I got married thirteen years ago. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in love with my wife at the time, and that has caused me many problems over these thirteen years.

I have two precious daughters, one twelve and one four, who are the best things that God has given me. But I can’t be affectionate toward my wife, and I treat her with indifference much of the time. Can you advise me about what to do?

Dear Friend,

Because you did not mention it, we must assume two things: first, that you have been faithful to your wife for thirteen years, and second, that you are not considering terminating your loveless marriage. We want to congratulate you for remaining true to the vows you made when you married your wife. You are rare in our world that elevates self-satisfaction above virtue. God will honor your integrity and perseverance.

We have great news for you! In many cultures, the marriage promise does not require romantic love at all, and yet relationships grow and flourish. In fact, the kind of romantic love that most people believe is an essential component in marriage is really just a misunderstood feeling. Even when that feeling is present on the wedding day, it may not last. And when that feeling is all there is, the marriage usually fails.

So what is the necessary component in marriage? It is a one‑time decision that two people make to build a life together, and then a daily decision to take positive actions to make it work. If the feeling of romantic love develops or continues, it is certainly easier to take those daily positive actions, but the decision and daily actions are not dependent on the feeling.

So what should you do? First, apologize to your wife for the way that you say you have treated her. Second, tell her that you made a decision thirteen years ago to marry her and that you intend to keep that one‑time vow that you made by taking daily actions to strengthen your relationship. Ask her to help you make a list of daily actions that you can start with, choosing just two or three at a time to work on. We suggest the list include actions such as: verbally expressing appreciation for the ways that she takes care of you and the ways that she is a wonderful mother for your daughters; setting aside time to communicate with each other and agree upon priorities and discipline for your girls, as well as discuss things that are important to each of you; and spending time participating in recreational activities that you all enjoy. It may seem that she has what seems to be an excessive number of demands to add to the list. It will take great energy and patience on your part to follow through each day and to keep a good attitude, but we promise you that, as you take positive action, your wife will respond by taking actions herself.

If you can get marriage counseling, we recommend that you do so. You have a great deal of hard work to do to make your marriage work, and any type of support will be helpful. God will also help you if you call upon Him. He will give you the daily strength that you need to succeed, and will give you His wisdom in how to build a strong family.

You can do it!

Linda and Charles