Reality vs. Pretending


I’m trying to resolve a question I’ve had for a long time:

As a Christian, if you are not feeling love/kindness/compassion towards someone, are you supposed to “pretend,” or should you pray for the Holy Spirit to change your heart?

I have several thoughts on this issue, but nothing I would consider a “correct answer.”

Many people talk about being changed by the Holy Spirit. Paul talks about becoming a new person: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.” Jesus and Paul both talked about love being a crucial element of conversion to Christianity. Paul said “I can do all these things, but if I have not love (charity), I am but a clanging symbol.”

I also know that there are different levels of love, and that being loving to someone when you don’t get a feeling in return is more noble than the “puppy love,” where you get great satisfaction from sharing love with someone.

I have been a “Christian” all my life, (first Baptist, now Catholic). The reason I place “Christian” in quotes is because while I believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Trinity, etc., and I now believe that the Catholic Church was the church established by Jesus, and that we must follow her teachings, unfortunately I cannot say that I have ever experienced the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and changing of my heart that so many others speak of. I sadly believe that Paul’s passage in Corinthians – “Love is patient, love is kind…hopes all things, endureth all things…” pretty much describes me – as the exact opposite of what I am. I am selfish, uncompassionate, etc. I have prayed for the conversion of my heart, but so far nothing has happened. This brings me to my point.

A couple of years ago my wife and I had an issue that came between us, and it tore my heart out. I want to work through it, examining the reality, and trying to find a reasonable explanation for what she did. She wants me to forget it and move on. My belief is that working through it using reality would build our marriage on a stronger foundation. She believes that every day you should wake up and put on a happy face, trying to forget the past. In fairness to her, she has done the same thing when I have failed her in some way. To me, it’s like putting a fresh coat of paint on rotted wood.

My question is essentially this:
Is it better to work with reality in a marriage relationship, or is it better to “fake it” when you’re not really feeling loving towards your spouse? How does the Holy Spirit’s conversion of a person’s heart fit in to all this? If Christian love means that we often fake it, then how is that different than the “self-help” books on the market today?


I’m not sure what there is to fake.

You*** act*** loving. You express appreciation for your partner. (Most of us can do that for an unknown clerk at a grocery store.) If either or both of you feel loving as a result of behaviors then that is icing on the cake. Asking the Holy Spirit to change your heart is always good.

Now if your wife did something that damaged your relationship then that is a different matter. Trust is more than something you feel. It is also something for which you compute a rational probability, To me it sounds like you don’t really trust your wife right now.

Assuming that I am correct and that trust is a problem, I think it is reasonable of you to expect your wife to be accountable now. That is how trust can be (partially) restored. Exploring the reasons for her past behavior might help you trust her more but then again it might not.

Rather than worrying about the why, I think you need to look at what it will take to forgive your wife and to be forgiven for whatever part you may have played in the problem.


Well, SMHW, it’s a rather long story, so I didn’t want to include it in my original post, but perhaps it’s critical to understanding where I’m coming from, so I’ll try to make it short.

I’ve been married 26 years, and until Sep2004 most of that time was wonderful. I felt puppy love for my wife, and really, really, cherished holding her, looking at her, etc. There were many times when I told her that I hoped Heaven was like that.

Problem was, I couldn’t tell if she felt the same way. She would sometimes say so, but many, many times she chose to be with other people or do other things than spend time with me. Even when I asked her to do the same thing someone else did (such as going for a walk), she’d say no to me and then turn around and go with someone else. I wanted to play games a lot with her and the kids, and they couldn’t ever seem to find the time. I told her to put me on her to-do list for 5 minutes a day, but she couldn’t find the time. So, during most of our marriage it was extreme highs (when I was with her), but lows when I felt she didn’t want to be with me as much as I did with her.

In Sep2004 my daughter got a new boyfriend, and my wife (who couldn’t find 5 minutes a day for me, and couldn’t set aside any time for family games) found several HOURS a day, for 2 or 3 weeks, to play with him and my daughter. I heard her laughing and having a wonderful time, and it tore me apart, night after night.

Now, she’s trying really hard to find the time for me, but for the past couple of years I have been very “cold” (no affectionate embraces, few smiles at her, etc.) She doesn’t act like she even misses the affection that I used to enjoy so much. I get the impression that she’s trying to spend time with me because she realizes it’s what she’s supposed to do.

