How should a Christian respond to being in a loveless marriage?
Marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman instituted by God, and Christians believe it should reflect Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:25). However, many married couples struggle to maintain that self-sacrificial love over the long term. If the passion fades and they find themselves in a “loveless” marriage, it can be deeply painful. As Christians, how should we respond?
The first step is to examine the reasons behind the loveless state of the marriage. There are often complex factors at play. It could be due to unresolved conflicts, unmet emotional needs, breakdowns in communication, unhealed wounds, unforgiveness, or one or both spouses being self-centered. External stressors like financial problems, parenting challenges, health issues, or excessive busyness can also strain the relationship. Sometimes the love between spouses gradually fades over time without an obvious cause.
Whatever the reasons, it’s important not to place all the blame on one person. Often both spouses contribute in some way to the erosion of love, even if one seems more at fault. The attitude should be one of humility and willingness to examine one’s own failings, not condemnation of the other (Matthew 7:1-5).
Prayerfully evaluating the marriage is appropriate, asking God to reveal any ways one might be contributing to the disconnect. It may also be helpful to seek wise pastoral counsel. But beware of simply complaining about a spouse to friends and family, as that breeds bitterness and resentment. The goal should be understanding and restoration, not gossip that tears the other person down (Ephesians 4:29).
Assuming no form of abuse is present, the Bible calls us to extend grace and forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 says to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This applies even when a spouse seems unloving and unworthy of forgiveness. As 1 Peter 3:1 says, wives can win over unbelieving husbands “without a word” by their respectful behavior. This principle applies to both spouses.
Rather than demanding love, we must demonstrate Christlike love. This does not mean simply tolerating mistreatment, but lovingly standing for marital commitment while also setting healthy boundaries. It means responding gently, not returning insult for insult (1 Peter 3:8-9). It means thoughtful acts of service without expectation of reciprocation. It involves persevering prayer, asking God to soften hearts and open channels for healthy communication (Philippians 4:6-7).
Working to truly understand a spouse’s perspective takes humility but can help uncover deeper hurts driving the disconnect. Patience and hope are key, as change often happens gradually. The goal is to “overcome evil with good” by unconditional love (Romans 12:21), trusting God to work even in difficult marriages (Romans 8:28). Christian counseling can guide couples through this process.
If sincere efforts fail to reignite love, it is right to feel disappointed, but not justified to become bitter. By God’s grace, we can avoid resentment, remaining faithful to vows and modeling sacrificial love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). We can draw comfort by pouring out our hearts to God (Psalm 142:2). We can look to the church for support and affirm relational needs in same-gender friendships. And we can serve others, taking the focus off marital woes (Philippians 2:4).
Some practical ways to proactively strengthen a flagging marriage include:
– Praying together regularly
– Reading the Bible together
– Attending church together
– Turning towards each other, not others, for emotional intimacy
– Setting aside regular one-on-one time to connect
– Surprising your spouse with acts of service and tokens of affection
– Changing routines that aren’t working
– Improving communication and conflict resolution skills
– Seeking counseling to address underlying issues
– Prioritizing the marriage over other commitments
– Expressing appreciation and focusing on the positive
– Assuming the best, not the worst, about your spouse
– Being patient and extending grace during ups and downs
Even if only one spouse engages in these efforts consistently, that example of godly love can have an impact over time (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Change often starts with just one heart turning back toward the Lord.
But if both spouses remain unwilling to invest in the relationship, even after much prayer and effort, maintaining hope can be difficult. In rare cases, a spouse is truly emotionally or physically abusive, unrepentant and unwilling to get help. Scripture permits separation and even divorce in cases of repeated, unrepentant marital unfaithfulness or abandonment (Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:15). God does not intend for anyone to endure abuse. But even then, the heart attitude should be humility, love and forgiveness, not anger or hatred (Matthew 5:44).
For many couples in difficult but not dangerous marriages, however, separation does more harm than good. It deprives children of a two-parent home and often results in divorce anyway. That should only be considered prayerfully and slowly after a long period of efforts toward reconciliation.
Above all, we are called to trust God’s sovereignty and rely on His grace, even in painful trials like an unloving marriage. He promises to “work all things together for good” for His faithful children (Romans 8:28). He will give us strength to endure and even exhibit Christlike love to a seemingly unloving spouse—a powerful witness in itself. Ask Him for eyes to see your spouse as He does, with redeeming potential.
Though it seems impossible to manufacture love, we can allow God’s love to flow through us by maintaining a close walk with Him. As Colossians 3:12-14 encourages, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience… . And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The hope of restored love comes from trusting God, not demanding change from a spouse.
In conclusion, Scripture makes clear that marriage is intended to reflect Christ’s sacrificial love for the church. But when that love seems absent, Christians are called to respond in faith and humility by: examining their own contribution to the problems, extending forgiveness, avoiding bitterness, persevering in prayer, demonstrating godly love in action, seeking counseling, engaging in efforts to improve communication and connection, having patience amid slow change, drawing comfort and support from the church body, separating only in cases of unrepentant sin or abuse as an absolute last resort, and above all trusting God to somehow work redemption even in the most difficult marriages.
Though a loveless marriage will bring deep pain, it also presents an opportunity to glorify God as we lean on Him to find comfort, wisdom and strength. His grace is sufficient to empower faithful endurance and even the demonstration of supernatural love. As Romans 5:3-5 promises, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” May God grant us that persevering hope and outpouring of love in every marriage.