The 9 Most Overlooked Threats to a Marriage

I feel bad for marital communication, because it gets blamed for everything. For generations, in survey after survey, couples have rated marital communication as the number one problem in marriage. It’s not…


Photo Credit: no lurvin here. via Compfight cc

Marital communication is getting a bad rap. It’s like the kid who fights back on the playground. The playground supervisors hear a commotion and turn their heads just in time to see his retaliation. He didn’t create the problem; he was reacting to the problem. But he’s the one who gets caught, so he’s sent off to the principal’s office.

Or, in the case of marital communication, the therapist’s office.

I feel bad for marital communication, because everyone gangs up on him, when the truth is, on the playground of marriage, he’s just reacting to one of the other troublemakers who started the fight:

1. We marry people because we like who they are. People change. Plan on it. Don’t marry someone because of who they are, or who you want them to become. Marry them because of who they are determined to become. And then spend a lifetime joining them in their becoming, as they join you in yours.

2. Marriage doesn’t take away our loneliness. To be alive is to be lonely. It’s the human condition. Marriage doesn’t change the human condition. It can’t make us completely unlonely. And when it doesn’t, we blame our partner for doing something wrong, or we go searching for companionship elsewhere. Marriage is intended to be a place where two humans share the experience of loneliness and, in the sharing, create moments in which the loneliness dissipates. For a little while.

3. Shame baggage. Yes, we all carry it it. We spend most of our adolescence and early adulthood trying to pretend our shame doesn’t exist so, when the person we love triggers it in us, we blame them for creating it. And then we demand they fix it. But the truth is, they didn’t create it and they can’t fix it. Sometimes the best marital therapy is individual therapy, in which we work to heal our own shame. So we can stop transferring it to the ones we love.

4. Ego wins. We’ve all got one. We came by it honestly. Probably sometime around the fourth grade when kids started to be jerks to us. Maybe earlier if our family members were jerks first. The ego was a good thing. It kept us safe from the emotional slings and arrows. But now that we’re grown and married, the ego is a wall that separates. It’s time for it to come down. By practicing openness instead of defensiveness, forgiveness instead of vengeance, apology instead of blame, vulnerability instead of strength, and grace instead of power.

5. Life is messy and marriage is life. So marriage is messy, too. But when things stop working perfectly, we start blaming our partner for the snags. We add unnecessary mess to the already inescapable mess of life and love. We must stop pointing fingers and start intertwining them. And then we can we walk into, and through, the mess of life together. Blameless and shameless.

6. Empathy is hard. By its very nature, empathy cannot happen simultaneously between two people. One partner must always go first, and there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. It takes risk. It’s a sacrifice. So most of us wait for our partner to go first. A lifelong empathy standoff. And when one partner actually does take the empathy plunge, it’s almost always a belly flop. The truth is, the people we love are fallible human beings and they will never be the perfect mirror we desire. Can we love them anyway, by taking the empathy plunge ourselves?

7. We care more about our children than about the one who helped us make them. Our kids should never be more important than our marriage, and they should never be less important. If they’re more important, the little rascals will sense it and use it and drive wedges. If they’re less important, they’ll act out until they are given priority. Family is about the constant, on-going work of finding the balance.

8. The hidden power struggle. Most conflict in marriage is at least in part a negotiation around the level of interconnectedness between lovers. Men usually want less. Women usually want more. Sometimes, those roles are reversed. Regardless, when you read between the lines of most fights, this is the question you find: Who gets to decide how much distance we keep between us? If we don’t ask that question explicitly, we’ll fight about it implicitly. Forever.

9. We don’t know how to maintain interest in one thing or one person anymore. We live in a world pulling our attention in a million different directions. The practice of meditation—attending to one thing and then returning our attention to it when we become distracted, over and over and over again—is an essential art. When we are constantly encouraged to attend to the shiny surface of things and to move on when we get a little bored, making our life a meditation upon the person we love is a revolutionary act. And it is absolutely essential if any marriage is to survive and thrive.

