A “loveless marriage” may sound like a harsh term, but it’s a sad fact that many marriages do dramatically decline in this way. Some marriages become acrimonious, with years of built-up resentments taking their toll, and science has shown that this kind of relationship can have a detrimental impact on health. Other marriages, though, can experience a more muted transformation – where the spark fades, and both parties live quietly unhappy lives without actively hating or even disliking each other. The marriage has simply become “loveless”.
So why do some people stay in these marriages? It’s a complicated issue, and each relationship will of course have it’s own story, but here we’ll trace some of the most common factors that may be responsible.
Keeping the family together
Understandably, children are one of the main reasons why parents who are unhappy with their relationship actually end up staying together. Direct Line’s study shows that over 7 million parents in the UK have stayed together for longer than they would have because of their children – and the average length of time they’ve done this for is over 5 years.
It’s not surprising that keeping their family together is often the top priority for parents, over and above their own individual happiness with their relationship. But there are also a range of other concerns that are relevant, for those who have children as well as those who don’t.
Fear of the unknown
Change is scary. Even when we’re unhappy, it can be easy for us to resist change due to our fear of the unknown. This can be especially true for couples who have been together for a long time. Their identity has been tied to their partner’s, and they now face the daunting prospect of rediscovering who they are as an individual without the familiar presence of their partner by their side.
They could be afraid of not being able to meet anyone else who they have a meaningful connection with, and they could also be afraid that they will simply repeat the mistakes of the past and end up in another unhappy relationship. There is no reason to be resigned to this disappointing outcome, of course – it’s perfectly possible that the relationship of their dreams could be just around the corner. But considering the uncertainty involved, it’s understandable that the fear of the unknown can be a big part of people’s decision to stay together.
Practical considerations also have a part to play – according to the Direct Line study cited above, 20% of the parents who decided to stay together said they couldn’t actually afford to separate. Whether it’s worries about the cost of divorce proceedings (a particular problem for women), living with only one salary instead of two, or the complications that come with shared assets such as houses and cars, practical financial considerations can be a real headache – and a contributing factor in some people’s decision to put off divorce.
Hope for the future
Despite their unhappiness, some of those in loveless marriages do stay together out of hope for the future. They hope that their marriage can return to how it used to be, perhaps with the help of couples’ counselling. It’s a big decision to separate from someone who has been an integral part of your life for years, and so if any glimmer of hope for the relationship remains it’s understandable that they seek to reinvigorate it.
This is not to say that those who end up separating have given up hope: not every relationship can be saved, and no one should feel guilty for leaving a relationship that’s abusive and toxic – or even a relationship that simply isn’t making them happy any more.
Marriage is a complex issue
Loveless marriages can be emotionally devastating for those involved, and so it may seem strange that people stay in them for so long. But, as we have seen, there are many complex issues that come into play – and it’s even possible that many of these factors will be involved at the same time.