reasons marriages fail

The #1 Reason Marriages Fail

No matter who you are, almost every adult man has attended a wedding ceremony and watched as the nervous couple listened intently as the reverend, minister, or pastor had the couple repeat after him the traditional marital oath:

“Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and to cherish, for better or for worse, rich or for poorer, sickness or in health, ’til death do you part?”

And right on cue, that man said, “I do.”

I bring this up because my 19-year-old son recently asked me a question. He asked, Dad, when couples recite their vows on their wedding day, do they actually mean them?” 

And I said, Yeah son, they do.

And of course, his response was expected.  He said, “Then why do so many marriages end in divorce like your’s and Mom’s?”  He was referring to my 16-year marriage to his mom that ended in divorce when he was 10.

After picking my ego off the floor, I humbly told him, “Because when it comes to marriage there are many reasons marriages fail, but the #1 reason most do is because many of us have selective hearing. We hear what we want to hear, not actually what is being said.  In other words, we choose to love each other until instead of in spite of.

Allow me to explain.

We recite our marriage vows, and in our hearts, we really believe we mean them.  But the truth of the matter is, what we really mean is we will love each other until something better comes along; you stop making me happy; you stop listening to me; times get too hard; you gain too much weight; you fail to meet my expectations; you cheat on me; you won’t submit, etc.  And we fail to love each other in spite of sickness, poverty, bad times, the storms of life, unmet needs, etc.

Most of us are so caught up in the moment of the wedding ceremony, that all we hear are the words, BETTER, RICH, HEALTH, and happily ever after.  I know they don’t say that last part, but for some reason, that’s what we hear.

However, for some reason, we fail to hear the words: WORSE, POOR, SICKNESS, and DEATH.  Could you imagine, what if after the couple said “I do,” the minister would say, “Before you answer ‘I DO,’ let me be more specific.

I mean, “Do you promise to love and cherish her if she nags you more than she nurtures you; complains more then she comforts you? Shops more than she cooks? Refuses to have sex with you whenever you desire it?  What if she disrespects you?  What if she disagrees with your decisions and undermines your authority with the children?  What if she doesn’t support your dreams?”

Oh, I’m not finished yet.

“How about if she neglects the children?  She puts the family in debt with reckless spending? Doesn’t get along with your Mom or your friends?  If she’s physically unable to take care of herself?  If she has an affair?  If she does whatever you fear the most? Would you love her til DEATH do you part?”

After I said all of that, my son looked at me and said, Dad, if a man said ‘I do’ to all of that, he must really love her.”

I told my son that marriage reveals the true strength of our love, not only for our wife, but it also reveals the true strength of our wills.  Marriage isn’t something that should be taken lightly, and there’s a severe price to pay when we do. Love is a decision, not just warm feelings.  Because real love is eternal, it doesn’t come with an expiration date. [Tweet This]

Sound Off

What do you think is the most important thing for a lasting marriage?

Dr. Joe Martin

Dr. Joe Martin is a certified Man Builder, creator and founder of, and an award-winning educator. He’s also a husband and father of a blended family of two.

  • Don Pinaud

    I think this is great advice about the real-world forever unconditional commitment marriage is supposed to be. However, the suggestion you should stay committed to your spouse after an affair is simply not justified. I support anyone who can actually do that, who can actually put it behind them and love through it. But that is still a deal breaker, even by biblical authority, and spouses NEED to know that if you do that, if you cheat, you void the deal and your spouse can justifiably leave. In marriage there should not be a wholesale lack of accountability so that a spouse is expected to forgive infidelity. Forgive if you want to, but don’t feel like there’s anything wrong if you can’t. For better or for worse. I will stay with you through ANYTHING I love you that much. But here’s the thing …here’s the apple in the garden of Eden …don’t ever cheat on me. Cause if you do I’m finding someone who won’t cheat on me and respects my love. And the bible says I can do just that.

