What A Physical Marriage Isn’t

Caution: tiny spoiler ahead…

In the popular public television show, “Downton Abbey,” the middle-aged butler marries the equally aging housekeeper. Authentic to the period, he recites the exact wedding vows of English grooms in the 1920s. One phrase, spoken in almost a mumble, would have created a stir among modern romantics had they really paid attention. The words?

“…with my body I thee worship…”


Rather extreme, don’t you think? Besides affirming that marriage differs at its most fundamental level from any other relationship, what does it mean? Worship!? My body worship? What should, would, could such a phrase look like in day-in-day-out life, after all the initial newness and enthusiasm wears off?

We acknowledge that marriage is physical, but at the outset we wrap ourselves up in its emotional and relational aspects. Rightly so. Theologians and counselors warn that to jump the gate of common interest plus mental and even spiritual connection bodes badly for a sexual relationship in the long run. Whether attraction, friendship or admiration brings us together, romance is the glue. Romance hates to say goodnight. It wants to share everything. And that makes it also quite physical indeed.

Yet within the first few years of marriage many couples sadly find sex a bothersome part of the marriage – something we sometimes “do.” The original intent – physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy – seems lost in family duties and general life busyness.

Should we be surprised when couples choose to separate when exuberance gives way to disappointment and disillusionment? When they choose to remain, a steady drift seems the new normal. Many couples expend greater energy on an expensive getaway than on resolving conflict and enjoying each other romantically. But what do all of us want most? We want to be cherished and respected. We long for closeness, nakedness of soul and spirit, emotional security. We want our mate to work hard to make the marriage good.


So before sharing my views on what a physical marriage looks like, I think it will help to look at what it doesn’t.

  • A physical marriage isn’t a fluttery or powerful feeling which draws us to the other. Nor is it a sort of anxiety at being apart. Remember the Mel Gibson character in “Conspiracy Theory” who said, “Love gives you wings!” If blessed to have that emotion at the wedding, most folks don’t assume it will last forever. But many girls’ hopes, buoyed by romance novels will say, “So what that it doesn’t last for others. It will for me.” Those who live long in love know not to make feelings the ultimate test of tenderness.
  • A physical marriage isn’t a lot of PDA (*public display of affection – the “get a room” kind) — or holding each other at night during sleep. Both can mean the marriage is a physical one, but both can be carried out routinely in a non-physical marriage, especially if the bedroom thermostat stays low. Getting warm can eclipse emotional closeness on cold nights.
  • A physical marriage isn’t necessarily frequent sex. When couples come together for sex they have various reasons. They may be relieving tension (it does work), or meeting their own or their partner’s need at the moment. While caring, warm sex can certainly be a door to a real physical marriage, and it is also likely the result of one, it doesn’t equal one. Since sex symbolizes something way bigger than a physical act, we often go through the “sexual motions” in search of a deeper relationship. Read on.
  • A physical marriage isn’t high-fiving or bumping around hilariously in a billiard game or water volleyball. This sporting might come naturally in a physical relationship, but as in jokes and verbal banters, it can also be part of a non-physical relationship. Why? Because of the personality of one or the other.
  • A physical marriage isn’t a regular, cordial kiss or hug. Many couples peck each other goodnight as a matter of habit when they had little or no other communication all day.
  • A physical marriage isn’t the result of (or hindered by) temperament or personality. “I am just not a ‘huggy’ or ‘kissy’ kind of person. Wasn’t raised that way…” Nor is a physical marriage the result of codependent need: “I have to touch in some way, any way, in order to feel normal or connected.”

A physical marriage, though it may encompass all the above, and often does, is different, deeper, and doesn’t require any of the above behaviors to qualify.

Look in Thursday for my take on what a physical marriage does look like.



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