How Do You Live with a Spouse You No Longer Love? Can Love Just Disappear?

Vladimir Gurbolikov | 11 July 2021

Vladimir Gurbolikov

A reader’s question:

How do I behave with my wife, if I no longer love her, if I feel that I’m getting worse, that I can no longer be silent when she scolds me, and I see that she does not need it either?


Vladimir Gurbolikov, Director of ‘Foma Center’ Fund and First Deputy Editor-in-Chief at ‘Foma’ Orthodox journal, answers:

First of all, Alexander, I would like to say that it is very difficult to answer your question. Life is so varied, people’s lives are not the same. It is difficult to determine at a distance what is really going on with you. Your confessor, a priest who knows you and your life would be the best person to understand this. And what I will write here is nothing more than an invitation to a conversation, the fruit of private reflections and personal experience of a person who considers himself an Orthodox Christian. I only ask you to believe that for me this is not an abstract topic at all.

Here are the lines from a document adopted quite recently by the Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, entitled “The Basis of the Social Concept”:

In 1918, in its Decision on the Grounds for the Dissolution of the Marriage Sanctified by the Church, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, recognised as valid, besides adultery and a new marriage of one of the party, such grounds as a spouse’s falling away from Orthodoxy, perversion, impotence which had set in before marriage or was self-inflicted, contraction of leper or syphilis, prolonged disappearance, conviction with disfranchisement, encroachment on the life or health of the spouse, love affair with a daughter in law, profiting from marriage, profiting by the spouse’s indecencies, incurable mental disease and malevolent abandonment of the spouse. At present, added to this list of the grounds for divorce are chronic alcoholism or drug-addiction and abortion without the husband’s consent.

These are reasons for a divorce… There are more and more of them, but there is only one primary reason, one phrase: “I do not love.”

My wife and I have been together for ten years, believe me, various things have happened… Sometimes she could not stand it and began to say that I no longer love her and that we need to get a divorce. I am sure that she said this not because she herself fell out of love and wanted a divorce, but she was afraid that I had fallen out of love and she tried to understand what lied behind my resentment and cool attitude towards her. And I always answered: no, I love you, we love each other, and we will never have a divorce. These words were uttered not at all easily and not automatically… I have experienced such emptiness in my heart!..

But time passed, and it turned out that we were still together, and a much greater feeling of love came to us than that which we had experienced before…

Alexander, the thing is, most likely, the person you have chosen is not accidental in your life. If you are now asking this question and are worried that you do not ‘love’ your wife and that you have arguments all the time, then you probably love her. At least for what happened between you two previously. And I think that you are still capable of loving each other. Maybe you are just facing another barrier that separates one degree of mutual understanding from another, new and higher?

Listening to the stories of people changing one love interest to another, I have always seen that they have very little time to learn about those whom they allegedly “fleetingly, but passionately loved”. Each time they stumble on the very first barrier, and it becomes impossible to continue to demonstrate to each other only their good side and they also have to accept the fact that another person has shortcomings.

You probably had several such barriers in your relationship with your wife, but you have overcome them – and you know that after a crisis, if you do not succumb to the mood, people open up in a new light, and love only grows stronger.

Perhaps the most important thing to do in such a situation is to say first to yourself, and then to your wife, that love has not gone anywhere. Perhaps, in general, it is better to forbid yourself to say “I do not love”? To stand firmly on the fact that it is impossible to just throw away all the good things that you have experienced with your wife!? That love can’t just disappear?

The Church believes that the man is the head of the family. This is not just a division of roles, (regardless of who washes the floors and who makes money) it means for me as a husband that I make the final decision in the family and bear great responsibility for it – as the head of the family. This is the man’s mission.

Как вести себя с «нелюбимой» женой. Может ли любовь просто исчезнуть?

In addition, although Orthodoxy does not try to completely prohibit divorce, the Christian consciousness nevertheless perceives divorce as a catastrophe, after which it is necessary to start a broken, distorted life practically from scratch.

And if I “canceled and prohibited” divorce for myself and decided that in any case I should live my life with this particular person, then a lot falls into place. Indeed, I will not say that since my mother argued with me, then it means that she is no longer my mother! – this is how you learn to think about your marriage.

It was the consciousness of the impossibility of a divorce that saved us in the most difficult moments, when it seemed that everything was about to collapse.

Naturally, everything here rests only on a “word of honor”, but now the “word of honor” is perceived as an anachronism, or something… But no matter what they say, a word, one short word can sprout into life and hold everything together.

Christianity speaks to everyone about the need to sacrifice, even to lay down your life. The family for Christians is a small Church, and the words about bearing the Cross (that is, about self-sacrifice) apply to it as well.

At some point, you will definitely have to sacrifice. But not your family! Maybe you should try after all? To forget about the fact that I feel so sorry for myself, for my efforts, and for my nerves. But to sacrifice all this for the sake of another person… Because true love, true marriage, is not when you have and enjoy your loved one, but when, on the contrary, you are ready to give yourself up for the happiness of your loved one. And this applies equally to a man and to a woman. Only the man has more responsibility.

“My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). These words are from the Gospel… Perhaps it is the sacrifice – the sacrifice of patience and faithfulness – that reveals the true meaning of life and discovers, year after year, that a husband and a wife, it turns out, are able to love each other more and more – in a way that they did not even expect.

If only not to make this mistake: not to let yourself say the words “I do not love”…

Translated by

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