I'm looking for an expression describing a situation when two people stay married to each other even though it would be better for them and others if they separated.

The primary reason are perverted ideas of fidelity. The correct version can be formulated like this: If you have a working relationship that doesn't harm you and others, you shouldn't destroy it by having affairs with other people.

However, if the relationship

  • does not work and/or
  • harms someone,

it may be a good (not immoral) idea to terminate it.

Example 1: Think of a couple with two kids. Wife and husband hate each other. This has been going for so long and the hatred runs so deep that no therapy can change this, especially because both are extraordinary liars. They fight regularly, but don't even think about a divorce. There is no physical violence, but only because the husband channels his rage in destroying furniture instead of hitting the wife.

The kids are constantly terrified and grow up with a bunch of complexes (like aversion to relationships and marriage). In this case it would be better for the kids (no fights, no trauma), if both marriage partners separated peacefully.

Example 2: A woman is regularly hit and/or raped by her husband. She refuses to call the police because she thinks that by doing so she would violate her duties as a wife.

What are good words or expressions describing the perverted understanding of fidelity?

One time I heard an expression in Russian meaning roughly Your fidelity is worse than adultery (Ваша верность хуже измены). It's too soft. I'm looking for something more dramatic. Slang, regional expressions, and obscenities are welcome.

  • Uh… Pardon? This seems to be about morality or philosophy, not language. What did I miss, please? Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 22:15
  • 1
    Even though this is a well thought out question, I think you haven't gotten an answer because no such expression exists in English.
    – KumaAra
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 6:39

6 Answers 6


"Misguided loyalty" is a fairly common expression for this situation.

Some of what you describe probably also falls under "Codependency".


Having thought some more about this, a false sense of duty appears to me to best describe such situations.


Similar to a "classic" partnership of convenience, just change the variables from money/home to fear/suffering.


Example 1 suggests the parents are staying together for the children or for the sake of the children (e.g.)

Example 2 could be an example of Battered Woman Syndrome


You mentioned you wanted something with a dramatic slant, how about

Toxic Interdependence


Bob and Alice hated one another to the point of murder. The children crept about the house like terrified mice. The neighbors often called the police. Nevertheless, divorce was out of the question. Bob and Alice were bound by pathological loyalty to one another.

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