Moving Toward Marriage: Thoughts on Dealing with the “Physical Narcotic”

I received a thought-provoking letter from a married, faithful LDS woman offering advice to young people about marriage. With the author’s permission, I’ll quote a few excerpts on Mormanity over the coming days. I’d like to start with her thoughts on physical affection for engaged couples or those in serious dating relationships. She makes the wise point that physical affection while dating sometimes can cloud judgment – and here she implicitly is referring to physical affection within the standards of LDS guidelines on morality (pre-marital sexual activity totally clouds judgment). She encourages other dating couples to exercise extra self-control to avoid the “physical narcotic” and think through some of the big issues about selecting your spouse and preparing for marriage. Here’s a passage from “The Letter”:

It is so important when dating someone to make sure that you don’t induce what I call the physical narcotic until as late as possible. It has been shown that physical affection arouses the body and the mind in similar ways to very addicting drugs. What does this mean? This means that you lose your ability to see warning signs or to reason when you are under the influence. I have heard that good marriage prep class teachers challenge their students to avoid any physical contact for a week to see if the relationship is based on more than that. I would take the challenge further. To those of you who haven’t started dating, I would suggest dating for several months without any physical contact. (For as long as you can.) For those of you who are currently dating, if you are being physical and started quickly, take a break for at least a month. I know it sounds harsh, but in marriage different things come up that prevent affection. After a baby is born, no intercourse is allowed for 6 weeks (doctor’s oders). There are other circumstances (illness, family visitors, etc) that arise, and it is important to know if your marriage can handle that kind of strain. It is also nice to know if your dating relationship is built on something more lasting than physical affection. As an important side note—being physically separated (like when my husband-to-be was away on his mission) is not even close to the same as abstaining when you are together.

Another benefit to not inducing the physical narcotic is the ability to see the other person as you will usually see them. Even in the most loving marriages, you don’t make out all the time. There are lots more times that you are washing dishes, sweeping floors, holding screaming children, etc. Can you handle that person with no sleep, no food? Do they seem nice under lots of pressure? Does your potential spouse have the ability to work? Does he/she clean without prompting—are they inherently neat? Does that matter to you? How do they behave when they are sick—especially the wife-to-be? The sad reality of marriage is that the mother has to be sick alone. She has to take care of children in spite of being sick. Sometimes the husband can be there to help, but usually there are finals, classes, and important deadlines that lead the loving wife to agree to be nauseous alone. Pregnancy sickness is the flu for 14 weeks. Can she do it alone?

I am frequently amazed at the temporary insanity that seems to beset some people when it comes to marriage. Some of those crazy marriages work, but when people seem to have nothing in common except physical attraction, the odds of unnecessary grief are so high. Even when there is a lot in common – goals, interests, faith, age, etc. – marriage is still highly demanding and sometimes painful, so it’s vital to marry someone with the strength and commitment to press forward in order to realize the deep joy that come through married life. The real joy is years down the road.

I heard one comedienne quip that when she’s dating a man, she has to step back and ask herself this question: “Is this the man who, for the rest of my life, I want to be leaving my future children with every other Saturday?” OK, it’s a cynical question, but it is an example of trying to think clearly about the realities of marriage and the high odds of divorce when the foundation is lacking. Physical attraction is great, but it’s not enough to make a marriage work. Don’t let it make your most important decisions for you.

Your thoughts?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

29 thoughts on “Moving Toward Marriage: Thoughts on Dealing with the “Physical Narcotic”

  1. I totally agree about putting off the physical stuff as long as possible. I remember hearing one of the apostles say that “that will come naturally.” It’s funny that everyone preaches about looking for good characteristics. The truth is, not everyone has all good characteristics, whether they be the one looking or the one being found. Someone has to marry those who don’t have them.

  2. Thank you so much for this well-written and thoughtful post. As someone just recently engaged, it was certainly food for thought!

  3. I learned quickly, when I was single, that even one kiss was enough to cloud my judgment. The less physical contact, the better I was able to evaluate the relationship. It wasn’t a sure thing – I still made mistakes – but it helped a lot.

