12 Marriage Killers
All that is needed to grow the most vigorous weeds is a small crack in the sidewalk.
by James Dobson, Ph.D.
Q. Would you identify some of the major “marriage killers” that are most responsible for the high divorce rate that plagues today’s families?
A. It would take perhaps 50 volumes to describe them all, and even then we would only scratch the surface. Any one of the following “dragons” can rip a relationship to shreds if given an opportunity to do so:
Overcommitment and physical exhaustion: Beware of this condition. It is especially insidious for young couples who are trying to get started in a profession or in school. Do not try to go to college, work full-time, have a baby, manage a toddler, fix up a house, and start a business at the same time. It sounds ridiculous, but many young couples do just that and are then surprised when their marriages fall apart. Why wouldn’t they? The only time they see each other is when they are worn out! Husbands and wives must reserve time for one another if they hope to keep their love alive.
Excessive credit and conflict over how money will be spent: We’ve said it before. Pay cash for consumable items or don’t buy. Don’t spend more on a house or a car than you can afford, leaving too few resources for dating, short trips, baby-sitters, etc. Allocate your funds with the wisdom of Solomon.
Selfishness: There are two kinds of people in the world, the givers and the takers. A marriage between two givers can be a beautiful thing. Friction is inevitable for a giver and a taker. But two takers can claw each other to pieces within a period of weeks. Selfishness will devastate marital partners in short order.
Unhealthy relationships with in-laws: If either the husband or wife has not been fully emancipated from the parents, it is best not to live near them. Autonomy is difficult for some mothers and fathers to grant, and close proximity is built for trouble.
Unrealistic expectations: Some couples come into marriage anticipating rose-covered cottages, walks down primrose lanes, and unmitigated joy. There is no way a marriage between two imperfect human beings can deliver on that expectation. The late counselor Jean Lush believed, and I agree, that this romantic illusion is particularly characteristic of American women, who expect more from their husbands than they are capable of providing. The consequent disappointment is an emotional minefield.
Space invaders: By space invaders, I am not referring to aliens from Mars. Rather, my concern is for those who violate the “breathing room” needed by their partners, quickly suffocating them and destroying the attraction between them. Jealousy is one way the phenomenon manifests itself. Another is a poor self-concept, which leads the insecure spouse to build a cage around the other. It often suffocates the relationship. Love must be free, and it must be confident.
Sexual frustration and its partner, the greener grass of infidelity: It is a deadly combination!
Business collapse: Failure in work does bad things to men especially. Their agitation over financial reverses sometimes precipitates anger within the family.
Business success: It is almost as risky to succeed wildly as it is to fail miserably in business. King Solomon wrote: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread” (Proverbs 30:8). Edward Fitzgerald said it another way: “One of the saddest pages kept by the recording angel is the record of souls that have been damned by success.”1 It’s true.
Getting married too young: Girls who marry between 14 and 17 years of age are more than twice as likely to divorce as those who marry at 18 or 19 years of age. Those who marry at 18 or 19 are 1.5 times as likely to divorce as those who marry in their 20s.2 The pressures of adolescence and the stresses of early married life do not mix well. Finish the first before taking on the second.
Alcohol and substance abuse: These are notorious killers, not only of marriages, but of the people who indulge excessively. Research indicates that 40 percent of all Americans and Canadians are close family members of an alcoholic.3
Pornography, gambling, and other addictions: It should be obvious to everyone that the human personality is flawed. It has a tendency to get hooked on destructive behaviors, especially early in life. During an introductory stage, people think they can tamper with various enticements, such as pornography, gambling, hard drugs, etc., without being hurt. Indeed, many do walk away unaffected. For some, however, there are a weakness and a vulnerability that are unknown until too late. Such people then become addicted to something that tears at the fabric of the family. This warning may seem foolish and even prudish to my readers, but I’ve made a 20-year study of those who wreck their lives. Their problems often begin in experimentation with a known vice and ultimately end in death … or the death of a marriage.
These are a few of the common marriage killers. But in truth, the list is virtually limitless. All that is needed to grow the most vigorous weeds is a small crack in the sidewalk. If you are going to beat the odds and maintain an intimate, long-term marriage, you must take the task seriously. The natural order of things will carry you away from one another, not bring you together.