    • Mitch Beaverson

      Really appreciate your perspective, Don. However, I personally believe that marriage was never intended to be a love-contract.Rather, it’s intended to be a covenant. And in MY covenant to MY wife, I need the perspective outlined in the article above. In a covenant, my side is driven by my character, integrity and commitment, not her performance. In my covenant, I’m choosing to love unconditionally.
      Also, consider this … if we guys–even once–have lusted after another woman, either at the office, the Christmas party, in a movie, on the internet, etc., haven’t we (according to Jesus’/biblical standards) committed adultery? Maybe more than once? (oops) Maybe even a whole lot over a period of years? If so, then according to this standard, most of our wives (maybe all?!?) were ‘released’ from their love-contract years ago. Thankfully, that’s not the approach any good marriage should take. Rather, even in times of strength and weakness, true love never fails (I Cor. 13:8). I don’t speak from ignorance here, and repentance needs to be part of the equation, for sure.

      I have a friend who’s been there, and the spouse chose to stick around. Not as a doormat but, as they
      worked through the issue together (infidelity often, though not always and not justifiably, is accompanied by a lack of care by a spouse), they were able to restore their marriage to a healthy place. You see, we often may think that divorce is the easy way out of a painful situation, but fail to see that–in nearly all cases but abuse–it only leads to more pain (just consider the impact on the kids and every family holiday/get-together thereafter among many other things for the rest of your life). It’s just not the easy out
      we often think it will be. Reconciliation is hard. Very hard. But it’s an alternative that should be considered superior, in most cases, to walking away.

  • Single Dad

    I think the #1 reason marriages fail is one, or both, parties put themselves first rather than their spouse or family. If that wasn’t the case, the ‘flaws” mentioned in the article wouldn’t be an issue?

  • Dave Morse

    I like the expression that love is a verb, not a noun. It requires action on our part

  • Don Pinaud

    Mitch, I respect very much your position and your differences with mine. I respect and admire it. That said, however, I just can’t go that far as a “must.” I hear you that marriage is a covenant not a contract, but in reality they are one and the same. A covenant in this context is contract sanctioned by God. I cannot accept that if I enter into this covenant I “must” choose to love my spouse who cheats. Not must. That’s too far. If someone can, that’s great. Good for them. I admire that degree of love and commitment. But I can’t accept a must. And I don’t think that scripture requires I do.

    I appreciate your well-taken argument that people who have lust in their heart, who fantasize, who wander if only in their mind, are culpable for “cheating” on their spouse in the biblical context. I do. However, I still think there is a difference between cheating in thought, and cheating in action. Indeed, I would say that, in a marriage, cheating in thought MUST be forgiven if the offending spouse is contrite. But cheating in action – I can’t get there. There has to be a line. It’s not too much to tell my spouse I will always be there for you no matter what – just don’t DO this one, terrible betrayal. That’s not too much to expect – to demand – in my perspective. For what it’s worth, I’m 50 years old and in my entire life I have never cheated on anyone, so maybe I’m stubborn in my position. But cheating – in action – despite many, many opportunities, some where it was literally thrown at me with temptation at full tilt, I always said no. I never faltered. It’s not too much to expect my spouse to do the same.

    But for those who work past these difficult challenges in their marriage, who stay together, who forgive and grow, I am so happy for them and may God bless that they can find a good ending to such a terrible experience. They should be admired. They stand as an example of why not to give up. To the benefits of finding a way forward for you marriage not abandoning it. That’s awesome. But I still have to say – for those who cannot get past or, for those who can’t work through the betrayal – I don’t think they should feel they “must” do so. I don’t think they should feel they are less than all they can be as a spouse, just because they do not accept to remain in a marriage that suffers such a betrayal.

  • John Hocutt

    It’s simple yet difficult. Keep your promises.

  • I love this part Because real love is eternal, it doesn’t come with an expiration date.
    I thank God – my marriage is still growing stronger 19+ yrs, even though ours 3 kids are still very very young.

  • John Smith

    I just recently separated from my wife because none of my needs were being met and haven’t been for many years. No touch, intimacy, affirmation, respect, and her phone gets way more attention than I ever thought about. I left her after more than 15 years of marriage. I believe what the Bible says about marriage, but I’m really having a hard time living it out right now. I’m very conflicted over what to do. I was just tired of the constant nagging and being miserable all of the time. My two boys are having a very hard time dealing with this, and I really feel like the scum of the earth for leaving my family. I’m so hurt and confused at this moment, that I just don’t know what to do.

    • BJ_Foster

      John – I’m so sorry to hear how hard it has been. I can’t even imagine the pain you must be feeling. Do you have people to talk to about it? Have you thought about counselor or have you consulted the pastor of your church? Sounds like you need some support and care.

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