You don’t talk anymore – not about anything real, anyway. You tell yourself it doesn’t matter. Or, you convince yourself that you’re just tired. But somewhere, deep down, your heart knows the truth. You’re in a loveless marriage.
What is a Loveless Marriage?
A loveless marriage, by definition, is a marriage where the love is gone. But love isn't the only thing missing from a loveless marriage. Intimacy and a meaningful connection between spouses are also missing as well.
While most loveless marriages are also sexless marriages, loveless marriages and sexless marriages are not necessarily the same thing.
Some couples who can’t stand each other still have sex out of fear, obligation, or simple physical need. Other couples may not have sex for physical reasons (e.g. one partner is ill or paralyzed) but they still love each other very much.
In short, while love and sex generally go hand in hand, they can also be separate.
In today’s world, even those who are in loveless marriages now usually loved each other once upon a time. Years ago though, that wasn’t necessarily true.
When marriages were arranged, and divorce was less common, lots of people found themselves in loveless marriages. Back then, being in love had nothing to do with being married. As a matter of fact, the two rarely went together.
Marriages were economic unions. They were a way to provide financial security and, in richer families, to secure a family’s wealth and social position. They were also vehicles for raising children.
Today, marriage still has a social and economic function. But marriage today is much, much more.
In the modern world, we assume that being in love is a natural part of marriage. We expect our spouses to be our partners, our lovers, and our best friends. When they’re not, we start wondering what went wrong.
Are You in a Loveless Marriage?
While you might think that everyone in a loveless marriage knows it, that’s not necessarily true.
Like a slow-growing cancer, disrespect and disconnection can grow for years in a marriage before they take over the entire organism.
It usually starts with small things.
Your work demands grow and so you start spending less time together. The kids keep you so busy that you’re too exhausted to talk. You’re so sick of fighting about the same thing all the time that you just avoid your spouse altogether.
Little by little the distance between you grows.
At first you don’t notice too much. Or, you think that feeling mildly upset or vaguely distant from each other is just the way marriage is. It’s normal … isn’t it?
Every now and then you’ll reach out and ask your spouse if everything is okay.
But talking about what’s not okay is hard. So, most of the time, you both just shrug the question off and soldier on.
Human beings are amazingly good at avoiding what they don’t want to see. Denial is devastatingly powerful.
If you’re wondering whether your less-than-perfect marriage is just going through a normal slump, or is suffering from something more serious, here are 10 signs you should look for.
10 Signs You Are in a Loveless Marriage
1. You’re not physically intimate with each other.
It’s true that you can have a loving marriage without having sex – but for most people it’s rare!
If you and your spouse aren’t having sex, and you’re also not kissing, hugging or sharing any kind of physical affection, that’s definitely a bad sign. Physical intimacy is what separates spouses from those who are “just friends.”
If you and your spouse no longer touch each other, sleep together, or have sex, you’ve likely crossed the line from spouses to roommates.
2. You're engaging in destructive behavior that's dooming your marriage.
Acclaimed marriage and family therapists Drs. John and Julie Gottman have identified four behaviors that will sound the death knell for any marriage. These four deadly behaviors are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
If your spouse is always attacking you with criticism (or vice versa) your marriage is in trouble. If you regularly mock your partner, roll your eyes in disgust, or put your partner down, your marriage is in trouble.
The same is true if one of you constantly avoids responsibility by being defensive or if one of you gives the other the silent treatment for days on end. All of these behaviors are signs that your marriage is in serious trouble.
3. You actively avoid spending time with your spouse.
We’re all busy these days. But if you find yourself making excuses NOT to spend time with your spouse, something deeper is going on in your relationship.
When you’re more comfortable spending time alone or with friends than you are spending time with your spouse, that doesn’t bode well for your relationship.
It’s also not a good sign if you and your spouse are physically in the same room, but mentally miles apart. If you’re on the phone and s/he is watching TV, you may be “together” but you’re not engaging with each other. For all practical purposes, then, you’re not really spending that time together.
4. Your spouse never seems to want to spend time with you.
You may still enjoy spending time with your spouse, but if s/he doesn’t ever seem to be around to spend time with you, that’s also a bad sign.
If your spouse has no interest in going out on dates or being alone with you, chances are, something is up. The same thing is true if your spouse no longer talks to you about anything other than the kids or the house.
When you’re in love with someone, you want to share your life with them. If your spouse no longer tells you anything that’s important to him/her, that’s another form of avoidance.
5. You are either fighting more than ever, or you’ve stopped fighting altogether.
If the way you fight with your spouse, or the amount you fight with your spouse, has changed, that’s a sign that your relationship has taken a turn.