That’s where the reality vs. pretending comes in. To me, I don’t want her to be with me if she doesn’t want to in her heart, but just because “it’s the right thing to do.” I don’t want her to pretend. I want reality. But she seems to give me the impression that faking it (smiling and hugging even when I don’t feel loving) is fine with her.


To answer your original question, reality is always better. But to comment upon your subsequent explanation, I don’t think you’re understanding the reality of your relationship.

You say you don’t ‘feel’ loving toward your spouse, and then explain that you USED to ‘feel’ loving toward her when you were first married and in the throes of passionately adoring her with physical time together, etc. And then you apparently woke up to the fact that she does not express love similarly to you, upon which realizing you became very dissatisfied. Now that she’s trying to show you love in the way you clearly feel it, you’re pouting and taking a “too little, too late” stance.

First, I think you should read the book “The Five Love Languages” WITH your wife. If she doesn’t want to read it, fine, read it by yourself. It sounds like you are a ‘quality time’ and ‘physical touch’ kind of person–the way you ‘feel and express love’ is mostly through those avenues. I don’t know what your wife’s love language might be, but reading the book will offer you a clue and then in turn will help you recognize her gestures which are meant to be loving. If she is kind enough to read it with you, the two of you can talk about adjusting your behavior so as to help the other ‘feel’ loved by using their appropriate love language.

Secondly, I think you need to examine what you really want in this relationship. Do you want to waste time being miserable and punishing your wife for not understanding your needs in a timely manner, or do you want to accept her olive branch? You can choose to continue punishing her (and yourself) by rejecting her overtures based on what you interpret to be her intention–that she’s only offering herself because she’s ‘supposed’ to and not because she’s madly desiring you. That kind of want and desire takes time to build–and perhaps you need to find out what HER love language is in order to turn her back on to you. Maybe physical touch or quality time isn’t her thing. Maybe words of affirmation or acts of service are what really speak to her heart.

Btw, even if she IS only attempting to spend time with you because she realizes her duty–what exactly is wrong with that? Isn’t she sort of doing a better job then YOU, then? You don’t want to spend time with her, either, because she isn’t doing what you want, when you want it–and as such, you won’t have anything to do with her. She, on the other hand, is at least TRYING to reach out to you–despite being rejected, and despite her lack of wanting to do so–if that’s even true.

You are called to be a leader in this relationship, not a pouter who sulks because he has to work harder then he’d like at acheiving the relationship results he desires. Love is a choice, it’s not just a feeling, and an adult should be capable of choosing actions over feelings.

Also, as a last suggestion–when you find your wife doing something fun and enjoying herself–stop begrudging her that happiness and instead try to include yourself. If she was having a wonderful time with your daughter and her boyfriend, why did you stay away, sulking about it? Why didn’t you go and join her instead of feeling sorry for yourself? It sounds like she really enjoys being around other people. Why don’t you meet her where she is at, with that, and try to reach out to her in that group setting and then afterward–when she’s seen you make an effort at what brings HER joy–ask for some private time alone with the two of you?

I’m thinking you really need to examine your own behavior in this dynamic, and focus on how YOU can change–instead of how to change your wife, which won’t happen, and all the things SHE is doing wrong. Start with yourself and see how that influences her to start interacting with you differently.


Princess_Abby, you’re giving great advice, but I wonder if a part of the problem is not merely trying to be with other people, as in needing the company of other people than Larry in addition to him, but as in being with someone else than Larry. That is wanting to be with someone else and wanting not to be with him, combined. I’ve witnessed such behaviour in some of my girlfriends and could have beens. Especially being unable to find five minutes seems a bit extreme. Additionally, I think I understand what Larry means by his wife’s not feeling like spending time with him but merely doing her duty by giving time to him. It must be painful. Every spouse has the right to spend time with willingly. Marriage is a partnership of whole life. If my hypothetical wife were in constant preference to spend time with everyone but me and were generally content with the knowledge we’re married, without the need actually to live together, I would depressed way beyond what Larry shows. I think I would be pushing a nullity claim. If a woman kept turning me down for a walk and then going with someone else (make it a dance, a film, a pizza, whatever), I would feel offended and I wouldn’t marry her if I hadn’t already.

Larry, please do not punish your wife in any way. If you punish her, it will hurt you. Only you or not only you but also her, I don’t know. But punishing her will hurt you. By punishing I don’t mean formal punishment but an attitude. Don’t make it too late for her. You would never like to hear a “too late” yourself, would you? Be generous and give all you can to her (and which is lawful to give) and see what happens. It’s always better to act the right way and be wronged later than to act the wrong way… if you act wrongly you’re just in the wrong from start.

