When You're Not Attracted to Your PartnerBy Sheryl Paul
April 17, 2012
It seems to be one the last taboos: alongside admitting that you're not over-the-moon about being engaged and whispering to a friend that your desire for sex with your partner is at the bottom of your to-do list (yes, it's become a "to-do") is stating that you don't find your partner physically attractive. What?
It seems to be one the last taboos: alongside admitting that you’re not over-the-moon about being engaged and whispering to a friend that your desire for sex with your partner is at the bottom of your to-do list (yes, it’s become a “to-do”) is stating that you don’t find your partner physically attractive. What? In a culture that worships physical beauty and encourages you to place attraction somewhere near the first or second spot on a list of non-negotiables when choosing a marriage partner, admitting that you don’t always find your partner attractive is considered blasphemous and certainly a valid reason to walk away. So when clients and e-course members broach this topic with me, it’s with a great deal of trepidation and guilt, as if they’re committing a cardinal sin.
My first line of action is to reassure them that it’s normal and more common than they think. They only have to access the numerous threads on the e-course forum to see that they’re far from alone in this area. It’s not something that’s discussed in Cosmo and Vogue, but it’s a line of thought that’s alive and well in the psyches of thousands of women and men. My second line of conversation is to begin to break down the flimsy definition of attraction that our culture propagates. Because our culture is obsessed with image, we define beauty only as what is apparent to the camera’s eye. It’s skin-deep, or less than skin-deep if you consider the amount of makeup, airbrushing, and photoshopping that is involved in creating a magazine photo. We carry this definition of beauty into our intimate relationships and assess our partners through this lens. We may consciously say, “I don’t expect him/her to look like a magazine photo,” but we nevertheless define attraction by the superficial criteria that we’ve absorbed since birth. How can we do otherwise? Cultural conditioning runs deep and it’s only with a great deal of awareness that we can re-wire these habitual ways of seeing.
So if attraction isn’t based on physical appearance, what is it about? It’s about essence. It’s about the person you see when all pretenses fade away. It’s about the light that emanates from his eyes or the radiance of her smile. It’s about seeing soul instead of personality, the sustaining beauty of true nature instead of the fleeting beauty of a pretty face. It’s about what draws you to your partner, what connects you, what makes you say “yes” to him or her and no to everyone else. It’s about that place that feels like home, when you can sit next to each other immersed in engaging conversation or content in comfortable silence. I often encourage my clients to eliminate the words attraction or chemistry from their vocabulary – both buzzwords and anxiety-spikes – and instead ask, “What draws me to my partner?” Let’s understand attraction like a magnetic pull instead of in terms of superficial beauty. For we’ve all known people who appear typically beautiful but as soon as they open their mouth, the spell is broken and their true, toad-like nature is revealed. And we’ve known the opposite scenario as well: the person our culture defines as physically unattractive but whose essence radiates such love, warmth, clarity, and goodness that they’re transformed into the fabled prince or princess.
One of my clients, who found me six months before her wedding in the pit of a dark depression, said to me in our session last week, “It’s amazing how attracted I am to my husband when I’m connected to myself. It’s like two essences talking to each other; the superfluous BS just falls away and I’m able to bat off the negative thoughts like an annoying fly. When I’m disconnected or in a projection I think, ‘Ugh. I can’t deal with that feature.’ But most of the time I look over at him and see my handsome, loving husband.” This client has been profoundly committed to her own process of healing and understood within minutes of our first session that her happiness and loving feelings were her own responsibility. Her commitment to managing her internal critical voices of fear and judgement have led to a consistently loving relationship with herself and, by natural extension, a loving relationship with her husband. In other words, when she sees herself through the lens of truth, clarity, and love and connects to her own essence, so she sees the same in her husband. Two essences talking to each other.
When you’re in the thicket of anxiety, it’s not likely you’re going to feel attracted to your partner. In these moment, I offer the following practical recommendations (as I offered on the e-course forum in response to one of the highest viewed threads called “Attraction”):
- Carry a photo of him that shows him at his very best. When you’re only seeing him in a negative light, pull out the photo and have a good look. At the same time, carry a photo of yourself at your very worst to remind yourself that you’re not perfect either. We all have good days and bad days. We can all look beautiful or scary. Carrying around both of these photos will help change your perspective and remind you to focus on his physical beauty as well as your own humannness.
- As one member mentioned, try to find one quality that you love – his hands, her lips, his eyes - and focus on that.
- Remind yourself that when you’re over-focusing on the attraction issue, you’re probably avoiding something else – especially if you know that you’re attracted to his essence. Say to yourself, “I’m in a projection” and then ask,”What feeling am I avoiding by focusing on this right now?”
- Watch “Shallow Hal.” It’s such a great movie for revealing how much our culture focuses on the externals and loses sight of essence. It can take a LONG time to reverse this cultural conditioning, but it’s possible.
- Remind yourself that attraction comes and goes (just like the feeling of love). No one is always attracted to their partner. That’s just not the way attraction works.
Another member of the e-course, who’s getting married in two weeks, recently shared this inspiring revelation, which shows what happens when you take the fear-bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground, thereby sending it the message that you refuse to allow it to run this show:
I have a few revelations in the ‘attraction’ department, my arch-nemesis! Maybe this will help others who are experiencing projections. It’s so weird but I feel like the tables have turned on me here. He is still the same person, but I seem to have changed. Because he didn’t fit my warped mould of ‘perfect’ I was withholding a part of myself that I feel is critical to attraction: emotional intimacy. I was sort of punishing him for making me feel angry when he wasn’t doing anything to deserve it. My ego said – it’s ‘your’ fault, because you are not Mr Perfection (obviously I was not yet done getting over this fantasy). As soon as I realised that my ego was in the driver’s seat, demanding perfection, I kicked her arse and said, “Wow ego, you’re really unattractive – go get some humility and start appreciating him for who he is, share your self more and stop expecting him to make you feel a certain way. You’re going to lose a really really great guy if you keep this up.”
It occured to me that this was more than just lack of being attracted = no intimacy. It was my shutdown that was preventing ME from being intimate with him – thus, shutting down a vital connection that is way more than physical. So yeah, reporting that ‘it’ was kinda my ‘fault’.
This whole attraction thing has been so ‘over the top’ in my head for so long, it’s weird having this new window to see through; I mean, I have dated many different guys, all of them have been different, no one has been perfect. I never had this anxiety over them!! It was more that in my head, the place I reserved for my husband was one that had to be perfect. Now, my partner is pretty perfect so WHY this need for a Mr Perfection? Sure, the Hollywood stereotypes played a HUGE part, but the inner child was SCREAMING something and I only have just started to hear her, and it’s to do with being visibly protected by someone bigger than me, physically, because of so much crap I, like many of us, have experienced in the past. And so, I think, this need to be with someone who could put ‘certain people in my past’ in their place, was important to my inner child. I had to tell her that I DID have someone that was going to protect me, that my partner was WAY better than anyone else I’d ever met at protecting and nurturing me emotionally as well as protecting me physically and that I as her Loving adult could also protect her.
Since then there has been excellent progress made.
The bottom line truth is that beauty fades over time. If you’re going to remain married to someone for sixty years, you’re going to see hairlines recede, boobs sag, bellies pooch, hairs turn grey. And if you’ve picked your partner primarily because of the way he or she looks, you’re going to have a very hard time sustaining real attraction over the long haul of marriage. Real attraction, like real love, is sustainable, solid, and grows over time. It would behoove you to learn about it now.
Thank you to my client and e-course member for their permission to use their quotes.
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