If you never used to fight, and now you fight all the time, something is obviously bothering one (or both) of you. Or, if you find that you no longer have the energy or the will to bring up subjects you know you and your spouse disagree on, that’s also a bad sign.
Open and positive communication holds a marriage together. If you don’t have that with your spouse, your marriage is headed for trouble.
6. You fantasize about life without your spouse.
Everyone fantasizes about what life would be like without their spouse every now and then. But if you find yourself dreaming of having an amazing life alone a lot, that tells you something.
Psychologically, you’re starting to detach yourself from your spouse. If you’ve started to act on your fantasies – say by browsing your local apartment listings – your detachment is going yet another step further!
Happily married people do not dream of living without their spouse.
Even leaving a loveless marriage can be a struggle. Your FREE E-Book: Should You Stay or Should You Go? can help make figuring out what to do easier.
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7. Either you or your spouse has developed a wandering eye.
When you’re not being fulfilled inside your marriage, it’s natural to start looking for fulfillment outside of it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you are looking to have an affair. (Although, it could!) Emotional fulfillment can be as big of a draw as physical fulfillment.
If you find yourself wanting to share news of your promotion, or your kids’ amazing performance at school, or any other happy news, with someone other than your spouse, that’s a sign that your spouse is no longer meeting your emotional needs. While you may believe that developing a platonic “friendship” doesn’t threaten your marriage, emotional affairs can be just as devastating to a marriage as physical ones.
8. You’re feeling ignored or controlled … a lot!
Theoretically at least, marriage should be a two-way street.
If you’re feeling like your needs are not getting met, or you feel invisible in your own marriage, that will erode your connection to your spouse. The same thing is true if you feel like your spouse is purposely trying to control you or is keeping you in the dark about important family issues – like your finances!
It’s even worse if you’ve tried to talk to your spouse about how you feel, and your spouse either doesn’t listen or doesn’t think his/her behavior is a problem.
9. Your spouse doesn’t want to work on your marriage.
There are very few problems in any relationship that can’t be fixed if both people are willing to work at it. But, it’s hard to work on relationship issues alone.
Sure, you can always work on yourself. As you grow and change, the way that you show up in your marriage will change. So, to a certain extent, your relationship will change when you change. But, for your relationship to grow, both you and your spouse need to nurture it.
Plus, if your spouse doesn’t care enough about you and your marriage to work on whatever issues arise, that says a lot about how important your marriage is to your spouse. (HINT: If you’re at the point where your marriage has been floundering for years, going to marriage counseling may be your best way to turn things around.)
10. Your gut is screaming at you.
Your body will often tell you what your brain doesn’t want to admit.
If you’re constantly sick or irritated, or you just always feel “off” (especially when you’re around your spouse), your body is telling you something. Most of the time, we don’t want to listen to what our bodies are saying. We don’t want to admit the truth of what, deep down, we already know.
If you’re not sure whether your chronic stomach aches are a sign of food allergies or marital problems, get quiet. Take a walk alone. Meditate. Listen to that small still voice inside of you. Pay attention to how you feel. When you do, you’ll get your answer.
3 Kinds of Loveless Marriages You Might Want to Stay In
In today’s world, when virtually anyone who wants a divorce can get one, you may wonder why anyone would ever stay in a loveless marriage.
There are more reasons than you may think.
Some people stay married for the sake of their kids. While most people who “stay married for the kids” do it unconciously, some don't. Some people who acknowledge that their marriage is broken, but decide to stay together until the kids are grown. Those people create what is known as a “parenting marriage.”
This kind of a marriage can take many forms. But, at its core, a parenting marriage is a non-romantic union where a couple focuses all of their joint time and energy on raising their kids. What makes a parenting marriage different from your run of the mill marriage where the two adults are horrible spouses but great parents is the fact that the couple openly discusses the change in their relationship. It’s also a change that both parents choose.
In a parenting marriage, both spouses agree that their original marriage is over. (Although they don’t legally divorce.)
They both agree on the terms of their new marriage – where they will sleep, who they will sleep with, how they will manage joint finances, and what they can each do in their free time.
Other people stay married for religious reasons. If their religion doesn’t accept or recognize divorce, they may choose to stay in a loveless marriage rather than violate the tenets of their faith.
While staying married for religious reasons is relatively rare in the United States these days, in other parts of the world it can still be common.
Staying married for financial reasons sounds horribly cold. Yet it can also be extremely practical.
If you and your spouse are older and you don’t have enough money to ever live separately, staying in a loveless marriage may be more appealing than getting divorced and eating cat food for the rest of your life.
