The term loveless marriage can describe several situations, ranging from a loss of initial feelings of love to the experience of violent abuse. (In the case of spousal abuse, the abused spouse should seek help through legal and emotionally supportive avenues. Physically removing oneself from the situation is often necessary while ongoing therapy takes place. An abused spouse should never resume living in the same house with a former abuser who has not proved his or her trustworthiness.) For the purposes of this article, we will define loveless marriage as one in which no physical abuse takes place but in which one or both spouses have lost all affection for each other and live as silent roommates.
God’s design for marriage was revealed in the Garden of Eden when God created a woman for Adam and brought her to him as a helper (Genesis 2:21–24). The word translated “helper” comes from a Hebrew word that is also used in describing the help God gives (Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalm 33:20). So a wife’s God-given role is to assist her husband in the tasks God has given him and provide support, wisdom, encouragement, and sometimes deliverance just as God gives us. The husband’s role is clearly laid out in Ephesians 5:25–33. Loving his wife is not a suggestion for a husband; it is a command. Any husband who is not working to display selfless, Christlike love toward his wife is in direct disobedience to God’s Word. If a husband fails to do this, his prayers will be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).
Sometimes a loveless marriage is the result of being unequally yoked together with an unbeliever (see 2 Corinthians 6:14). The unbelieving spouse couldn’t care less about obedience to God’s Word. In those cases, the apostle Paul gives instruction: if the unbelieving spouse consents to remain in the marriage and is not abusive, the Christian should stay and demonstrate the love of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:12–16). The first fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22–23 is love. When we have no human love to offer, we can call upon the Lord and ask that the Holy Spirit love the spouse through us. It is doubtful that Jesus felt warm, emotional affection for the men who were nailing Him to a cross. Yet He asked the Father to forgive them, and He died for them anyway (Luke 23:33–34; Romans 5:8). Jesus’ demonstration of love can be an inspiration for us all, even in regards to our marriages.
If counseling is available, loveless marriages can benefit from the wise, objective viewpoint of a biblical counselor (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22). Sometimes a marriage grows stale through neglect and ongoing, inconsiderate behaviors of which a couple may be unaware. An outside perspective can quickly spot problem areas and call attention to them. If the couple is willing to work, a loveless marriage can quickly return to loving. Even if one spouse refuses to cooperate with counseling, the willing spouse can benefit from going alone. An objective viewpoint can sometimes help one spouse see things differently and therefore respond in better ways to the unloving spouse.
Like a rock thrown into a pond, changes thrown into dysfunctional cycles create new patterns of response. Here is an example of the way one spouse can change the course of a loveless marriage: if Sue no longer screams at John when he is rude, he must react to her gentle response in a different way than he has previously done. Instead of escalating the anger, he scales back his boorish behavior to match her more mature attitude. Her quiet smile and refusal to engage showcase his own selfishness, and he often responds with less hostility. The fight cycle is interrupted, and a new cycle begins with less stress and more kindness (Proverbs 15:1). Over time, that new, healthier cycle can evolve into affection, and the couple learns to enjoy each other once more.
There are several things a Christian can do to reinvest in a loveless marriage:
1. Set healthy boundaries. Learn when to walk away, disengage, or reject hurtful words or patterns. Refusing to engage in fights that lead nowhere is one way a boundary can strengthen a marriage.
2. Pray for each other. The best way to forgive and love someone who has hurt us is to lift him or her up before God (Ephesians 4:32). God is for the marriage, so we know we are praying in accordance with His will when we pray for restoration of love and hope (1 John 5:14–15).
3. Watch your words. We tend to believe what we speak. If we find ourselves regularly bashing our spouse or complaining about the marriage, we will start believing it. Wisdom dictates that we practice controlling our tongues and speaking only that which is “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Philippians 4:8).
4. Pay attention to the little things. When a couple first falls in love, they notice every little thing and are eager to please each other. However, if we are not intentional about continuing those practices, we fall into a rut and take each other for granted. Restoring love to a loveless marriage is done one little thing at a time. Discover the spouse’s love language and work to meet that need every day.
A Christian should respond to a loveless marriage by refusing to participate in the behaviors causing the problem. Even if one spouse shows no interest in reestablishing an emotional connection, a Christian should do what is right. We are not called to retaliate or return evil for evil, but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). We are called out from the world to be light-bearers (Matthew 5:14), the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), and a chosen priesthood (1 Peter 2:9–10). Our mission is not to please ourselves but to please our heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 10:32). He is pleased when we endure difficulties with patience and do whatever is within our power to revive a loveless marriage.