As a therapist, I can teach a couple how to communicate in an hour. It’s not complicated. But dealing with the troublemakers who started the fight? Well, that takes a lifetime.

And yet.

It’s a lifetime that forms us into people who are becoming ever more loving versions of ourselves, who can bear the weight of loneliness, who have released the weight of shame, who have traded in walls for bridges, who have embraced the mess of being alive, who risk empathy and forgive disappointments, who love everyone with equal fervor, who give and take and compromise, and who have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of presence and awareness and attentiveness.

And that’s a lifetime worth fighting for.

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Next Post: When Gratitude Becomes Truly Powerful

Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

144 thoughts on “The 9 Most Overlooked Threats to a Marriage

  1. Right you are! Poor communication too often gets the blame, not only in frustrated marriages but in contentious business and social conversation, when what we actually mean is “I don’t agree with the message” or “I don’t like the consequences I’m being told about” or even “I don’t want to be having this conversation at all.” If what we are communicating to each other is that we demand the impossible (‘don’t change’) or that we must be the perpetual recipient of our partner’s enraptured love while we slog bored through routines — saying it more effectively will not help. Unless it helps us to see how absurd what we’re trying to say actually is.
    Your list is a good spotlight on the absurdity of what we often –unrealistically– want from our partners and our marriages. And how much easier it is to offer our partners Grace when we can see the beautiful mess that we’re in together.

  2. Another spot on post! I love the idea of my husband as who and what I meditate upon. It reminded me of something I read in a book about marriage many years ago. The author quoted a minister who said the best marriages are where each is a devoted student of the other’s inner life. Seems to be sort of where you are pointing. I so appreciate you in my life.

    • Cara, yes, that is another great way to put it. The challenge in this is maintaining a healthy balance between attention to our partner’s inner life and our own. Both are valuable and must be attended to as such. If both partners are dedicated to maintaining this kind of balance, a relationship can really thrive!

    • I like the thought about being a student of the other’s inner life but what about having a spouse who can’t or won’t share their inner life?

      • Yes, it’s an ideal. When I first read it, I was so far from being in that situation! I am now married to someone else, and though he’s not – honestly – a “student of my inner life” – he does deeply care and pays attention when I share – as well as shares his own. I just love the idea of being each other’s focus – but if it’s not mutual, it’s not marriage at the level Dr. Kelly is talking about. I have no idea what the answer is for you. For me, it was being the student of my own inner life – as Dr. Kelly said – and as I was growing internally, coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be met/seen/engaged with in the way I needed to by my spouse. When the pain got too great to live as I was, the marriage ended.

  3. Communication and balance…AMEN! Dr. K, I look forward to, and so enjoy your posts! I only wish my husband and I would have had this input early in our marriage. We’ve managed to survive/thrive through trial and error, but your messages are great reinforcement tools/messages.

  4. Thank you 🙂 If only words could turn us into perfect humans – the perfect wife or husband, communication would never be to blame! But the actions and the emotions and the reactions are so much more defining. The empathy and the forgiveness are so much more beautiful than the words. It is the ego’s loud voice that is mostly to blame – the voice of fear and unworthiness that is soooo loud. Such hard work to shut it up. But so worth it. Thanks for more wisdom and eloquence.

    • Your comment reminds me of the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” It hadn’t occurred to me, but I guess that is another theme of this post!

  5. Wow. Your last paragraph is just wonderful!: “It’s a lifetime that forms us into people who are becoming ever more loving versions of ourselves, who can bear the weight of loneliness, who have released the weight of shame, who have traded in walls for bridges, who have embraced the mess of being alive, who risk empathy and forgive disappointments, who love everyone with equal fervor, who give and take and compromise, and who have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of presence and awareness and attentiveness.” Amen!
    [Re: Communication – I had a very smart college professor who once taught me that “communication” is almost never the problem in marriages – what he meant by that was we are communicating ALL the time to each other – facial expressions, body language, sighs, eye rolls – Usually our communication is CRYSTAL CLEAR (about how we’re really feeling) — It was his opinion that the problem was almost always a deeper one, our way of being toward one another, just as you said.]
    Thank you Kelly.

