for a test drive! Keep the small stuff small - https://www.strongmarriagenow.com/marriage-advice-small-stuff-small/ - and remember he must love you a lot.