It was a beautiful day in the city’s river park. My friend’s Ninja motorcycle was calling my name. He asked if I wanted to go for a ride around the park.
Little did I know that my high school sweetheart had major fears about motorcycles related to the death of a distant family member.
Over the high-pitch roar of the 1982 Kawasaki, she yelled at me in front of numerous friends, “Get off the motorcycle!” In the context of a mini rite-of-passage (transition to manhood) with multiple witnesses, giving in to her panic attack and acquiescing to her wishes would hardly advance my cause of attempting to look like a man in front of my community.
As we rode the motorcycle through the centuries-old trees, her anxiety became a super-volcano erupting within her soul.
As we returned from our ride through the winding roads of the well-maintained community facilities, we rolled to a stop back to where our journey started.
To my surprise, she grabbed me by the back of my shirt and violently pulled me off the motorcycle. Hitting the ground hard was the tip of the iceberg as shock and amazement filled the gaze of the onlookers.
Your perception of this story will undoubtedly vary from that of every other reader. Your experiences, gender, disposition, how you were parented, culture, etc. all influence whom you sympathize.
Long before marriage, the enemies of a healthy marriage pervade our culture long before the vows are spoken. They are not all illustrated in the story, but this article will attempt to clarify the hidden intruders entrenched in our culture.
However, the aftermath of the story does explain marriage challenges and long term relationship problems.
After my humiliation of being pulled off my friend’s motorcycle, I was furious with my girlfriend. Her fear that I might die was now exchanged for shame and self-loathing. I did not want to talk to her.
A beautiful day of food and softball turned into a nightmare of tears and brokenness.
A day or two passed, and the emotions receded. But, I had her; I now had power in the relationship. She crossed a line, and I knew it. Her love for me did not decrease, nor did mine for her.
However, the unresolved crisis positioned us in not so uncommon ways. This is illustrated by the findings of a Sociologist named Willard Wallar (1938).
1. The principle of least interest
Whoever is least interested in maintaining the relationship (loves the least) has the most power. Whoever is most interested in the relationship (loves the most) has the least power.
This is the biggest marriage challenge!
The power is intoxicating and frequently seen in high school relationship drama. “Break-up, make up” describes the average month.
There is even a song called, “I can care less more (Olivia O’brien, 2018).” Couples will compete to “care-less-more,” creating fragile relationships when it is entirely unnecessary.
Who can care less, who can care less more?
It’s a contest, who do we care less for?
Who can care less, who can care less more?
It’s a contest of who can care less more.
This is deeply ingrained in our culture. It is in our music, our magazines, our movies, our high schools, and colleges. Then this value infiltrates our marriages to become one of the biggest problems in marriage.
To wives, it will first look like their spouse is a strong- silent type. It later becomes the “silent-treatment.” Men will play this game, but so will women.
In marriage, it will go back and forth: “I am so mad at you.” Then, “OK, now I am mad at you because you were mad at me.” Silence and withdrawal intensify like a stalemate.
As a marital therapist, it is not uncommon that a man will come into my office weeping. He will tell me, “After 18 years of marriage, she said, ‘I’m done. I want a divorce.’ I don’t know what happened.”
Neither men nor women are immune to this. Eventually, one of the partners will get burnt out by the game.
The power is intoxicating, but even true love can lose its commitment and passion like the embers of a day-old campfire.
2. Romantic love
The next cultural factor or the marriage challenge that destroys marriages is the unreasonable expectations created by the romantic love themes in our music and movies.
It should be noted (my opinion) that the music of this generation has far fewer themes of romantic love. However, this may not be a positive development, but rather an expression of cynicism.
At the logical extreme are individuals who are addicted to dating apps. There are quite a few individuals in our society who will get into a cycle of falling in love, have a few encounters, then break up.
They are addicted to romantic love. However, they inevitably realize that it is just another person who has imperfections.
In marriage, women will become isolated when they have young children and are not close to family or grounded in community. When the pressure for meaning and support falls entirely on one person, usually a spouse, many women will become disillusioned with their marriage.
Being “in love” is frequently interrupted by colicky babies, long commutes, an alcoholic or manipulative parent, or simply exhaustion.
Hauerwas wrote, “Never has something as important as the welfare of our children fallen on something as fragile as romantic love.”
For generations, marriages were arranged by families. Maybe not ideal, but the impulses and passions of today leading to romantic encounters create no fewer tragedies found in hidden broken hearts of depressed and distrustful people.
When the challenges of life lead us through dry deserts, the easy conclusion can be, “I am just not in love with him/ her anymore.”
More women need to trust the character of their spouses. There is a percentage of divorces that start at the age when a wife’s body begins to change. The fear of being abandoned as her sexual prowess and power fades causes a sabotaging of the marriage.
Most men will admit in a private moment that they do not need a partner with a perfect body. They need someone who loves them.
3. Relationship stress
Just as insidious an enemy of marriage is projection. In 30 years of assessing couples and families, I have found that stress and resentment come from many directions.
That is not abnormal. What creates a problem is when a spouse begins to idealize one family member and demonize the other.
Most common are mothers who live in denial that their children are not always a bundle of joy. From toddlers to teens, children can wear us out.
They are not always pleasant and can be disrespectful in moments of frustration and passion.
Mothers and fathers who cannot see all the members of their families for who they are, strengths and weaknesses, will project all these frustrations onto their spouse.
In an honest moment, I have had clients admit that it was their mother and domineering older sister that completely manipulated and emotionally browbeat them. The spouse (though not perfect) was generally supportive. So, what exactly is the marriage challenge, and who were they willing to divorce?
Watch this video to understand the top reasons why your marriage is falling apart:
Friendships can be a truly double-edged sword. We are warned that “bad company corrupts good character.”
For those who have strong and wise networks of friends, this is not an issue. However, usually, if a group of close friends convenes, they will discuss everything.
“Misery loves company” as a critical mass of this friendship group starts to have marital problems. If three of the four people in a group of friends have spouses with whom they are not happy, the fourth individual has a choice to make.
Stand firm in their stability or join their friends in misery. Though this is subtle, and I have no evidence to support this opinion, it is my sincere belief that an unhealthy friend can negatively impact an otherwise healthy marriage.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Richard Myatt is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). He has 24 years of experience working with children, adolescents and troubled teens. Richard is also trained in substance addiction, mental illness and helps couples overcome marital infidelity.