Most people get married when they are in love. However, it is possible for marriage mates to eventually fall out of love. Loving marriages that last for a long time generally have marital partners who are committed to working diligently on their relationship. Marriage mates who have poor communication and do not consistently strengthen their emotional bonds are more likely to find themselves in a loveless marriage over time.
Are You in a Loveless Marriage?
Marital partners rarely fall out of love overnight. Although it is possible for husbands and wives to experience a sudden life change that adversely affects their relationship, many people who report being in a loveless marriage admit they simply forgot to focus on their relationship. Preoccupation with the cares of life, the kids, or a career may rob marriage mates of the time they need to nurture their relationship. In many cases, spouses assume the love they have for each other will carry them through the ups and downs of life automatically. Sadly, that assumption is not true.
Loveless marriages tend to be devoid of kindness, joy, and passion. It is not unusual for partners to feel as if their marriage is more functional than intimate. How can you tell if you are living in a loveless marriage? Consider the six communication styles and behaviors listed below. Research suggests these relationship traits may be used to predict the end of a marriage.
As marriages involve different people with unique needs, wants, and abilities, there will be occasions when marriage mates do or say things that offend their spouse. This may cause their spouse to complain or offer a critique from time to time. However, these complaints are not the same as criticism.
Criticism is an expressed disapproval of something or someone due to perceived faults or mistakes. While complaints and critiques are given in response to a specific issue, criticism is a personal attack on the character of a marital partner. Although there is some amount of criticism in every marriage, loveless marriages generally have very frequent, intense levels of criticism.
In a loveless marriage, criticism may be directed toward one partner or partners may take turns to criticize each other. Marriage mates who are criticized may feel hurt and rejected. If left unchecked, negative patterns of criticism may lead to the development of contempt.
People who are stuck in a loveless marriage may eventually begin to treat each other with contempt. Contempt is the feeling that someone or something is not even worth considering. A husband or wife may display contempt for his or her spouse via name-calling, sarcasm, sneering, scoffing, ridicule, eye-rolling, or other expressions that communicate disrespect. Contempt is used to make the attacker feel morally superior and the accused feel worthless.
Contempt is powered by prolonged negative thinking about one’s marriage partner. It is the most reliable predictor of divorce. Contempt may move marriage mates to make important decisions without first consulting their spouse. Clinical studies show contemptuous marriages may even erode the physical health of both partners.
Defensiveness is a form of self-protection whereby a person tries to ward off criticism, exposure of his or her shortcomings, or other perceived attacks. It occurs when one partner feels unjustly accused and uses excuses to get his or her marriage mate to back off. Defensiveness is not a positive communication strategy as it may give the impression that the accused partner will not accept responsibility for his or her mistakes. It may also cause the critical mate to feel as if his or her concerns are not being taken seriously.
A marriage mate who responds defensively may try to place the blame for any mistakes on his or her partner. While a non-defensive response may lead to better understanding and conflict resolution, persistent defensiveness may cause a situation to worsen if the critical mate does not apologize or drop the issue.
Stonewalling occurs when one marriage partner (the listener) refuses to communicate or interact with the other. Common behaviors include turning away from the speaker, tuning out the speaker, engaging in a distracting activity, or pretending to be busy. Stonewalling negatively impacts the long-term health of a marriage as important issues may not be addressed directly. Stonewalling is typically displayed in response to contempt when the listener feels emotionally overwhelmed.
Lack of Intimacy
Sex and intimacy are vital to the long-term health of a marriage. Although men and women both have physical and emotional needs, men are more likely to connect on a physical level while women generally connect more readily on an emotional level. These gender-related differences in intimacy are linked to the social programming men and women receive as they grow up. Many husbands have sexual roles and standards they set for themselves and these are tied to their ability to please their wives. In a society where women are raised to be caregivers, wives may require affection and intimacy to feel appreciated and valued by their husbands.
A loveless marriage usually lacks sex and intimacy. For husbands, this may be a major cause of frustration and anxiety. A lack of sex may contribute to husbands losing their self-confidence and feeling insecure about their relationship. Similarly, wives may become frustrated if their husbands are withdrawn or inattentive to their emotional needs.
Time Spent Apart
Individuals who are stuck in a loveless marriage are more likely to spend time away from each other. This may be due to marital partners losing interest in each other’s needs and activities, or it may be a strategy to reduce interpersonal conflict. While some couples may reason it is best to avoid emotionally-charged arguments and other negative interactions, excessive time spent apart will not help the marriage in the long run. Instead, this approach prevents couples from tackling issues that may require urgent attention.
How You Can Start Working on Your Unhappy Marriage
Unfulfilled expectations or changes in circumstances may cause resentment to build up between marriage mates. If unaddressed, the emotional bonds between marital partners may weaken and both individuals may drift apart. However, there are effective steps you can take to improve a loveless marriage. Consider the helpful suggestions given below.
