It’s normal to have ebbs and flows of attraction during a relationship. But what happens when you find yourself not attracted to your spouse anymore? What can you do? What is attraction anyway? Can you get it back?
Attraction is something that I coach my clients on quite a bit. I also get a lot of DM’s and private messages from people saying, “Help me! I’m not attracted to my spouse at all anymore!”
Here is a DM I got recently:
She says “Hi! I love your content and listen to your podcasts. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight to those who need it, like me. I learn so much. So you’ve been talking about sex a lot lately but I haven’t heard what can help my problem with sex. My problem is that I’ve been married 10 years and I’m not physically and mentally attracted to my husband anymore. I try but it’s really hard to be intimate with him. It’s becoming a real problem because he expects it and gets upset when I don’t want to do it. He knows how I feel about it but it doesn’t matter, he still wants what he wants. Any good advice?”
Thank you so much for your DM – yes, I definitely have some advice!
Let’s talk about attraction for a minute here. What is attraction? The definition is “evoking interest, pleasure, or liking for someone or something.” Attraction is an emotion – which means it comes from a thought.
There is a lot of debate on whether attraction is innate in us or its something we choose. Nature vs. Nurture. I think it’s a little bit of both, and here’s why:
I think there are some things in us that we are naturally attracted to. I personally don’t believe that our sexual preference is a choice. I believe it’s something that we are born with. So we are naturally attracted to males or females. Or sometimes both. Or sometimes neither. There’s a whole spectrum. I’m not going to get into all that here, I’m just generalizing that it is in our nature to be drawn towards something, whatever that is.
We also have built-in systems in our brain that naturally make us attracted to certain things.
Most people can tell if they’re attracted to someone in the first 90 seconds after they meet. Author April Masini, suggests that women are naturally attracted to men who exude confidence and passion, and who seem to lead exciting lives. Heterosexual women tend to be physically or sexually attracted to men with traditionally masculine features such as a muscular frame, a square jaw, big nose and small eyes. These physical traits often signify higher levels of testosterone, and are more common in “alpha males.” Alpha males demonstrate a particular set of personality traits as well that include directness, decisiveness, and intensity.
Men are instinctively attracted to particular types of women too. Large breasts and long hair tend to catch men’s eyes, but Dr. Steven Platek, a neuroscientist, psychologist, and head researcher at Georgia Gwinnett College, reports that men’s brains are particularly wired to be attracted to curvy women — especially women with wide hips and skinny waists. Statistically, those women also tend to be the ones who are most fertile.
If we think of attraction as a pyramid, at the bottom would be status and health. These are both basic functions we find in our lower brain or reptilian brain. They are important for our survival. Attraction at its most basic level enable males and females to distinguish among potential mating partners, conserve their mating energy, and prefer genetically superior individuals. We are attracted to a partner who will satisfy our needs for feeding, reproduction, and survival.
Once status and health are secured, we can move onto the next level of attraction, which is emotional, which gets us more into the nurture.
Nurture & Emotional Connection
Over time, it is natural for us to develop preferences for what we are attracted to.
When we meet someone, we instantly go into data collection mode, making split second mental notes that speak to our heart and mind. In a flash, we take in all the critical details that define our attraction level. Facial features and their symmetry, body type, posture, tone of voice, smell, energy/aura, a laugh, a smile and so much more goes into that split second decision of yes, maybe or heck no!
Most relationships begin from this type of “base level” attraction and, if the pull is intense, it can be very exciting. However, while that initial attraction is fun, we also need to recognize its limitations. One of the biggest limitations being that we are often blind to really assess longterm compatibility and basic character. So the “high” of the initial attraction is short lived and has little to do with our compatibility in the long run.
I want to share a little story…that is kind of embarrassing, but I think fits in really well with what we are talking about here.
When I was in High School, I lived in Maryland. I was part of the school choir, which was very small (at least by Utah standards). But, while it was small, it was VERY good. My Junior year, our choir went to a choir competition at another high school. The hosting high school had members of its own choir act as our hosts to show us around, show us our rehearsal room, and lead us to and from the auditorium, etc. Well, the boy assigned to our choir was GORGEOUS!!!!! There was an immediate inferno of attraction between the two of us. We talked, exchanged numbers, and began to date a little bit. This guy was a Senior. He was a model. He was an actor and acted in several plays as well as on some TV shows. He also had an amazing voice. I was totally smitten.
