Half of all marriages fail. Will yours?
Every year, millions of people say “I do”; their eyes shining with love, full of happy dreams of the future. They’ve crafted the perfect wedding hashtag and invited all their friends to witness their union.
And every year, millions of people end up in divorce court, hashing out the terms of their split, dreams dashed. It happened to Brad and Angie – and it can happen to you, too.
While there’s no way to predict whether your marriage will end up going the distance or not, experts say there are a few things you might be doing that set your relationship up to fail. Read on to find out whether you’re on the way to happily-ever-after, or have veered off toward the road to disaster.
1. Expecting marriage to end your loneliness
A lot of us get coupled up with the expectation that we’ll no longer be lonely. After all, once you’re married, you’ll have someone to go to sleep with every night and wake up with every morning, someone to go to the movies with and have dinner with, a date every New Year’s Eve…forever. How could you be lonely?
But in fact, marriage is not the cure for loneliness. And according to experts, there may not even be a cure for loneliness. “To be alive is to be lonely,” writes clinical psychologist Dr Kelly Flanagan.
“Marriage doesn’t change the human condition. And when it doesn’t, we blame our partner for doing something wrong.”
Instead, Flanagan says that marriage, rather than being an end to loneliness, should be viewed as “a place where two humans share the experience of loneliness.”.
2. Putting the kids first
Sure, kids demand a lot of attention. But giving them priority over your marriage is a mistake.
You might think that since your partner is an adult, he can fend for himself, and since your kids actually depend on you for survival, they should come first. But doing this not only endangers your marital bond, it risks turning your children into entitled brats who think they rule the roost – because they do.
Author Judith Beck puts it this way; “parents need not, and should not, sacrifice their needs for the sake of their children.”
Psychiatrist Micelle Goland explains that many women make the mistake of thinking if they’re a good mother, “their husband will be fine and he will understand. But in reality, the husband may feel pushed out of the parenting role.” As a result, he “begrudgingly gives up trying to have a relationship with his wife.”
3. Thinking love should be easy
It feels like a little bit of a tired cliché to say that relationships are hard work, but – relationships are hard work. There’s just no way around it. The question many of us have is, how hard should it be?
Couples therapist and psychotherapist Dr Cynthia Pizzulli says that “even the best relationships have conflicts,” but that those conflicts don’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with your relationship.
“As children, we’re taught that bad feelings are abnormal, and that you should fear them, and make them go away,” explains Pizzulli. But she cautions couples against trying to avoid negativity. The key, she says, is to remember what you’re fighting for – your relationship.
“When you forget that you love someone while you are fighting, you get overwhelmed and overworked.”.
4. Playing the defensive position
When we feel attacked, the first thing most of us do is go on the defensive. But instead of giving in to that knee-jerk reaction, try listening to your partner, without trying to defend yourself.
Dr John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, calls defensiveness one of the ‘Four Horsemen’ that can lead to the end of a marriage. While the person doing the defending might think he or she is justified, and is simply trying to get their SO to back down, Gottman says being defensive is really just a way of blaming your partner and telling them that you don’t take their feelings seriously, which can spell death for your relationship bond.
5. Bringing your baggage with you
Let’s face it: we all bring some baggage into our relationships. How could it be otherwise? We’ve been hurt, we’ve hurt others, we’ve lived a little – or a lot. But if you’re dragging around issues from your past relationships or your childhood and letting them interfere with your here and now, you could be sabotaging your marriage.
Want a good illustration of this? Statistics show about 50 per cent of marriages today end in divorce, about 67 per cent of second marriages fail, and about 73 per cent of third marriages are doomed. Why? Probably because people getting married for a second or third time are carrying around a lot more baggage.
While it’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to shed your baggage completely, a good therapist can help you unpack most of it, giving your marriage a fighting chance of survival.
6. Not paying attention
Sometimes marriages don’t end because people can’t stop fighting. Sometimes they end because no one cares enough to bother fighting anymore. Sam Margulies, a divorce lawyer, has worked with over 4,000 couples who were in the midst of splitting up. He says that most of the time, the decision to divorce comes down to one thing: boredom.
“Marriages don’t die with a bang,” says Margulies. “They quietly tiptoe away, and are gone before you know they left. Marriages die slowly under the gradually rising wave of distracted indifference.”
His advice? “Pay attention!”
So don’t settle for a sex-starved marriage, and don’t lose your identity to your relationship. Try to remember what drew you to each other in the first place. Most divorcing couples, says Margulies, will be married again within five years, thinking they’ve finally found ‘the one’. But it’s also very possible you’ve already found ‘the one’ – and you just need to open your eyes and try a little harder.
Comment: Are you divorced or separated? What was your number one relationship killer?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.