Our media-driven culture has established the notion that loving our spouse equals attraction — forever and always. But could our beliefs about attraction be based on myth, not reality? Is there a way to become attracted to our spouse again?
In our head we know Shakespeare had it right when he penned, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” But just going through the motions of what an affectionate spouse should say or do can leave you feeling shallow and hypocritical. We can easily begin to panic and wonder if we’re doomed to live out a lackluster marriage void of passion. Like Sheryl Pauls describes:
Even if we know this intellectually, when lack of attraction hits in marriage, most people panic. We’re a profoundly image-based culture and we’re taught through mainstream media that if you’re not wildly attracted to your partner, you’re with the wrong person. That simply is not reality. We see our partners in many different lights — from elegantly dressed for a special event to retching over the toilet bowl. Even over the course of a day or an hour, attraction can fluctuate, and that’s completely normal. Knowing this can alleviate much needless anxiety so that you don’t fall down the rabbit hole of ‘What’s wrong?’
If you’ve found yourself stuck, wishing you still felt the same way about your spouse, here are 6 steps to cultivating a healthy and realistic attraction.
1) Embrace the Reality of Change
Perhaps it was you who changed. Maybe your partner did. Likely, you’ve both changed in significant ways. Change is a constant we learn to accept.
If we took a moment to ponder attraction from a 20-year-old’s perspective, from a 30-year-old’s, and then put ourselves in the shoes of that lovely older couple who’ve been married more than 50 years, what would we notice? I guarantee we’d notice a big difference between what each demographic finds attractive.
As we mature and change, our sense of attraction becomes more nuanced and complex. In our teen years we especially notice physical features. Then in our twenties we may also prioritize career aspirations, income, and parenting potential. A woman at 18 years probably didn’t find a man holding a baby as attractive as she did at age 28. Many men experience a heightened attraction to their wives during pregnancy.
Fast forward to our forties and our values shift again. The term “silver fox” denotes attributes like integrity, wisdom, and experience, which we begin to find very attractive. But to a young adult, “silver” may only scream old.
Think back on that retired couple you’ve seen holding hands while walking down the street. They no longer look like their younger selves, but they still love each other and find each other attractive, wrinkles and all. No doubt, they experienced seasons in which attraction for one another ebbed and flowed. But they didn’t give up. They stuck with it, and their reward now is a richly satisfying marriage in their senior years. They may even be having the best sex of their lives!
Change is a constant we cannot escape. What if we embraced change, honouring and even seeing the beauty in the developmental and physical changes that life brings?
2) Adjust Expectations
If we still expect the “fountain of youth” from our partner, the problem is our expectations, not our partner. Time changes us — working long hours, expecting a baby, changing careers, recovering from an accident, battling illness, gaining weight.
Do we have expectations rooted in reality or from cultural ideals? It’s debilitating and damaging to our relationship if we measure our bodies and our marriage by what we see on social media. Trying to be “Instagram worthy” may leave us feeling worthless. Our expectations need to keep up with reality.
Perhaps we need to become more nuanced in what we find attractive. Our spouse may not have the physique they did in their twenties, but what attributes do they exemplify now that we find attractive and can focus on? Are they more accomplished in their career, wiser, more sacrificial, better at cooking, an amazing mother or father, donning sexy grey locks?
3) Identify Unmet Needs
Rather than panicking when attraction dwindles, what if we paused to evaluate ourselves, our needs, and the dynamics in the relationship?
Among other reasons, attraction can suffer if a couple is missing each other emotionally, lacking connection, or is in conflict or crisis. Noticing the emotional temperature between you will help to identify underlying causes contributing to the lack of attraction.
Is there tension based in ongoing:
- Disrespect, Defensiveness, Distrust
- Conflict, Criticism, Competition, Control
- Bitterness, Resentment, Frustration, Exhaustion, Feelings of being overwhelmed
These elements compound and over time erode the connection that fuels attraction. We can view ebbing attraction as a signal, pointing to one or more of the above. It may also indicate the need to find outside help to understand and address the underlying roots of these issues. Help comes in many forms — reading books, finding a mentor, attending a marriage enrichment event, or seeing a counsellor.
Dig deep. It’s hard. But it’s so worth it.
4) Have Fun Together
Having fun together can help to rekindle attraction. Take steps to learn to enjoy each other again. Go on dates or have date-nights-in. Learn a new skill together. Perhaps revisit a favourite pastime from your dating or newlywed years. If your interests have diverged since then, take turns entering each other’s recreational world. Over a cup of tea or coffee, spend time reminiscing about your favourite trips, experiences, and memories over the years.
If fun feels like a big stretch or perhaps impossible right now, what else is going on? Refer back to the section above and seek outside help.
5) Celebrate Their Strengths
Focussing on positives can renew your appreciation for your spouse and rejuvinate attraction. What are they really good at? Make sure to let them know. Simple compliments are a great way to celebrate their strengths and to make them feel honoured.
If you have a hard time finding positives to focus on, think back on what originally attracted you to your spouse in the first place. Jot down a list. Take time to reflect and to remember why you first fell in love. Do some of those qualities still remain… even faintly? Affirm those characteristics in your spouse. Your kind words may motivate them to invest more time and energy into those areas. As you focus on their positive attributes, you may notice attraction beginning to grow.
6) Appreciate Your Shared History
As I reflect back on 30+ years together… raising 3 kids (who are now adults), a couple vehicle accidents, various stressors, and achievements, the qualities I find attractive have changed a lot. I no longer expect a 20-year-old figure from a 50-year-old body (for either of us).
As we’ve lived life, not only has time and experience aged us, but I have grown to value different things. My husband, as a father, is very attractive. Our scars uniquely signify our history, together. The wisdom of life at age 50 holds its own treasure… and so does the grey hair earned in the process. I am thankful. I feel strong and empowered by the wisdom and experiences gained, and yet I recognize the toll it took for us to get here.
How about you? Can you step back and take a new look, to remember and reflect? Which chapters of your history together say, “We made it through, together! And that is very attractive.”
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(This five-session, video-on-demand series, includes the session: Stay Connected – Meet Each Other’s Emotional Needs)