The One Thing That Kills Most Marriages

My wife, Carlin, and I were enjoying a wonderful dinner at the new vegan Caribbean restaurant in Willits when a friend and his wife saw us eating outside. “How’s the food here?” Henry wanted to know. “It’s great,” we told them. “It’s real, authentic, handmade, and delicious.” As we chatted they introduced us to Henry’s brother and his wife. They were in town for the wedding of Henry’s daughter. “I just happen to have a picture,” Henry said as he scrolled through his smart phon

There was a lovely shot of his beautiful daughter in a stunning wedding gown looking up at her new husband. There is so much hope and desire in their eyes. As a marriage and family counselor who has been working with men and women for more than 40 years, I can’t help but see both sides of the future: Marriages that end and marriages that last.

  • Approximately 50% of first marriages end in divorce.
  • 75-80% of men and women who have a failed first marriage will remarry, usually within five years.
  • However, 66% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

Everyone who gets married says, “I do.” No one says, “I do…until…I don’t.” Everyone who gets married wants the “I do” to last “until death do we part,” but too often it ends before then. I know. It happened to me. Being a therapist, presumably an expert in understanding love and marriage, I thought I would beat the odds. But my first marriage lasted less than ten years and produced two great children. I followed the pattern and remarried after three years, but that marriage was short lived.

Before going for number three and facing the 73% divorce statistic, I decided I’d get to the bottom of what kills most marriages. I think I found the answer, at least one that made sense to me. I fell in love again and got married for the third time to a woman who had also been married twice before and had spent time learning how to have a marriage that lasts. All I can say is “so far, so good.” Carlin and I have been together now for 37 years. I can say we’re more in love now than ever and looking forward to another 37 years together and if there’s life after death, we hope to enjoy that together, as well.

So, what kills most marriages? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase. “I still love him/her, but I’m no longer in love with him/her anymore.” But that’s not the real killer. Falling out of love is just a symptom. The real killer is: “Stinkin’ Thinkin.’”

Let me explain. “Stinking, thinking” is a term often heard in addiction recovery circles and speaks to the way addict’s mind works in a way that often gets them in trouble. For instance, one common expression of “stinkin, thinkin,” is the thought “I’m only going to have one drink, no more.” For an alcoholic one drink is never enough. There’s a simple three step description that summarizes what happens.

  1. The man takes a drink.
  2. The drink takes a drink.
  3. The drink takes the man.

When our mind is in one state of consciousness we assume it will remain there. When we take the first drink our mind is unclouded by alcohol. But once we’ve take drink #1, we are now operating from an alcohol-impaired mind-set and for an alcoholic that is deadly.

We don’t often think about love and addiction together, but there are some similarities and they can lead to the kind of stinkin’ thinkin’ that can kill a marriage. George Bernard Shaw recognized the connection when he observed:

“When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

So, we now have some clues about the kind of stinkin’ thinkin’ that kills marriages:

“When I fall in love, it will be forever.” That’s a great lyric for a love song, but bad thinking for marriage.

“When I’m no longer in love, it means that all the real passion and pleasure that makes marriage worth all the stresses and strains, trials and tribulations, is over.”

“Without passion and pleasure, incompatibility sets in. We often become irritable, angry, and depressed. No one wants to be with someone they are incompatible with. It’s best to move on and find my real soul partner with someone who is a better fit for me.”

Fortunately, we can improve our thinking about love and marriage, based on new science rather than old love songs. In my book, The Enlightened Marriage, I share the things that I’ve learned that can lead to the kind of marriage that stays juicy and passionate through the years.

In my article, “The 5 Stages of Love and Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3”, I help people understand the ways in which our thinking has causes us to misperceive important truths about love and marriage. Once we understand what is really going on in all 5 stages we can re-order our thinking as follows:

  • “Falling in love is nature’s trick to get humans to pick a mate so that our species carries on. It is short lived in Stage 1.”
  • “Becoming a couple in Stage 2 has less to do with making love than building a life.”
  • “The disillusionment everyone goes through in Stage 3 does not mean you’ve picked the wrong partner. It means you are on the pathway to Stage 4, Real, Lasting Love.”
  • “You don’t have to give up on being in love. If you have the courage to hang in through the turbulent waters of Stage 3, Disillusionment, you have the opportunity to reclaim the passion and pleasure in Stage 4 after you’ve done the healing work necessary to live with a real lover, not a fantasy soul-mate.”
  • “In Stage 5, you get to embrace the “power of two” and learn how you two can save the world.”

All of this is quite simple, but simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Anyone who has been in a successful, long-term marriage, knows it’s hard as hell. And yes, there will be times marriage is heavenly. But there will also be times when you feel “I’m going through hell.” But at times like these it’s good to remember: “When you’re going through hell…don’t stop.”

It has been my joy to take men and women, at whatever stage they are, and teach them the skills they need to have a great marriage that lasts forever. Please come  your comments and questions below. You can also join me on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Rick Herranz Sr. says:

    Hey Big brother
    You are SPOT ON about recognizing the Symptom and then getting down to the Cause and Conditions of EACH OF OUR OWN MINDS is indeed STINKIN THINKIN and in my case I have only been married once. Dated a lot got married at 3o years of age had two kids then BLEW MYSELF UP in a addiction I did not want to deal with. Then I realized I did not have any SKILLS around Communication skills. Conflict resolution skills and a level of commitment to her. Also a TRAUMA SURIVOR I am facing that painful past this year in 2017. I was divorced in 2000. God I hope I can find a good relationship I love being in a Committed partnership. Thanks for SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCES with us.

  2. Thank you Jed, another great article and I’ll post on my Facebook page. You are awesome.

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