Many people think that infidelity – an affair – is the most common torpedo that sinks a marriage. According to Micki McWade, marital infidelity is a symptom of underlying issues in the relationship.
McWade, a collaborative divorce coach, psychotherapist, author and parent, says she has heard “thousands of explanations as to why a marriage ends, but they usually follow certain themes. An affair is the top and most obvious layer of difficulty that indicates these deeper issues exist.”
Here are the what she calls often insurmountable problems that sink marriages – sometimes slowly, sometime fast.
Partners cease to be partners: The marital dynamic withers when one partner becomes the parent of the other who is “immature, irresponsible, untrustworthy or selfish.” The parent partner tires of this routine, sexual attraction fades, and in time he or she detaches from the marriage. “Once the emotional break has happened, marriage counseling is far less effective. It takes two to keep a marriage alive. A marriage counselor can’t manufacture connection. We can enhance it, but we can’t create it.”
Failure to resolve problems: Resentment builds and erodes a marriage when spouses bicker and needle one another because they cannot resolve difficulties to each other’s mutual satisfaction. In a marriage, discussion and compromise that solves a problem is “much more important than being right.”
Narcissism: Excessive self-love can choke a marriage because in time one or both partners cannot empathize with and support the other. For example, if one spouse carries the financial weight and the other nurtures the children at home, each may not understand the other’s contribution. Both think the other has it easier, and neither feels understood. In time this regime feeds on itself and kills intimacy.
Addiction: Marriage to an addict challenges and overwhelms even the most devoted partner. The addict appears functional outside the home but privately, he or she becomes a slave to alcohol or drugs which only serves to intensify the demand for them. For the addict, the focus of life becomes their drug of choice – rather than on the marriage and family. Alcoholism has been called “narcissism in a bottle.” The partner becomes angry and embarrassed and though he or she often tries to keep it together for a while, and even a long time if there are children, eventually, when there’s no recovery, the addict’s partner will ultimately give up. Once that happens, there is little chance to save the marriage. It’s like trying to revive the dead.
Faced with evidence of these problems, couples often make an effort to change, McWade says. “Obviously, it’s important to correct these issues before it’s too late. It’s difficult for couples to change long-standing relationship patterns by themselves because people tend to argue for their own points of view. Communication doesn’t get anywhere without a neutral perspective. Patterns must be recognized and interrupted,” McWade says.