When I speak to women on issues of sexual intimacy, I inevitably get asked some heavy questions. Christian women are dealing with everything from past sexual abuse to how to overcome a sexual addiction. But women also ask about seemingly less perilous obstacles to intimacy, and this is one of them. How can you be sexually intimate with a man you are no longer attracted to? Is it possible to have a great sex life when there is no chemistry?
As you can imagine, I also get this question from men. It’s funny how we react with a double standard on this issue. A woman will have empathy for her friend who no longer finds her balding husband attractive but will respond with disdain if a man were to say, “My wife has put on thirty pounds in the last ten years. I just don’t find her appealing.” Why is such a superficial expression of love accepted in a woman but scorned in a man?
Our bodies, both as men and women, undergo changes over the years. Wrinkles and cellulite begin to replace smooth skin, and muscle tissue turns to fat. Yes, we can also be guilty to compounding the impact of aging by neglecting exercise, a healthy lifestyle, hygiene, and medical care.
While sexual chemistry and attraction are important aspects of a marriage, they can never be the foundation of your love. Early in your relationship, attractiveness (physical or otherwise) is probably what drew you and your husband together. You enjoyed being in each other’s company and you naturally responded to one another sexually. In those early years, there wasn’t much else to bolster your affection . . . no shared history, no bank of fun memories to reminisce about, and no legacy of weathering the storms of life together. God, in his grace, wired our brains to be drawn to young love with powerful neurochemicals that caused you to find great joy in your relationship. However, those chemicals representing physical attraction and sexual excitement were never intended to last indefinitely.
Over years of marriage, a new form of attraction is intended to grow. Instead of performing for each other, marriage becomes a safe place to be yourself. Within the confines of commitment love, you each can reveal fears, dreams, and insecurities. The intensity of sharing a bank account and a bathroom means that there is no more hiding. Even the most unattractive aspects of you and your husband have been exposed.
Why Attraction Wanes
Couples “fall out of love” for a few reasons. Perhaps you are still expecting to “feel” the excitement of new love after a decade of marriage. There might even be a guy at work that gives you those “tingles,” tricking you into thinking that he is a better match for you than your husband is. Remember that the draw of new love doesn’t last, no matter who you are with. If you don’t believe me, look at the plethora of Hollywood romances. These beautiful, sexy people fall in love with another beautiful, sexy person every six months. Even they can’t make the magic of first love and attraction last!
You may also have lost that “spark” because you and your husband haven’t invested in the longer lasting aspects of attraction like friendship, having fun together and expressing appreciation for one another. The good news is that you can begin making these “deposits” into the emotional bank of your relationship at any time. If you are willing to invest in developing affection, a year from now your marriage could be in a completely different spot, characterized by friendship, adventure, and even romance. A great place to start is with Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book The Five Love Languages.
Other times the lack of attraction is rooted in past offenses that have never been adequately addressed. If your husband irritates you or annoys you, perhaps there is something much deeper than “chemistry” chipping away at your love. Do you feel safe with your husband or has he violated your trust in some significant way? Cheap forgiveness for a serious breach of trust or avoiding underlying conflicts in your relationship will ultimately sabotage the positive feelings you could have for your husband. Instead of moving onto a new relationship, take the initiative to work through the walls that have been built in your marriage.
Focusing on What Is Good
I recently heard a marriage expert advise a struggling couple not to give up. He noted, “This may very well be the best chance you have at a solid marriage!” Even with no chemistry or attraction, you and your husband probably have some significant strengths and victories as a couple upon which you can begin to build. Maybe you have children together, have gotten through some rough spots of marriage, and have depended upon each other for encouragement and comfort. Don’t throw away something “good” because it doesn’t meet a subjective standard of “great.”
Affection and attraction are impacted by what we choose to focus on. If I sat here for ten minutes and thought about all of the things I don’t like about one of my children, I could make myself angry and discouraged. But if I spent those same ten minutes thinking about all of the things I love about that same child, I would want to give the boy a huge hug.
Sure, your husband might not have washboard abs or a thick head of hair. Maybe he’s more tuned into ESPN than he is to your feelings. Along with his flaws, I know there are things about him that others appreciate (and you used to appreciate!). Does he have beautiful eyes or a kind smile? Is he friendly or hardworking?
Philippians 4:8 says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (emphasis added, NIV). Did you notice Paul didn’t say if everything is excellent or praiseworthy?
True love isn’t a matter of our choices following our feelings. The opposite is true—our feelings follow our choices. Your mind is a powerful tool in creating attraction, even after years of marriage. Are you willing to choose to nurture affection and intimacy with your husband?