Linda Young

Linda Young Ph.D.

Love in Limbo

You're Just Not That Into Him (Part 2) - You Married Him Anyway

You married him but you're not in love with him.

Posted Nov 19, 2009

A while back, I wrote about three typical paths that dating relationships take (two healthy and one unhealthy) when one partner is more "in love" or devoted than the other. Read You're Just Not That Into Him (Part 1) to get the full story. A reader's comments about a fourth path moved me to write about what happens when one partner is less in love - and gets married anyway.

Path 4: What all too frequently happens.

Submitted by Anonymous on October 25, 2009

"Sandy decides to stay with Philip because she hasn't found anything better and thinks maybe she is being too hard on him as there are way worse men out there. Sandy tries to convince herself that most people in relationships and marriages have a pretty dull and boring relationship. Neither she nor Philip are particularly happy, but Philip seems content because he loves her so much and hopes someday he can make her love him like he does. Philip asks Sandy to marry him and she says yes because she figures that she does love him, not passionately, but maybe it's good enough, the relationship is comfortable, and besides she hasn't found anything better yet. After several years of each trying to convince themselves that this is what a normal marriage is, Sandy and Philip's marriage continues on a path of mostly sexless, melancholic, brother/sister type communication until it finally dissolves devastating not only both partners, but their innocent children as well."

This was a lopsided relationship from the start. Some people think there is no such thing as sustained romantic love but there is solid research by Acevedo and Aron that shows that many couples can and do experience long-term romantic love (and my own marriage makes me a first-hand believer). By the same token, some people eschew companionate, non-romantic marriages even though they are often stable and deeply satisfying. Their worth is just not measured by degree of excitement or passion.

One size does not fit all in long-term relationships. A majority of Americans say they seek romantic love and a best friend/good companion when they marry or commit. Others are best suited for more utilitarian unions and some are most fulfilled when they remain single. What's most important is that partners make choices according to what they value most, and are well-matched on those values. The spouses in the relationship above both valued romantic love but she had low expectations of marriage in general and married with resignation. Efforts to "make her love him like he does" backfire more often than not under these circumstances.

Why Does the Partner Who Is Less in Love Marry Anyway?
When neither partner expects or especially values romantic love as a criterion for marriage, they can have a fine, well-matched marriage. But Anonymous was right on target. When partners both want romantic love but one is less in love than the other, there are some common reasons the less-in-love partners marry anyway:

  1. They believe there are no better prospects out there than the one they've got.
  2. They believe there are better prospects out there for others but not for them. They have a low view of their own desirability and/or inflated view of others'. Sometimes this belief is partially justified, but low self-worth often interferes with the ability to evaluate themselves and others accurately.
  3. They have low expectations for marital satisfaction but prefer the idea of marriage to remaining single.
  4. They feel pressure to marry soon (e.g., to start a family, because all their friends are married, parents are pushing for it).
  5. They hope somehow they will fall in love over time if they get married (and sometimes they do).
  6. They believe that a passionate, attractive, charismatic partner is more likely to cheat on them or leave them. They choose someone less attractive than they are to feel safer from infidelity and more in control of the relationship.
  7. The partner proposing marriage offers other things that are important to them, such as good parenting attributes, attentiveness, emotional stability or financial security. These qualities are important enough (at the time) to override the lack of romantic passion—which they long for but suppress.

If I could sum it up in one word, the partner that is proposing marriage offers some kind of security that the less-in-love partner seeks.

When Do These Couples Divorce?
These marriages often remain in a holding pattern or slowly deteriorate for years until they reach a tipping point. Some examples of tipping points are:

  1. Partners who thought there were no better prospects for them manage to meet someone who does seem better (at least on the surface) and who wants them. Dormant fantasies bubble to the surface. Working closely with appealing colleagues, online social networks and other digital media have greatly facilitated opportunities for these connections.
  2. The values that were once important enough to override lack of romantic attraction no longer seem relevant. For example, the one who married for financial security experiences career success, is now out of debt, or thinks a divorce will give them half of their partner's assets; the one who married a not-so-attractive good parent craves someone hotter once the kids grow up.
  3. Partners who "settled" because of low self-regard experience personal growth and now believe they deserve and can get the full monty—a passionate match who will also be a best friend.
  4. Partners who consciously chose a partner they never felt passionate about in order to feel more secure about not being left realize the flip side of this abandonment issue—they become the one that wants to leave
  5. Partners who thought they would somehow fall more in love over time feel even less passionate because a big part of falling in love has to do with mystery, novelty, discovery, and challenges.  These things naturally dissipate over time if couples don't consciously find ways to infuse them into the relationship.  Having kids makes it especially hard for a lot of couples to see each other as lovers rather than Mommy and Daddy.

Can These Relationships be Mended?
In my next post, I'll talk about the counseling process with couples like this. There is hope for some and not for others. What are the differences that make the difference? What helps and what hurts?

© 2009, Linda R. Young. All rights reserved.