If you Google the question “why do marriages end”, you will find thousands of articles that list anywhere from 10 to 100 reasons. If you like lists and you have a curiosity for the human condition, these articles may interest you.
Huffington Post published an article a few years back titled ‘The Number 1 Reason Marriages Fail’ and although I disagree with the reason that was cited, I absolutely agree with the broader premise that marriages do not end because of some abrupt change of heart or mind. Marriages end because of deeper rooted issues, a lot of which are not covered in the endless list-laden articles.
I’d like to ask an even deeper rooted question. What are 3-4 problems that no marriage can withstand? On one hand, this is a question with no right or wrong answers. We could line up a thousand divorcees, all of whom could express that their marriage was irreparable and cite the reasons why. They would all be right, strictly from a personal lens. The reasons were justifiable to them and no one, regardless of their expertise, would have the right to judge the validity of the divorce.
All of this said, I’m going to go there anyway. While I refuse to discount any individuals rationale for divorcing, especially without the benefit of their perspective and context, I will go on record to say that there are but a few problems that no marriage can survive. Let me also add that while two people may stay together despite the existence of these problems, this does not mean that they should stay together or that they will be happy like a married couple should be.
So without further ado, the list:
Problem 1: Any physical abuse and any prolonged mental or verbal abuse
I never have to think about whether or not abuse is a complete showstopper because it undeniably is. When a spouse physically abuses their partner, they are sending very specific messages. Let’s lay them out.
I do not respect you enough to not hit you
I do not respect our union enough to manage issues in a constructive manner
I do not care about how this physical abuse will affect our relationship going forward
I do not care about how this physical abuse will affect your confidence and your sense of safety and security
And for anyone that pipes in, “it was a sudden switch, they couldn’t help it and they’re sorry”, let me state rather emphatically; perhaps the specific decision to hit their partner was sudden but there was pent-up rage that could and should have been dealt with through other means. If that rage was dealt with prior, the physical abuse would’ve been non-existent. I’ll also add that most abusers do not change their ways, especially if the abuse yields no real consequences to them.
With regards to mental and verbal abuse, I used the word ‘prolonged’ because I do believe that there can be moments where a partner loses their cool and says something stupid, even very hurtful. That said, my definition of prolonged is 3-6 months–anything longer than that and I go back to my point about how a spouse chooses to deal with their pent-up rage as well as the affect the abuse is having on their partner.
To sum up my issues with abuse, let me give you the short and sweet version. When we tolerate abuse, we are tolerating a partner using violent means by which to deal with issues and we are teaching them that such violence is tolerable to us. This is a recipe for disaster.
Problem 2: Infidelity
Much like abuse, infidelity is another easy showstopper for me. I have written many articles on this matter. The simple reason, much like abuse, is that you teach people how to treat you. A couple of my other reasons are going to sound like a broken record.
They did not respect you enough to not cheat on you
The did not respect the union enough to manage issues in a manner other than cheating
They will very likely cheat again, especially if the cheating did not yield a considerable consequence
In addition to all of this, your confidence will suffer and you will never fully heal while staying with someone who decided that you were not good enough for them
Problem 3: Unresolved relationship CPR
Relationship CPR (children, politics, and religion) is complicated. Prior to getting married, two people should really have the talk to ensure that they are either aligned in these three areas or that any differences are not going to lead to relationship trouble down the road. Unfortunately, this does not occur as often as it should.
Fast forward 2-3 years into the marriage and one of the three issues may just rear its ugly head. If left unresolved, it will eventually cripple a marriage. I’ve had clients that never really had the conversation about children only come to a complete stalemate when they realize that one person wants them emphatically and the other does not. This is not something two people can simply shrug off. Ditto for politics, as we are finding out in thousands of marriages across the country post Election 2016.
Relationship CPR is a real thing. I made the term up to describe the constant resuscitation that is required in relationships that have unresolved issues around children, politics, and religion. In some cases, the marriage may continue but it is on constant life support.
Problem 4: Prolonged lack of intimacy
This is always an interesting one to me because we’ve all known couples that rarely, if ever, have sex. And yet, they stay married. It is this situation that really made me caveat that some couples choose to stay married but they are not happy. In this, the institution of marriage may have survived but the intent did not.
If two people lack the physical, intellectual, and emotional intimacy that is such a strong and longing connection in marriage, they will eventually revert to being room mates, ships in the night, or, worse yet, silent but frustrated people that choose to find their needs from other sources (see Problem 2 above). This is not sustainable.