Why great marriages fall


Despite their destructive effect on individuals and children alike, affairs continue to happen with alarming frequency. Moral failings among leaders are becoming an epidemic. Interestingly, one of the hardest challenges for anyone is to remain grounded in the face of such moral decay.

Following the media reports concerning the marriage break up of couples like Shriver and Schwarzenegger after 25 years of marriage, it leaves many wondering how couples lose the love they found earlier in their dating period.

There are a many reasons why marriages come to an end. For example, the relationship may start to feel stale and unfulfilled. In other cases lack of proper conflict management, arguments on money issues and children becomes the order of the day. As the initial spark starts to go dim and finally goes out altogether, there is really nothing left to wait for.

Relationship expert Dr Harriet Lerner explains that the recipe for failure in a marriage is waiting for the other person to change. “When approaching the actions you should take before choosing to break up, it’s important to adopt the attitude that the only person you can truly change is yourself,” says Lisa Firestone, PhD. Whatever future the relationship holds, we will be empowered by the fact that one has the ability to change oneself, adds Lisa.

One day, during a counselling session, a frustrated wife painfully expressed her feelings: “Why did he give up so much for so little? We worked so hard for what we had together there was so much going for us. Why did he have to compromise all these for that ‘worthless’ woman?” She lamented.


In reality, she is one of the many spouses out there that are crying out and wondering what happened. When one or both spouses resorts to adultery or abuse the emotional pain can at times become unbearable for the couple and the children. The productivity, dreams, and investments suddenly come to an end. The loss that the fall has on the children and marital union could take months or possibly years to rebuild; in some cases never.

There are reasons spouses make bad choices that end up costing their marriage. These choices, if not well made lead to a failed marriage.

Failing to deal with ‘the little foxes’

Great marriages fall when the couple fails to deal with ‘the little foxes’. Most of the bad choices we make in relationships originate from one thought, one decision, or the one bad move we may make at some point.

Putting this in perspective, Joyce Meyer argues: “Compromise means to go just a little bit below what you believe is right. It’s just a little bit, but it’s the little foxes that spoil the vine.“ As a result, every couple must discover their little foxes and come up with ways of dealing with them in the initial stages.

When these little foxes are allowed to gain ground, the marriage starts to lose its spark, and we begin to feel indifferent, we drift apart, and with time the marriage suffers and dies.

But, if we are seriously committed to growing a strong relationship, we must work to avoid joining the statistics of failed relationships. TF Hodge warns: “You cannot build a dream on a foundation of sand. To weather the test of storms, it must be cemented in the heart with uncompromising conviction.”

Failing to Examine Oneself

Great marriages fail when spouses do not learn to examine themselves. We must require the same measure of what we require of others from ourselves. Relationships are dynamic and regularly growing. Therefore, examining one’s life is an essential part to growth and peaceful co-existence.

We are changing as a result of the changing environment we are subjected to, friends we meet, and exposure we face in life. The beliefs and convictions we could have developed from our upbringing and our experiences play a part in what we later believe and finally think we deserve in life.

Such beliefs and convictions carried from our upbringing or exposure can affect our self-esteem and this in turn interferes with our choices when it comes to healthy relationships. Each spouse must demonstrate that they are personally responsible for their life, their actions and inactions. If we learn how to examine our actions, we will save ourselves from falling prey to the negative things in our environment and in turn save both our lives and relationships.

To do this well, it is important to question oneself: Is my integrity in check? Am I surrounded by compromisers? Do I easily give into compromise? Do I become defensive when my integrity is questioned? Do I have an ethical code? How effective is my accountability? It is important to realise that, our power of choice can be our greatest blessing and curse at the same time.

Some relationships are chosen based on the fear of being alone, fear of being rejected by society and a search for acceptance. When we are driven by these feelings , we usually get into relationships to satisfy unhealthy emotional needs. Such choices only serve to create damage, hurt and pain. This in turn leaves us feeling powerlessness and insecure. Self examination gives us the power to appreciate, empower self, and stand for the right convictions.

Failing to Think Before You Act

Great marriages fall when spouses fail to think through stuff before they act. Being true to ourselves is the best place to start in any relationship. You may have heard a friend whose relationship failed say, “How come I never saw this coming? How could I be so blind?” Others blame themselves saying, “Can you imagine, I saw this when we were dating! Why didn’t I walk away?”

Napoleon Hill warns us to think twice before we speak, because our words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in other people’s minds. While Randi G, Phd, alludes to the fact that, committed couples regularly say negative things to each other that they wouldn’t say to anyone else. He adds that, “Without apparent forethought, they casually communicate critical comments they would never have uttered when their love was new.”

We need not take each other for granted. Some spouses, when made aware of their communication, end up wondering how they could have deteriorated to that extent. While with others actually communicate this way deliberately to make a point, “I am through with you! I have had it with you.” The issue is, “What happened to civility?” And to being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to get angry.”

We can tolerate our friends and even other associates at work or in business but never our spouses. Why is that so? Randi concludes that, such statements “cause cumulative damage that will eventually affect the couple’s ability to regain their once intimate connection.”

Our thinking and actions must be guided by our values. A person’s core values will affect all the decisions and choices they make in life, including choice of friends, religion, political beliefs, career choices, kind of lifestyle they embrace, how they communicate and relate with others.

“If one spouse discovers that they value a simple lifestyle while their partner values sophisticated one, it really does not matter how well they communicate, their basic life orientation will present constant opportunities for conflict,” states Susan Vogt.

