The ABCs of a Marriage Breakdown

She sat across the desk from me looking defeated. They’d had a long marriage together, over 20 years. They’d parented children. They had lots of friends who thought highly of them. And yet, their marriage was in shambles. As she talked through the details, there was no one thing that happened. No affair, no big blow up—just years of small, consistent things that wore away at their marriage.

In my years of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen many healthy, flourishing marriages. I’ve also seen just as many (if not more) that were falling apart. As with anything, it turns out it’s hard work for something to be healthy, but deterioration is as easy as A-B-C. Here are the ABCs (and D and E) of a marriage breakdown.

1. Apathy

One of the most insidious and destructive issues I’ve found is that of apathy. If you have a marriage where one partner could care less about working on the marriage, it’s almost certainly headed for disaster. Imagine someone who could care less about his physical health. It’s almost certain he will have significant health issues down the road. The same is true for a relationship. Apathy must be addressed or it will destroy a marriage.

2. Busy-ness

Busy-ness is subtle because it’s not directly related to the relationship. Instead, it’s focused outside of it. And therein lies the problem. We get so busy with our jobs, our kids, and our hobbies that we simply don’t notice the slow movement away from each other. But one day, we turn around and we find that our wife is distant and we’re not quite sure how it happened.

3. Consumerism

As much as anything, Americans are taught to be consumers. As consumers, our primary goal is to satisfy our desires. If something fails to make us happy, we are taught to move on to the next thing. It’s not difficult to see how this attitude, in a marriage, can ultimately spell disaster. If we see our marriage primarily as a vehicle for self-fulfillment, we inevitably will be disappointed. And when that happens, if our perspective doesn’t change, we’ll likely look to move on to someone we perceive will do a better job at making us happy.

4. Distrust

George Eliot wrote, “What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?” It’s true. While it might seem like common sense to choose to put a wall up when she hurts you, if you allow distrust to invade your marriage, you will slowly but surely make your wife your enemy. It’s a fast track to a marriage breakdown. And there’s nothing more lonely than living with someone you perceive to be your enemy.

5. Excuses

There’s always an excuse for why you don’t need to change. Maybe it’s your wife who needs to change or your job or your circumstances. There are certainly always opportunities to point the finger elsewhere. But if there is an issue that keeps coming up and all you do is pass the buck, you’ll stunt your own growth. Maybe it’s true that those people or situations could improve. But it’s almost certainly true that there are opportunities for you to adjust, adapt, and change, too. And if both people in a marriage aren’t growing, the marriage will move backward.

Sound off: What are some other things that lead to a marriage breakdown?

Huddle up with your wife and ask, “What’s the best thing about our marriage right now? What do we need to work on?”