By: Debra Fileta, M.A., LPC
When I was single, I would often imagine what my future relationship was going to be like. I wondered about the kind of guy I’d end up dating and marrying. I’d try to picture who he would be and how he would look. I wondered if when I eventually had a picture of him, would I be proud to show it to my friends, or would I find myself with someone with an amazing heart whom I struggled to find attractive? I know I’m not alone in that worry because I hear from many people who express the same fears and concerns.
Finding someone to whom you are physically attracted is an important part of the equation of a healthy relationship. But it’s not the only part of the equation of attraction. It’s important for us to understand that attraction is multi-faceted. While attraction may start as physical, it’s fueled by other aspects of connection: emotional, mental, and spiritual.
I am thankful that I am married to a man that I find attractive. But I was surprised by my growing attraction to him because he was not my so-called “type.” Physical attraction is a legitimate need in a relationship, but it must be kept in proper perspective, because just because you’re physically attracted to someone, doesn’t mean they’re good for you. Sometimes we’re physically attracted to people because something unhealthy in us, connects with something unhealthy in them. That’s why that initial physical attraction has to be kept in proper perspective. Sometimes it’s skewed by our own internal struggles, and other times, it’s skewed by what the world has led us to believe is “attractive”.
As you are looking at your relationship, it is important to make sure that physical attraction is part of the equation, but more importantly, that you are coming to the table with appropriate expectations. It’s important to remember that expectations of physical perfection or the fulfillment of selfish fantasy are not realistic. Real people have real bodies, and our expectations must be real as well. This is not about finding a supermodel wife or waiting to marry Mr. Universe.
That might sound like a no-brainer to you, but we live in a culture in which the concepts of sexual chemistry and physical attraction have become totally, completely, and irreversibly skewed. The entertainment industry and the pornography culture have completely ravaged our understanding of beauty, and namely, the beauty of a real woman. And this distorted mentality is starting to seep into the church in a truly concerning way. I know, because I hear from Millenials all the time who are battling unrealistic expectations of physical attraction. A young man afraid to marry an incredible woman because her arms were too big. A young woman hesitating to commit to a godly man because he’s shorter than she had hoped. Before we start judging, let’s consider the ways we all come to the table with an unrealistic perspective.
Our concept of beauty and sex appeal has been completely hijacked over the years to the point where our expectations are unrealistic. We won’t even consider seeing someone as attractive if they don’t measure up to the standard that Hollywood has laid out for us, or to the filters that Instagram has convinced us are real life. But we’ve got to open our eyes to the fact that the standard we’ve been fed is so far from reality.
Beauty is fluid. And our desires, as well as the people we will find attractive, are morphed and changed based on the things we allow ourselves to be exposed to. In that regard, we actually have some sort of control over the things we define as attractive and beautiful.
In a culture that is infiltrated with pornography, airbrushed billboards and magazines, plastic surgery, and Instagram filters, our standard of “beauty” has moved so far from the truth that it is causing some major damage to our relational expectations—for both men and women. The more unrealistic images we take in, the more skewed our concept of beauty will be. Single or married, you can expose yourself to so much “fantasy” that real women and real men begin to lose their luster.
WE NEED A RESET
The only way to get our expectations moving back to reality is to realize that we need a reset. The reason we say “no” to distorted expectations of attraction is that skin-deep beauty can only last so long. Fast-forward 50, 30, or even 10 years, and your body as well as that of your spouse will have changed, sagged, and likely stretched out beyond recognition. After a few babies, a surgery or two along the way, and the unrelenting process of aging, I can guarantee you one thing: Neither of you will look the same. That is why it is so important to make sure your expectations of physical attraction are kept in check because it is only one part of the equation of lasting attraction.
In marriage, you will see your spouse at their absolute worst. You’ll see them in their most natural state—before the hair, before the makeup, before the accessories. You’ll see them through the lens of real life, which does not hide morning breath, cellulite, or other imperfections. You will be with your spouse through the days of sickness and exhaustion. What will ultimately define your marriage—and ultimately, your very life—is not the “supermodel status” of your husband or wife, but rather, their character.
What will ultimately define your marriage—and ultimately, your very life—is not the “supermodel status” of your husband or wife, but rather, their character.
Your spouse is the person who will have the greatest influence on your happiness, your confidence, and your security. Your spouse is the person who will walk with you through the highs and lows of life, help raise your children, and influence your family in every single way. According to Proverbs, a wife [or husband] of character is a treasure (Proverbs 31:10). And he who finds that finds a great thing, something worth holding onto no matter what. I know so many marriages that started with “amazing physical chemistry” and fizzled into nothing within a few short years. I also know of so many marriages that started on the foundation of good character and godliness—and continued to grow in intimacy, in respect, and in love.
It is time for us to rise above the noise of this culture and set our relationship expectations and standards on things that really matter. It is time to reset our standard of beauty by shutting off the influence of the unrealistic junk and filling our minds and hearts with the truth.
- Beauty is fleeting (Proverbs 31:30).
- Charm is deceptive (Proverbs 31:30).
- Real beauty runs deep (1 Peter 3:3).
- Real attraction is multifaceted.
- Inner beauty cannot be fabricated or replicated.
- Character is what actually defines a person.
- Spiritual health trumps everything (1 Timothy 4:8).
It is time for us to say “no” to the unrealistic standards this world is throwing our way. That starts with taking inventory of what we allow our minds to think about and our hearts to lust upon. Maybe that means making the commitment to stay away from porn. Maybe that means turning off Netflix for a while. Maybe it means stepping away from Facebook or TV or magazines. Maybe that means putting limits on how much we mindlessly scroll Instagram. Maybe it means guarding our conversations and how we allow ourselves to talk about the opposite sex.
Ultimately, it means saying no to lies that skew our perception of physical attraction—in exchange for truth. Whether we’re single, dating, engaged or married – it’s time to reset our understanding of the role of physical attraction in our romantic relationships and remember that attraction has just as much to do with character as it does with chemistry.
This article is an excerpt from Debra’s new book, Love In Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship, and is used with permission. To find out how each season (spring, summer, fall, and winter) can make or break your relationships ORDER LOVE IN EVERY SEASON TODAY.
DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of Choosing Marriage and True Love Dates, and Love In Every Season. She’s also the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people with the message of healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter or book a session with her today!