    • Yes, Jen, I’m with your college professor. Communication gets a lot of attention for a bunch of reasons (it’s the loudest problem, it’s the most immediate, it’s the easiest to research, and it actually does account for a large percentage of the satisfaction in marriage because we can’t solve problems without it), but if we don’t go deeper than the communication, our hands are really tied in healing the relationship and moving forward.

  6. Kelly, you did it again! Another great post! I loved the whole article, but I think what most struck me was that life and marriage are messy! It resonated so much within me, making me realize that I have been unconsciously looking for “neatness” when there is no such thing! Instead, it’s in the dance and the dancing that we get to learn what steps to take, when to go forward or backward, sideways or stay put. It also affirms for me that it’s okay to be messy and not necessarily “know” it all. Sometimes I have thought it would be so much better if things were easier, but that’s me just being chicken. Your words have given me courage to keep trying, knowing that my husband is also still trying and hopefully at the end of our lives we will be able to look back and see what a beautiful, messy and emotional dance we’ve had! Thanks again!

  7. Thank you Dr. Kelly! But…is it really possible for you to teach a couple to communicate in just an hour? If so, I may need to make an appt.!

    • Ha! Yes, it takes about an hour to cover the basics of good communication. But working through all the stuff that then gets in the way of implementing the skills, well, that takes a lot longer. : )

  8. I have yet to say thank you for your very wise and helpful columns. So, thank you. (47 years married and still trying)

  9. Insightful and eloquent; even elegant. Dr. Kelly, it has taken me a lot of years to learn some of the things you just stated. My favorite concept that I’d like to pass on to my adult children is #1: “marry someone because of who they are determined to become . . .” What great advice that is. Thank you!

  10. In the vast sea of content, vomited into the internet every microsecond, it’s strangely difficult to find really valuable information with much depth or insight… This post, however is exceptional. Thank you for sharing your insights with us Kelly.

    It’s just an incredible shame my (ex)wife and I didn’t read it BEFORE our marriage fell apart.

    • I’m sorry about your marriage, Matt. And thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you found us in the open sea. : )

  11. True…but the marriage secret of the ages….a John 3:16 wedding ring… for two must be three to become one…and only those with eyes to see can grasp my riddle ! ? ! ?!!

  12. Awesome words that are not filled w big complicated jargon!!! Will share w my newly married daughters!!

  13. Thanks for sharing this… it is a great list. I especially loved the comment: “We must stop pointing fingers and start intertwining them.” So very true. I love that. It’s all about intertwining 2 lives… being on the same “team.” My husband and I have been together for 24 years and married for 20. I’m so glad that we have made the choice to keep intertwining our lives, even through those “messy” times. Through it all, we’ve tried to follow my husband’s advice to “pray and know that God is sovereign.” It seemed too simplistic when we were going through pre-marital counseling, but all these years later, it is always the foundational wisdom we need to start with.

  14. The picture in this article is of me and my husband and we did not give permission for it to be used. Could you please replace/ remove the picture.

  15. The picture in this article is of me and my husband and we did not give permission for it to be used. Please replace/ remove the picture.

    • Hi Kaylee, thanks for reaching out to me. I just messaged you through Facebook, although because we’re not connected, it said the message would be directed to your “Other Folder,” so be sure to check there. I look forward to talking with you. Best, Kelly

      • If you don’t get a reply to a request for permission, you DO NOT have permission. Period. You shouldn’t have gone ahead and used the picture without EXPRESS permission. That is a violation of privacy, and as a clinical psychologist you should understand privacy.

