There are two extremes to be avoided when it comes to understanding the role of physical attraction in marriage. The first extreme is to overvalue the importance of physical attraction. The other extreme is to discount the role of physical attraction altogether.
The truth lies in the middle of these two extremes. Physical attraction is important to the success of a long term romantic relationship. But it should not be the only – nor indeed the most important – qualification for a successful marriage.
Physical attraction serves two purposes in marriage – one obvious, the other not.
The obvious reason why physical attraction is important is that the main purpose of marriage, that of creating and raising a family, is rendered very difficult if no physical attraction exists between the partners. Most relationships start and are held together in large part due to natural attraction between a man and a woman. If this element of mutual attraction between the two partners is lacking, than marriage will be rendered very difficult.
If either partner in a relationship is not attracted to the other on a physical level, than the partnership should not exist.
I wouldn’t want to marry someone who wasn’t attracted to me – in all aspects, including the physical aspect. I want to be desired by my future partner – in every way imaginable. And I would expect that my future wife would demand no less of me.
Attraction between both partners in a marriage, ideally, should exist on all levels – physical, spiritual, and emotional.
The second way in which physical attraction should exist between the partners is more subtle.
Physical beauty tends to reflect goodness. Physical beauty – true physical beauty – tends to reflect inner virtue.
Goodness shines from virtuous people. The more virtuous a person is, the more physically attractive the person will be.
Not all the time, in all people, of course. Some evil women are very pretty, while some virtuous women are outwardly ugly in appearance. (Note that I am distinguishing the terms pretty and beautiful – I will explain the difference between the two in a separate post.) But over time, physically attractive men and women who live evil lives outwardly show the effects of their character, while physically unattractive men and women who live virtuous lives show forth their true character. Outward virtue tends to reflect inner virtue. Outward ugliness tends to reflect inner ugliness.
A common objection to this point is the "beauty" of movie stars and models and the stereotypical standards of attractiveness that modern society foists on a credulous public. But in reality, these products of modern society are airbrushed and staged and made up to the point that they bear little resemblance to actual men and women. (And if you don’t believe me, look at pictures of the stars – without makeup. It’s a rather – eye-opening experience.)
Of course, this is not to say that physical beauty is the only part of marriage, or even the most important part. Moral virtue should be the first thing one should look for in a potential spouse. Other important qualifications for a successful marriage include: shared beliefs, shared interests, finances, family. (The list could continue indefinitely.)
Besides, physical beauty exists in many people. But a person can only marry one person, unless death releases one party from the partnership.
Natural attraction can arise in many people. Marriage is a complete and exclusive bond between a man and a woman. So mere physical attraction cannot and should not be the only factor in choosing a mate.
A person seeking a spouse should choose a mate who possesses some level of physical beauty (whether in voice, in looks, etc.). But he or she shouldn’t make it his or her first priority.