I know this is going to be taken ill by some people and it’s not going to be easy on you, but maybe ask your wife what makes her want to spend time with anyone but you? Why she doesn’t include you, why she avoids you? If she needs physical affection, show her. But I know how difficult it is when you’re not exactly feeling the butterflies because of the other person hurting you with avoidance before. I’ve had it it my relationships (though I haven’t been married yet, so I’m not at the same stage you are). If she keeps denying the problem, I don’t know what can make her see it. In my experience, experiencing it first-hand is probably the only cure to that. You may also ask her what makes it that she doesn’t seem to need your company. Perhaps she has hobbies and interests you don’t share, but some of what you say contradicts this hypothesis, so it may be a different problem.

Forgiving and forgetting is a good thing, to address a different point. Faking is not. “Seek the truth and it shall make you free.” Pretending will not make anyone free. Jesus is Truth. Therefore, untruth is not Jesus. Not reacting to something or keeping a secret may be charitable, but falsification is not what God wants of us. Pretending that problems don’t exist won’t solve them. You may act as if something had never happened and that could be charitable, but ignoring recurring patterns is not always prudent.

Hope it doesn’t sound sanctimonious from me, but I suggest praying a lot and praying hard and perhaps using the passage about love from Corinthians in prayer. It’s a hymn, after all. I’ll pray for you as well. Maybe try to get your wife to pray with you? It’s always a great thing if you can pray together.


You said that you don’t feel that way. Christian behavior is not about how you feel. It’s about how you treat people. How you treat people is the truth you’re after. God isn’t interested in how you feel about someone. She is interested in how you treat people. About the command to love. I repeat: it isn’t about how you feel. Even God cannot command you to feel something. The command is to love, to care about and care for the people that are put in your life. Do the caring for and caring about based only on the commandment and eventually you will find that the work has moved from your mind to your heart. You have to till the soil and plant the seed. The growth is God’s business. Let him do it.



I appreciate everyone’s advice and concern. I acknowledge that it is very likely (almost certain, in fact) that my wife’s love is a higher form than mine. (I’m referring to levels of love, for example puppy love being kind of selfish, because you get a lot of great feelings from it, all the way up to God’s love, which is completely unselfish and unconditional).

I wonder if this is either my temporal punishment, or a test to see how good a Christian I am, or a way that God is using to help me mature in my Christian faith/love.

As I said, I look at 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, and I am the opposite of everything it says. I just don’t know how to get to the next level. I have prayed for a conversion of heart – so far nothing. That’s why I’m wondering if pretending is the way to go. I have a very hard time believing that. I mean, I can understand about being kind to a stranger, even someone who is not nice to you. Jesus said loving someone who loves you is easy – even pagans do that. I just cannot understand how it fits into the marriage and family relationships. It seems to me that pretending (smiling or showing affection when you’re actually upset/hurt with your wife or kids) takes the trust out of a relationship. One never knows what the other is really thinking/feeling. And ir pretending is the way to go, then (as I said in a previous post) how are Jesus’ teachings on love any different than the self-help books?

I’m sure I’m wrong, but I can’t figure out how.


I’ve had a similar problem recently, actually. Being sad or feeling low should not prevent you from being happy to show some love to another person. You won’t lie to anyone if you comfort someone in a smaller pain than the one you’re suffering at the moment. You won’t lie if you try to smile to your wife while suffering. You will only pretend if you try to mask your feelings, not if you try to be nice to her. It looks to me like you need an honest talk and maybe she needs to be told what you have told us. Don’t feel too obligated to make your actions consistent with your current mood. It’s not worth it and doesn’t lead anywhere good. When my last girlfriend broke up with me, I wished I had kissed her and hugged her more before, in our last troubled moments, instead of concentrating on being gloomy and hurt and all. Live in the present, it’s a gift from God. Don’t live in the past, that’s hedonism. Fearing the future is cowardice. This is something a priest told me in confession on Sunday… I had a problem in that regard, many regrets. The girlfriend, my recently departed animal… well, live in the present and try to make it the happiest you can. :slight_smile: You don’t have the past anymore and you don’t have the future yet.


It is not faking it to “act” in a loving manner. Love is after all an act of the will where we do good for the other because God so loves us. I think you will find after a time that feeling follows action. Act lovingly long enough and the emotion will follow. Over almost 50 years of marriage I would opine that to “feel” lovingly or to “feel” love all the time just does not happen. To “act” lovingly most of the time is very possible. I would not trade my marriage for any other.