        • Hi, and thank you for advocating for the protected privacy of all people. I feel compelled to reply because there is an implication here regarding my character, especially as it relates to my role as a clinical professional, and other people who visit the blog will be reading your comment. To be clear, I did have explicit from permission from the photographer to use the photograph. I could not know that the photographer had not secured permission from the couple to use their photo. Kaylee was kind enough to discuss the situation with me. After we clarified how I came by the photo, Kaylee and her husband, Devin, gave me explicit permission to continue using it, and I also had the delightful opportunity to interview them and solicit their wisdom about marriage. I thanked them publicly for that opportunity in a subsequent post. Thank you again for advocating for individual privacy. It is as sacred to me as it is to you. Here is a link to the subsequent post:

  16. Do you find it weird that I just flat out don’t feel lonely? Maybe it’s because I’m a Christian and know Who walks with me, but I just don’t feel it. I’ve had periods of loneliness, but it’s not something I constantly battle. Maybe I’m just weird 😀

  17. I can still learn from this even though I think I married my husband from a very anachronistic perspective. Like widows of old, I was a single mother who needed a partner. I’m not saying I don’t love my husband, but rather that our relationship is different. I was not swept off my feet and I think that is a difficult hurdle to overcome. As to No. 7, he didn’t help me make two of my children. At times this imbalance shows, even though they are adults in their 30’s. I think life is what you make it, and my marriage is what it is. I’m not looking for bliss or perfection.

  18. As a marriage therapist and relationship expert I couldn’t agree more, however, the common thread that links all those is still poor (or lack of) communication. Poor communication is a root issue. Those 10 you mention are symptoms of poor communication.

    • Yes, but communication is ineffective if we don’t really know what we should be communicating about. Dr. Flanagan adds valuable insight as to what couples should communicate about.

    • If we realized some of these points and stopped to think about then before we spoke to our spouse, we might actually communicate differently!

  19. my husband has been having emoitional affair with other women on online dating sites and other sites to

  20. Kelly. All 9 topics are right on, but I particularly think #1 has a HUGE impact because it sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. If individuals understood their opportunity to intentionally redeem the brokenness of their spouse, they may be able to do more than just endure the struggle and difficulty every marriage brings. They may be able to gladly weather the refining processes together and have a marriage that gets sweeter as time passes.

    I hope it’s okay, but I quoted part of this post in a recent post on my site, making sure to give you full credit and a link to your full posting. (here’s the link if you want to inspect…

    Thanks for seeing relationships much differently than the rest of the world.


  21. Its heartbreaking when you give it all but never receive back the same, May b someday I will find hope in marriages but for now I will raise my son n make him a better man, I stopped believing in marriages, but your blog offers hope. Thank you Dr.Kelly

  22. This is one of those posts where I wish I could respond to everyone but I’m running out of time to do so. Please know your comments are all heard and valued. And thank you for sharing them!

  23. I think numbers 3 and 6 are perhaps the most damaging, and seem to drive one another. It is precisely here that the liberty and love and illumination of Christ is so essential.

  24. I just read this article on Yahoo. Thank you for writing it. It is one of the two best articles i have ever read on Marriage. The other also demoted communication. This gave me so much to think about. Thank you.

  25. I think your post is spot on! I am a psychologist in Marysville, WA. I have sent the link to my practice colleagues and am getting very positive feedback from them. Thank You! I hope you won’t mind me giving copies of it to couples that I work with.

    • Ken, thanks for your kind words and for passing my words along. Please feel free to share with clients!

  26. This is a terrific article. Without being able to name it or describe it I believe these ideas were at work in my marriage. After 36 years the marriage ended in divorce with no obvious place to blame. Is it ever reasonable to hope for and attempt reconciliation?

    • If both people are interested in reconciliation, absolutely. I’ve seen couples get remarried and have a healthy marriage the second time around!