If staying married allows you to enjoy a lifestyle that you could never afford as a single person, you may choose to stay, even if you’re in a loveless marriage.
While most people today outwardly frown on "financial marriages," the truth is that walking away from a beautiful home, financial security, and a better social status than you could create on your own isn't easy. It's even harder when you have kids.
If getting divorced means that your kids will live a seriously downgraded lifestyle when they're with you, you can't help but think twice about ending your marriage. That's even more true if your divorce means that your kids will have to give up participating in the activities they enjoy now, or will have to change homes and schools.
The bottom line is that choosing to stay married for financial reasons is neither good nor bad. Staying married for financial reasons doesn't make you a bad person. It is simply a choice.
Like every other choice, however, choosing to stay in a loveless marriage has consequences.
The Price of Staying in a Loveless Marriage
When you’re in a loveless marriage, you die a little more every day.
Even though you’re married, you often feel lonelier and more alone than any single person ever. You don’t have the love you want, but you’re not free to go look for it elsewhere.
You don’t have the emotional connection that you expected to have with your spouse. When you see happy couples your stomach clenches. All you can think is, “I will never have that.”
That hurts like hell.
You feel like your life is over. Motivating yourself to do anything gets harder with each passing day. It’s hard to get excited, even by the good things that happen to you because you have no one to share those things with.
If you have re-negotiated your loveless marriage into a parenting marriage, you may have different feelings. At least when you’re in that situation, you’ve made an active choice to create a different kind of marriage.
Unlike others who are trapped in loveless marriages they didn’t want, you and your spouse may have agreed that you can have relationships with others. You might be in a very non-traditional marriage – one you never would have chosen from the start. But you’re doing it for a reason – it’s for your kids.
At least that makes you feel a little bit better about your situation.
What to Do If You’re In A Loveless Marriage
If you’re in a parenting marriage, or any other type of non-traditional marriage arrangement, you’re probably in it by choice. You and your spouse each have reasons for staying married that have nothing to do with being in love.
While your situation may not be ideal, at least you know why you’re in it. You made a conscious decision to stay in a loveless marriage for a reason.
If you didn’t choose to stay in a loveless marriage for a specific reason, however, then you’re in an entirely different position. Dealing with your situation requires two things:
- Recognizing the situation that you’re in; and
- Deciding what you want to do about it.
We’ve already talked about how you can figure out whether you’re in a loveless marriage or not. Assuming that you are, your next step is to decide what you want to do about it. You can either work on your marriage, get a divorce, or decide to live with the status quo.
Choosing Your Path
Loveless marriages can be pulled from the brink of divorce if both partners agree that they want to try to do that. If both partners make their marriage a priority, and work on it, they can often begin to rekindle the love that they lost.
Of course, doing that takes an enormous amount of emotional honesty – both with yourself and with your partner. You’ve got to be willing to have the difficult conversations that you have been skirting (sometimes for years!). You’ve got to be willing to own your part of the marriage’s problems.
Most of all, you've got to be willing to get help. Once your marriage has deteriorated to the point of being totally loveless, you and your spouse probably can’t communicate effectively either. If you want to try to save your marriage, getting professional help is key.
Most of all, you’ve got to be willing to forgive yourself and your spouse for whatever happened in the past. You also have to be willing to work harder on your marriage than on anything else in your life.
That’s not easy.
Yet, if you're both not willing to do those things, or if your marriage is so far gone that there is nothing left to save, then it may be time to consider getting a divorce.
Your last choice (and it IS a choice!) is to do nothing.
Of all of your choices, that one tends to produce the worst result. Not only will you pay the price involved in staying in a loveless marriage, but you'll continue to suffer as you wish you were living a truly authentic life.
Loveless Marriage v Divorce: Which One Is Better? Which One is Worse?
If you suspect that you’re in a loveless marriage and you don’t know what to do about it, you face a dilemma.
Getting a divorce may be terrifying, for a multitude of reasons. It’s expensive, disruptive and can be financially devastating.
Yet, staying married is likely killing your soul.
Because of that, your choice is highly personal. Even though it might feel like there are “right” and “wrong” answers, really, there is only one answer: yours. It’s neither right nor wrong. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both.
As long as you make a choice, though, you will be making progress. That’s because just making this choice is incredibly difficult. That’s why people stay stuck in loveless marriages for so long.
On the other hand, if you make no choice, or you deny that your marriage has a problem, you will be making the worst choice of all. Remember, not to decide IS to decide.
This post was originally published in 2019 and updated on November 8, 2022.
Even leaving a loveless marriage can be a struggle. Your FREE E-Book: Should You Stay or Should You Go? can help make figuring out what to do easier.
Claim your copy now.