Living in a Pretend Marriage – The Love is Fake

On the mantel is a beautiful picture of mom, dad, the son, the daughter and the family mutt… all smiling, looking so happy. The reality is mom and dad sleep in separate rooms, they never kiss, never hold hands. Birthdays and anniversaries go by without any real resemblance of celebration. And on the outside, the marriage looks so perfect with the nice house, perfect car and well dressed kids. But on the inside, two people are simply pulling off one of life’s most common acts. Living in a pretend marriage. While people were shock, judgmental and horrified when Brad Pitt announced in a September 2011 interview that his ‘pretend’’ marriage to Jenifer Anniston had him playing the role of his life for real the truth is that millions of other people feel exactly the same way.

There might not be a voice to admit their frustration or lack of satisfaction in life. But dutifully they sit around the dinner table with the perceived perfection of marriage and family, waiting for the other person to finally ask for a divorce, or to get caught cheating, or to die so that they can be free from living the lie. For so many folks, getting out of a marriage is not as cut and dry as deciding that their happiness is worth the risk of financial doom, possible loneliness, lack of income or shelter, humiliation and breaking apart the family unit to save themselves. So they pretend. And they stay. And they wait. While life passes them by.

So life becomes like an episode of Survivor, waiting to see who will get voted off first. And the lies, and personal deceptions are just as deep as those on the hit primetime television show. So why do people do it? Why are so many people living in unhappy marriages and pretending to the rest of the world that all is perfectly well? After all for most of these people, they have been ‘checked out’’ of the marriage for some time. So what is up with the facade?

Researchers and family counsellors believe the reasons are broad and many. But perhaps the biggest reason that people become content to live a lie is because of fear. Fear of what might happen next. Fear of losing the children. Fear of losing the security that the marriage brings. It may seem like an oxy moron but the vivid truth is that a marriage can bring security without bringing happiness. Lots of people stay in their marriages and pretend to the world because they are fearful of what others might think or say about them if they divorce. Many others are paralyzed by the truth that their marriage is a big fat lie, and are stymied by a sense of failure that leaving or ending the fairy tale would bring to them.

Of course one of the most widespread reasons people continue to live in a pretend marriage is for the sake of the children. And the second most prevalent reason is financial security. Perhaps the very best word to describe how people are feeling in these pretend marriages is STUCK.

Marriage is an industry of sorts. And a socially resilient one at that. There are so many expectations both cultural and societal that push people towards marriage. And since today, many of the people married are products of the ‘pretend marriages’’ that their own parents were in, they find it difficult to lead the path and save themselves. Maybe they just don’t know how. Experts believe that as divorce becomes more socially acceptable among social groups and cultures, more and more people will decide to not get married to begin with, or will be more willing to get out of pretend marriages. Over the past decades more and more couples are choosing to just live together, which seems to come with less of the responsibilities that call for pretending than marital ‘bliss’’ defines with its nuptials. Living together, there is no ‘for better or for worse,’’ no oath, no standing before God and family and professing eternal commitment. And no risk of failure if it didn’t work out. No fear of people telling you that ‘they knew it wouldn’t work’” or ‘I told you so,’” like there is when a couple gets married.

If you are married, it’s also easy to see how time and commitments, responsibilities and stressors of life can make two people drift away from one another. And lots of people just aren’t sure how to handle the reconnect. Eventually, the emotional separation becomes so distanced that people cannot find their way back no matter how hard they try. Or perhaps they are just or unwilling. And many of these people living in pretend marriages aren’t necessarily unhappy, and are obviously getting some sort of payoff from the situation. While the marriage isn’t story book, it isn’t abusive or miserable either. For those people, what is the point of divorcing into uncharted territories when things are ‘‘fine’’ just the way they are?

Chances are that the perfect couple down the street from you, who seems constantly happy and absolutely perfect isn’t quite as perfect as they may seem on the outside. They may be sleeping in separate beds, barely speaking to one another, overlooking infidelity. Even if they show up at the PTA meeting, or the school awards ceremony or are constantly taking vacations in their mini-van they might not be as happily married as you think. Their efforts may be nothing more than going through the motions of what they believe is expected in a marriage, and putting on a show.