  27. Amazing! Where are you located? If you read this please email me – * my marriage has fallen apart I moved out and when we talk we just argue. I’m only 24 and I would love for your advice. 🙂

    • Kara, I’m in Chicago, but due to restrictions of licensing, I’m only allowed to practice therapy with individuals who are also located in Illinois. I’d highly recommend finding a counselor in your area.

      • Really well that isn’t fair! I live 10 minutes from Illinois. And I have talked to a couple therapists but didn’t really feel I could open up to them..I’ll keep looking Do you have any suggestions for someome? Thank you for replying back!

        • Kara, if you’re willing to drive, you can always feel free to call my practice to discuss scheduling. The link is in the footer of my website. Best, Kelly

    • Danny, thanks. : ) It does raise a question. The answer is that once I was able to talk to the couple and explain how I came across the photo through legit channels, they were very gracious and gave me permission to keep it. I also got to interview them and will be featuring them in a coming post. One of the things I love about technology and social media!

  28. So is there any thing to do about a partner,who I love ,with am enabling mother and had siblings that turn the other cheek (so to speak). I love my boyfriend and when I graduate in may, I want us to become one but his mother is driving me CRAZY! What should I do?

  29. Wow…after half a lifetime of whys..,it has been said by you, Dr. Kelly Flanagan. Thank you for your introspection and insight. You have made a difference in the “us” of today….

  30. “If they’re more important, the little rascals will sense it and use it and drive wedges”? Yet the author apparently “enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again”. It’s too bad he doesn’t instead take the opportunity to be a responsible adult and stop blaming children for adults’ problems. Then those children might have the chance to enjoy being children, something the author was apparently denied.

    • Daniel – YOU are just as narrow as BeckyJL – RE READ the ENTIRE post – you didn’t get the message…DUH

    • Daniel, it seems he was saying, ‘Parents, don’t LET them do this’ Because kids will be kids and, if you have any, you know they are masters at playing Mom against Dad. But, if they KNOW your relationship comes first, they CAN’T drive a wedge. Because you were adult enough not to be manipulated by a child to fight with your spouse.

  31. The author describes himself as a “therapist”, but his insistence on “grace” and “forgiveness” (see #4) make him sound more like a preacher. Why would anyone pay a therapist for such advice when one can get it for free from an actual preacher in any church?

  32. Love this! I have felt #7 was always important but whenever I speak of it in public I get “those looks” from disapproving mothers and my ego sets in and I shrink. I think I’m going to stand in my power and stand up for what I believe works for me and my husband! Thank you for helping me be a little stronger today.

  33. #1 is terrible advice. I am a counselling psychologist and do a lot of couples therapy. Never marry someone for who they hope to become, or for who you hope they will someday become. You will be disappointed. You cannot predict who you will become or who your spouse will become. Marry someone you love now, as is, warts and all. Then enjoy the journey together. Some of the most unhappy spouses are the ones who married someone hoping they would change.

    • Reread the advice. You are in agreement it seems. He says never marry for who you want them to become.

    • I guess YOU’RE not as SMART as YOU think BeckyJL – the “message” you took from this isn’t what you say it is – put on your regular people had and get off your narcissistic horse – read it again — IN TOTAL this time…YOU got it wrong

    • I agree with you. Marriage based on unknowable futures is one typically doomed to failure. Marriage based such tenuous prospects is one that seems to be devoid of love. True love. Even if you marry someone based on who they plan on becoming, you will inevitably find yourself attempting to change them yourself, just under the guise of helping them along the path they have chosen.
      As for the loneliness argument, it doesn’t hold water. I can honestly say that I have not felt one day of loneliness since marrying my wife. I have felt lonely at times in my life, just never in the last 12 years.

  34. Great stuff…only downfall is the comment about men vs women. Not only is that sexist, it’s heteronormative! You could have just said “one partner wants this while the other wants that.” Saying “vice versa” or “other way around” doesn’t correct the assumption that came first.

