On Types and Degrees of Attraction in Marriage

Several comments on my recent post identified an important question worthy of greater reflection. I wrote, “It [marriage] should only be pursued when there is a strong spiritual, emotional, and physical attraction between two people.” The question: How is a man who is sexually attracted to men to qualify his physical attraction to a woman? Is it tied to spiritual and emotional attraction?

I initially offered the tripartite physical/emotional/spiritual grid for attraction in an attempt to demonstrate that any romantic relationship operates on more than just the physical or sexual level. It seems to me that the nature of attractions themselves are actually much more complicated than this, to the point where trying to make clean distinctions between these three categories may prove problematic. I personally feel this difficulty when I try and describe how my attraction to Christy moved from being primarily emotional to substantially physical, as well as the place that spiritual attraction fit into that process.

In her book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, Lisa Diamond presents her findings from a longitudinal study of women analyzing the extent to which they experience sexual fluidity. While Diamond’s conclusions are exclusively about female sexuality (often in contrast to male sexuality), she observes that sexual attractions which are inconsistent with one’s orientation typically form in the context of individual relationships that begin as emotionally deep bonds.

To use C.S. Lewis’s distinctions from The Four Loves, here we have a type of philia begetting eros. Friendship forms the foundation for the development of something further. And yet even here we should tread lightly as we seek to distinguish between the loves. The fallacy of the beard reminds us that while we can tell the difference between sexual and emotional attraction,  it is exceedingly difficult to define the line where one begins and the other ends.

So back to the question, what amount of attractions ought to be present to move toward marriage? On the one hand, it is impossible to answer this question categorically. Every relationship is different, and so the amount of physical attraction that must be present will likely be different for each relationship. Some relationships may require a substantial amount of attraction in order to compete with what is a very strong sexual drive toward the same sex. Other relationships may function quite healthily without as much attraction because sexual attraction is not the end all, be all of marriage anyway.  We often equate marriage to sexual attraction when it is but one part of the picture, and perhaps not even the most important part. Marriages built on mere sexual compatibility are marriages built on sand, at least compared to those built on the more solid ground of deep emotional connection and shared spiritual vocation.

We ought to avoid both errors: the error of elevating the importance of sexual compatibility to the point where it becomes the definitive factor in evaluating the potential success of a marriage, as well as the error of simply assuming “everything will work out” without actually working through the implications of what might happen if it does not “work out.” Based on my own experience and the stories I’ve heard from others in similar situations, the resilience of a marriage has less to the do with initial level of attraction than it does the level of honest communication which occurs either side of the wedding night. A more moderate position might be to say that sexual attractions form one variable among others in evaluating whether or not one may be called to the vocation of marriage. That variable is not necessarily definitive, nor is its application the same in all relationships.

Kyle KeatingKyle Keating is a M.Div. candidate at Covenant Theological Seminary and teacher of Bible and Theology at a small Christian school in St. Louis, Missouri where he lives with his wonderful wife Christy. He can be followed on Twitter: @KyleAKeating.

5 thoughts on “On Types and Degrees of Attraction in Marriage

  1. If I recall correctly, Lewis says that “eros” is romantic love, whereas he calls sexual love “venus”. This is a good distinction, since venus does often seem to flow out of eros, though venus is certainly detachable from eros (consider sex addicts).

    I also don’t want to make too general a rule, but it seems to me that romance is a must. If you’re dating a woman and there is little romance, I think it would be madness to marry her.

  2. Kyle

    Some good words. I have been married for 24 years. Eight years into the marriage I confessed to my wife my same-sex attraction, which I had never acted upon, but which occupied significant emotional and sexual real estate in my mind. I had entered my marriage in love with my wife but with all of my sexual disorder unaddressed, hoping things would get better and I would just be able to figure things out. The resources to deal with this might have been available 25 years ago, but not very accessible to this quiet nice Christian man who was taught to not bother other people with problems…

    Fortunately, God’s grace prevailed as it has a way of doing, and my story is a story of God’s redemptive work, my wife’s kindness to her husband, and my emotional and sexual healing.

    I am currently teaching a class at my church on Biblical Manhood, Womanhood and sexuality, and a couple weeks ago at the 7th week of the class while talking about homosexuality, I brought my testimony into the classroom. It is kind of a weird thing to be casually talking about same-sex attraction within a marriage, and realizing while talking that I’m talking about me. But it is a powerful thing to be able to share my own story and to re-open a long discussion about what marriage is, what love is, what does sexual desire “do”? and what does it mean if I have same sex attraction that hits me in a stronger wave than the erotic attraction to my wife?

    I can’t imagine not being married. I have shared in other contexts that if I were not married I wonder if I would be a full-blown porn addict, buried in a studio apartment with empty fast-food containers laying around and be lost to any needs but the need to satisfy my homosexual urges. In a real way, marriage has saved me, is saving me. Obviously not in the way the Christ saves me, but has saved me from my selfishness.

    In those young men I talk to who have same sex attraction who show interest in marriage, I counsel them not to bury this issue – “don’t do what I did”. Rather they need to address it head on with their brothers in Christ in the church. If you’ll forgive me, I’ll tack on here what I posted in that forum. these words were in response to them asking what about a guy with SSA dating a girl…


    Brothers, in regard to dating:

    1) a girl you like should NOT be the first or only person you tell about your issue. The emotional chain reaction that comes next is more than most girls could even handle.

    2) any girl you like and want to pursue a relationship with needs to know at some time about your issue, but in a “this is what I deal with, can you handle me having this issue?” kind of way, not “Oh my GAWD I’m so messed up can you be my friend 4EV-R! I need you need you need you!” kind of way

    3) in order for number 2 to be actually plausible, you need to have already told several healthy brothers in Christ, and be working on Christian discipleship of all your issues including SSA on a routine basis.

    4) the principles of Biblical manhood apply here, where you would need to bring some leadership and initiative to the table, not bring passive-aggressive communication styles to her for her to tell you how to “do” this dating relationship. If you have no idea what I mean, you are not ready to date.

    If number 2 or number 3 is not happening, you are not ready to date.

    Look up the previous post from Tim Keller about finding “the one”.

    I am confident that having SSA does not disqualify you from marrying a woman. I am also confident that there are girls out there who can handle guys with this issue. I am confident that you don’t have to have a highly sexually charged heteroexual erotic reaction to this woman , but you need to love her and want to commit to her forever, and be willing to love her sexually even if it doesn’t just come naturally at first, and be willing to die to your SSA and any promise of fulfilling THOSE fantasies within your marriage.

    And once again I am also confident that if at all possible you should be dealing with your SSA in Christian community with Christian brothers before you bring a girl into your life. That is what has made my post-disclosure married life possible. Though we did it backwards, my friendships with other non SSA men and pastors and family members is my lifeline. I cannot imagine my wife being my only confidant. Our marriage would implode with the weight of my sin.

  3. Pingback: Marriage Roundup | Spiritual Friendship

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