Can Marriage Survive Without Love or Without Intimacy?


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In this article, we dive into the question, “Can Marriage Survive Without Love or Without Intimacy?”

There is no denying that marriage is a beautiful institution, one that is steeped in tradition and celebrated by many cultures and religions around the world.

But at its heart, what is marriage really about?

Is it about love?

Is it about intimacy?

Is it about family and clan?

Or is it something else entirely?

And can a marriage survive without love or without intimacy?

When you examine these concepts more closely, what you end up taking from it for yourself, might surprise you.

What is love?

The dictionary defines “love” as “an intense feeling of deep affection.”

It is also described as a “warm, tender, and usually enduring emotion of great value.”

When you look at the relationship between two people and the emotions that develop from that relationship, it is easy to see how love plays a key role in a marriage.

Love is a two-way street.

We may give and receive love in many different ways, but at its core, true love requires that we be committed to both giving and receiving love.

In that sense, love in marriage is really about commitment and service to one person.

Can Marriage Survive Without Love

The dictionary defines “commitment” as “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.”

But the word “commitment” can also be defined as “an enduring strength, constancy” or “the quality or state of being committed.”

Therefore, in marriage, love is not just a feeling.

It is a way of being in the world, a decision to commit to another person and to act on that commitment.

Furthermore, psychologists generally agree that love is a strong, passionate emotion felt between two people who are attracted to each other.

Love is often described as a feeling of strong affection and requires both positive and negative aspects, such as patience and sacrifice.

An early psychological theory of love distinguishes two kinds of love: “affective” and “erotic”.

The former is a strong but temporary feeling, while the latter is a long-lasting emotion.

Though his theory cannot explain the other qualities of love, such as commitment, it provides an early attempt to conceptualize love as more than just a physical attraction.

Another theory about the nature of love argues that there are three elements in love:

  • a focus of attention,
  • a physiological condition, and
  • a stable union between people.

The focus of attention is the basis of love, and is primarily focused on the other person.

Love’s physiological condition is the body’s response to love. For example, your brain releases dopamine, your serotonin levels increase, and oxytocin is produced, which all cause you to feel a surge of positive emotion.

The stable union of two people is the third part of love and is thought to be based on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and reward.

It is released when we experience something that we enjoy, such as eating a delicious meal or spending time with someone we love.

Dopamine plays a role in our motivation and drives, and it can help us focus on the things that are important to us, causing us to prioritise those things.

Additionally, the word “love” can also be used to refer to platonic love (being close friends with another person) or to a variety of stronger feelings.

In essence, although there is no single definition of love, the term “love” is used extensively throughout the world to describe a wide range of affectional states.

But first, let us consider the concept of intimacy and how we must understand it in the context of marriage and love in order to assess if a marriage can exist without it.

What is intimacy?

When you think of the word “intimacy,” most people just think of physical closeness or sex.

But that is not the only type of intimacy that exists in a marriage.

One can also distinguish between emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy, and both seem to be crucial in marriage.

Let’s briefly define them separately.

What Is Emotional Intimacy?

Emotional intimacy includes sharing personal thoughts and feelings with your spouse.

It also includes understanding your spouse’s point of view and knowing how they see things, which is especially important if you have different ideas on an issue.

Can Marriage Survive Without Love

In essence, emotional intimacy is about sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings with your spouse and can include things like your hopes, dreams, and concerns, and it is particularly important to maintain in the early years of marriage to keep your relationship foundation strong.

Emotional intimacy is frequently the first sort of intimacy to decline in marriage, but how it does so varies per relationship.

Some of the ways emotional intimacy may suffer first in a marriage include when one or both spouses become too busy with work or other commitments, when they stop communicating effectively, or when they start taking each other for granted.

When a couple begins to take each other for granted in their marriage, it is very likely that their relationship will become stale and monotonous.

They may no longer feel the need to make an effort to connect with each other and may begin to drift apart as a result.

This can typically lead to a lack of communication and resentment, and if left unchecked, can eventually lead to a divorce.

Emotional intimacy is also affected by children and parenthood.

