The Disparaged Marriage: Sometimes it’s NOT Like the Horse and Carriage


Ken Donaldson: The Disparaged Marriage: Sometimes it’s NOT Like the Horse and Carriage

Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage

~Love and Marriage by Frank Sinatra
(lyrics by Sammy Cahn and music by Jimmy Van Heusen)

What destroys more marriages than anything else? Likewise, what is the number one most common cause of divorce?

Go ahead, take a guess.

Or better yet, is there ONE cause that underlies all divorce?

I have to admit and take ownership upfront: I am looking for a common cause and I have a preconceived notion what it might be. Therefore, I may be a bit biased in my approach. BUT, I am also more interested in discovering the cause(s) of divorce and will do my best to put my own ideas (a.k.a. ego) aside.

In a recent and VERY informal Facebook poll, here’s a list of what people reported to be the most common marriage destroyers (in no particular order):

  • Trust issues
  • Finances: hardships/pressures/lack of openness
  • Infidelity
  • Raising kids
  • Alcoholism/drug abuse
  • Indifference
  • Honesty (lack of)
  • Acceptance (of self and each other)
  • Knowing who YOU are first and loving self FIRST
  • Lack of forgiveness
  • Abuse: verbally, mentally, emotionally, physically, religiously
  • Overly controlling
  • Lack of communication and emotional expression
  • Too much taking/not enough giving
  • Overly judgmental
  • Lack of compromise
  • Not feeling safe to express self
  • Unwilling to be introspective
  • Taking spouse for granted
  • Lack of self-respect/self-worth/self-confidence
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of/lessening passion
  • Lack of commitment to work through “issues”
  • Selfishness
  • Intimacy issues
  • Sexual conflicts
  • Unresolved trauma
  • Lack of emotional regulation
  • Unresolved issues projected onto partner

Whew! Those are ALL powerful dynamics that could certainly be destroyers in any relationship.

These responses come from a fairly diverse group of people who have only one common denominator: They’re all connected to me on Facebook. Other than that, the demographics are mostly dissimilar. They cover a broad spectrum of ages, they are different genders, and have a multitude of different career paths, spiritual practices and personal beliefs.

(Note: There are, however, a few more psychotherapists who responded due to me having more social media connections with those in the field.)

I picked three sources from a very quick, down-and-dirty Google search (“top causes of divorce” was the search term and these were three of the sources listed on the first page of responses); therefore this is NOT comprehensive and may lack some statistical relevance.

Although one source, Huffington, is more anecdotal, the other two, The Austin Institute and Utah State University, seem to be grounded in reliable and valid statistical research.

With the results mixed, stirred and correlated together, the following turned out to be the top causes of divorce (again, in no particular order):

  • Lack of commitment
  • Inability to resolve conflicts
  • Infidelity
  • Marrying too young
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of equality in the relationship
  • Lack of preparation for marriage
  • Abuse – physical or emotional
  • Disappearing intimacy
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Not having a shared vision of success
  • Unmet expectations
  • Different priorities and interests

Take a deep breath. And now keep reading.

According to the Austin Institute, the following were the top reasons given for divorce, along with the frequency:

  • Infidelity by either party: 37% (28% spouse’s infidelity)
  • Spouse unresponsive to your needs: 32%
  • Grew tired of making a poor match work: 30%
  • Spouse’s immaturity: 30%
  • Emotional abuse: 29%
  • Financial priorities/spending patterns: 24%
  • Alcohol and drug abuse: 23%

The Utah State University came up with the following top reasons, which are somewhat different and apparently they used a different measuring/statistical assessment tool:

  • Lack of commitment: 73%
  • Too much arguing: 56%
  • Infidelity: 55%
  • Marrying too young: 46%
  • Unrealistic expectations: 45%
  • Lack of equality in the relationship: 44%
  • Lack of preparation for marriage: 41%
  • Abuse: 29%

Additionally, and again according to the Utah State University report, the following are considered to be the top eight highest “risk factors” (precursors) for divorce:

  • Young age
  • Less education
  • Less income
  • Premarital cohabitation
  • Premarital childbearing and pregnancy
  • No religious affiliation
  • Parents divorced
  • Insecurity

Is there a common thread that underlies all these?