    Michemily – The thing with good and bad characteristics is that you have to be clear on which bad characteristics you can handle living with! 🙂

  4. I have commented on this topic before and I will again because I think it is a critical topic that is brushed aside to many times.

    When I served as a Bishop there was more than one time that an engaged (or seriously dating) couple would come to me and admit that they had a concern about how physical their relationship was becoming. They wanted council. I would tell them that they should take a break and seriously consider what their relationship was all about because if it was built around the physical they would certainly regret it in due time. Most of the they just looked at me like I was crazy. I am not quite sure what they were looking for in the way of an answer.

    We are obviously conditioned to be marriage minded as we see the good and the blessings that can be reaped from an eternal relationship. How we guide individuals to get there is where we make critical errors (in my generalized sweeping assesment). I am one of those individuals that is in concert with Dr. Laura (who I generally feel is a bozo with little human compassion) and believe that those dating should wait at least a year before marrying. What is the rush? I would say in the church the rush is so you can be physical without guilt.

    I think that it is ok to be physical when dating but the perameters need to be clearly defined. Is it good to make out. No. Is an affectionate kiss (like you kiss grandma) hello or goodbye ok? Absolutely. Holding Hands? Why not.
    Rolling around on the floor together? That would be a no.

    I think we need to spend more time on teaching that you can be intimate without being physical. I think women get this concept to a large degree but men and especially boys do not have much of a clue what intimacy really means in the first place.

  5. Very interesting, Jeff…

    I am a young single adult, so perhaps my views will be so-colored.

    That said, i’m torn on this. The previous post suggested that it is not good to “make out.” I would sincerely wonder what his definition is (I know that’s code for bishops to freak out).

    While it is a physical narcotic (trust me, I know), physical affection is not just a cherry on top of a relationship sundae. I mean…you’re going want to have SOME idea if there’s good mojo when kissing(not taken too far, mind you!). There are couples where they do all kinds of good things together, but when he puts his arm around the girl, she shudders. That can prove to be harmful to a functioning marriage.

    I see your purpose, Jeff, and I agree with the basic premise. But I personally fear our attempts to put the lid on more than goodbye kisses MIGHT put a chill effect in relationships. We LDS youth get SO much chastity talk…some people still sincerely believe that kissing before marriage is not a good idea!

  6. I think it totally depends on who has more self-control. The “physical narcotic” has clouded my mind many times before I was baptised and it is still taking a lot to control myself so I try my best to stay away from anything that might be too tempting. I have other addictions that make it so much harder to control. But I’m grateful for the help that has been provided for me. I’m not going to lie though, I can’t wait until I get married one day, but I wouldn’t want that day to come only because the “physical narcotic” is trying to get my attention.

  7. Oh boy… don’t get me started on this subject. I could write a book about LDS middle-age singledom, but it wouldn’t be pretty! I’ve quit even dating because of the innappropriate expectations of the supposed Temple-recommend holding single men I’ve dated. Too many toads to wade through to try to find a prince!

    The teachings of the GAs and Prophets are clear. Do nothing that arouses passion until married! Over out.

    Heavenly Father knows us well. Much better than we know ourselves. We can trust His advice, counsel and commandments to lead us in proper paths.

  8. “Do nothing that arouses passion until married!”

    I totally disagree with this. One must KNOW that the person they’re going to marry is attracted to them–they can’t just take their word for it. I have several friends who became engaged to men who were “perfect gentlemen” when they were dating–never wanted to do more than hold hands or have a brief, passionless kiss. And it turned out that their fiance was gay.

    Too much physical affection in a relationship is dangerous, but too little is dangerous as well.

  9. My reaction:
    If you’ve already become even a little physical and that’s working, then a forced separation is going to cause a certain tension that might reach a dangerous level. Haven’t you ever read a good Jane Austen novel? It’s all that waiting for each other that creates the powerful ending. (I am trying so hard to use appropriate words here!)
    (Married Mormon Mommy)

  10. One must KNOW that the person they’re going to marry is attracted to them–they can’t just take their word for it. I have several friends who became engaged… And it turned out that their fiance was gay.

