Why Marriages Don't Last These Days
Short answer? Codependency.
Marriage is meant to be a relationship of giving. The only possible way a marriage can be sustainable is if it is comprised of two healthy individuals who are giving of themselves to their spouse. Giving of their time, their forgiveness, their patience, their commitment, their loyalty, their words, and yes, even their bodies. It is NOT easy. It requires hard work. It requires dedication. It requires something like… I don't know… a lifelong commitment. And it requires God.
When two healthy people give of themselves in this way, marriage is still difficult, but it is a satisfying kind of difficult. It’s the kind of difficult we might feel when we accomplish something of great effort, like getting a college degree or working hard for 10 years and finally making partner at a law firm. Only marriage is much harder than those things. But it is also more rewarding.
A healthy marriage is full of joy, peace, understanding, communication, honesty, patience, forgiveness, and children. It’s a wonderful thing. It is also full of hard discussions, compromises, sacrifices, and making mistakes. But the rewards far exceed the challenges.
So why aren't more marriages like this? I know that everyone who gets married hopes their marriage will be like what I just described. So what’s missing? Where do they go wrong? Here’s the hard truth. Marriages fail because the people in them aren’t healthy and aren't giving. A relationship can only be as healthy as the people in it.
Most people get into relationships not because they feel a desire to give of themselves, but because they are trying to fill an unmet need in their own life, either emotional, psychological, financial or otherwise. There are all kinds of unhealthy motives to be in a relationship. In my observations most of the time those needs are emotional, and they are always rooted in childhood issues.
I will probably come back to saying this in just about every single blog post I make, but the truth of the matter is that most problems with human relationships, behavior, thinking, etc. etc. etc. can be traced back to childhood. Children need to be loved in so many different ways 24 hours a day in order to be extremely emotionally healthy. And no matter how awesome a parent is, no parent is perfect, and there will be times that the child experiences emotional trauma. Even if the parents were perfect, the world isn’t, so the child would still experience some kind of emotionally traumatic event at school with other kids, with teachers, coaches or literally anyone. Most of the time though, one single event doesn’t have as much of a lasting impact as regular and conditioned experiences. It’s these ones that tend to flower into emotional dependency and relationship issues.
Let’s get into it a bit. Growing up as a child, it’s likely your parents didn’t do a perfect job raising you. Perhaps dad was too busy with work, emotionally unavailable and he never encouraged you or praised your achievements. If you’re a girl, you will likely be attracted to men like this when you grow up. You will constantly seek validation from men like this, but because you keep choosing men like this, you will never get it, which will only continue to confirm the feelings you have that you’re not good enough. Eventually you might end up with a guy who isn’t good for you and just wants to use you for sex (or his own unmet needs), and what you get is a dysfunctional relationship that won’t last longer than whenever he cheats on you. Or maybe you’ll even forgive him and learn to deal with the pain of being cheated on again and again. Maybe it’s easier to pretend it’s not happening.
Or perhaps your mom was an alcoholic and never paid attention to you, never gave you affection or made you feel loved. As a boy, you might develop a sense that you’re not lovable and that women don’t appreciate you. You may go through the rest of your life jumping from one relationship to the next looking to satisfy that unmet need of motherly affection and never get it. You may find yourself in an endless string of meaningless relationships or hookups that leave you feeling worse and worse.
These are just examples, but sadly I’m sure these 2 specific examples are not uncommon. Lord knows there are many, many more to choose from.
When a child’s emotional need isn’t met by his or her parents, they will live the rest of their life looking to fill that need with something external. That external thing might work temporarily, but it doesn’t last long, and they must find that external thing again and again. This is the nature of habitual sin, addiction, etc. Sometimes people turn to a substance or behavior that distracts them from the unmet need. For example if the child didn’t get enough affection they may grow up to be an alcoholic who is trying to mask their feelings of being unlovable. Other times people turn to an external that seems to counteract the unmet need. For example if a girl didn’t get enough affection from her dad, she might sleep with a lot of guys because for the few moments that she’s having sex with a man, she feels loved by a man.
I also believe this is where a lot of homosexuality comes from. I know that’s a controversial statement. We’ll get into that in a later blog.
So how does this relate to marriage again? Well, I think a lot of people have unmet emotional needs borne in childhood, and I think people are looking to a relationship or a marriage to fill those unmet needs. They’re looking for someone to “complete” them. Well, that’s an impossible job. So when certain needs can’t be met for whatever normal reason, spouses get angry at each other, become resentful at each other, and start to blame each other for their own unhappiness. The relationship becomes inverted. Instead of being in the relationship out of a desire for intimate self giving, the persons are in the relationship looking for what they can get out of it. They are constantly looking at what their spouse is doing for them instead of what they can do for their spouse.
In the beginning this mentality isn’t noticeable because new relationships feel really good. The relationship makes you feel warm and buttery and excited and lovey dovey. But when the honeymoon phase wears off, the focus shifts to what the spouse didn’t do correctly or what need they didn’t meet. The relationship may turn into a tally sheet of what you did for them vs. what they did for you. Arguing breaks out. Fighting. Yelling. Emotional distance. Getting back at each other. Name calling. Drinking. Gossiping about your spouse to your friends. Cruelty. And one partner or both may even seek to have their needs met by someone else. Cheating. Doubt about whether they want to be together creeps in. And since our culture mostly thinks love is a feeling not a choice, they may even say to themselves “I just don’t love them anymore.” So when those needs aren’t being met anymore, it’s a few signatures here, a few children’s family lives ruined, and on to the next marriage, or 3.
Forgive me if this seems really grim and pessimistic. It’s honestly just an observation of what I see on a regular basis. And a lot of my insight comes from witnessing my parents’ marriage as well as my own issues with relationships. I am in no way suggesting that I’m any better than this. I’m just grateful to be aware of it so I can seek to avoid these issues in my own marriage one day.
So that’s the bad news. What about some good news!
What kind of couples have the lowest divorce rate? I’m glad you asked that question. Studies show that devout catholic couples who practice NFP (if you don’t know what that is, google it) have the lowest divorce rate in the country. It’s 5%. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Just 5%. Versus 50% in the rest of the country. Why is this? Well besides the fact that their sexual relationship is not undermined with using each other for sexual gratification, their faith allows them to fill their unmet needs with God instead of their spouse. People who have a relationship with God are generally more happy and less needy. God tends to fill the gaps in our lives with His love and presence. This way, we are not looking to fill our unmet needs with external things like a perfect spouse, but are looking to God to fill those unmet needs. Then, and only then, will we be capable of having a relationship of giving. Then and only then will you have a healthy marriage.
No marriage is perfect. We all know that. But a couple comprised of individuals who are actively seeking Christ in their personal lives, and actively working on themselves have a much better chance at happiness and longevity than other couples.
Everyone has unmet childhood needs. I believe it is the source of everyone’s sinful proclivities. So the solution to these unmet needs is not to fill them with externals, but to turn to God for inner healing. If you have daddy issues, turn to the best daddy you could ask for in God the Father. If you have mommy issues, turn to Our Lady for that motherly affection you didn’t receive. It may take some time to heal these conditioned emotional wounds, but God is real and He will heal them. God wants you to have a successful marriage! It's a sacrament!
After doing this work for a while, you may notice that the kind of person you are attracted to will change. You will no longer be interested in people who aren’t good for you but you will be attracted to people who are emotionally healthy themselves and have something to give. You will change from being emotionally needy to being emotionally grounded.
Examine your past relationships and see if there are any correlations between the partners you chose and your parents. If you make a connection, write it down and bring it to prayer.
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