Evaluate Your Priorities
It is not uncommon for negative emotions to run high in a loveless marriage. In some cases, negative feelings may prevent marriage mates from seeing the bigger picture and making wise decisions. If you want to improve your marriage, take the time to evaluate your priorities when you are not emotionally-charged. Relationship decisions made in the heat of the moment may seem acceptable now but they may also compromise your long-term happiness.
Get Specific on Your Needs and Desires
Instead of making “you” statements and focusing on your partner’s faults, express yourself with “I” statements. Talk about your feelings, needs, and desires in a positive way. This will help you to voice your concerns while still remaining respectful to your partner.
Criticism: “You always focus on yourself!”
Healthy communication: “I’m feeling a bit ignored. Can we please discuss something that happened to me today?”
Get Specific on How You May Be Contributing to the Problem
Although it is often easier to see your partner’s shortcomings, you may also be at fault for your relationship issues. It is important that you take responsibility for your expressions and actions. Try to identify the role you play in contributing to your marital distress, apologize to your partner, and make positive adjustments to help remedy the situation. By acknowledging and addressing your own mistakes, you show your relationship is more important than your ego.
Have a Blame-Free Conversation on Neutral Ground
When you have marital challenges, it is usually a good idea to talk things out. However, the type of conversation you have may determine whether or not your relationship remains intact. Express your concerns, expectations, and commitments without assigning blame to your partner. If either of you has a distinct advantage at home (for example, one partner may be the legal owner of the house) it may be best to have your conversation at a local coffee shop, park, or another neutral location.
While it can be exhilarating to whisk your marriage mate away to a romantic retreat, small regular expressions of love and appreciation may be more beneficial to your marriage in the long run. Asking how your partner feels about a particular matter doesn’t cost a dime, but it shows your interest in him or her. If there is a measure of resentment in your marriage, you may reduce it by listening empathetically to your partner when he or she wants to communicate. And when your partner allows himself or herself to be vulnerable, your willingness to provide reassuring, supportive responses can strengthen your emotional bonds.
Give It Time
Just as it usually takes time to fall out of love, it may take time to repair a loveless marriage. Patience is key especially when you both have an earnest desire to stay together. You and your marriage mate may be uncertain if the positive adjustments you make will work or if you can recapture the love you had at first. Nevertheless, it is vital that you give yourselves enough time to find out.
Seek Outside Help
Professional help is available if you are experiencing marital challenges. You can seek assistance from a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) if you believe you cannot manage your issues on your own. A qualified marriage counselor can help you and your partner to identify the underlying reasons for your problems and find healthy ways to resolve them.
Should You Stay or Leave?
Many people who find themselves in a loveless marriage are unsure whether they should stay or leave. Although they likely have serious relationship issues, they may prefer to keep their marriage intact. If you are undecided about what you should do, taking time to reflect on the pros and cons of staying or leaving may help. Common reasons people choose one option over the other are listed below.
Reasons People Stay
Some of the most common reasons people stay in a loveless marriage include:
- The welfare of their children (this is by far the most popular reason)
- A need for companionship
- Financial security
- Fear of what other individuals may say about a divorce
- Unwillingness to divide assets in a divorce
- The challenges of starting over
- An attachment to in-laws
- Mutual friends
- Fear other potential partners may find them unattractive
Reasons People Split
Some of the most common reasons marriage mates choose to separate include:
- Domestic violence
- Lack of sex
- Repeated or prolonged absences
- Anger issues
- Frequent lying
- Contemptuous behavior
- Prioritizing the needs of other people above the needs of their spouse
- Financial stinginess or wastefulness
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Keeping secrets
- Differences in parenting style
- Unfulfilled expectations
What to Decide
You and your partner should decide whether or not to end your marriage. Although religious leaders, family members, or friends may offer advice, none of these individuals really knows your circumstances or what is best for you in the long run. Marriage counselors typically avoid telling marital partners to stay together or split up. It is best if marriage mates make the final call when considering such a major life decision.
No one plans to have a loveless marriage. Even so, many couples find themselves in that sad situation over time. If you are living in a loveless marriage, it is important to remember that help is available. With professional assistance and dedication, you and your spouse can rekindle the love you thought was lost forever.
Farris, M. (2017). How to survive in an unhappy marriage and thrive. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-survive-in-an-unhappy-marriage-and-thrive/
Harrott, L. (2018, January 11). What to do if you are living in a loveless marriage. Retrieved from https://www.guystuffcounseling.com/counseling-men-blog/what-to-do-if-you-are-living-in-a-loveless-marriage
Lack of intimacy: Living in a sexless marriage. (2018, June 22). Retrieved from https://www.marriage.com/advice/physical-intimacy/lack-of-intimacy-living-in-a-sexless-marriage/
Lisita, E. (2013, April 23). The four horsemen: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/
Neuman, F. (2014, July 13). Why people in a bad marriage stay married. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fighting-fear/201407/why-people-in-bad-marriage-stay-married
Pease Gadoua, S. (2014, November 22). Could you ever stay in a loveless marriage? Some are trying. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/contemplating-divorce/201411/could-you-ever-stay-in-loveless-marriage-some-are-trying