  35. What are your ideas of of a mother of 3 grown/teen children having an affair for about a year, that I know of, with a co-worker. But makes an effort to talk about “not getting a divorce”&”vacationing”. So I’m confused . And I’m her son. Nor does she know I know or anyone have a clue. [I’ve found evidence on her phone.] How do they go about repairing there marriage ? My dad has no idea. And don’t plan on telling anyone about it . Sorry if this is off topic but I loved the article above and have no idea how to reach you privately . Hope to hear from you soon.

    -Newly Soon to be big fan

  36. Hello! I am Brazilian psychologist I think about it, here in Brazil, we refer to “values” or “moral values” when we have the same values, or when we give importance to things or feelings that we like, such as: like and want to have a large family, and we like to spend our children the importance of friendship, respect, honesty, kindness … I think that these similarities can be of values which approximates couples, and this can create a very strong bond. I believe love is a social construct and that couples are building your story “brick by brick”.

  37. Hi Dr. Kelly,
    i am just curious as to why you end the article with this phrase: And that’s a lifetime worth fighting for. ?

    you make it sound as if other lifestyles are not worth fighting for, and i am not arguing because other lifestyles are worth fighting for, and everyone may have their opinion, i am just wondering what exactly about this lifestyle is worth fighting for in your eyes. What benefits i guess also does it have?
    Thanks so much

  38. Fcott Wickman

    Human being – Catholic persuasion
    How to Make the Magic Happen in a Marriage
    Fcott Wickman
    9 minutes ago
    As I read the post I find a bit of a divergence. One one
    hand I find the positive messages of “I am sorry” and “I love you”.
    These are wonderful, lovely words. However, somehow, I only hear the
    revision in your words… your wife has made XYZ (critical)
    proclamations ie “and when she calls me out on my errors or lack of
    clarity, or when she
    sees something differently, or when she just flat out disagrees with how
    I’ve presented an idea,” you “roll over” and say ahhhhhhh.
    dont mind volunteering, I dont mind being revised, I make mistakes, I
    am human. But where in your article, beginning with “When the magic
    happens” does your wife also “bend”?
    I’m sorry but the older I get…
    day by day… i can ONLY find consolation in hearing word from my
    spouse that echo “I love you”, “You are OK as you are”. want to be
    CHRIST to you and in doing so I love you more than myself, I adore you, I
    want to bend down on my knees with you and embrace the wood of the
    cross. Together, with Christ, we will all rise and honor God!!! My
    marriage is CHALLENGING. If we both understood what it means to be
    CHRIST to one another, I am certain we would not spend the day
    apologizing… just loving in the limited time God has given us to LOVE.

  39. There is so much distorted opinion presented as fact here that I don’t even know where to begin. You could perhaps begin by learning what “empathy” actually means. If you are a therapist, this litany of dysfunction is a perfect example of why so many relationships fail. Good luck to any couple who attempts to repair a relationship based on this load of crap.

  40. This is excellent insight and things to consider for those who are single and will be married one day. Thank you for this.

  41. I want to thank everyone in general for their contributions to the conversation this post has generated. It has been a lively and mostly constructive conversation. I also wanted to reiterate my regret that I cannot respond to the inquiries for specific advice. The ethics of my profession prohibit me from giving direct guidance in this medium, because we are not in a professional relationship and, thus, I don’t know you well enough to give you sound counsel. This is in your best interest. If you do have specific questions you are struggling with, I highly recommend you seek out a counselor in your area. And my best to each of you as you seek to do marriage and family well.

  42. Point 8 is the one, which struck me the most. Did you get deeper into this topic of deciding how much distance to keep elsewhere? I had a look to the linked page, but I didn’t find what I was looking for. Thank you in advance!

  43. My husband sent me this article a few days ago, he says I’m the one referred to in this article as the ‘trouble maker’. It also sounds like one is justified in getting upset and lashing out…………… is that supposed to help me become an ever more loving version of myself????????????