Yes, I would recommend “faking” it and praying for a conversion of heart. I also think by acting in a loving manner, you will find that you will be more disposed to actually becoming more loving.


Thanks for everyone’s advice. I’m still reading all your posts and pondering them all.

I realize I have the greatest wife in the world, and that someone like me is lucky to have someone like her. I’m just not convinced that her words to me are real. I want to know that she enjoys my company. I realize that the sulking on my part pretty much guarantees that she can’t enjoy being with me, but you must remember that there is (I believe) a long history which proves me right. She seemed to want to be anywhere else but with me.

Things have gotten better lately. The horrific pain which persisted for months after the “final straw” incident 2 yrs ago gradually gave way to an emptiness/numbness, and now there are brief reminders of the wonderful emotions I had in the past. However, it is still difficult to trust what she says. For her part, she’s trying to change. She’s trying to spend more time with me, but that’s just it – for me, I didn’t have to try, I had a sincerely strong desire/need to be with her.

I don’t know. Perhaps things are improving with time, but it is taking SO LONG! I guess it’s something like going through the pain of losing a dearly loved one.

Several months ago, I thought of writing a book, entitled “The Loneliness of Jesus.” The feelings I’ve had – “Why doesn’t she want to spend time with me?” made me think about how we (including me) find it so hard to take 5 minutes a day to spend with Jesus. I thought about including all the Bible verses where He expresses such feelings.

Like I’ve said previously, maybe it’s a test for me to learn to show true love (if so, I’m failing the test), or maybe it’s temporal punishment (hopefully in lieu of time in Purgatory). I don’t know. Everyone has to go through rough times in their lives, and I guess I’m just being a weenie about it.


Perhaps the idea you have for your book can be put into very practical use by you right now.

Do you have access to the Blessed Sacrament either through an Adoration Chapel or being able to go into the Church between Masses?

In front of the Blessed Sacrament meditate on the Passion of Christ…look at each stage and relate it to whatever is going on with you…rejection, lonliness, feelings of doubt, fear, having to wait around while other people decide what to do with you, feeling bad physically…all these things have a corresponding experience with Christ’s Passion.

Perhaps the problem is, no matter if you are thinking highly or yourself or poorly about yourself you are thinking far too much about yourself.

that is usually the problem I have…cleverly disguised


I still think that it’s not egoistic and self-centred to have a problem with one’s spouse, who has sworn community of all life, being unable to find 5 minutes in a whole day and seeming actively to look for anything to do that doesn’t involve the spouse.

I’ve always had problems with girlfriends doing that on me and later complaining about emotional distance that grew in me to help me deal with their distance. I don’t think it’s fair to complain about emotional distance when one’s been avoiding the other not even emotionally but more like totally.


I haven’t read all the posts on this thread, so forgive me if I repeat anything someone has already said…

‘Feelings’ are biological reactions to a number of different things. That doesn’t make them unimportant, but it is a biological fact that nerves get tired. That’s why you stop smelling strong scents after awhile; the nerves that are transmitting the impulses get tired, so you ‘get used to’ the smell. They can’t keep transmitting those fuzzy-happy impulses day in and day out, either. It’s wonderful when they do, of course, for a reason. But they are more of a reward, in my view, for loving someone, rather than the actual love itself. Love is a choice, expressed through action. You’re not faking love when you act in a loving manner, even though you don’t ‘feel’ loving. You can’t control how you ‘feel’ all the time, only what you do. You could take a bunch of drugs and ‘feel’ very loving, but you wouldn’t actually be loving anybody by just sitting there ‘feeling’ it. I’m not saying emotions are not important or that they can’t be used to figure things out, but they fluctuate. Take it from a woman, they definitely fluctuate. :wink: Start acting in love now. You can control your actions. Keep praying for the conversion of heart, as well, but that’s in God’s hands, and I don’t think there’s much you can do about it for now, except behave lovingly. It’s like learning a new skill: start with the basics that you know you can do now, and let the Master of Love(aka God) guide you into developing the finer details, in His time.

I can’t say much about how your wife is behaving… I’m not married, so I don’t have much skill in that area. Pray for her, too.

God bless! ^^


Good idea, LSK. Thanks.

Perhaps the problem is, no matter if you are thinking highly or yourself or poorly about yourself you are thinking far too much about yourself.

This is, (unfortunately) absolutely, positively, true. I am selfish in many, many ways. Perhaps that’s the first thing I should pray about.


