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Why do marriages fail?

I bet you are expecting a list, right? Something like, the top ten reasons that marriages fail. Well, the typical list looks something like this:

  1. Sex

  2. Money

  3. Power

  4. Parenting differences

  5. Division of labor

  6. Communication

  7. Selfishness

  8. Boredom

  9. Time

  10. Value differences

In fact, most of the time, couples attending therapy say that one of these items, or a variation of one of these, is the main marriage problem. Couples think that the problem is the fighting and arguments about the content of these items. I tell my couples that the conflicts aren’t the problem. Happy couples argue and fight. You will argue with your partner. If you don’t, it may be a sign of a different problem— that you are avoiding and disconnected. I often tell my couples that fighting isn’t the problem. Happy couples argue.


Not to be too disagreeable, but I believe the problem in marriage is a different problem.


The secret to marriage happiness:


It’s not a list. It is about the quality of the connection between the couple. My favorite moment working with couples is when one partner says, “It isn’t about the _____ (see the content list above), it’s about how lonely I feel in our marriage.” The content fights are intended as a way to find connection.


Couples are longing for that essential connection with their loved one. This connection is made up of It is made up of three components: accessibility, responsiveness, and emotional engagement.*


1. Accessibility: How accessible is your partner?

  • I can get my partner’s attention easily

  • I can connect emotionally with my partner

  • I can share my feelings, and my partner will listen

  • I feel connected to my partner

2. Responsiveness: How responsive is your partner?

  • My partner is there when I need comfort

  • My partner will understand that I need him/her

  • I can lean on my partner when I feel worried, anxious, or scared

  • After a fight, I know that I am important and that we will figure things out

  • My partner can reassure me when I need to know that I am important

3. Emotional Engagement: Are you emotionally engaged with each other?

  • I am comfortable being close, and I can tell my partner about my joys, fears, and hurts

  • I trust my partner

  • I confide in my partner

  • I feel confident, even when we are apart, that we are connected

  • I know my partner cares about me and the things that matter to me

  • I can tell my partner about how I feel about almost everything

If these components are present in a relationship, couples can get through most things. Couples can then share their emotional world with each other. If the fighting in your marriage has gotten out of control lately, couples counseling might be helpful to restore that connection.


What do you think? Are these the essential elements to a relationship?


*Based on Emotion Focused Therapy – Hold Me Tight by Susan Johnson


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