A couple who has children may find that they are too tired or too busy to make time for each other.

In marriages that suffer from an emotional distance, spouses often fail to recognize and accept each other’s feelings.

Consequently, they do not provide emotional support to one another, and this leaves one spouse feeling isolated and alone, and once that happens, they may begin to feel like they are the only one who is unhappy.

They may also feel like they are the only ones who want to change things because they are the only ones who care about the marriage, and that can lead to even more feelings of loneliness, isolation, and resentment.

These feelings, in turn, can then easily lead to various pathologies like depression and hopelessness, making the spouses and situation even more miserable.

It is important to remember that many of these feelings may not be the result of a spouse’s personality or character, as we can easily come to believe, but rather the result of the particular circumstances of current marriage dynamics.

But because of that, fortunately, emotional distance can be prevented and emotional intimacy repaired.

What is Sexual Intimacy?

Sexual intimacy is defined as the ability to express your sexual needs and desires in a safe and positive way.

When you are able to express yourself in this way, it can lead to a sense of freedom that can contribute to emotional intimacy.

Can Marriage Survive Without Love

Now, the ability to express yourself in this way obviously comes with the need for a certain level of trust and confidence in your spouse.

That’s why the process of restoring sexual intimacy often involves increasing that level of trust first, as emotional and sexual intimacy are interconnected.

The implication of this is that sometimes someone may still feel sexual desire but without having any desire to be intimate with their spouse in a sexual way, for a variety of reasons like a lack of trust or confidence.

So, in essence, they have sexual needs or desires but just not towards their spouse.

That, of course, can lead to a range of problems, with the most common one being the feeling that you “love” your spouse but you don’t “desire” your spouse or aren’t attracted to them anymore.

This can often lead to a lot of confusion and even shame because it feels like a personal failing rather than a natural part of being human.

To understand this better, let’s break down the difference between love and desire.

Love vs. Desire

The first thing to understand is that when we speak of “desire,” we are talking about the raw feeling or emotion of being attracted.

When someone says that they “love” their spouse but don’t “desire” them, what this means is that the feeling of being attracted to their spouse is gone (or deflated).

So they “love” their spouse, but they no longer have the desire to be intimate with them sexually.

Love and desire, however, although both important to feelings of relationship happiness and satisfaction, are not the same and require different approaches to keep alive and well.

The first thing you might notice regarding the concept of “love” is that it might simply be perceived as an obligation and duty, having nothing to do with sensuality or passion.

Passion in marriage, however, is a strong, ongoing emotional and sexual connection between spouses.

Can Marriage Survive Without Love

This connection is typically characterized by deep love and affection, as well as sexual desire and satisfaction.

Passionate marriages are typically happy and fulfilling, and the couple is typically very committed to one another because it feels good being together.

There is usually plenty of love that gives certainty and stability, but also desire, which counterbalances predictability (and potential boredom) with space for eroticism, lustful expression, naughtiness, and playfulness.

If a marriage has lost its passion, it’s more likely to be described as empty or stale.

In contrast, if the relationship is characterized by constant boredom, resentment, and ennui, it’s often the case that the passion may be gone but not necessarily the love.

So, what are the benefits of love and intimacy in a marriage?

Let’s briefly look at that.

What are the benefits of love in a marriage?

At its core, love is typically the foundation of a successful marriage and therefore essential in any marriage.

It is essentially the glue that holds a couple together through the good and bad times, because we all go through those.

When a couple is in love, they are constantly drawn to each other.

They typically have a deep respect and admiration for one another.

They are almost always willing to compromise and make sacrifices for each other.

What are the benefits of intimacy in a marriage?

Intimacy in a marriage is key to a healthy and lasting relationship because when spouses are intimate with each other, they typically share a physical and emotional connection that strengthens their bond.

In that sense, intimacy can provide various benefits to a marriage, including the following:

Stronger Commitment

When spouses have strong commitment in a marriage, they are more likely to stick it out when life gets hard.

Couples can also open up and talk about their fears and what keeps them from reaching out for help when they need it.

Building Trust

Intimacy is the key to building and strengthening trust.