Until you walk in other people’s shoes you really know little about their journey. If you are married, chances are you have ‘pretended’’ a time or two at least to be something that you aren’t to save face around others. Maybe you have hid an argument, or hid a problem in the marriage from people that you love because it’s embarrassing or otherwise private. Point is, that each of us has a face for our personal life that doesn’t exactly match the face we show for others. And this extremely insightful when it comes to marriages.

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19 Responses

  1. Single and drama-free! I’m soooo glad I’m single. I eat when I want, sleep when I want and go out when I want. I travel to places I’ve never been to. I buy myself anything I like. Don’t explain myself to anyone. Free as can be. I have always been self-sufficient, don’t need a man buzzing in my ear 24/7!! I hope you guys manage to find some solace.

    1. But does it feel empty? Sometimes we need to be challenged by others to grow. By nature we are pack animals and need socialization. Sometimes it’s how we reach higher emotional intelligence. I think with the right person you can still do all those things. I’ve been married 30 years and am fiercely independent. It’s hard for men to let go of power. I’m not sure we can ask for much more evolution from them…..

  2. Truth is, my husband cannot handle a divorce. For the sake of my children’s security in life, I must stay. 14 years to go until the youngest is 18. We tried a separation once. He made sure we had exactly what our children and I needed to survive, i.e. pay the bills, fill our gas tank, and have food in our cupboards. Besides these things he drained the account on bars, Internet dating, and porn sites. He destroyed my reputation with his family and our closest friends. Divorce was out of the picture. He would often tell me of how his brothers would encourage him to divorce me and to take the children, he would then state how he wouldn’t because he cared. Those “empty threats” scared me. I have young children who still need their mother. I haven’t worked in 11 plus years, and the idea of managing daycare and a job and a house is completely overwhelming. He stated that he would leave the children to me, but often hinted that besides the basic child support that the law required , I would be on my own. My husband is not mature enough to handle a divorce, and his family are cruel and have a heavy influence on him. So I stay. And as he has frequently stated, ” I pay the bills, I don’t cheat, and I have never hit you, there is no reason for divorce.”, it seems practical to stay. He works away from home, he Flys in to visit every few months. I don’t have to pretend very often, just via text messages and the nightly video phone calls. I have been open and honest with him about how I feel, but as long as it isn’t brought up, he continues as if nothing is a miss, and we retain the facade that is our marriage. Him happily married, viewed by his peers as a wonderful and sacrificing husband and father who works away from home to provide for his family. 14 years. 14 years. It will be okay.

  3. Sam that sounds like me. I have no family in this country, he pays for everything. I do everything in the house. 14 more years to go for me too. He’s been verbally abusive and walked out several times, then comes running back after a few days. I tried to ask his family to help him get help but he manipulated them against me and our friends, he made out it was me who was the problem not him.
    Everyone thinks he’s charming and such a delight but he’s an emotionally dead cold immature person. He’s a good dad but acts like a teenage child to me. I’ve never had a romantic date and when I ask why he says he doesn’t see the point.
    If I’m unwell he just ignores me and when I get upset he just gets annoyed. I hate him. I can’t wait for the day when he comes home from work and I’m not here. If we get divorced it’ll leave me in such a mess and disrupt the children. I feel repulsed having sex with him.
    I can’t wait until I can go back to work myself then at least I can work late so I don’t have to see him as much!

