Can you get it if you’ve never had it?
By Stephen J. Betchen, Psychology Today
The concept of attraction has been defined in many ways by many different experts in the field of relationships. Some look to biology to explain why we are attracted. Others believe we unconsciously replicate our attraction to our opposite sex-parent. Some believe we’re attracted to those with the same level of emotional maturity or differentiation of self. And still others believe that our unconscious, internalized conflicts choose our partners. These are plausible theories that have been supported by research and clinical experience. And all are deterministic. The biological theory offers that our nature chooses our partners for us (e.g., hormones in love); the latter two psychological explanations contend that partner choice is rooted and shaped in early youth, in relation to our parents. Relationship therapists usually abide by the theory that they were initially trained in. It’s no surprise that it’s impossible to get a unanimous agreement between them on attraction. Nevertheless, the question that seems to create the biggest debate, even bringing experts from different orientations together against those who share their theories seems to be: Can a partner who’s never been physically attracted to his/her mate grow this attraction with time? This question has produced some very interesting, and sometimes heated debates at professional organizations.
I have to admit that I err on the side of the naysayers. In nearly 35 years of practicing couple’s therapy I’ve never seen a partner “get it” when they “never had it” to begin with. I’ve seen a few who “had some” and “grew more.” Even those who were attracted to non-physical aspects of their partners (such as intellect) couldn’t seem to grow a physical attraction. In this sense, you either have it from the beginning or…
Let me be clear, I’m not saying that a lack of physical attraction will necessarily mean the demise of a marriage. Many people live together without physical attraction and/or little to no sexual relations. Other things outweigh physical attraction to these people such as companionship and security. Some find their mates interesting and stimulating. But to many, this type of relationship may be a so-called “house-of-cards.” Consider the following examples:
Janie, a very attractive woman in her middle forties came for couple’s therapy with her husband Tim. Janie lost the desire to have sex with Tim but couldn’t give a good reason. Tim seemed very much in love with his wife. He also kept himself in great shape and was a good provider. Even Janie sang his praises. Sensing something was awry, I separated the couple only to find out that Janie was having an affair. She told me: “Tim is a great guy who treats me like a queen. But as nice and handsome as he is, I’m just not attracted to him.” When I asked Janie the magic question: “Have you ever been physically attracted to Tim?” “No, not really,” she answered. “I needed to get out of my house because my parents were both terrible alcoholics and Tim promised to take care of me—the rest is history.”
Wendy and her husband Larry presented for couple’s therapy…. The Role of Physical Attraction in Your Relationship