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Attraction vs. Attachment-Based Intimacy in Marriage

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When a couple is together long enough, they will face the inevitable transition from attraction to attachment-based intimacy. In this blog, we'll take a look at the difference between the stages, and the challenges they pose in marriage.

The "Honeymoon Phase"
Long-term, committed relationships have a built-in challenge. In the first six to twenty-four months of a relationship, everything is new, exciting and ripe with passion. In this honeymoon phase — or intense attraction phase — couples often have the experience of not being able to keep their hands off each other. At this time, the greatest challenge is containing the burning desire.

This desire, fueled by intense attraction, intoxicating neurochemicals (dopamine, adrenaline, etc.) and fantasy-based expectations, however, cannot be maintained.

The neurochemistry of attraction gradually subsides and fantasy-based expectations give way to a more realistic understanding of who your partner is and what you can expect in terms of need fulfillment.

And, with this shift comes an inevitable change in how desire and passion is experienced for each person in the relationship.

Moving from Attraction to Attachment
Though this transition is often confusing to many couples — "Why am I not as attracted as I used to be?" or "Why doesn't she desire me anymore?" — it's a natural and inevitable progression in the intimate relationship. The couple is moving from an attraction-based relationship that used to rely on passionate feelings as the relational glue, to an attachment-based one. This important transition sets the stage for a deeper, more integrated intimacy.

Attachment-based intimacy is about building and maintaining a special lifelong bond with the loved one. It's about being fully seen as a person and seeing the other for who God created him or her to be. It's about making a covenant and fully sharing your life — all the ups and downs — with another.

A Challenging Transition
While attachment-based intimacy is God's design and is the foundation upon which genuine, lifelong intimacy is built, it does present a challenge for the couple — especially in the area of physical intimacy. Specifically, the couple has to contend with an imbalance in sexual desire, where one spouse will always have a higher drive than the other. It's never exactly 50/50.

At baseline, one spouse will have a higher desire and need for physical intimacy — a discrepancy that was covered up in the early phase of the relationship. This introduces a new dynamic in the relationship where the couple begins negotiating — often implicitly — differences in personal need in an area that used to be mutually pleasurable and conflict-free.

Healthy Physical Intimacy in Marriage
To address this challenge, couples that have shifted from an attraction-based to an attachment-based relationship need to make space for something called decision, which plays a vital role in cultivating healthy, passionate physical intimacy in marriage.

To understand what decision is and how it works, take a look at the Sexual Intimacy section in our eBook, where we go through the "Four D's" of responding to a spouse when sexually interested. Check out our new eBook.