We went out on a few dates and I quickly realized that it was all about HIM all the time. One night we went out on a double date with one of my good friends and her boyfriend. We went to dinner and this guy said he REALLY wanted the ribs, but if he got them then he wouldn’t have enough money to pay for the movie afterward. He got them anyway. Then when it was time to go to the movie, which I had to pay for, he insisted that we see a movie about a single guy who’s apartment was infested with roaches that he would talk to (and they would talk back) and give him dating advice. Dumbest movie ever.
You would think that these behavior would have clued me in to who this guy truly was. But nope. I was young and dumb and his good looks completely wiped out any and all common sense. I ended up moving away my senior year and he went off to college. We kept in touch often. My parents were going to take my family on a vacation to celebrate my graduation and told me I could pick anywhere I wanted to go, so I picked Orlando (where this guy went to school) so that I could see him. He showed up one day (out of the week that we were there) to spend time with me and again, it was all about him.
We made plans that day for him to fly to Utah and take me to my senior prom. I was so excited. This college boy, who was drop dead gorgeous was going to take me to my senior prom. When I got back home, I told everyone I knew. I turned down other guys asking me to Prom because I had a date already. I got my dress, I ordered his tux, everything was ready to go. Less than a week before Prom he called and told me he wasn’t coming because he had a fraternity meeting he didn’t want to miss. I was finally done. I finally saw the writing on the wall. While the physical attraction and chemistry was undeniable, it didn’t matter because our connection and compatibility on every other level was not there.
If we want a successful longterm connection, research shows that a moderate attraction is more likely to product at lasting result than that first intense attraction. Lasting love depends on much more on emotional connection than biology.
There are four types of emotional connections:
- Trust and comfort
- Emotional intelligence: the ability to make others feel comfortable
- Uniqueness: That special “je ne sais quoi” that makes us “us”
- Uncertainty: The certain level of mystery we have when meeting someone. It’s boring to have all your cards out from day one.
Naturally the emotional stage is where we fall in love and bond.
At the top of our attraction pyramid is logic. Logic is what sets us apart other mammals – it is how we use our minds to develop and grow.
Logic helps us ensure that the person we are attracted to is practically aligned with us. For example, do we both want marriage? Do we both want kids? Do we want to live in the same city? With greater alignment, usually comes greater attraction.
Ok, so now we know about the levels of attraction, health & status, emotional, and logical, let’s talk about the problems.
Like I said in the beginning, I often hear from clients and people reaching out to me “I’m just not attracted to my spouse anymore.”
I often find that when people aren’t attracted to their spouse anymore it’s usually because their relationship didn’t have all the pieces of the pyramid when they got married. They let at least one part of the pyramid become more important than anything else or other pieces were missing. The other part is the something has changed in their partner, which they don’t find “attractive” anymore.
So we need to dig a little bit deeper. Which part is missing or changed?
- Status & Health: Are you not attracted to them physically? Maybe they’ve gained a lot of weight? Gone bald? Or they’ve done something to their physical appearance that you don’t like. Maybe you weren’t even physically attracted to them to begin with but you had connected on the other levels and now it’s hard to be intimate with them because you aren’t physically attracted to them?
- Emotional: Are you not connecting with them emotionally? Maybe you are them are not communicating well. You don’t have that trust and comfort you initially did.
- Logical: Maybe something has changed in the logistics of your marriage? Maybe you can’t agree on a new job, or a move?
All of these things can contribute to “attraction.”
Solving the Problem
So how do we fix this? We fix it with our thoughts. With what we are choosing to believe and intentionally think about our spouse and our marriage. Did you know that “I’m not attracted to my spouse anymore” is just a thought! It is. I know it seems like truth right? It seems like that is just the way it is. That it’s a circumstance. But your spouse not being attractive is not a fact. Someone else may find them very attractive. So the thought that you don’t find them attractive, is just a thought. This is great news, because as we have talked about before, thoughts are optional. We can choose to think and believe whatever we want.
