Every couple says “I do” with the hope and expectation that the love that brought them together will see them through the journey of life. The idea of a loveless marriage may seem laughable at the time. “Hey, we’ll never be one of those couples.” You tell yourself and reassure each other. But then, life happens, and you may find that you and your spouse cannot stop bickering over the littlest of things or that you’ve drifted apart and don’t really know or understand each other.
You can’t remember the last time either of you said “I love you” to the other, held hands, or just found comfort in just being with each other. And the feeling of being trapped in a loveless marriage may be getting too strong to shake off or ignore. You may find yourself questioning whether love has truly disappeared from your marriage or if it is just a rough patch you’re going through.
Given that a couple’s dynamics grow and evolve over the years, how do you even know if it’s a lack of love you’re grappling with or if love as you knew it has simply changed form? Or if a simmering down of love and affection is just a rite of passage all married couples go through. So, how do you know if you are in a loveless marriage? Is staying in a loveless marriage for a lifetime possible? Is there any cure to turn around a cold, passionless relationship? The questions can seem endless and confusing
To put your mind at ease, we explore the signs of a loveless marriage and ways to cope with it in consultation with psychologist Pragati Sureka (MA in Clinical Psychology, professional credits from Harvard Medical School), who specializes in addressing issues like anger management, parenting issues, abusive and loveless marriage through emotional ability resources.
What Is A Loveless Marriage?
Let’s get down to the most pertinent question on the topic at hand – what is a loveless marriage? Pragati defines a loveless marriage as, “A frigid soulless spell in your relationship when love has evaporated and you don’t know how you ended up here from a loving, happy marriage. Every couple while getting married imagines it’s going to be a bed of roses.
“They expect the relationship to run smoothly and age like fine wine. But for most people, the reality of marriage turns out to be far removed from this utopian dream. Once the honeymoon phase fizzles out, the marital responsibilities can quickly begin to weigh down the love that brought a couple together, and a shared existence can seem like an incessant challenge than a source of security and gratification.”
When you look closely at people staying in a loveless marriage, you realize that this phenomenon can be far more nuanced than just an absence of love. It is, invariably, a sum of the little things that tend to fall by the wayside that begins to change the way two partners feel about each other. For instance, when emotions are not reciprocated the way they should be, one partner might begin to feel lonely in a marriage.
This feeling of loneliness can lead to resentment, and when left unresolved, resentment can eat into the feelings of love and affection, driving two people apart, and replacing the warm, fuzzy feelings they had for each other with bitterness, anger, and pain. If you’ve been noticing that your spouse acts distant, avoids physical intimacy, or spends less and less time with you, or if the emotional intimacy between you two has steadily been on a decline, probably your marriage is going through one or multiple issues that need to be addressed right away.
Related Reading: Expert Lists 13 Reasons Why Marriage Is Important In Life
Why Does A Marriage Become Loveless?
To be able to address the issues you’re dealing with, you need to first understand where they’re stemming from. Perhaps, this lovelessness is rooted in years of unresolved issues that have resulted in pent-up resentment on both sides. Or maybe your approach to conflict resolution hasn’t been the healthiest and as a result, even the smallest of arguments and differences didn’t ever get truly resolved.