When spouses share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings, they become more trusting of each other.

Moreover, having a strong level of trust helps spouses feel safer sharing their needs and vulnerabilities with each other which in turn causes them to do so more.

Communication

Communication is the backbone of any marriage.

When spouses are open and communicate with each other, they feel less isolated and alone.

Communication also enables spouses to work out issues as they arise and solve problems.

Intimacy and communication, therefore, go hand in hand when it comes to building a strong marriage.

Sex

Marriage requires a high level of sexual intimacy.

Research shows that sexual satisfaction is a key factor in marital satisfaction.

When spouses are sexually satisfied, they are happier and more committed to their marriage.

Communication and sexual intimacy also go hand in hand.

Nurturing Emotional Needs

Relationships thrive when there is emotional safety.

When one spouse feels cared for and nurtured, they will be more open to reaching out to their spouse.

That creates trust, and trust affects open communication and sexual intimacy.

Spouses can cultivate emotional safety by taking the time to listen to each other and share their feelings.

Physical Touch

Research shows that having a high level of physical contact (holding hands, kissing, caressing) has an important influence on how happy one feels.

Thus, doing things as a couple that bring you closer and encourage physical touch, like taking a romantic weekend getaway without the kids, helps spouses feed feelings of closeness and create new moments of intimacy.

Positive Thinking

This might be an odd one in this context, but positivity breeds positivity.

Research shows positive thoughts and feeling positive about your marriage are important for staying married.

When spouses have a good attitude, they are more open to working on their marriage and actively look for ways to grow and improve.

Can Marriage Survive Without Love

Physical intimacy may not be necessary to maintain a marriage per se, but it does affect our mindset, which can increase marital satisfaction and influence the likelihood of marital decline or growth.

Intimacy, in that sense, is connected to greater relationship commitment, personal and relational well-being, mental health, and a strong emotional connection with our spouses.

That brings us to the question of can a marriage survive without love and/or intimacy?

Here are a few brief thougts on the matter.

Can a marriage survive without love?

There really is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on the couple’s individual circumstances (as you’ll see below in the next section).

Some couples may be able to maintain a successful marriage without love, while others may find that it is not possible.

Ultimately, it is up to the couple to decide if they can live without love in their marriage and to make any necessary changes to ensure that it is successful.

But that begs an interesting question, however,

Why would a couple decide to live without love in their marriage?

There could be a number of reasons why a couple might decide to live without love in their marriage.

Some couples may feel that they have grown apart and no longer share the same feelings of love for one another.

Others may be in a loveless marriage out of convenience or financial stability, rather than out of any real desire to be together.

Still, others may have experienced a traumatic event or series of events that have led them to believe that they are better off without love in their lives.

Ultimately, it is up to the couple to decide if they can live without love in their marriage and to make any necessary changes to ensure that it is successful.

But regardless of why you decide to live without love in your marriage, there still seems to be a dear cost to it in the end.

So be cautious.

Can a marriage survive without intimacy?

It is possible for a marriage to survive without intimacy, but it is not likely to be a happy or healthy one.

World-renowned life coach Tony Robbins says

“Relationships don’t die because of a lack of love, they die because of a lack of passion,”

an idea that I could support based on past experience.

He also says that, yes, a no-sex marriage with little sexual interest is possible, but there are drawbacks.

A lack of sex can lead to a decline in intimacy and connection, anger, and even adultery if one partner desires sex but the other does not.

A couple must be cautious about building connection in other ways, even in circumstances when both partners are on the same page, both have low sex drives, there is a physical distance, such as military deployment, or a disability or medical condition that has caused the sexless marriage.

Aside from that, Robbins stresses the need to restore passion and intimacy in your relationship if you’re in a sexless marriage where sex drives are imbalanced or other relationship issues are making you feel neglected.

He claims that in many cases, a sexless marriage can only continue because the parties convince themselves that it is normal and that they must maintain a positive attitude.

However, one should not succumb to this notion.

Even though everyone’s reaction to losing the physical component of their marriage is unique, he believes that one should avoid allowing this new normal to establish itself in their relationship.