    I’ve heard of this same situation, only there is a marriage and several kids before he comes out of the closet. Would getting physical during courtship have helped then? Of course not, because it isn’t the real issue here; the real issue is the stinking liar in it for some self-serving reason. Probably a highly accomplished liar at that, so while there were probably warning signs you can’t really blame her for not seeing the truth sooner.

    The same thing happens any time he doesn’t actually care about *her*, but her money or position or citizenship… or her body, for that matter. To be honest, if those friends hadn’t held to strict moral standards in the first place, they would have likely had far greater problems at the other extreme — plenty of passion but no desire for a relationship (and whatever lies it takes to get what they want).

    At least this way those friends walked away with their virtue intact.

    That said, we’re not talking about “no showing affection” or even “no showing that you’re attracted” here. We’re talking about “no arousing passion,” as in, “no doing things that encourage your hormones to take over.”

    While dating I had a personal rule that I would only kiss a girl I wanted to marry; I have no regrets that the only girl I’ve kissed became my wife, even if she was frustrated at how many dates we went on before we first held hands…

  11. Interesting topic.

    Definitely a “prude” here. To a fault, I was a stigler for avoiding the appearance of evil while dating. So much so, that it took me 8 years to get married after the mission.

    I can relate to DOZENS of times where, after the 1st or 2nd date, the iconic “door scene” played out: that slow, nervous walk to the door. Beads of sweat forming on our faces, and then me with just a quick “thank you! Goodbye!”. I think many girls were relieved to find me harmless, but to be honest, it was obvious that many others were disappointed.

    Ah, the memmories….

  12. Ryan said: “The real issue is the stinking liar in it for some self-serving reason. Probably a highly accomplished liar at that, so while there were probably warning signs you can’t really blame her for not seeing the truth sooner.”

    While it would be easy to characterize the men I referred to in my comment (my friends’ fiances) as “stinking liars,” that would be an unfair and gross oversimplification. Yes, they were dishonest in this area–but they were basically decent guys who yearned for a family and were deeply conflicted over their sexuality. The strongest sign that they were gay was their lack of interest in showing physical affection (in other words, no passionate kissing). My friends all say, in hindsight, that they should have recognized this. And yet it was all too easy for their fiances to hide under the “gentleman” label.

    I am concerned when I hear about bishops and others who counsel adults considering marriage to kiss with no more passion than they would kiss their grandma (um, yuck?). That will just invalidate all of the advice in many people’s eyes and they will end up doing whatever they want. Or some will follow the advice and will end up having the heartbreaking experience my friends had.

    Feeling some passion doesn’t have to mean “encouraging your hormones to take over.” Of course, there must be appropriate boundaries. And I agree with the counsel given in the original post–it’s a good idea to take a break from physical affection to ensure that that isn’t what the relationship is based on.

    The “For the Strength of Youth” counsels against passionate kissing, but it was written for YOUTH, not adults. We single adults need to be wise and know what our boundaries should be–guided, of course, by the Spirit.

  13. Before marrying someone, you need to be sure you are attracted to them at all levels. Physical attraction matters, but so does emotional and spiritual attraction. The problem in our society is, physical attraction seems to get the most weight. If two people are physically attracted and it feels good when they kiss, well hey…it’s a recipe for a happy marriage.

    So in sense, this advice makes sense. It does pay to take the time to evaluate the emotional and spiritual attraction you have with the person you are daring. Generally this isn’t done enough, so advice to take time to review those items is important.

    On the other hand, you do not want to ignore the physical attraction side of the triangle. Physical intimacy is important to a marriage, and if there is no spark it can make marriage difficult.

    The point is, all 3 sides of the triangle matter, and it’s important to have a balance between the 3.

