Q&A with Geoff: Can You Find Happiness in a Marriage Without Romantic Love?

q&a with geoff Sep 13, 2023


I married at 26, feeling the pressure a woman in my religious community feels at such an old age for not being married yet. I married my husband because I felt he loved me. Yet, I never fell in love with him. To be honest I don’t even feel attracted to him. I do not like him. You have no idea how difficult sexual intimacy is for me.

We have been married for over 15 years and I still don’t like him. I am sure I never will. I have learned to love him as a partner in life but not in a romantic way. I care for him, let’s say. 

Many times, I have felt that I need to divorce him, that God has a plan for me. But neither my parents nor my church leader support me. Do I need their support? I’ve been counseled to listen to my parents. We have two precious kids, and I would hate to hurt them with a divorce.  

Do I have to learn how to live my life without knowing what romantic love is? Is there a way I can find happiness in a relationship like the one I have? What do you think


You’re asking some challenging questions based on some painful realizations over the past decade and a half. I hear how trapped you feel, wondering if the dream you had for marriage will ever materialize. It’s overwhelming to realize that decisions we made in the past were made out of fear, reactivity or ignorance. The consequences of some decisions may be long-lasting, yet I also know from personal and professional experiences that healing and growth are possible.

Your longing for romantic love is natural and understandable. At the same time, it’s also essential to examine what you believe romantic love to be. Sometimes our ideas of love can be shaped by unrealistic expectations or idealized versions of what love should look like.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Jacob Hess, wrote what I consider to be one of the best essays on our faulty assumptions about romantic love. You can read it here.

I strongly encourage you to study his words carefully. I agree with him that many marriages are suffering from harmful and incorrect beliefs about true love. For example, we don’t usually hear or value the perspective that true love is also about partnership, shared values, and commitment.

I’m unable to tell you what you should do with your marriage. You must bear the train of consequences that result from staying or going. However, I do recommend that you consider what you’ve been able to do in the past 15 years of marriage. You mentioned that you’ve learned to love him as a partner. What does that look like? What does that mean? What value does this have for your marriage and family?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognize the thrill of romantic love, attraction and deep intimacy in marriage. There’s a reason it’s a central focus of music, movies and literature. It’s mood-altering, ego reinforcing and moves us at a deep level. However, it’s also something that can be destructive if not paired with partnership, friendship, commitment, sacrifice and charity.

These other elements of marriage aren’t as pleasurable nor easy to obtain. I’m impressed that despite your struggles, you’ve been able to find a way to relate to him as a partner and find ways to make it work.

I’ve worked with enough couples over the past 25 years to know that happiness in marriage doesn’t come easily or naturally in all relationships. However, I also know it’s possible to work together to create it. Just be aware that the ways we try and seek happiness are often self-serving and solitary. Instead, consider that as you work together with your husband to build on your shared purpose and commitment, you might someday be surprised by the fruits of your efforts.

I believe marriage is the best place for us to grow up. I believe marriage is perfectly designed to strip us of our self-centeredness. In a world that elevates individuality over partnership in marriage while encouraging us to seek out what’s best only for us, marriage and family life is the one place that consistently calls us back to consider someone else’s needs.

While I will never encourage someone to stay in a relationship that is abusive or diminishes their humanity, I will encourage individuals to dig a little deeper and recognize that more is possible than they might realize. I hope you find peace, clarity and courage as you navigate this challenging and deeply personal journey.

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