How do I stay physically attracted to my aging spouse? The question comes our way from an anonymous older man who listens to the podcast. “Dear Pastor John, most men marry in their youth, when our wives are young, vibrant, physically fit, and at their most physically beautiful. The passing of time inevitably ushers in wrinkles, sagging skin, sunspots, cellulite, etc. As aging husbands, how do we remain physically attracted to our spouses? Should we work at this? Is it disingenuous if it’s forced? Or is this something that should naturally die off over time? I don’t think so. However, if I can be fully honest, it often feels like I’m brainwashing myself. How would you counsel me?”
I want to say some things from the Bible, and then perhaps from my own experience, but first a brief word just by way of preface. I think it will be obvious why it’s relevant, but I’m calling it a preface anyway.
It absolutely must be said, it seems to me, that we live in a sex-crazed culture. Concepts of beauty are exaggerated, distorted, artificial, disconnected from the reality of true, inner beauty. Anyone who watches television or movies will almost certainly have a distorted view of beauty and sexuality in our age.
One way to say it is that sex is vastly overrated. One of the reasons this happens is because, in fact, in our own bodies, the voice of sexual desire is very loud. And the culture we live in creates an echo chamber where that loudness is so great, it virtually drowns out other wonderful voices that are much more important, more precious, more lasting, more essential to our humanity and God’s glory than the voice of sexual desire.
“Modern men and women almost inevitably have absorbed distorted, deceptive, disproportionate views of sexuality.”
Jesus Christ was the fullest, richest, deepest, most complete human being who ever existed, and he never had sexual relations with anyone. There are other dimensions to our nature that are infinitely more precious and more crucial to our humanity than the screaming force of sexual impulses, which silence other voices and deceive us into thinking that this impulse must be gratified. So all that, just by way of preface, to say: modern men and women almost inevitably have absorbed distorted, deceptive, disproportionate views of sexuality. And that affects our marriages and our growing old together.
Your Companion by Covenant
So, what does the Bible say? Let me give you two texts and put them back-to-back, one about the wife of our youth and one about the wife of our aging. Proverbs 5:18–20:
Rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
Well, that’s pretty clear. Sexual desire is a good thing. God made it. It belongs in the covenant of marriage. And in that place of God-sealed commitment, it can be fully enjoyed for his glory. Now here’s Malachi 2:13–14. He’s asking the question and answering, Why does the Lord no longer regard our offerings? And here’s what he says. This is in the past now.
Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
So time passes. She changes. You change. And these men said, “I’m going to get another woman — younger, better skin, better breasts, better legs, more desire.” And they leave. And God hates this. And the way Malachi underlines the evil of it is to say three things about her:
- She is your companion.
- She is your wife by covenant.
- God was witness to this covenant.
And I want to argue that God as witness, marriage as covenant, wife as companion, have explosively powerful, beautiful implications for affection and attraction as we grow old together, if those realities sink into us as they ought.
And to that end, here’s another text. Proverbs 20:29: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” Now, here’s the point: Youth and age have different splendors — real splendors, but different splendors. There’s a strength and a beauty at age 25, but there’s also a glory and splendor at age 75. The potential for this season of splendor, this aging season of splendor, to awaken affection and desire, I’m arguing, is very different, yet very great.
Here are two more texts. Second Corinthians 4:16–18: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” So, we look not to the things that are seen. Our focus is not on the wasting away of our outer beauty and strength. Our focus is on the unseen. The emphasis of the text, of course, is on future glory, but I’m arguing it also applies to inner glory. We don’t just look at the things that are seen. We look at the things that are unseen: future glory, inner glory. And I’m saying that this focus has a remarkable power to cause even the weakening outer person to be cherished, desired, touched, embraced.
Here’s 1 Peter 3:3–4, which addresses wives, but has huge implications for husbands. “Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” There is external beauty that is perishable. There is internal beauty that is imperishable.
The world gets Peter’s emphasis exactly backward. And we get sucked into it as we watch and watch and watch. But my point is: if women are to prioritize inner beauty over outer beauty, then we men, we husbands, should grow in our capacities to see and cherish and be moved by — deeply moved by, physically moved by — that inner beauty.
‘You Are Precious to Me’
So, here’s my conclusion. As our bodies move from the passing splendor of youth to the different splendor of age, we should become better at what we should have been good at all along. Namely, instead of outer appearances dominating the awakening of our affections, inner realities should more and more dominate the awakening of our affections. And I would put no limits on what those affections or desires might be.
“There’s a strength and a beauty at age 25, but there’s also a glory and a splendor at age 75.”
If a husband considers the glory of his marriage covenant, if he considers the wonder that God is a glad witness to his covenant and its keeping, if he considers that this woman is God’s gift and is his companion for life, and that she is a fellow heir of the eternal grace, and that her aging is a ripening for the glory of the kingdom where she will shine like the sun, I bear witness, Tony, that such amazing considerations from deep within the aging soul can create perceptions of delight and desire for an aging wife that most twentysomethings cannot imagine.
So, out of this aged mouth, face-to-face with this once-glamorous, now-glorious companion, come these words: “I love you. You are my treasure, my crown, my life companion. I cherish you. I have no eyes, no heart, for any other, old or young. Of all the women in the world, I chose you. I choose you still. I want you. You are precious to me. I want to be with you, near you. I want to touch you and hold you. You give me pleasure. God has been very, very good to me that I could call you mine.” If that comes from the heart, I don’t think a woman would want you to say any more about her looks.