It’s also possible that divergent life goals, bad communication, or just getting complacent in the relationship may have caused you to drift apart. As you can see, there can be myriad reasons behind a loveless marriage, some unique to a couple’s dynamics and others more generic. While it’s not possible to pinpoint the exact reason why your marriage may have turned loveless unless you introspect or work with a family therapist or couple’s counselor, the following rundown on the most common triggers behind couples drifting apart may give you some insight into where the problem may lie:
- Not prioritizing each other: As you juggle professional and personal responsibilities, your relationship may have taken a backseat. If you don’t make time for each other or forget to appreciate one another, you may find yourself feeling trapped in a loveless marriage
- Difference of choice and opinion: It’s only natural for two people to disagree on certain things and have different preferences, dreams, and personalities. If you and your partner haven’t been able to accept and embrace these differences, you may end up drifting apart in the relationship
- Unresolved differences: As we’ve said before, unresolved issues can lead to resentment in a relationship, which can, in turn, eat into the love two people have for each other. A long string of unresolved differences and issues is one of the most common reasons why people start feeling differently about their partners
- Infidelity: A setback as severe as infidelity can without a doubt make a huge dent in a couple’s relationship, leaving it standing on its last legs. The breach of trust, the disrespect, the broken heart, and the torment and guilt in the aftermath of an affair can suck the love out of even the most seemingly wholesome bonds
- External stressors: Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control like caring for an ill parent, dealing with sudden financial stress, job losses, or health conditions, can leave you grappling with a loveless, sexless marriage
Elaborating on why marriages turn loveless, Pragati says, “Losing feelings for a spouse is not uncommon or surprising since people don’t focus on developing a healthy and happy marriage the way they chase other things in life, for instance, financial prospects or a perfectly shaped body. Couples often burn their time and energy focusing on kids, careers, or personal growth. They might aim to climb a mountain or become a CEO in the next five years. In the process, goals related to marriage slip too far down the ladder of priorities. A majority of people rarely work on creating love in a skillful manner, and eventually, two spouses learn to act happy in a loveless marriage”
10 signs of a loveless marriage
Now that you understand what a loveless marriage is and the common reasons why people who chose to spend their lives together may fall out of love, it’s time to address the question that has brought you here in the first place – how do you know if you are in a loveless marriage? How can you be sure that the discontentment you feel amounts to staying in a loveless marriage?
Sure, you’ve got a gut feeling about it. And all the bickering and unpleasantness between you and your spouse is enough to tell you aren’t exactly head-over-heels in love anymore. Still, a better understanding of what a loveless marriage feels like will offer you better clarity on where you and your spouse stand and help you decide the best course for the future. To that end, allow us to share insights into the 10 tell-tale signs of a loveless marriage:
1. You just cannot talk to each other anymore
A lack of communication – more specifically, an inability to communicate with each other – is one of the most telling loveless marriage signs. And it can begin to feel like you just cannot get through to each other anymore. Whenever you talk, it results in bickering, arguments, and fights, followed by a spell of silence where you avoid one another like the plague.
You stay under the same roof with the person you once considered to be your soulmate and yet feel lonely as hell. You go to social gatherings together, smile for the camera, and put up a facade of being happy in a loveless marriage. But between the four walls, your words fail you!
Pragati says, “One of the most noticeable loveless marriage effects is that you stop discussing your concerns with your spouse. You both talk about issues with your friends and family rather than discussing them with each other. That’s because the emotional support and intimacy needed for a relationship is missing or has been steadily declining.”
Related Reading: 9 Signs Of Unhealthy Compromise In A Relationship
2. You are uncomfortable being intimate with one another
It’s no secret that physical and sexual intimacy plays an important role in helping a couple stay connected. While it’s only natural for passion to simmer down with time, the desire to be intimate – sexually as well as platonically – with one’s spouse remains. So, if the idea of being intimate with your spouse makes your skin crawl, it’s a pretty clear sign that you no longer feel emotionally connected to them.
Before you find yourself frantically looking for an answer to how to survive a loveless sexless marriage, know that lack of sex alone is no indicator of the health of a relationship. Pragati explains, “Sometimes external causes such as hormonal changes, medical conditions, certain medications, financial stress, or demands of parenthood, can also lower the libido, and that’s perfectly normal.
“It’s a cause of concern when the problem begins to run deeper than just lack of sex. When you stop desiring your partner because of a breakdown in communication, misaligned priorities, or unresolved relationship issues, that’s when it becomes a cause for concern.” If you can’t quite figure out which one is it that you’re dealing with, ask yourself:
- Do you have no sex drive at all or do you just not feel any desire for your partner?
- Is there nonsexual intimacy in the relationship like holding hands, cuddling, kissing?
- Do you find yourself fantasizing about others?
3. You continuously criticize each other
According to renowned American psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, criticism is the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a relationship. If you and your spouse cannot help but pick on each other over little things and criticism is the only form of communication left in your marriage, it’s a worrying sign that you may be in the early stages of a dying marriage.
It’s hard to feel love in a relationship where one partner constantly belittles the other, highlights their faults, and completely overlooks their strengths. Sure, constructive criticism aimed at helping both partners become better versions of themselves is an essential component of a healthy relationship. But when the criticism is harsh, negative, and aimed at putting the other person down, it can create disharmony in the marriage.
