Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Physical Attraction and Marriage

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.


  1. I am married for 18 years, since the very beginning (while dating) I was only somewhat attracted to my spouse. There are some features that I simply didn't, and still don't find very attractive, but have reasoned through that over time would fade in importance - it has not. Over the years, my eye has wandered.

    I don't feel good about this situation I find myself in, we have a great marriage otherwise, but there are "flare ups" which are the result of the disparity between my level of attraction to my spouse, and the reciprical attraction back to me.

    There is now, and always has been a deep yearning on my part to have someone who (in my eyes) is as attractive, or more attractive than I am. I must admit that I am considering a mistress to satisfy this unfulfilled emotion, and sooth the deep pain I have felt.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I hate to pry, but it sounds like the things you are telling me are not things you have discussed with your spouse. There is a tendency within marriage to let things remain unsaid than should be said, until problems become unavoidable. Communication within marriage is absolutely critical.

      It is commonly believed that romantic love is meant to last forever, and that love conquers all. This is simply not the case. The initial excitement - rush, if you will - of love fades with time, to be replaced with a stronger, deeper, calmer feeling of love, if both partners are willing to give themselves to the other.

      Love also does not mean that we overlook the faults of our partner. For humans are imperfect, and we marry imperfect partners. Indeed, proximity only increases our knowledge of the foibles of those we our close to. Those we marry will have faults that will drive us crazy - and the reverse is true, as well.

      Nor does love mean that our eye will not wander. We are human - and our natural attractions do not simply disappear with marriage. But they can be controlled, and if we truly love our partners, it is better that they are controlled.

      Marriage, at least in the Catholic conception (which I am speaking from) requires shared sacrifice. Both parties in a marriage sacrifice their own wishes for the benefit of the spouse and the relationship.

      I would argue against taking a mistress. For taking a mistress is a temporary quick fix, which papers over the problems in a relationship - until they explode with full force.

      I hope in some way this helps. I will pray for you. Please do the same for me.

  2. Please am a having a problem with my parents and family memebers, I have been friends with a lady, who I grew up with, more like a sister, she loves me and wants us to go to the next level even to marriage, the two families are staunch catholics, she has godly qualities in a christian wife, but am not attracted to her, and this has been a problem for me, am under a lot of pressure, everyone seems to down play on the attraction for her which I don't seen and focusing on the qualities she has and a wonderful home we would make, am worried that this problem of attraction would come up later in marriage and would be a big problem, isn't it possible to find one you are attracted to with some not all qualities, and would it be wise to go in for marriage with her. Thanks and God bless, may the Holy spirit guide you as you tackle this question

    1. Please forgive the slow reply! I moved my main blog, so I don't usually get comments from this site anymore.
      As for your question: It is difficult for me to give a full reply to you without knowing all the circumstances of your position. However, I can give some general guidelines. If your inclination is to avoid a potential relationship with a particular person, whether through lack of attraction/observance of mutual incompatibility/financial inability to enter into a relationship, do not enter one! Compatibility is vital in a marriage, and a marriage where initial compatibility is lacking where one party feels forced by peer pressure/pity/emotional manipulation to enter into a relationship faces incredible obstacles as that relationship continues. If you choose to enter into a relationship, you must do so freely and with your whole heart.
      I can offer you my own personal experience: I became friends with a woman who was a dear friend of mine and who possessed many wonderful qualities. Despite my lack of physical attraction to her (and my better judgment), I dated her for a period of about a year, and later broke up with her due to major differences between us. The breakup was hard for both of us and sundered our relationship; she is happily married now, by the grace of God, but we are no longer friends and do not talk to one another.
      All that said, if your inclination is to enter into a potential relationship with a particular person, move heaven and earth to do so! I would also advise talking with a spiritual director or holy priest that you trust on the matter for guidance.
      You are in my prayers! God bless you, my friend!

  3. I married a wonderful, Godly, incredible man, my best friend, yet... without physical attraction. Even though he is actually very attractive (I look at him in pictures and think whoa!) and all my friends and family think he is absolutely gorgeous. But the sexual "spark" was never there for me. We actually waited to have sex until we were married. I foolishly thought that all that "spark" business was just non-sense and not important in a long-term relationship such as marriage. And even though I knew that there were some physical aspects that were a turn-off for me before we were even engaged I stuffed those thoughts deep down, deeming myself "shallow." I thought I should be grateful to have found such an incredible man with great values that is head over heels for me. His sexual desire for me was enough of a turn on for me for about a year and half. Now 3 years into marriage I am sexually dissatisfied, find my eye wandering, and stop myself quickly feeling incredibly guilty and "dirty" for even looking at other men. The guilt has gotten so overwhelming that I lost weight. We are sexually active because I want to make him happy, but I am increasingly feeling like a horrible liar and I hate myself for putting the both of us into the situation. My trying to be "nice" at the expense of honesty with myself and him wasn't doing anyone any favors. The thought of a divorce and breaking his heart literally scares me because of what it could do to him. I'm all the family's he's got. (another reason for our marriage - I wanted to be some sort of savior for him...) All the fear and self-hate has put me into a depression and I am now on medication. I don't know what's going to happen to us, I'm just trying to live day by day now. All I can say in hindsight is that I wouldn't do it again.

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