Why Marriages Fail

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by an educational video company. They are making a video about marital infidelity and wanted my opinions on why couples - after standing in front of a minister, priest, rabbi or judge and exchanging promises of fidelity - cheat on each other. There is even now a website dating service that caters exclusively to married people. Their motto is - "life is short, have an affair." It has tens of thousands of users.  

In the course of this interview I said, and as far as I know this listing of reasons is original with me, that marriages fail for one of four reasons. Briefly, here they are. 

First, people don't have the time and space in their lives. Marriage takes time and space. It is very like having a garden in your back yard. You need the right kind of soil, the right kind of sunlight exposure and water. Also required is the desire for a garden and the willingness to "work it." 

Second, people based what they want on how they feel. When the "romance is off the bloom," as the saying goes, people think something has gone wrong with their marriage. Romance is a wonderful game to know how to play and it does keep a marriage vital and vitalizing. However, anyone who has been married over six months (sometimes shorter!) knows what it is like to want to cheerfully kill his or her spouse. If we all acted on our feelings, most of us would be in prison. 

Third, people are trying to avoid being hurt. This one is difficult to put into a few words. Here goes: People, all of us, get wounded in childhood. Some more so than others. In an effort to keep from re-experiencing these hurts again in adulthood, some people wall off part of their hearts. As one of my teachers said, "You can be open to love and protect your heart from pain at the same time. 

Fourth, people lack the skill set. Marriage is a skill. My metaphor for a good marriage is that it is like playing tennis. There are a lot of skills - social, physical and mental that are required to play tennis. It doesn't "just happen." The most important skill in a good marriage is knowing how to talk. Most people think they are above average talkers. My experience as a counselor is that most people are not. If you want to gain in this skill, look at Susan Scott's book "Fierce Conversations." It is not a "self-help" book. You'll find it in the management section of your local bookstore.  

Hope you find these suggestions helpful.