    1. Wow…so glad I came across this page. It was helpful to read everyones comments including the one who posted.
      I am engaged to be married in a few months. I am 38 with 4 kids. My two oldest are from my HS Sweetheart (I was 15 & he was 17, our kids are 15 & 11 now) and we split after 11 years, never married. My two youngest are from my Fiancé. He’s 47 and has 3 other kids prior to meeting me. Two of them were from his previous marriage (Divorced in 2010). We’ve been together since 2015 and he surprised me with an engagement ring last year (2021).
      Anyways, I find myself just going through the motions. I’ve always envisioned being married to a Man that I was so deeply in love with. Where we are best friends and love to enjoy things together in life. For the past 6.5 years, I felt like I was just settling and this is how relationships are when in your 30’s. Its like all the fun loving dovey things fade and are left in your twentys….My family loves him, as he’s respectful, hardworking and takes care of our household. Our kids are healthy, happy and stable. I am just not happy. There was infidelity on his part, a few years ago (2017), and we went to couples therapy for the infidelity as well as other issues. It took a long time for me to heal. He enjoyed therapy so much, saying that it changed me for the better, when in actuality I haven’t changed a thing. If anything therapy allowed him to be more honest with me. So I was gonna leave after that incident, but my Mother told me to think bout the kids and not make any quick moves. At this time, we had a Babygirl together. So I waited in hopes things would get better. This is when I realized that many marrigaes, like my parents and grandparents had problems and couples weren’t always perfect & happy but stayed together regardless. I told myself I’d make that same sacrifice for my children.
      Things started getting better after 2019. We had another baby in 2020 (born 13 weeks early). She helped make us stronger as she was a little fighter herself. I thought everything was on the road to greatness when he proposed. But just recently I found out he may have been unfaithful again, after overhearing a conversation he was having with his friend. I can also sense vibes really good and his has been off. He also has been questioning me as if I’m doing something, when I know it’s his gulity conscience. I recently became a FT stay at home mom this year. Every summer his other 3 kids come to visit. So I’ve been busy taking care of home and all our kids. So there would be no reason for him to all of a sudden question me about who I’m texting and where I’ve been when I’m home with kids.
      So my parents are spending over $40,000 for my wedding since it’s my first and I’m the only child. My Bachelorette Party is in a few weeks, I hear my Bridal Team went all out too. & here I am feeling untrue to myself and everyone. I’m always so blunt and honest about my thoughts and now i’m put in a situation where I don’t know what to do but cry in silence and smile in public. Everyone ask why im so calm and not getting all bridezilla. I just say stressing isnt going to solve anything. When in reality im just not excited. I really didnt want to get married, but my other half said he wants to make sure im taken care of. Then I suggested just for us to go to courthouse, but he had a courthouse wedding the first time and knows my family wouldnt want that either. So im stuck to act like all is perfect. I have no one to talk to right now, cause everyone is so excited and happy. I feel like I’m putting up a front to be happy and trying so hard to be in love as well as overlook his faults for the sake of our kids. But he makes it difficult. I haven’t even spoken to him about this new issue yet. Not even sure if I want to because, like the first time, he tried to lie, but I had proof last time. This time I don’t. I feel like I’m about to sign the rest of my life away to misery in trade for my kids success and well-being. Perhaps, marriage was never about being in love but just doing what is right for your family and kids so that the day we are no longer living, your legacies are taken care of.
      I just always pictured being so in love and vice versa. I feel like I’m better off pretending then trying my chance at love again as an almost 40 year old with 4 kids (15 yr. boy, 11 yr. Girl, 6 yr. Girl, 2 yr. Girl). He says he loves me and that he asked me to be his Wife because he knows I’m the one and he would never hurt me again, and how he would never get married or be in another relationship again if we didnt work out. But I know he has this other personality, that he doesn’t show me or our family. He’s very flirty and almost comes off as insecure and always needing validation from women. So since I know this, one would call me crazy to even stay in this relationship, but I feel like my life is over and it’s all about my kids at this point.
      In the meantime, I’m counting down til this wedding and having to pretend being Happy about my future marriage for the rest of our days. I just pray things will get better.

  4. The last 10 years of my 14 year marriage have been truly unhappy. We have put on a show for family, friends, coworkers, neighbours, authorities and everybody else. I have told him in his face I do not love him. I think that in reality I never have. I was turning 30 and felt the pressure to get married. He was 38 and also felt the social pressure to settle down. Within a year we were married. I relocated to Europe, where he is from and my misery started. He never had much intention to help me integrate in his culture, language and society. After over a decade living in here, I feel more foreigner and lonely than when I first arrived. I have considered taking my life. I wanted children but he didnt. Then when I turned 42, he now welcome the idea of little ones at home. But I couldn’t have a biological child anymore. So we started the road of in-vitro with an hand-picked egg donor. Four transfers failed, and more and more I am thinking it is God doing us a favor. We have two frozen embryos, that he wont let me use if I divorce him. I am considering finding my own egg donor and freezing those eggs on my own. If I finally decide to go through a divorce, I could just use a sperm donor to finally have the child I always wanted, but he didn’t. Deep down I resent him for denying me of a family when I could still have one. I dont wish him ill, but I just wish I didnt have to see daily his ugly face anymore. We dont even share a meal at the table, much less the bedroom. But he still thinks the marriage is very much OK, and until death do us apart. If only people knew.

