by Candice Watters
Could someone address the whole issue of physical attractiveness in marriage?
I recently attended a marriage conference in Virginia Beach where I met Bob Lepine. He told me to write to you guys. I am a single 35-year-old Christian female struggling to get Christian guys to see what marriage was designed to be. They seem to be swayed heavily by what our culture says it is, and secular standards about who to pursue.
For example, I recently sent the Boundless article “Brother You’re Like a Six” to one of my single guy friends. Here’s what he had to say about it:
I agree, but what about the spark? What if all of these godly principles that should be found in a potential spouse are there, but there’s not that inherent, almost primal, “zing-pow” feeling? I cannot marry a woman who I am not very, very, physically attracted to or else the intimacy will fade later in life.
Also, there are physical traits that you look for in a spouse in hopes of passing down to your children. For example, height, athleticism, ethnicity, features, etc. These are all preferences that are taken into consideration (by both sexes) when choosing a spouse. Likewise—I understand I didn’t just step out of a GQ magazine, so I’ve got my limitations and an uphill battle as to attracting a girl with the utmost “zing-pow” effect. Also, what about chemistry?
What if all of those godly traits are there, but nothing “jumps”? Again, what if there’s no spark? There has got to be chemistry and a mutual, eros love of sexual attraction (which is much more than just physical attraction) that will keep that intimate part of a marriage thriving and healthy for many, many, many years. Like my dad said: “You don’t want to marry for looks. Then again, you don’t want to marry a mud fence”.
If only it were that simple! Find a gorgeous woman (or man), marry her (or him), and live happily ever after. Of course that’s how it works in the movies. But movies always end before the fireworks (what your friend calls “zing-pop”) die down. And they do. Always. Every marriage moves beyond the new-love, high-octane phase eventually, according to Psychologist Dorothy Tennov. The longest it can last is three years, and often it’s less. On average the emotional highs last between eighteen months and three years. Then what?
If what he’s looking to hold his marriage together for “many, many, many years” is sexual attraction, he’s setting himself up for disappointment. The only way to keep the high-jinks of new love going is to keep starting over with new lovers.
But that’s the message we’re bombarded with in our culture. In Hollywood especially, the end of the emotional high signals the need to move on to a new relationship where the high-octane meter gets to start over. Sometimes that means serial dating. More often it means divorce and remarriage. Tragically one in five married couples won’t reach their 5th anniversary.
But it need not end this way. When two believers come together in marriage, they have the potential, when the giddy feelings ebb, to leave what C.S. Lewis calls the “thrill” phase of romance for the “quieter and more lasting kind of interest … and happiness that follows.” He encourages this process, noting it is “one little part of what Christ meant by saying a thing will not really live unless it first dies.”
But in order for that to happen, we need to have realistic expectations, and the awareness that those giddy feelings will ebb.
Your friend’s thinking mirrors our consumer culture far more than it does the Bible. God designed marriage for a purpose, several actually. And all of these purposes: “procreation, remedy against sin, mutual society, help and comfort” are achievable even if physical attraction isn’t the primary driver. That’s not to say there’s something wrong with pursuing a mate you find attractive. But it is to caution against giving looks and “chemistry” pre-eminence in the decision process.
I suspect your friend would say his desire for a “zing-pop” connection is consistent with Song of Solomon. There certainly was chemistry between Solomon and his bride. But nowhere in Scripture is that given as a condition for a God-glorifying marriage. You can build a strong, godly, world changing marriage on many things. But you can never build that simply on looks. Good looks are a bonus. They’re like icing on a cake. And as the saying goes, if all you eat is icing, you’ll get sick.
I worry for men like your friend who may miss out on highly productive marriages and families that are fruitful for the kingdom, simply because the women God brings to them don’t, at first, cause a chemical reaction.
But I also worry for the single Christian women who, like you, are “struggling to get Christian guys to see what marriage was designed to be.” Just knowing the truth isn’t enough. And telling your guy friends about it will be less effective than you may think (it may even have the opposite effect that what you hope). You have a role to play to influence the culture around you, especially in your church. But it’s not primarily to persuade the guys. What you can do is pray. And pray boldly. The single men in your life need the prayers of righteous women. And praying for your brothers in Christ is vital practice for praying for your husband someday.
You also have the power of your response. When the men in your church and singles group talk about what they’re looking for in a wife, or speak about a woman they’re interested in, or explain why a good woman would not be a good match for them — whenever this issue of dating and marriage comes up, you have an opportunity to respond biblically. What does that look like? Your words should be true, but also kind, full of respect, and gracious. Even when the men around you are disrespectful, even if what they say is infuriating (e.g., “You don’t want to marry for looks. Then again, you don’t want to marry a mud fence.”) you have the power to control your response. And how you respond has the power to shape where the conversation leads (Provderbs 15:1, 1 Peter 3:15). That’s true of both your words and your actions.
If you’re in a peer group that consistently maligns biblical marriage and belittles godly women who don’t measure up to the cultural standards of attraction and beauty, you have as much responsibility for the situation as the men do. Scripture is clear that marriage is to be honored by all (Hebrews 13:4), that as believers we’re to walk with the wise (Proverbs 13:20) and with those who are pursuing righteousness in all of life (2 Timothy 2:22), and that we are to be part of a body of believers that loves God as evidenced by their obedience to all that He commands (1 John 2:5-6). If this description doesn’t describe the community you’re in, you have the ability (and obligation) to find one that does.
In your struggle to uphold biblical marriage, your job is not to lead the men (or coerce them into compliance) — that role belongs to the older men in the church (Titus 2:1-8) — but to conduct yourself in a way that is a model for other women in your group, as well as to inspire in men their desire for godly wives.
I pray the Spirit of Truth with help you navigate this biblical and countercultural path.
This article was originally published by Marry Well on Dec. 5, 2010.
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