  14. At the risk of opening Pandora’s Box, let me say about the “gay” issue that was brought up, let’s be careful not to go down the road that the rest of the world is going down. Nobody “is” gay in the sense that one “is” a certain race. Gays have tendencies towards behaviors that don’t fit nature’s norm, but those are _behaviors_ (ostensibly driven by one or another genetic factor, just as with alcoholism or drug addiction). However, a person’s engagement in behaviors should not be equated to what a person “is” by physiological and psychological nature. Those behaviors CAN be overcome. I know many people who have overcome them and went on to live completely heterosexual lives in both behavior and desire. Myself included.

    That said, I agree that there is a fine balance to be had here in courtship. You NEED to seek the Lord’s guidance throughout your courtship and, of course, throughout your marriage.

    My wife and I met well after the Lord had helped me to overcome my homosexual tendencies. After a long-distance courtship of about 3 1/2 years, we decided to get married. Because I had not followed all the way through on my homosexual recovery, I found myself embroiled in heterosexual pornography. I thought (mistakenly) that it would be solved by marriage, not by counseling. I hadn’t yet learned that the root of the homosexual and heterosexual vices is addiction to the feelings induced by sex, which are all biochemical responses within the brain. Those responses can become more compelling than those created by heroin and cocaine…and in today’s world, you don’t need to do much more than surf the Internet or watch TV to get a “fix”.

    To the young single adults reading this, the idea that marriage will fill a void that sexual addiction creates is a false one. I was fortunate to marry someone who sees the bigger picture and who was willing to set aside her own wants and disappointment at not “getting what she had bargained for” to help me overcome my issues. I can happily state that because of her merciful and charitable patience, which I’ve NEVER deserved and will ALWAYS be grateful for, I was able to understand just what role sexuality has in marriage and to completely overcome those addictions through Spirit-inspired counseling from LDS Family Services, the right medications to help re-balance the chemical imbalances in my brain as a result of PTSD, and, most especially, through Christ who gently led me to understand that counseling and pharmacology were all invented by Him for my benefit, not the taboos that society puts on them.

    But for the vast majority of couples, carrying sexual addiction into marriage is exactly like bringing an extramarital partner or a nuclear bomb into the marriage with you. It’s completely inappropriate and dangerous and almost always ends in blowing everything to pieces.

    Why am I talking about sexual addictions? Because they take root in single adults’ experimentation with sexual behaviors prior to marriage. As with anything else that is virtuous or of good report, the expectations of abstinence before marriage for LDS folks are twisted by Satan. The adversary tries to convince us that we’ll never be able to resist each other, so we should substitute pornography and other sexual vices so that we won’t “mess up” and “embarrass our families” on the wedding day. The truth of it is that you’re just delaying the embarrassment and hurt to a day when breakup of a family and destruction of confidence of little children (your children) in marriage is more likely.

    What to do? Well, you don’t have to be a prude. Prudery is also a vice and a twisting of the doctrine of “multiply and replenish the earth” (i.e. the mistaken idea that sex is only for reproduction, not for bringing the couple together physically and emotionally). But if you conduct your relationship within the bounds the Lord has set–both before AND after marriage–then you can avoid indulging in rationalizations. The Spirit will warn you when you are approaching a point of no return _based on His knowledge of your personal weaknesses_. For some people, just the “peck on the cheek” is enough to send them over the edge. For others, holding hands and lip kissing is just far enough. For ALL people, the prophets have been more than clear on what is too far (dancing inappropriately, staying up too late together, sharing a bed together, petting, parking, rolling around on the floor, etc.).

    Like I said before, prudery is just as damaging to a relationship as sexual licentiousness. That’s why we’re commanded to keep intimacy “within the bounds the Lord has set” (marriage, and in a way that doesn’t chase away the Spirit from our lives). Communication with the Lord and with your boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife is ESSENTIAL to successfully navigating the rough waters of today’s pornographic culture.

