Is your marriage suffering from one of them?
We’ve all heard the statistics about how many marriages end in divorce. It’s a lot; we get it. But why do so many marriages fail? Even for those of us who’ve been through a divorce, it can be hard to articulate exactly why our marriages failed. I was married for ten years, and for at least eight of those, I’d have told you my marriage was great – and I’d have believed it.
After I got divorced, and even though I was the one who’d initiated it, I struggled to understand exactly why it hadn’t worked out. Was it because he was 17 years older than me? Because we had financial stress? Because we had poor communication? Or were we just wrong for each other; essentially incompatible in some way?
Maybe it was all of those things – but somehow none of them felt like the real reason. Probably there wasn’t just one reason. But what I know for sure is that there are a lot of reasons people get divorced that don’t get a lot of air time. We hear about infidelity, midlife crises, and sex-starved marriages, and we understand why those relationships end. But here are eight unspoken reasons marriages fail. Do any of them apply to your marriage?
1. Going into it with a ‘we’ll see’ attitude
Sure, marriage is supposed to be ’til death do us part,’ but a lot of us don’t actually mean those words when we say them. We mean, ‘until we doesn’t feel like being married anymore.’ In the back of our mind, we know we can get divorced if it’s not working out. And therein lies the problem. When you have an escape hatch, you’re less inclined to stick out a tough time, because you know you have an out. Lydia Netzer, author of the viral blog post, 15 Ways To Stay Married For 15 Years, says you’ve got to let go of the idea that marriage is temporary. “Accept that you’re going to stay with him. He’s going to stay with you. Inhabit that and figure out how to make that work, instead of living with the ‘what if’s and ‘in case of’s.”
2. Holding grudges
In any relationship, there will be times when your partner screws up. They’ll do something thoughtless, say something mean, behave selfishly, even betray you. And chances are, you’ll do the same to them. Love definitely doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry. In fact, it means saying you’re sorry all the time – or at least, anytime you do something to hurt your spouse, inadvertently or otherwise. But even more important than saying you’re sorry is learning to accept an apology and truly forgive your partner. That means letting the hurt go, and not nursing a grudge. Holding on to anger hurts you even more than it hurts your partner; but ultimately, it hurts your relationship most of all. So listen to the wisdom of journalist Robert Quillen, who said, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
3. Not being willing to change
You’re never supposed to marry someone hoping you can change them; you’re supposed to expect them to stay the same as they are. On the other hand, you can’t expect someone never to change, if you’re planning to be with them for the rest of your life. The key is not to try to change your partner, but to be willing to accept them as they change, and to be willing to change along with them – not in the same exact ways, necessarily, but in ways that will strengthen your union. Nothing is more frustrating than coming to your partner with an unmet need or desire, only to be answered with “this is the way I am, and I’m never going to change.” Loving someone means listening to them, and being open to changing your point of view in order to accommodate them.
4. Forgetting that you’re friends
The basis of any really strong marriage is a good friendship. Relationship coach Sharon Sadler, of the SOS Marriage Network, told Essence that couples should “approach marriage with friendship at the forefront, and learn to be able to communicate with our partners from a friend perspective, without always being so easily offended.” Think about it – don’t you let your girlfriends get away with saying things to you that would make you angry coming out of your partner’s mouth? We cut our friends a lot more slack than we do our lovers, and for good reason. We’re more vulnerable with our spouses; we expect them to know us better than our friends do, and we trust them not to hurt us. But remember, your partner isn’t just your lover; he’s your friend, too.
5. Expecting it to be easy
Marriage is hard work; anyone who says it isn’t, is lying. And no matter how much you think you mean the ‘for better or for worse’ part of your wedding vows, no one is ever prepared for how hard it can really be. Let’s face it: there are some things about marriage that just plain suck. You’ve got to be willing to put in the work. “Why do we think we don’t need any skills when going into a marriage?” asks Sadler. “What other job do we sign up for without any training?” She advises couples to set aside time for each other, in which you give your partner undivided attention and talk through any issues that may have come up lately. Couples counseling and relationship self-help books can help, too. Be willing to put in the time; if you want your marriage to last, it’s worth it.
6. Not being honest
Of course, lying to your partner is a pretty obvious reason your relationship might fall apart. But I’m not talking about that. In fact, sometimes a little bit of deception is healthy for a relationship. No, the more common problem is that people aren’t honest with themselves about what they need. And if you can’t tell yourself the truth, how can you tell it to your partner? “We come from different backgrounds and expect different things and never communicate that to our partners,” says Sadler. But the first step is to figure out the truth for yourself. Is there something you need from your partner that you aren’t getting, but you’re afraid to bring it up? Are you angry all the time, and you’re not sure why so you never talk to your partner about it? Individual therapy can be just as important – maybe even more important than – couples therapy. Get to know yourself, so your partner can know you, too.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” That’s from the Bible, the gospel of John. Unfortunately, only God can love perfectly. We lowly humans are stuck with imperfect love, and it’s often riddled with fear. Opening yourself up to someone and being vulnerable is fucking scary. Loving someone, and letting them love you, is courageous. And all of us have the power to be courageous, because having courage doesn’t mean not being scared. It means being terrified, and going ahead and doing the scary thing anyway. “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without, and know we cannot live within,” James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time. Plenty of marriages have failed because one or both partners were too chicken to take off their masks.
8. Not knowing yourself
This goes along with being honest and facing your fears, but it’s something else, too: some people just aren’t cut out for marriage. Society places a huge amount of pressure on people to couple up, marry, and have children. But being married isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. Some of us would rather be on our own, not having to answer to anyone or be tied down. Some people never meet anyone they really want to settle down with, but they do anyway, because they think they’re supposed to. And maybe these marriages actually should fail. Divorce isn’t the end of the world – and if you’re not in it 100 percent, is it really fair to your partner to keep on pretending? Couples counselor Jaynay Johnson tells Essence that some people “never explored what they like or need, and…others go with what their family thinks is good for them. These people date who looks good on paper for the family and for a societal image. My advice to overcome this is to take your time getting to know and love yourself.”
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Comment: Do you see any of these in your relationship?
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