To the newly in-love couple, such a question as, “How important is affection to marriages?” sounds like a joke. Of course, it is important! It is vital! It is the reason for getting up in the morning! We will never suffer from a lack of affection! (I may or may not have believed this myself… ahem.) But, the overwhelming, intoxicating feeling of being in love does fade. For some, it fades after a handful of months; whereas, others hold onto it for up to three years. Whether it happens in month three or year three, the initial in-love phase ends. Period. And, for couples who built their entire relationship around that feeling, this can be an extremely scary realization.
Months before getting married, Eric and I sat across from a banker while she was filling out paperwork. While she made notes and did research, we flirted quietly and basically showed all the signs of a nauseating duo. The queasy banker looked up from her paperwork and said, “Come back in ten years and tell me if you are still doing this.” We smiled as we left, completely sure that in ten years we would still be that same flirty, silly couple. But, in ten years… we were not.
We are still flirty sometimes and we are still playful often, but we are leaps and bounds apart from that overly infatuated, happy-go-lucky couple. We have felt the frustration of our lives being completely different than we envisioned. We have pointed fingers at each other in blame and anger. We have asked ourselves the question, “Why did we get married?” Some days have been so heavy we did not know if we could even keep going. So, how did we?
First and foremost, we know we are only still together today because of the work of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of those who love us. Without Him, our union would be nothing but a memory. Secondly, I secondarily credit our showing each other affection. Throughout this journey, as difficult as it has been at times, Eric and I both crave a lot of hugs. If we are at odds too long, we go through physical withdrawal. Those big bear hugs of his break tension and are healing salve to my burdened heart.
Our insanely different personalities are one of the reasons I am so thankful for this commonality. Without our need for frequent hugs, we could possibly go days, weeks, or even months without communicating. And these hugs do not equal forgiveness, but they soften our hearts and make it easier to forgive. After spending time apart to think and process, healing affection brings us back to a place of openness and helps us forgive.
More Important than Sex?
It is a bold statement, but here goes… to the married couple who wishes to stay together for the long haul, affection is even more important than sex. Sex is a crucial part of the marriage relationship and is not to be neglected. God’s word is clear on that (1 Corinthians 7:4-5). However, in the day-to-day ebb and flow of marriage, it is more important for couples to display deep affection for each than to share frequent sexual experiences.
It is possible for a couple to have a seemingly good sex life while the rest of their relationship falls apart; but, couples who show kindness, respect, and adoration towards each other – even if their sexual relationship is not perfect – have a higher probability of marital satisfaction and longevity. And not all affection is physical. We can show affection in our words, in our tones, in our acts, and in our touch. We have friends who laugh together in an affectionate way and another friend who grins at his wife and says, “You’re so cute.” These small drops of affection add up to soothing rain over time.
Showing affection communicates fondness. When the new love fades, life rolls by, and you are left in a big house with that man or woman you chose all those years ago, will affection matter? Will you hope to go on evening walks together, laugh at inside jokes, and still cuddle in front of the fire on cool evenings?
How important is affection to you? What role do you hope it plays in your future marriage?
Get Out Your Creed Notebooks, Friends!
Take some time, grab some coffee, get comfortable, and work through the following questions with your special lady or gentleman:
- What is my definition of affection?
- How do I express affection?
- When I dream about my future marriage, how do I hope my spouse expresses affection?
- How did my parents, grandparents, and/or caretakers show affection to each other?
- What memories do I have of others expressing affection towards me in meaningful ways?
- How do I plan to show affection to my future children? How do I hope my spouse will show affection to our children?
- How has God shown His affection towards me throughout my life?
What Does God’s Word Say?
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, ESV)
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8, ESV)
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4, ESV)
Does Showing Affection Come Naturally to You?
Dr. John Gottman, relationship expert, says for every one negative interaction we have with our significant other, we need to have six positive interactions just to keep the relationship… neutral. Therefore, logic suggests a warm and nurturing relationship requires ten, fifteen, twenty or more positive interactions for every negative interaction. Each smile, pat on the back, kind word, and unexpected cup of coffee adds up over time. Affection is equated with love, but it is something you can show whether you feel love or not. After showing affection long enough, loving feelings return.
For some, doling out affectionate actions comes naturally. When I pass someone on the street, it is in my DNA to smile. When I see juicy baby faces, I have a strong urge to kiss them. When I approach someone I love, I put my hand on his or her back without thinking twice. It is like breathing to me. In fact, I have to stop myself from showing affection to my more reserved friends! Eric is generally not demonstrative to the masses, but I am thankful he is naturally affectionate to close family and me. At times, I consider what our marriage would be like if he was not affectionate towards me since I am a frequent giver and receiver of hugs – and the thought frightens me.
Before you get engaged, make sure to talk about how you show affection, what affection you need, and how often you need it. Some people need minimal expressions of affection while others need a lot (yes, need… not just want). Some people need completely different kinds than their significant other needs. Even if everything else about your relationship lines up perfectly, if you do not understand this dynamic, it can lead to much frustration, pangs of rejection, and hurt feelings – and all of it unnecessary.
Is Affection Important Enough for Your Creed?
If you believe affection is an important part of your future marriage, consider explicitly adding it to your upcoming couple’s creed. For Eric and me, affection (specifically physical) is a must-have for our relationship. It has helped us weather many unpleasant storms. For others, affection is nice but not a necessary component of their overall marital vision. If you need frequent demonstrations of affection to thrive, it is important to let your boyfriend or girlfriend know. If you only need a little, be honest and specific about what you need. We are all made with different giftings and needs and there is no shame in that.
Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives. – C. S. Lewis
How important is affection to your future marriage?