  44. My daughter, who is unmarried but very interested in relationships sent me your article. I loved it so much I posted it on Facebook and sent it to several people in my family including my husband of 31 years. Great, great post! Very wise and authentic! Thank you, thank you!

  45. I love your writing/work on marriage. I read your mission statement and can’t seem to find it again. I really want to share it with my Husband. It was about how marriage is about rebellion. Thanks.

  46. 1. ” We marry people because we like who they are…Marry them because of who they are determined to become…”

    (Fred): “When a man is not loved, it is no use for him to say that he could be a better fellow – coud do anything – I mean, if he were sure of being loved in return.”

    (Mary): “Not of the least use in the world for him to say he *could* be better. Might, could, would – they are contemptible auxiliaries.”

    – from Middlemarch, Georges Elliot

    Psychotherapists’ bank accounts are filled with people who thought they could become someone else – and are still determined to do so. That this Kelly Flanagan doesn’t know this by both personal and professional experience suggests he’s best to stay very far away from.

  47. Excellent thoughts. Well refined with the ring of truth. Thank you for your good work. May it bless the lives of many

  48. Great article, great ideas. I have to say, though… I’m really tired of starting to read an article that I find inspiring about marriage or relationships, only to find toward the end that the author explicitly reduces the conversation to relationships between men and women. As a person in a same-sex relationship, you just alienated me. As a reader, you just lost my respect.

  49. How to deal with the loneliness would be a great article. It’s too late for me but it could help others. My wife was a nurse who got hurt at work from a patient losing consciousness while walking. She was on worker’s comp over a year when she told me I like you, you’re a good person but I don’t want to be married anymore. I had to work 320 hours of overtime that same year while she didn’t work at all. She then joined a website for married people who want to have affairs. She was surprised and thrilled by all the attention she received. I was burnt out from all the work, how could I compete with that? If you can help just one person cope with loneliness, that’s a family who won’t have to deal with what mine is going through.

    • I believe I know how you feel Mike. As painful as it must have been during the divorce, you sound like you are healing well ! You asked “How could I compete with that?” I doubt I could, I doubt very few people could handle all you describe. You’re better off alone and getting help to deal your loneliness than to stay with a spouse that knows you’re working way too many hours and rubs salt in your wounds by joining a “swingers/cheaters club” . She’ll end up getting burned by hanging out with the “cheaters club. ” In the meantime you’ll meet new and better people and you’ll suddenly move on to happy days again with folks you can trust. Best of luck !

  50. I’m using this as a “Overlooked Threats to a Business” – How to create strong culture :). If I may?

    • Yes, please do feel free to use it in that way! I always just ask that you provide a link back to the original article. I hope it helps in your context.

  51. This article is way too glib and way too starry-eyed about marriage. And it is dead wrong about the essential nature of good communication (which, btw, isn’t just about WORDS). For example…

    #1 — We marry people because we like who they are…

    Ummm….not always. Sometimes we marry because we believe it will take us away from our current suffering. Sometimes we marry because we feel we can’t survive on our own, and we need someone to take care of us. We may not actually like the person, or we may not actually KNOW the person we are marrying, and therefore can’t like them for “who they are.” Sometimes we marry because the spouse HIDES who he is in order to trap the “target,” and we find out who they really are (such as abusive, whether verbally or physically or both) only after marriage and “the honeymoon is over.”

    Sometimes we marry because we think we have to. Sometimes we marry to please a parent. Sometimes we marry because we are facing a child custody battle and the courts don’t look kindly upon couples living together who aren’t married, but we convince ourself that we want to marry for its own sake. Sometimes…I could go on…

    In all of the above (as well as many more reasons I could list for marrying), honest communication (or rather, the lack thereof) is absolutely the culprit. What that comes down to at least one of the partners CHOOSING to not communicate, in part to have power over the other.

