By: Kevin Martineau
Yesterday I came across an interesting article in the Vancouver Sun that listed the top 10 marriage killers. The results came out of highly unscientific study that included academics, counselors, men and women who had themselves been through a divorce.
The article is a little long so I am only going to share some of the study’s findings in this post. You can read the whole article here.
Top 10 marriage killers
(From “Hunting the elusive marriage-killer” by Tara Carman and Douglas Todd)
- In-laws and Out-laws.
Interference in the relationship by extended family members was the most frequently occurring theme in our discussions with divorcees on what breaks up marriages.
According to Vancouver-based relationship counselor John Boland, this is not simply a case of shifting the blame for the demise of the marriage onto someone else’s shoulders.
“It’s huge,” he said. “I think extended families can make it very difficult to stay happily married together.”
For a marriage to work, Boland said, the loyalty has to be to the couple hood and not to the extended family.
“But that’s really hard for a lot of people, especially when mother-in-laws or father-in-laws or other family members are undermining the marital relationship …”
- Under Pressure.
Pressure from family or society in general, can also influence the decision to tie the knot in the first place — leading some to get married not because they’re in love, but because it was what was expected of them.
Marrying the wrong person out of a sense of expectation or obligation was something all members of our informal focus group identified as a contributing, but not decisive, factor in their breakups.
Boland, however, said this may be something of a red herring.
“There is no magical right person,” Boland said. “There’s always work to do in any relationship, whether you get married at 18 or at 45, there’s always ways of growing and maturing together and working through your issues. Or not …”
- Failure to Grow.
… In Love in the Present Tense, relationship counselors Morrie and Arleah Shechtman argue that one of the most common marriage killers is the failure of one or both partners to grow as a person. “If your partner doesn’t grow, then he becomes boring to you. If you don’t grow, then you become boring to yourself.”
The Shechtmans emphasize it is essential for couples to share common core values. One of the most important of these, they say, is a mutual commitment to personal growth.
- Lack of Connection.
Constant bickering is one thing that can chip away at the intimacy at the heart of a healthy marriage, Boland said.
“If you’re having a lot of conflict about anything, whether it’s who cleans the bathroom or who takes care of the kids, that might not be the reason why people are saying they’re divorcing, but it kind of undermines the connection, the glue that keeps people together …”
As important as having some common interests is, however, partners should not try to mould the other person to them, expecting them to have all the same interests, said Boland. Partners can be quite different and still have a secure and long relationship …
- Child-Centric Relationships.
Another common mistake is thinking a child will be the glue that keeps a relationship together.
Boland puts what he calls a “child-centered family” at the top of his list of “ways to mess up.”
Parents allow their own relationship to become secondary, sacrificing marital satisfaction in a misguided attempt to be there for their kids, Boland said. In doing so, they not only shortchange themselves, but also their children.
“You can’t put marriage and intimacy on hold until your kid is 18,” Boland says. “What you want to model for your children is a healthy mom-and-dad connection …”
- Wandering Eyes.
Another common cause of marital strife Boland comes across in his therapy work is “when everybody else starts to look better.”
“It’s not really a fair contest” when a person who intimately knows their partner’s flaws starts fantasizing that another man or woman would be the really perfect partner, said Boland. “I see it all the time.”
- Avoiding Conflict.
Many couples incorrectly assume that if they’re not in conflict, they must be okay, Boland said.
“But avoiding conflict can easily lead to disconnection,” Boland said. “If there’s tension, it’s best to bring it up — to raise what’s bugging you in as kind a way as possible.”
- The Need to be Right.
But any relationship will have a much better chance if a couple doesn’t succumb to another marriage destroyer identified by Boland: The need to be right.
It’s not useful during times of tension to see your partner as either a “jerk,” “bitch” or “idiot.” Instead, Boland said, it’s crucial to shift to curiosity, to wondering why an apparently trivial issue has become so huge for your partner.
The key to a good lifelong relationship is to develop a genuine interest in one’s partner, he added.
- Lack of Honesty.
Our informal poll of Vancouverites with first-hand experience turned up a few other potential marriage breakers.
For rodeo announcer MacBeth, it was a lack of honesty that ended his marriage; something from his past that he hadn’t been completely open about with his wife.
“Once everything came out, it was a problem,” he said. “You have to be totally honest no matter what you get into.”
- Location, Location, Location.
As a man in his mid-20s desperate to escape the “boring” small-town life he saw his friends falling into, Spragg moved from England with his pregnant wife — a city girl from Manchester — to Port Alice, a logging community on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, in the late ’60s.
His wife was not happy about the move.
“That gave her a lot of stress. It gave me a lot of adventure, which was what I was looking for.”
The marriage lasted 16 years, but it never really recovered from that initial blow.
The physical space where a couple resides — whether that’s the city, the town or even the apartment they live in — can affect the success of the relationship, Spragg said, arguing that this is of particular concern in cities such as Vancouver where high housing prices sometimes result in couples living in cramped conditions.
A one-bedroom apartment or condo is too small for couples to have the space to pursue their own interests, he said.
Having a workshop to putter about in might have gone a long way to relieving some of the tension in his marriage, he said …
Most couples’ problems boil down to a deceptively simple factor.
For one of Canada’s leading couples therapists, Sue Johnson, formerly of the University of B.C. and now head of Ottawa’s Couple and Family Institute, most couples’ problems boil down to a deceptively simple factor.
The loss of that thing called “love.”
In her research into the neurobiology of bonding and attachment, Johnson is among those who have concluded, even in this cynical age, that love, indeed, is the answer.
In her book, Hold Me Tight, Johnson writes: “The demise of marriage begins with a growing absence of responsive, intimate interactions.”
And, more importantly, “lasting passion is entirely possible in love.”
But to flourish, it needs attention, Johnson says. It requires knowing yourself, and your partner.