Every jibe, every taunt, every snide remark chips away at your self-esteem and confidence, leaving you walking on eggshells around your partner, ultimately weakening the bond that you share with them.
4. You look for emotional support outside the marriage
“When you feel like you can no longer talk to your partner or be yourself around them, when you don’t feel loved in your marriage, you may find yourself looking for the missing happiness and emotional support outside the marriage,” says Pragati. You may begin to lean on a friend, a coworker, or even an old flame for support, and before you know it you may be in an emotional affair with this person without even realizing it.
An emotional affair takes place when you get overly comfortable with someone outside your marriage and start sharing intimate details about your life with this person. Some of the signs that you have become so distant from your spouse that
- You spend a lot more time with this person than your spouse
- You share every little detail of your day/life with them
- They’re the first one you call when something good or bad happens, not your spouse
- You talk to and meet them in secret
- You feel uncomfortable telling your spouse about your growing intimacy with this person
5. Your marriage doesn’t seem worth fighting for
Remember what it felt like when you stayed up late into the night, arguing, fighting, trying to make your partner see your point, and resolve an issue that had been driving a wedge between you? Does even the thought of investing in conflict resolution sound too draining and exhausting now? Do you prefer to just give up rather than get into another slanging match that results in name-calling, raised voices, and purposefully saying hurtful things to each other?
If you’ve given up on trying to resolve your differences and find a middle ground, it’s one of the telling loveless marriage signs that indicate that you’ve stopped caring about the health of your relationship. You may be staying in a loveless marriage for financial reasons or children’s sake or some other compulsion, but you no longer have the will or the desire to rebuild your connection with your spouse.
6. You both fail to appreciate each other
Neglect is often an underrated red flag that can render a relationship hollow from within. “When you and your spouse start taking each other for granted to an extent that you no longer recognize what the other person brings to the table, it can cause contempt and resentment to seep into your bond,” says Pragati. These negative emotions can quickly overpower the love you had for your partner, and drive you apart.
Here is what lack of appreciation in a relationship can look like:
- Not saying thank you when your partner does something for you because you feel they ought to do it
- Not paying your partner a compliment
- Not recognizing your partner’s effort and feeling like you do all the work to keep the relationship afloat
7. You no longer care about your spouse
Another telling sign that love has vanished from your marriage is that the care and concern you once felt for your partner is now sorely lacking. This can manifest in one or more of the following ways:
- You no longer check in with your partner or bother to find out what’s going on in their life
- You simply don’t care about your spouse’s preferences
- Even if they’re in need, changing your schedule/plans to help them out seems like an inconvenience
- You no longer bother to call/text if you’re not home on time
- You do not know of their plans/schedule because your lives hardly coincide anymore
In short, you’ve become selfish in the relationship. This lack of concern for one another is only doing to drive you further apart. It’s one thing to have personal space in a relationship, quite another to live your life like two married but single individuals. If
8. A future without your spouse seems more positive to you
It will become obvious that you are unhappy in your loveless marriage when you start thinking about a future without your spouse. “If you start fantasizing about a life in which your husband/wife has no role to play, then it means you feel imprisoned in your relationship and you want to escape,” says Pragati. Perhaps, you’re already looking into the intricacies of the divorce process or at least entertaining the thought of what ending this marriage will mean to you.
Or if you’re staying in a loveless marriage for financial reasons, perhaps you’ve started exploring ways to become financially independent so that you can walk out one day. And that prospect fills you up with hope. Likewise, if you’re in a loveless marriage with children, maybe you find yourself contemplating what a separation would mean for your family. These are all indicators that you have given up on the possibility of reconciling with your partner because you no longer love them.
Related Reading: Confessing Cheating To Your Partner: 11 Expert Tips
9. Spending time with your partner feels like a task to you
You dread spending time with your partner. Given a chance, you would rather spend your free time alone or with your family or friends. You’ve even stopped making efforts to plan date nights or vacations because you want to avoid being alone together. One of the alarming signs of a loveless marriage is when you start detesting the company of your partner.
Maybe because you no longer want the same things or you hardly recognize each other anymore or your differences have become so pronounced that you just don’t know how to reach out to the person you call your life partner. If that’s where you find yourself, you need to ask yourself if there is any point in staying in this dead-end relationship.