    No, you absolutely cannot save every marriage with better communication, but that’s not because a good marriage doesn’t depend upon good communication, but because the marriage should never have happened in the first place and it isn’t worth saving. The motives for marriage vary widely and often are not communicated from the beginning. Or people don’t actually UNDERSTAND their motives for marrying. That is, they haven’t communicated honestly with THEMSELVES.

    A few more examples:

    5. Life is messy and marriage is life. So marriage is messy, too. But when things stop working perfectly, we start blaming our partner for the snags. … We must stop pointing fingers and start intertwining them.


    I would like to know: since when is “blaming our partner for the snags” NOT about communication? When is “pointing fingers” NOT about communication?


    3. Shame baggage. Yes, we all carry it it. We spend most of our adolescence and early adulthood trying to pretend our shame doesn’t exist so, when the person we love triggers it in us, we blame them for creating it. And then we demand they fix it.

    Sometimes (quite often, actually), the marital partner knows exactly where the shame comes from and deliberately uses it to make the spouse feel bad about themselves. So, while they don’t CREATE it, they most certainly imbue it with significant power, and they use it against the marital partner in order to get what they want from them. Indeed, they can use it to such an extent that the partner being manipulated ends up attempting suicide, and sometimes completing it.

    And yes, the manipulative spouse IS to blame for choosing to identify the partner’s weak points and using them to gain power in the relationship. While, through therapy, the “punching bag” can eventually learn to stand up to…and to LEAVE the bully…the bully is STILL responsible for his actions.


    4. Ego wins. We’ve all got one. We came by it honestly. …But now that we’re grown and married, the ego is a wall that separates. It’s time for it to come down. By practicing openness instead of defensiveness, forgiveness instead of vengeance, apology instead of blame, vulnerability instead of strength, and grace instead of power.


    Since when is “openness instead of defensiveness, forgiveness instead of vengeance, apology instead of blame, vulnerability instead of strength, and grace instead of power” NOT about communication?

    Openness requires communication. Defensiveness is a negative form of communication. Apology instead of blame — also positive vs negative forms of communication. Vulnerability instead of strength — how do we express vulnerability OR strength if NOT through communication…etc.?

    Each one of the items you list can be characterized as failures of communication.

    Methinks I would never take marital advice from you as you don’t seem to know what you are talking about. In short, you need to learn what the words you use actually mean in terms of action…that is, you need to become a better communicator. And you need to quite being so starry eyed about marriage. Sometimes marriage can be so toxic that it kills.


    ….from someone with a PhD in communication and about 30 years worth of various forms of individual and group therapy (which is, btw, ALL about communication in one way or another…just exactly what is it you think people do in therapy?) — some of which was helpful, much of which was not. What was MOST helpful, in terms of relationships (whether romantic or other) was learning how to communicate more honestly, to identify my own needs and boundaries and to stand up for them (through communicating more effectively), and to identify my own as well as others’ volatile “button-punching,” not to meant ion earning to recognize when the other is using toxic communication patterns in order to berate and control….

    … all of which is about communication.

    You cannot even walk into a room silently without communicating something.

  52. This is one of the best “lists” I’ve read on the topic in a while. I will say your link for #8 doesn’t really answer the question at all of “Who gets to decide how much distance we keep between us? It was a bit anticlimactic for me as I was hoping for another lovely article with suggestions on how to negotiate (or come to terms with) that struggle better. Any articles that address that better?

  53. Thanks for the information. I think that people forget that marriage is work. I like how you point out that. I love sports and I view marriage as being that team working towards that goal. I think that as you work together to overcome challenges it makes it better than just trying to avoid them.

  54. Do you think that the sex life is ever the culprit? I mean, in the Christian world especially, it can become a chore for the woman and is only enjoyed by the man? It can create a lot of resentment if the issues are never addressed.

  55. As we read these 9 examples we were constantly shaking our heads in acknowledgement, We ended with a smile and a hug. Thank you

  56. Hi Kelly, really great write up here! Is it okay if I republish on my blog with reference to you? Cheers

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