Intimacy, therefore, is an important part of any relationship, and without it, a relationship is likely to suffer due to decreased intimacy.

However, there are times when it is not possible to be intimate (as mentioned above), and it’s important to understand that. Not necessarily be OK with it, but understand it.

Can Marriage Survive Without Love

This also doesn’t mean that the relationship is dying, or that it won’t work out in the end.

Just because we may not be able to have a sex-filled marriage due to life’s circumstances doesn’t mean that we can’t build a happy, healthy relationship.

It might just mean a much harder journey ahead, but not an impossible one.

In other instances, it might actually bring us closer as a couple because of the challenge we’re going through.

This is also something couples can talk about should they begin couple’s therapy.

Therapy can be a safe place to discuss these issues, in the knowledge that the marriage therapist has experience and training in dealing with sexual problems (or lack thereof).

Can a relationship work if the couple is not “in love”?

It depends.

I hate that answer as much as you do, but it’s also true.

Firstly, one must ask the question, how do we understand the notion of a “working” relationship?

What does that mean exactly?

Is a relationship “working” when a couple is civil but there are no sexual relations?

Can we say a relationship is “working” when a couple has frequent sex but also fights a lot about most things?

How do we define a relationship as “working?”

Well, truth be told, there is no single answer to this question as it depends on a couple’s individual definition of what “working” means for them.

That’s a frustrating answer, I know, but it’s also fairly workable in my opinion because what constitutes “working” for my wife and I might not be the same as for someone else.

Also, just to be clear, just because a relationship is “working” at the moment does not mean it will work later on or indefinitely.

Just keep that in mind.

However, with all of that said, in general, most people would say that a relationship works when both partners are able to communicate effectively, share common interests and values, and support each other through thick and thin.

That would be a base-level definition we could probably agree on.

So, with that said, can a relationship work if the couple is not “in love”?

Well, yes, technically speaking, a relationship can “work” if the couple is not “in love,” but the couple may have to work harder to maintain the relationship.

Yet, it is possible.

For example, a relationship can work if a couple is not “in love” but committed to each other and have a strong friendship.

Furthermore, even though a couple may have met and married for a specific set of reasons, those reasons may have changed as their lives changed, such as after having a kid.

can marriage survive without love

A possible example of this is Susan Pease Gadoua’s alternative approach to marriage, which she describes in her article, “Could You Ever Stay in a Loveless Marriage? Some Are Trying,” as a Parenting Relationship.

In a parenting marriage, couples essentially co-parent their children and take joint responsibility for the upbringing of their children. That’s the sole goal and purpose.

For example, a Parenting Marriage is distinct from a traditional marriage because it is a conscious decision made by the couple, rather than an unintentional holding pattern.

A Parenting Marriage’s essential components include things like:

  • Both couples acknowledge and accept that the marriage they once shared is no more. That is, the romantic relationship has ended.
  • As a couple, they both believe that the major goal of their marriage is to raise healthy children in a stable home environment.
  • For the sake of the kids’ trust, both couples will openly and truthfully discuss their marriage’s shifting dynamics. For some couples, a break—or a “time-out,” as it were—is necessary.
  • The terms of their new marriage are agreed upon by both parties. An example of this would be one sleeping upstairs and the other downstairs; agreeing on a schedule of time with the children; agreeing to separate financial commitments other than those that affect the family (mortgage and insurance payments, for example); agreeing that in their spare time, they can travel anywhere and see whomever they want; consenting that each could have another relationship but nobody is introduced to the children without express permission.

The argument one can make here, however, is the question of whether something like a “Parenting marriage” still qualifies as a “true” marriage as understood by most in the Western world.

But what does that mean?

We know that marriage is a social institution that is traditionally understood as a union between a man and a woman but now also includes homosexual couples in many countries.

Also, in the western world, when a couple is typically in love and has chosen each other of their own free will, they choose to get married.

can marriage survive without love

But that’s kind of how far as it goes for many.

Yet, the world has changed, including the western world.

Truth be told, there is no one answer to the question of what constitues “true” marriage, as even people in the west understand marriage differently nowadays.

