The American Psychological Association estimates that nearly fifty percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Whether you believe marriage is a sacrament or not, that is an astounding statistic.
Is there any hope? Of course there is, if we treat marriage as seriously as we treat other major life decisions like having children and pursuing a profession. Sadly, many people think of marriage as a step on the conveyor belt of life, with divorce as a vivid possibility.
Divorce is nearly inevitable if you and your partner can’t get around these five issues. And if you are considering marriage where any of these issues are present, maybe think of lovingly moving on instead.
1) Money: Without exception, every priest I’ve spoken to who performs premarital counseling (including one bishop) says the number one subject young couples seem completely baffled by is money. They truly believe their love can overcome any financial obstacle.
Then they plan a $35,000 cathedral wedding with a ballroom reception and spend the first five years of their marriage arguing about credit card bills. Most of us do not live off the land, so money equals survival, and feeling like our survival is threatened awakens ancient parts of the brain that do not give the faintest darling crap about your love. Primal biology almost always wins, and snarling, vicious fights are bound to happen.
Figure out how to talk about money long before saying “I do,” so you won’t end up paying a lawyer later.
2) Values: He insists your son have a bris and a bar mitzvah, you’re a secular humanist. She has a shrine to her ancestors, but you attend mass five days a week. Some people can handle profound divisions in spiritual and philosophical pursuits. Most cannot.
The more seriously you take your culture, faith, and lifestyle, the harder it will be for you to accept your spouse’s after the initial heady attraction and dreaming phase wears off. And even if you call yourself a lapsed Catholic or a Buddhist in name only, how will it affect the marriage if you have a resurgence of faith while your spouse posts Flying Spaghetti Monster memes on Facebook?
This can even be as simple as him living compassionately and her living combatively. Life approaches are not the same as “he likes fish and she hates all seafood”. They are ingrained, and you’ll spend the whole marriage trying to change your spouse. That is always a disaster.
3) Unrealistic Expectations: You knew she had lupus when you married her, but you want the house spotless every day. You were thrilled to marry a doctor/cop/fireman, but now you’re livid if he doesn’t make it home for dinner. These are unrealistic expectations.
We have such a hard time seeing past our physical attraction to people that we tend to forget that we like things a certain way. When we then marry somebody and hope they’ll meet our expectations despite them never showing any intention to do so during courtship, that’s on us. You need to adjust your expectations or work around them, lest you end up in court. Would you rather pay a housekeeper or an attorney?
4) Communication Issues: “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” “Oh God, you’re crying again? What now?” “You never…you always…I’m not speaking to you.”
All of the above statements, whether yelled at full volume or hissed between clenched teeth, indicate that Houston has a problem. Shutting down communication, minimizing and dismissing feelings, and all or nothing statements pretty much obliterate any chance of having a good understanding of each other.
The only thing possibly worse than this kind of “talk” is not talking at all. Do not be surprised if one day, one of you announces they are leaving. They’ve been stewing about it in silence for a long time.
5) Contempt: Contempt is the number one predictor of divorce according to top researchers. Once you have started thinking of your spouse as an irredeemable idiot who is not even worth your courtesy, you are almost guaranteed to file for divorce.
You may tell yourself that you would never be so horrid as to say something like that to your beloved, but you don’t have to actually say anything. You can think it, and researchers can pinpoint when you ARE thinking about it: right when you roll your eyes. If you are reacting to the things your spouse says and does (or doesn’t do) the same way a teenager reacts to a parent who’s just asked them to do something, you are more often than not displaying contempt.
Where a teenager might say “OMIGOD my parents are SOOOO dumb!”, an adult might say to a friend, “Why is my wife so stupid? Who forgets to empty the vacuum?!” or “What kind of man fails to put the gas cap back? What a moron!” You may even say something playful like “You’re lucky you’re cute,” but now you’ve just reduced your spouse to the stature of a yorkie who ate your shoe.
Hear yourself when you talk to your spouse and check your thinking. Just a little thoughtfulness could end up saving your marriage.