It is all about what the values they hold. If a couple discovers their shared values and builds on them, their relationship has a good chance of navigating the rough waters of life and being successful. When we are not clear about what we believe in and what our values are, we end up just drifting through life. Since values form the bedrock on which the relationship sits, a couple that builds on such a foundation finds themselves connecting at a deeper level that results in deeper intimacy.

Failing to Stay Honest to Your Spouse

Great marriages fall when spouses fail to stay true to themselves and to each other. In relationships, when one spouse knows that they can totally trust their mate, it removes the burden of worry. According to Peggy Vaughan, honesty becomes the trump card that prevents affairs in relationships Knowing that your partner can implicitly trust you allows them to be their truest self, thus allowing the relationship to thrive. This is the key to a couple’s ability to navigate the ups and downs in the journey of marriage.

There are however many intruders that can interfere with marital love, thereby setting the marriage on a downward spiral. Such intimacy stealers, which must be defeated by every growing couple, include: distractions that take away your focus as a couple. Distractions could include addiction to work, placing career ahead of family, and friends who don’t add value to your marriage.

Second, is the realisation that, when nurtured, disappointment has the capacity to take away your faith in the marriage. According to Joyce Meyer, “When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.” So, before we allow disappointment to reign, we need to keep our focus on the positive things in the relationship. We have to realise that when we don’t, the disillusionment and discouragement we face will kill our marital dream.

However, someone once said, ‘On the other side of disillusionment comes the real marriage.’ Interestingly, disillusionment can arise out of silly little things such as being obsessed by certain habits of your spouse that annoy you. For example, “Is she continuing to be chatty about insignificant details while you are trying to watch news?” Or may be, “Is he such a perfectionist that he fusses about the cleaning not reaching his set standards?”

Failing to Address the Unfulfilled Needs

Great marriages fall when a couple fails to share their unfulfilled expectations and look for ways of addressing them. To begin with, it is selfish to just wait on your spouse to fulfill your needs.

If each part considered their partner’s needs above theirs then the relationship will have less of the unfulfilled needs. In fact it is unfair to think that our spouse should always meet all of our needs. We get into relationships with the wrong notion that all of our needs will be met by one person.

Sadly, this doesn’t end up being the case; your spouse is human, not divine. Your spouse may be great but when it comes to relationships, we exhibit pride and selfishness when we think only of ourselves and our needs.

Personally, when it comes to serving my wife, I normally place her needs before mine. This somehow has always worked to add spice to our marriage.

Comparing your marriage to others

In our desire to monitor the performance of the marriage, we may end up comparing our situation with that of others. Doing this will only lead to jealousy and competition. We have to realise that every person and therefore every marriage is different from the next one.

Even two sisters or brothers can never be the same in all areas. It is therefore unfair to take this path of comparing you marriage to that of others around you. While blaming one spouse for the deficit in the marriage, you would hear statements like: “I wish our marriage was like theirs” or “I wish my spouse was more outgoing like so and so” “Why can’t my husband/wife take care for me like so and so does for their partner?” The truth is, when we start comparing our marriage to other marriages, we set our relationships up for failure.

However, I am not against the borrowing great habits that could positively influence your relationship. One person said that when we compare, “we are taking what we know about our relationship and comparing it to what we don’t know about someone else’s.”

In fact, “Comparison is the death of joy” says Mark Twain. Comparing cause bitterness and dissatisfaction, and bring about feelings of disillusionment. According to Alina Makos, the problem with comparing yourself to other people is that you never have all of the information. Such comparisons only lead to jealousy and or a self-righteous attitude.

Be on guard against intruders

Finally, great marriages fall when they fail to deal with intruders. When look out for those who attempt to intrude and rob our relationship, we will help the marriage gain its footing in today’s crowded world and instead avoid the path of leading it to failure.

Falling is easy. In today’s world, one does not have to go far to look for a trap or tempting situation. With the onset of the fibre optic cables, social media and Hollywood, our tempter now shares a house and office with us. A couple, therefore, who will guard their relationship against falling, will have to: First, watch against their fleshly desires. The persons you flirt with is now at close proximity via our laptop, phone or house computer. The desire for virtual sex becomes the alternative as you become withdraw from your partner.

Every marriage partner must embrace and set clear boundaries for themselves. When you have clear boundaries, you know where you end and your partner begins, according to Dr H Cloud and Dr J Townsend.

Boundaries provide you with safe ground in which to grow your love together. Cloud and Townsend add that, “Marriage is first and foremost about love. It is bound together by the care, need, companionship, and values of two people, which can overcome hurt, immaturity, and selfishness to form something better than what each person alone can produce.”

Resisting the word ‘No’ from those in our relationship with us only helps in leaving us immature because of our inability to receive critique. The word ‘No’ keeps us accountable. “When boundaries are not established in the beginning of a marriage,” argues Dr Cloud and Townsend, “when they break down, marriages break down as well.” Healthy and growing couples must therefore embrace boundaries that address intruders by asking the following questions: 1) How involved are our in laws in our marriage? 2) When is my work environment becoming a danger zone or a trap, and what do I do? 3) What accountability do I have regarding my internet and social media usage? 4) Am I responsible for reigniting old flames? 5) Does my partner have an issue in the way I manage money? If so, in what ways are these issues having a hold on me? Have we made any effort to have in place personal and joint relational boundaries?

Today’s challenges have sent many marriages to their deathbeds. However, marriages that will grow and overcome these challenges must choose to be surrounded by a great supportive network of friends. Every spouse and therefore couple, must know when and which advisers to ignore and which are adding value to the marriage relationship. Couples on the path of growth must dare to rebel against factions working against their relationship’s wellbeing.