It’s a definite maybe and for sure perhaps.

All kidding aside, I think so, but again, I’m a bit of a “hammer” and, therefore, I’m going to tend to spot the “nails” first and foremost.

If you were asked what the one common denominator was, you might say, as many would, I suspect, “Poor communication.”

And I would agree. Sorta. A little bit.

My answer (drum roll please) isn’t one thing…it’s two (sorry):

  • Emotionally mismanaged communication, which falls under the umbrella of
    Emotional Intelligence
  • Relational illiteracy

And starting with #1, what exactly is Emotional Intelligence? Here are the 5 “simple” (but not necessarily “easy”) steps:

  1. Knowing your feelings
  2. Knowing how to appropriately express your feelings
  3. Recognizing others’ feelings
  4. Knowing how to appropriately respond to others’ feelings
  5. Knowing how to appropriately connect your emotional state (your feelings) with others’ emotional states (their feelings)

Pretty darn simple, right?

Yes, but NOT always easy.


Because our emotions often override our logical and rational thinking.

AND because our emotions often override our logical and rational thinking.

Yes, that was repeated intentionally.

The emotional part of our brain is directly connected to our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight mechanism) and will often overreact to potential threats, thereby, superseding our most rational thinking.

This fight or flight/sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as “the caveman brain.”

The caveman brain is the same brain as that of the cave people who roamed our planet thousands of years ago. AND, the caveman brain is basically the same brain, and response mechanisms, that we have today.

Bottom line: We are wired in a way that makes it very easy to overreact to potential threats and thereby NOT respond rationally.

What is a potential threat? It could be almost anything and is different for each and every person depending on his or her history, conditioning and physiological wiring. AND it could also depend on each situation and person’s frame of mind.

Therefore: There is almost an endless array of situations that can trigger the “caveman brain” to react unnecessarily and inappropriately.

In a marriage, either or both people can react to each other and to their own conscious or subconscious conditioning, as well as their unique physiological function and, voilà, the very high potential for a relationship crisis.

All which leads to #2: Relational illiteracy, which is really just a nice way of stating “relational ignorance.”

Let’s face it; very few people have much, if any, training or schooling in the art of happy, healthy and harmonious relationships.

In our mainstream education there is virtually nothing to help children, teens or young adults learn healthy relationship skills.

Many people have come from dysfunctional family situations that include alcoholism, drug addiction, physical/sexual/emotional/mental abuse, mental illness, incest, etc.

I think you get the picture.

Plus, add to that what the media, and “celebrities,” portray and report about relationships: Affairs, cheating, violence, betrayal, etc.

Where do we get healthy information about relationships and/or marriage?

It’d be great to have a really good reliable answer to that question, but there isn’t one. You’ll have to go far off the beaten path to find that for yourself. However, by doing just that for yourself, and then teaching your children emotional and relational intelligence skillsets, you’ll create the greatest legacy you possibly can.

Add together a lack of emotional intelligence and a surplus of relational illiteracy and what you’ll get is fertile ground for the seeds of divorce to grow like weeds in a garden.

Take a look back at all the lists, from Facebook and the three other sources and you tell me what you see.

Here’s the deal: Change can happen but people must change in order to change. I know that sounds funny and simple, but it’s true.

Want to do something to help promote positive change in marriage and all relationships? Here are some thoughts and ideas:

  • Start with yourself first.
  • Review your own emotional and relational patterns.
  • Read, research and find out all you can about emotional intelligence and healthy relationships.
  • Practice what you learn.
  • Hire a coach and/or a counselor to help you through rough spots or areas that you can’t seem to change yourself.
  • Start a support group with others who also want to improve their emotional and relational intelligence.
  • Have a “Pay It Forward” mentality: Help three (or more) other people improve their emotional and relational intelligence. Then ask them to help three other people and pass it on.
  • And, here’s the shameless promotion: Invest in a copy (or two) of Marry YourSelf First! I wrote it for people like you who are trying to make their relationship choices healthier and their relationship future happier.


And breathe. A lot. And repeat as needed.