  15. I’ve been married for 17 years and the physical narcotic (w/ my spouse, of course) STILL clouds my judgement. LOL

  16. Great topic Jeff, and very interesting follow up discussion with others’ comments.

    The church talks a lot about chastity and virtue, but I wonder how many parents are having these kinds of open and honest discussions with their own children?

    This discussion will become the basis for a Family Home Evening lesson within the near future in my house.

    Keep the input coming.

  17. I think there have been a lot of good points made and I appreciate the advice given in the original blog. Good stuff to consider.

  18. Anonymous,

    Love the catchy name. I take issue with your notion that the only way that you can be physically attracted to someone is by testing the waters so to speak…..because one just has to know.

    I have to tell you that I knew when I was attracted to someone physcally when I was dating them and it did not take much to know that.

    I believe the problem with most men is that they are afraid of intimacy (and by that I mean communication …..deep communication) that trumps and enhances the physical part of the relationship.

    I will stand by the history that I have witnessed of couples that get engaged to get married 6 months later only to move the date up to six weeks because “they just can’t wait that long”. That is the wrong reason to be getting married and it happens all the time in the church and you know it.

    And who mentioned that the standards in the Strength of Youth pamphlet were great for kids but not for adults? Lets face it in many cases adults are just older but that is about were it ends. I mean what is it that my Single Adult friends in Utah and Idaho tell be LDS stands for (Lets do Sex). Oh yeah they have really progressed well beyond their teenage counterparts.

  19. To all you anonymous folks out there. I do appreciate your thoughts and insight. I do have trouble figuring which is which though

  20. I enjoyed the article and I enjoyed the comments following it.

    A few quick thoughts:

    I agree that both extremes are dangerous. Neither sexual promiscuity or prudery is the proper way to go.

    There has to be some physical interaction in order for someone get a feel (no pun intended) for what the other person is like.

    Its also undeniable that physical interaction is an integral part of a relationship. It just can’t be the ONLY part of a relationship.

    The suggestion to take a break from getting physical is a good idea to see if the relationship is built on something more than just the kissing and cuddling.

    However, a lot of essential lessons about life, human interactions and ourselves are learned through physical intimacy weather it be in dating or in marriage.

    Someone pointed out that by not engaging in appropriate forms of physical activities prior to marriage, you open yourself up to surprises after marriages like finding your partner is gay. I’d like to point out that that’s not the only possible surprise: what about spouses who find out that their partner has little or or no desire for physical intimacy? That can also be a problem for marriages.

    Anyways, great blog article.

  21. there is a “higher” level here–

    I agree to some extent; I also think that our young people have been preached to about physical chastity to the point where they are afraid to be married–

    we seek “perfection” in spouses to the point of impossibility–

    and nothing was said about seeking the guidance of the Spirit (i.e. Heavenly Father’s consent) about whom *we* marry–

    so, while I think the things said are very worthwhile, there are other dimensions.

    We have (from my observations) LDS who either get married because they are following “natural” (not meaning bad at all) impulses and those who are SO cautious that we have an aging, a LARGE aging, group of singles in the church who remain . . . single–

    we’re so afraid of divorce, in some ways, that we may find ourselves having a seriously declining population–

    there has to be a balance here somewhere.

    MY concern is more unique, and I hear it voiced very little in our LDS community, though I have read about it from other Christians who are concerned about these things.

    Emotional promiscuity.

    While being SO careful at BYU and other colleges and throughout my mission, etc.–and in the workplace NOT to break the physical law of chastity that my husband was the only man I ever kissed–(and I was THAT careful)–

    I became emotionally involved a number of times, very extensively, with young men who, while respecting me physically, cared very little about my emotions–

    I was terribly emotionally scarred when I met an emotionally scarred man–and emotionally scarred together we were BEYOND careful in our relations before marriage; we both had cold feet (mine were a bit colder), and it was only extensive fasting and prayer that got us, in our late 20s, to the temple–

    married many decades now–and very happy and in love, marriage was no more easier for us than for many who called it quits–

    it took YEARS to overcome the heartache and heartbreak from men who asked me to marry them and then jilted me–

    from men who flirted seriously and allowed me to think they meant it, asking me to “wait” for them, asking me to write to them, asking me to meet parents, only to show up with a fiancee in tow–