10. Fun and laughter has vanished from your marriage
When was the last time you and your partner engaged in some banter or did something silly or goofy and laughed till your stomach hurt? When was the last time you traded one of your inside jokes and giggled like a couple of 4-year-olds? When was the last time you unwinded over a glass of wine? Or simply had a good time together?
If the answer to these questions is “in a different lifetime”, there is little doubt your relationship has suffered a serious blow, and the love that brought you together no longer exists. As heartbreaking as it may sound, your marriage is in dire straits and if you don’t act soon, it may be hard to undo the damage to your bond.
How to survive a loveless marriage?
Realizing that you are in a loveless marriage is hard. The person who you thought was the love of your life is now almost a stranger to you. You can feel that your marriage is almost over. But don’t worry, you’re all not out of options yet. If despite all the unhappiness and unpleasantness, you’re still wondering how to survive a loveless marriage, there may be a glimmer of hope left for you. Pragati shares the following tips to try to salvage your bond and try to build your connection:
1. Introspect to get to the root of the problem
To be able to understand how to improve the health of your relationship, you need to get to the root of your issues. Pragati says, “Remember there is a lot you can do to address and work out your issues on a personal level. You have to be open to the idea that the problem might lie with you too. The fault does not always lie with the other person. Delve into yourself and see if you are overstretched. And at the same time, prioritize your physical and emotional needs and see if they are fulfilled.”
2. Find ways to reconnect with your partner
Assuming that you have done the work to understand where the problem lies and you and your partner are on the same page about giving your marriage another chance, begin by prioritizing each other. Find ways to reconnect with your partner and rekindle the lost spark.
“Start dating your partner once a week. Understand your partner’s love language and be ready to express yourself in it. It will help you reignite the long-lost passion for each other all over again. You need healthy, open communication, and earnest and consistent effort to turn around a loveless sexless marriage. Be committed to putting in the effort if you want to see results,” says Pragati.
3. Go into couple’s therapy
Pragati highly recommends visiting a licensed therapist. “It’s the first step toward surviving a loveless marriage because therapy helps you explore underlying issues and patterns that may have contributed to the way you feel about your spouse and your marriage,” she explains.
Often, we lack the self-awareness to understand why we behave the way we do in relationships or situations life throws at us. Working with a licensed therapist can help you gain that insight and be more mindful in handling your relationship with your spouse. If it’s help you’re looking for, skilled and experienced counselors on Bonobology’s panel of experts are here for you.
4. Give it time
Know that all the hard work you’re putting into saving your marriage may not pay off instantly. To begin with, progress may be slow. You may feel hesitant in reconnecting with your spouse and the baggage of all the past unpleasantness may weigh you down. Even when you get past the initial awkwardness, there may be setbacks along the way. Be prepared to take these in your stride and don’t lose heart. With consistent effort and oodles of patience, you will get past all the roadblocks and find your way to each other.
5. Accept a new version of your relationship
It’s a good sign that you’re working toward giving your marriage another chance. Perhaps, the love you had for each other isn’t lost completely, it’s just been masked by layers and layers of issues, problems, and misunderstandings. While you and your spouse may find a way to reconnect with one another, you have to be prepared for the fact that your relationship may not go back to exactly the way it was during those early stages.
Given that so much water has flown under this bridge, things are bound to be different in some way or the other. You and your partner ought to have grown and evolved during this time and that’s bound to impact the way you view relationships. When you work through restoring a loveless marriage to its lost glory, do factor in these aspects and be willing to accept a different version of your relationship as long as it is healthy, wholesome, and brings you happiness.
- Staying in a loveless marriage can be extremely isolating and unfulfilling
- Resentment, unresolved issues, changing priorities, and external stressors can all be contributing factors to a loveless marriage
- When you no longer love your spouse, you may find it hard to communicate and end up drifting apart, living your life like two single people who share a home
- It is possible to turn around a loveless marriage provided both partners are willing to put in consistent effort and work
It’s not easy staying in a loveless marriage, no matter your reasons or compulsions. How you choose to handle this situation will ultimately depend on how you truly feel about the relationship and whether you think there is a possibility to instill love in the relationship once again. So whichever path you choose to take, make sure you tread carefully.