If I remember correctly from my neurology class, it’s actually a compensation mechanism in the brain, as opposed to tired nerves. An interesting phenomenon, but I refuse to reduce human emotions to simply biological reactions. It seems to me to make us no more than animals. However, I think I see your point, in that with our God-given free will, we have the ability to rise above our emotions.

They can’t keep transmitting those fuzzy-happy impulses day in and day out, either.

Well, for me, the feelings lasted for 5 years of courtship and 23 years of marriage. Maybe that’s unusual, but wife’s quite a wonderful girl.

Love is a choice, expressed through action. You’re not faking love when you act in a loving manner, even though you don’t ‘feel’ loving. You can’t control how you ‘feel’ all the time, only what you do. You could take a bunch of drugs and ‘feel’ very loving, but you wouldn’t actually be loving anybody by just sitting there ‘feeling’ it.

All true, when being loving towards family, friends and strangers. I understand that a person can do a loving thing (taking care of an invalid family member, for instance) when what they’re actually feeling is emotionally tired and ready to give up. I just believe that marriage is something special. I am not comfortable with my wife saying she’s happy to spend time with me, when she’s not really feeling that way. I guess the alternative (not spending time with me at all) is worse, but surely you can see how it is less special if she’s forcing herself to do so.

It’s like learning a new skill:

This is crux of my question. “Skill” conjures up images of self-help literature. I want to deal with it the way God wants a marriage to work; I’m just uncertain as to what that means.

start with the basics that you know you can do now, and let the Master of Love(aka God) guide you into developing the finer details, in His time.

That helps a little in differentiating between Jesus’ teachings and self-help books, along with the emotions vs. free-will idea, but I’m still wondering about how the Holy Spirit’s conversion of heart enters into the picture.

Anyway, the last couple of days saw good improvement, so hopefully there’s more to come.


That’s what hurts me so much, and makes it difficult to accept her “changed ways.” I want to know she’s spending time with me because she wants to, not because she’s supposed to.


I kind of believe this in my head, but my heart’s giving me a hard time accepting it. Anyway, I’m trying a little to open up, and ignore the “blocking feelings,” so perhaps I’m doing a little of what I should.


Have you ever thought the problem might be that you are overthinking it? Maybe you are feeling forced because you are forcing yourself. I think once you just relax and stop pursuing this elusive “feeling”, it might just actually be there.


Larry, your wife may be happy to spend time with you despite not being happy about it. This sounds illogical, I know. It’s like being happy to do something partly because (rather than just despite) something isn’t really giving you a feeling of personal happiness.

Personally, I don’t find you selfish or egoistic from what you write, although self-centred might be the case - not in an egoistic way or putting yourself above others, but merely because the situation makes you think a lot about how you feel about things, how you should feel, what you think, how you treat people, how you are treated, a big lot of “you”. Don’t cringe, I have the same problem, part of the reason I know what I’m talking about. At the same time, trying to talk and think etc about the wife wouldn’t be that great because it could easily turn into a load of accusations expectations and unwanted attention, so all in all, it’s probably the best to unfocus and try to think less of it all, analyse less, just live what comes, especially as the present is the gift from God. Maybe you’ll undergo a change of heart and become more loving in terms of feelings from acting lovingly. Maybe she will undergo a change of heart and be really happy to spend time with you on her own instead of forcing herself.

And let me tell you something. I believe she’s making an effort. And a big one. Most women would refuse to see any problem in not wanting to spend time with the man and avoiding it, despite marriage being quite clearly the communion of all life (I should probably quote the Gospel, but canon 1055 will have to suffice :stuck_out_tongue: ). However, not only did your wife actually see the problem, but she has made the decision to do something about it. Has someone been praying for her or for you both? I would never turn it down (I hope) and I would try to make it interesting to her. When was the last time you’ve been out?

Please avoid the trap of hoarding that time. That won’t lead to anything good. It’s true that if you don’t “use up” the time, she will conclude you don’t need it. But if you hoard it, she will feel bad about it and consequently you will also. Sometimes men will just want to be kept company, but will have nothing interesting to offer for that time and they won’t exactly be finding the time fulfilling on their own and to themselves, either. That’s how it went in my relationships, and in my sister’s. I can imagine there are ladies who struggly with it in their men, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be specific to one sex, but I tend to associate it with women. Men have different issues. Such as, well, hoarding the time together. For instance.

Once again congrats on taking it so well. I have bigger issues with it myself and I’ve had less extreme exposure than you.

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