Marriages are a long-term commitment. The whole idea rests on sticking together through thick and thin, on developing and maintaining a partnership that can withstand the test of time. You and your spouse are supposed to be a team, each other’s support and confidant, and a source of pleasure and affection.
So, what are we supposed to do if we’re not attracted to our spouse anymore?
To answer this tough question, we’ll have to look at a LOT of angles, so the next few posts will be dedicated to how and why attraction can change over time, how it affects men and women differently, and what we can do about it.
Part 1: How and Why
Everybody knows that appearances change with age. As we get older, we might start to sag in a few places, gain some wrinkles, lose some hair – you name it! The human body just works this way – no one can stop the aging process.
But what about other ways people change in appearance? One of the more obvious changes (and one of the most common complaints) is weight gain. The potential reasons are endless of course, from stress to eating habits to simple complacency and lack of motivation to stay in shape.
Sometimes it’s more complex than that, though. A change in appearance could be more subtle, like the effects of too much drinking or smoking, an overhaul in personal style, or even emotional or psychological changes that can affect body language, posture, and the way a person “carries” themself.
Sometimes changes to our appearances are something we can control, and sometimes they aren’t. Either way, this relationship between appearance and attraction is a major part of marriage. Learning to understand the differences between what’s controllable and what’s not – and proceeding accordingly – is integral to the longevity of the marriage.
Sexual attraction can be very closely related to appearance, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. It’s perfectly natural for the sex lives of married couples to wax and wane in intensity, but it can become a serious problem if the “valleys” never turn back into “peaks.”
Changes in sexual attraction can happen for many, many reasons – some physical, some psychological. Beyond the direct relationship between physical appearance and sexual attraction, the frequency and satisfaction of sex with your spouse can be affected by poor health, too much stress, not enough sleep, self-esteem issues, and other personal factors that make it difficult to “get in the mood” or even see your spouse in a sexual way.
As for being sexually attracted to your spouse, there are bad habits that some couples fall into that can all but remove the sexual element of their relationship. These bad habits, like falling into a cycle of very little physical contact or one spouse becoming like a “parent” figure (controlling decision making, finances, etc.) for the other, come in a variety of forms, but all consist of behaviors that allow the marriage to operate without physical affection.
For most cases, this happens gradually, but because couples either aren’t feeling attracted to their spouses, or aren’t feeling sexually confident in themselves, the problems go unaddressed – and eventually a couples’ sex life is all but nonexistent!
And because physical contact, affection, and sex help build and maintain both emotional connections and sexual desire, a sexless (or attraction-less) marriage only creates a vicious cycle of further disconnection.
While there may be little we can do about what we find inherently attractive about our spouse’s appearance, there’s actually a lot of baggage we put on ourselves that makes it much, much worse.
Think about it this way: the opinions you hold are the products of the “stories” you tell yourself about people, places, whatever. When you fixate on a certain version of the “story,” it becomes the defining lens for the way you think about a person.
For example, if you find your spouse’s weight gain to be unattractive, and this thought stays at the front of your mind, it will eventually become a part of your overall mental image of your spouse. You internalize this thought, and it becomes harder and harder to see them (or even think about them) without this component in the mix.
The same thing can happen if we focus on an annoying habit, something hurtful they once said, or any other bit of negativity. We start to focus on the bad, and it clouds our ability to see the good.
As you can imagine, this can severely damage our ability to be attracted to our spouses - not directly because of something they’ve said or done, or even the way they look, but because of the way we think about it.
Perhaps the riskiest (and hardest to see) change that can happen in attraction is a slow shift in both of your personalities – and by the time you notice that you’ve both changed, you feel like you no longer know your spouse.
This too is a product of not spending enough time together and not communicating openly enough, but instead of it being the physical effects of not enough touch, it’s the psychological effects of an emotional and mental disconnection. You can even still be physically attracted to one another, but the spark that made conversations easy and time fly by seems to be gone.
This is the deeper side of attraction, beyond physical appearances, and if this element of the relationship is lost, it can be very, very difficult to get back. Both appearances and personalities will inevitably change over time, and couples need to be prepared to navigate those changes together.
These are just some of the ways attraction can change over time – there are surely others, and every marriage will have its own unique facets. The purpose of the introduction to this series is to get you thinking about the potential changes and challenges you may have to face in your marriage. Or, if you’ve already experienced some of these things, to understand that they are fairly common, to think about what causes the problems, and to know that they can be overcome!
Next time, we’ll talk about how these changes in attraction affect men and women uniquely, and how the things men and women each find desirable can change over time. This is a complex topic, and something that many, many couples struggle with.
We’re here to help – more coming soon!
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com