The concept of a loveless marriage sounds terrifying, conjuring images of two people who are forced to live out their years together in spite of the obvious contempt they hold for each other. Like those depictions of rich couples in cartoons who sit at opposite ends of a very long table and only speak to one another with the ring of a butler’s bell. But the truth is almost more sinister and more devastating. A loveless marriage doesn’t necessarily mean a marriage in which love has been supplanted by hate. Instead, it’s more often a marriage in which love has simply ceased to exist, replaced by a sterile, anodyne sense of complacency and routine. It’s the roommate phase, but taken to a whole new level of disinterest. What’s worse is that couples stuck in this loveless phase will often remain there because the alternative is too painful to consider.
“A loveless marriage is a marriage that is more so for necessity then for pleasure or desire,” says relationship coach Jenna Ponaman. “This kind of marriage is sustained out of fear; fear of failing, fear of having to start over, fear of being alone.”
Needless to say, if fear is the driving impulse of your marriage, then it is in serious trouble. Here are some warning signs that you might be heading down the loveless path and attempt to correct.
You’re Just Too Comfortable
In pajamas by eight, on the couch by nine. You and your partner have fallen into a routine that has removed all the connection from your relationship. Neither of you has any real ill will towards the other, but you’re just kind of stuck in a rut. You’re a pair of warm bodies to each other and little else. “Some couples find their way into a comfy (but not very hot) companionship, and need to relight the flame,” says Rachel Zamore, a relationship expert and couples therapist.
You Have Become Independent of Each Other
To the outside world, you both seem to be a happy and loving couple, but at home, you are both living your own lives. You’re more roommates than you are partners. This is the first warning sign of lovelessness creeping into a marriage.
Your Partner No Longer Appeals to You
If your partner no longer seems attractive to you or if you’ve lost the effort to want to change things or making things different, you may have slipped into this dark territory. You will know if you were in a loveless marriage…if you feel like you have given up even if you have not said the words ‘I love you’ out loud,” Ponaman says, “you feel no motivation to work on the marriage, you daydream of how things should be different, and are more focused on staying to not be alone rather than dwelling on the good times and what could be again.”
You Begin to Resent Your Partner
Parenthood represents a turning point in any marriage, and usually that’s a good thing. However, the stress and commitment that comes from raising kids can also lead to miscommunications, arguments, and slow-burning resentment. And, if left unchecked, that slow burn can become a full-on conflagration. “Desire does not coexist well with resentment,” says Zamore, “and many couples lack the tools to navigate the emotionally difficult terrain that can come with feelings of scarcity about time and affection.”
If you’re trapped in a loveless marriage, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay that way. There are a number of ways that you and your partner can bring some of the heat back into your relationship. Communication is where it starts, experts agree. Try and talk to one another about the things that brought you together in the first place. What were the things about your partner that excited you in those early dating days? Can you get back to that in some way? Make time for things like date nights and morning quickies, things that bring spontaneity and excitement back into the relationship.
And, Zamore says, don’t be afraid of delving into couples therapy. Peeling back the layers of your relationship to find out why it’s stalled can be painful, but the results will be very rewarding. “Whether it’s a rough patch or something deeper, there’s usually some part of what’s going on that is within each person, and some part of it that is in the relationship field, or the ‘space between,” she says. “Through the process of couples therapy (if both people are interested in healing), or discernment counseling (when one person is leaning out, and one leaning in — wanting to get clear about the next best step for the relationship), most couples can learn more about themselves and how they got to this point in the relationship, and find their way forward with greater ease and confidence.”