    1. I hope you have since left this man. With no children to worry about, please quickly save yourself a lifetime of misery. Once you find your happiness again, there are lots of beautiful children waiting and needing to be adopted. Hugs!

  5. How do I continue to live like this?!! I’m slowly dying inside, and I have no one to talk to about it. It’s been 28 years of a present marriage for me. I feel like a fraud, because I’ve been playing the part of the “step ford wife” for all these years. It’s not been intentional for me. It’s due to empty promises of change on my husbands part. We’ve even been to counseling more times than I care to admit. All because he attempts to convince me that he wants to help “us”.

    These years have honestly killed the person I used to be. I am a shell of that long forgotten, passionate, light hearted, fun person. I no longer have a clear view of reality, and I no longer trust anyone nor anything.

    I’ve pretended to be happy and loved for so long, that I don’t know who I am anymore. I am sick to my stomach thinking about what a good little actress I’ve been for 28 YEARS!! It’s sick, and it disgusts me. I know no one would believe me if I tried to tell them. So I just quietly die a little more everyday. The loneliness is gut wrenching, and I KNOW God CANNOT desire this for His child. However I’m on disability, and I can’t afford myself on my own. Stuck doesn’t begin to describe this toxic game playing!!

  6. This was helpful to know I am not alone. Been living this for many years. First excuse, for the kids, which was valid in my opinion. Now they are grown so part of me wants to move on, but there is the fear of doing it (more that what others will think) and the financial hit. I am suffering silently because I have lost the best years of my life and will never get them back. Regret that I let it go on for so long and feel like I lived a lie. I have to believe that God does want more for me and has a better plan, whether I stay or go.

  7. Similar story but have been married for 9 years this year, however we spent many of those years dealing with long distance for graduate school and/or work.
    As we finally relocated to one city to be under same roof, i think we realized that we are not happy together but
    stayed married out of cultural stigma or lack of other options.
    Fast forward to today, after many personal career sacrifices, i am 9 months pregnant at age of 36 with a husband who stated that said i will kill our baby and that i shouldn’t have gotten pregnant. Great supportive words considering I’m due any day!

  8. Coming up on 28 years and 25 of them are all a facade. He’s truly never considered me. He said he loved all of my experience and we were to be partners in all… business, family, relationship. We had our own business and he blocked all of my experience and controlled everything, I gave up hoping for fulfillment there and resigned myself to being a a work whore..doing something that I hated for money. He abandoned me in raising the kids and one was his who I adopted. Left me to parent alone and would block me at every turn. Doesn’t communicate at all..tell him we have to have sex and how we can’t go 6 months without it and I cannot be responsible for always leading. He always says he agrees and will do things differently and never does.Now the kids are gone, I’m 0
    pushing to liquidate our holdings because he won’t include me or consider me, and the only thing that keeps me here is thinking about the millions that I will lose which I have worked for if I divorce him. Coaching galore for 3 years and the coach asked him “have you ever considered that it is possible you don’t know everything?” I have literally done everything…and the man just doesn’t want to be interdependent. That is so much the problem with marriage… people who don’t want the true interdependence that leads to the deepest intimacy. It’s just what they describe…I’m waiting him out.

  9. I’m a husband in the other side of this situation. My wife seems to be telling me that she hasn’t loved me from the start. It’s been 19 years. She describes us as roommates. I always thought it was her stressful job…but even after resigning, no change. I waffle between being angry that she ever agreed to marry me—and being heartbroken. I’m not perfect, but I’ve never cheated or been abusive. I try to be a good dad and loving husband. It’s sad to think that she’s been faking it for 20 years.

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