    THIS is the one thing I have wanted my children not to have to face; I did NOT trust my husband for many years not to just say, “it’s all been a joke” and walk away–

    I think emotional promiscuity is a REAL problem in a culture (ours, the LDS) that encourages fast and free dating–

    or the “shopping” mentality–

    there is always heartache, and I do believe it can be avoided by more PRE-dating caution–

    I don’t necessarily think that you have to look at 100 pair of shoes to find the one that will fit; sometimes you can feel a prompting to go to the shoe store, walk in, look at one pair and know you’ve found the right one–

    BUT, there I’m using the shopping symbol for something SO much more important–

    people as “things”. objects, consumer “goods”–

    our culture MUST get beyond the shopping mentality before we will begin to see a decrease in divorce–

    AND great physical purity–

  22. My husband and I barely made it to the temple, but we made it. We were married almost 7 years ago. Some people criticized us because we were married 2 months after we first met. We had 4 children our first 5 years of marriage. Some might say that those physcial narcotics perpetually fried our brains. My husband and I had a firey relationship starting from the get go. We still do. Some think that we are completely insane for marrying so quickly but it worked for us. My point is though, is that our first night together was made so much more special because we felt at ease with our Father in Heaven (no matter what others thought when our first baby was born 9 months and 4 days from our wedding date!) I am greatful that we were completely loyal to each other even during our courtship. I wouldn’t go back and trade the peace that we felt when we were sealed for any thing on Earth. My advice to anyone out there would be to include Heavenly Father even from when you get engaged. We started praying together BEFORE we got married. We also enlisted “Chaparones” from our family and friends. They went with us on dates and places where we felt vulnerable- which was pretty much everywhere except the chapel! I know this wouldn’t work for everyone but it really helped with us. God bless all you who are having your brains fried out there!

  23. Good Morning All,

    Please don’t mistake my comments here for condone premarital relations, I don’t want to do that. But I do want to point out that sometimes in our zealousness to teach our children, and our parents zealousness to teach us regarding when and where to engage in physical contact with our dating partners and potential spouses, that we interject a great deal of confusion and fear.

    God did intend for us to engage in physical pleasure, and to procreate. Its a most nature event. Now he did put parametres on this, by saying we should be married first and that we should only be with our respective spouses.

    Where we begin to interject confusion and fear is this vague statement don’t engage in conduct that arouses our passions. Well what exactly does that mean? The problem with such counsel is what arouses one persons passions may not be what arouses anothers. So now we tell our kids this, and they’re left wondering what the heck we meant. Then they go to their friends to ask for guidance, and get partial information, because their friends are just as confused as our kids are. Pretty soon you’re getting conflicting information about what’s right and what’s a sin.

    The point I’m making is that there is a very fine line between teaching our children about chastity and virtue and following God’s timetable, versus interjecting confusion and fear. When we’re talking about this subject, we need to be giving our kids the facts as well as the gospel doctrines of our respective churches’.

    Recalling my own childhood, the teaching on how premarital relations were a sin, and not pleasing to God, were not overly helpful, or overly compelling reasons not to give into the natural hormones of the teenage years. Far more effective were teachings about why it was a sin,and why it was so important to wait for a spouse. To be effective, it takes much more than teaching what your church leaders say. It actually takes a willingness to be frank and discuss all of the consequences, not just the biblical ones. These are just my thoughts on the subject. Feel free to disagree or condemn.

    Catholic Defender

  24. I’m very late on this, but I’m bothered by the last paragraph. Encouraging a man to choose a woman who can “go it alone” may also lead them to believe that they can or should delegate entirely the management of household and children to their wife. Every couple should carefully consider the division of labor in the family, but I think men err on the side of doing too little around the home than doing too much.

    I also remember reading a research paper that found a key indicator of marital happiness was how much housework the husband does.

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