Some people believe that marriage is a religious institution between a man and a woman, while others believe that it is a legal contract between two consenting adults.

Some views here are as follows:

Marriage as a religious institution was primarily defined by the Catholic Church.

However, marriage in all religions has historically been a union between a man and a woman.

Some religions, such as Islam and Judaism, do recognize same-sex unions in certain countries. For example, in France, there was an Islamic same-sex marriage on February 18, 2012.

So, since there is not a universal understanding of marriage, it can be difficult to define for people outside of one’s culture.

The second view is that marriage is a legal contract between two consenting adults.

For example, in the United States, this would be the state-recognized civil union.

The final view is that marriage can be any type of relationship between two people. This could include a cohabiting, long-term relationship, or platonic bond.

Currently, however, the social institution of marriage is essentially defined by society, and that’s why answering the original question (can a relationship work if the couple is not “in love?”) is so complicated.

It’s not as simple as saying “yes” or “no” because your answer is most likely informed by the society around you.

For example, many societies in history have considered marriage to be a union between one man and one woman, and the family often played a much bigger role in that union, as in the example of arranged marriages.

can marriage survive without love

This is the case in many pre-modern and non-Western cultures.

Arranged marriages are typically based on the idea of finding a spouse who will be a good match for the individual (or family and kingdom), as opposed to love matches, which are based on the idea of finding someone to whom you are attracted and who you love.

Please note that I refer here to a union between two consenting adults, albeit arranged, and NOT child marriages, as I 100% oppose them regardless of cultural differences. This is the one place where I will come out and unequivocally say that any culture that supports children being married off to grown men is undoubtedly f#cked up.

Moving on…

The main purpose of an arranged marriage is to create a strong, stable family unit.

In cultures where arranged marriage is the norm, it is typically seen as a more responsible and beneficial option than love marriage.

In an arranged marriage, the families of the bride and groom typically work together to find a partner who is a good match for their child based on factors like religion, culture, socioeconomic status, and educational background.

This type of marriage (marrying without love) is thought to be more stable than a love marriage because the spouses may have little to no prior knowledge of each other and will have to learn how to get along with each other.

Moreover, arranged marriages are often seen as more stable and lasting than traditional marriages because they are based on factors such as compatibility and common interests, rather than on love alone.

From that perspective, one can absolutely argue that a marriage can work with little or no love, or at least how love is often defined and understood in the West (mostly influenced by Hollywood).

But perhaps the issue is not what qualifies as what is “true” or the “correct” way, but rather what is the type of marriage I desire most?

Do I want love?

Do I want intimacy and sex?

Do I want cuddles and hugs?

Do I want kids?

Do I want my kids to be more important than my souse?

Do I want to grow old with my spouse happy and satisfied?

Do I want passion?

Do I want to feel “in love?”

Do I want an open marriage?

Do I want to be married to a particular gender or someone who doesn’t identify with any gender at all?

What do I want?

And more importantly, once married, what do WE want?

What are we OK with?

What are we not OK with?

At the end of the day, no matter how unique you think you are, you are still human and your brain still works like everybody else’s.

Some things will make you happy and satisfy your needs, and others won’t.

And should you find yourself in a situation where you’re not happy nor satisfied, you’re also going to most likely have the same reaction as everybody else: resist, rebel, explore alternatives, implode, explode, cheat, lie, resent, run…

So the question isn’t, “Can Marriage Survive Without Love or Without Intimacy?” but rather, “Can YOUR Marriage Survive Without Love or Without Intimacy?”

If you have any thoughts on the matters, please leave them in the comments area below.

About the author 

Gideon

Gideon is the founder of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a top-50 relationship blog (2021) and top-100 marriage blog (2021) which focuses on providing healthy relationship advice about love and life. He earned a Master's degree in theological studies before training as a professional counsellor and hypnotherapist (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.) almost 10 years ago. He completed a graduate diploma in Psychology and is currently pursuing postgraduate Psychology studies at Massey University. He has been married to his wife for nearly sixteen years and is the father of two children. His articles have been published on Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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