4 more reasons why people marry someone for whom they feel no physical attraction.
I received a good deal of feedback on my most recent article: “Did You Marry When There Was No Physical Attraction? Why?.” While the article clearly resonated with many readers, there was a call to delve deeper into this topic. The reasons offered in the first article were cited by actual clients and to my knowledge were quite cogent such as, similar domestic preferences and religious values, cultural norms, pressure from the family of origin, low self-esteem, and a ticking biological time clock, to name a few. But there are indeed more complex, underlying reasons which I have attempted to delineate below. Some do overlap and can be attributed to independence/dependence or separation/individuation conflicts, but I believe each are strong enough to merit individual attention:
1.People who are not encouraged to think for themselves.
Some people grew up in homes in which they weren’t encouraged to think for themselves. They were controlled, or criticized for having an opinion or point of view. In extreme cases they may have been infantilized or treated like babies well beyond what was appropriate. Choosing a life mate is a big decision that these individuals were not prepared to make. As a result, they may have allowed far too much outside influence to enter into their choices. For example, friends or family members may have endorsed a particular partner, or sent the message: “You’ll never do better than this.”
I have seen a number of people in my clinical practice who were sent a similar message by parents anxious to get their children settled. But this may have only served to thwart childhood development. It might also have hindered their child’s self-esteem and self-worth by endorsing the low-risk philosophy to settle because options are limited. For example, Sally by all measures was a beautiful, highly intelligent woman. But at home, both of her parents discouraged her from “thinking too highly of herself.” History revealed that her parents didn’t view Sally as incompetent. Rather, they saw her as a “superstar” that needed to be reined in.
They were raised to be exceedingly humble and in turn passed this philosophy onto their children, especially Sally who they saw as having the greatest attributes. When it came time to date, Sally almost always chose someone that she wasn’t attracted to: someone she didn’t respect and desire. She eventually did the same in marriage and quickly developed situational low sexual drive and associated marital problems.
2. Ensuring the marriage will fail
Choosing a partner there is little physical attraction towards might also serve to ensure that a relationship will fail—an unconscious sabotage if-you-will. Some young adults may enable relationship failure in an effort to end up back in the bosom of their parents. Parents may endorse poor choices in an effort to retrieve their child from the throngs of separation and individuation. Debbie, 43, was from a highly enmeshed family. She admitted that she would just as soon take her sisters shopping than rescue a friend stranded in a remote area with a flat tire.
When Debbie finally married, her choice raised a lot of eyebrows with family and friends: a musician from the west coast. Debbie, a staunch conservative, promptly moved to California with her new husband and within a year returned to her family. Her husband was a chronic cheater who spent most of his time on the road with his band. It was hypothesized that Debbie’s move was one of conflict: she moved away to prove her independence, but her choice enabled an excellent reason to return home. Debbie never moved more than a few miles away from her family again.
3. Ensuring they get what they believe they deserve
To ensure that they get what they perceive they deserve some people deprive themselves of their wishes and desires. Many of these individuals were deprived in their families of origin: They were paid little attention to and the message was conveyed that their wants and needs weren’t very important. While this can breed narcissism, it can also result in individuals who don’t feel they deserve to get their needs met or to be happy.
Oftentimes these individuals will marry into a situation where they are taken advantage of or chronically dissatisfied and unhappy. Many fantasize about “what could have been,” but cannot turn their dreams into reality. If by chance they get close to a fulfilling relationship, many feel so uncomfortable they may take matters into their own hands and sabotage their good fortune.
4. Avoiding loneliness
Some people marry those they hold little to no physical attraction for in order to make up for loss or to avert loneliness. Some divorcees don’t necessarily miss their ex-spouses per se, but they do report that they miss the concept of marriage. Many who have experienced traumatic losses through death or divorce are prone to “stop the bleeding” so-to-speak by forgoing some of the requirements for a life mate that they may have previously held. In doing so, they may settle for companionship at the cost of physical attraction.
For example, Joan, 63, confessed that she was never physically attracted to her husband of 32 years but married him because she came from a broken home and he promised to take care of her. Although Joan eventually grew to be more independent, she admitted that she enjoyed the comfort of her retirement years too much to sacrifice it for the sake of attraction and romance.
5. Some people lower their standards of physical attraction to fit in. Right or wrong, ours is a couple-oriented society—add to this, we still have discrimination abound. Some people marry to show society that they are normal by the standard of the norms of the society. They want to be accepted, rather than ridiculed or viewed as abnormal or perverted. Many of us are working to broaden the concepts of acceptance and difference, and to reduce discrimination on all levels, but it has proven to be a long road to travel. In the meantime, I can empathize with the difficulty many face in claiming their authenticity.
I’m sure there are other reasons for marrying void of physical attraction but I’ll leave it up to the readers to add to this discussion. Nevertheless, I stand by my initial hypothesis on this matter as stated in my previous article: The importance of physical attraction has been underestimated in our society and in most cases, is a vital component for laying a strong and healthy foundation for a long-lasting relationship. Most of us have to adjust our standards in at least one relational context. Very few can have it all. But without a relatively strong semblance of physical attraction, relationship problems will eventually ensue.