So let’s go back to the DM that I got where she says “I’m not physically and mentally attracted to my husband anymore.” Ok, so if that is a thought, why are choosing to think that? When you tell yourself that, your brain is looking for all the evidence to show you what you don’t like about him. It notices everything he doesn’t that will make that thought true for you. At the same time that it is doing that, it is filtering out the things that may be attractive because that’s not what it is supposed to be searching for. So it won’t bring to your attention when he does things that you might like. It’s only searching for how “he’s not attractive” works. Interesting right?
So what can you do about that? You can change the thought to help your brain find all the things you are attracted to. Maybe you want to make a list of things you DO love about your husband and make him attractive to you. Then your brain will start to notice those things more.
The next part of her DM she says that that her husband knows how she feels and it doesn’t matter. That he still expects sex. Well of course he does! Just because you aren’t attracted to him, doesn’t mean he isn’t attracted to you! So what do you want to do about that? Can you just be ok with him being upset? I know it can be uncomfortable to live with someone who is upset, but you can’t expect him not to be. He got into this marriage with certain expectations of you. You’ve changed. And I’m not saying that is wrong. Of course we all change. But you are wanting him to just be ok with you not wanting to be intimate and you don’t want him to be upset about it. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So again, what do you want to do about it? Do you want to have sex with him so he won’t be upset? Or do you just want to live with him being upset and be ok with that? It’s totally up to you.
But I do think it is totally possible to create that attraction again.
Creating More Attraction
Here are 8 ways you can do to feel more attracted to your spouse.
- Redefine attraction:
- How are you evaluating your partner’s attractiveness?
- Look at yourself in this process too… are you attractive?
- Realize that attraction is more than just skin deep – look for ways you are attracted to them.
- Look at them as a whole and consider all the positive factors that contribute to the quality of your relationship.
- Love Yourself
- When we don’t like ourselves, we tend to project what we don’t like about ourselves onto our partners. The more we accepts ourselves, the more tolerant we are of those around us.
- If there is something you don’t like about yourself, take responsibility and improve on it.
- Self-love encourages positive regard for others.
- Remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place
- What attracted you to them in the first place? Make a list!
- Make a conscious effort to focus on what you love about them
- Improve the mental and emotional connection
- If you aren’t feeling it physically, communicate more to feel more attracted.
- When we are emotionally and mentally connected, the physical connection is so much better.
- Spend quality time together and talk about the important stuff!
- Get to know each other again and stay connected.
- Do this on a regular basis to increase your chances of maintaining attraction.
- Practice gratitude
- Remind yourself regularly of the things you appreciate about your spouse.
- Tell them things they are doing that you appreciate.
- Feeling important and validated by your partner definitely leads us to feel more attracted.
- Do some thrill seeking together
- In a classic experiment conducted by Arthur Aron, researchers gave couples a list of activities that were “pleasant” (such as cooking, going to the cinema or going out with friends) or “exciting” (skiing, ice skating, bungi jumping or attending concerts) but that they had enjoyed only infrequently. Each couple was instructed to select one of these activities each week and spend 90 minutes doing it together. At the end of ten weeks, the couples who engaged in the “exciting” activities reported greater satisfaction in their relationship than those who engaged in “pleasant” or enjoyable activities together.
- Surprise and excitement are potent forces and force us to pay attention.
- We are less likely to take our partners for granted when we experience strong positive emotional reactions.
- Uncertainty and novelty enhance the pleasure of positive events and help us feel more attracted to our spouse.
- A series of studies conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia and at Harvard showed that people experienced longer bursts of happiness when they were at the receiving end of an unexpected act of kindness and remained uncertain about where and why it had originated.
- Do something different and step out of your comfort zone together to reintroduce passion and connection.
- Learn each other’s love languages
- According to Gary Chapman, there are five languages of love. These are: quality time, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation and physical touch. We all have preferences in the way we feel loved. For some of us, it is compliments (words of affirmation) and for others, it may be that spending quality time with their partner makes them feel loved. All five languages of love matter though and injecting these five elements into your relationship will promote closeness and help you to feel more attracted to each other.
- Be independent – don’t expect to get your needs met by your partner
- When we expect our partner to meet our needs, we end up feeling resentful when they don’t meet our needs or our expectations. This does not promote attraction.
- Meet your own needs and just have your partner there to love.
I would invite anyone who is struggling with attraction in their marriage to come and coach with me. We can work on this together.