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The real reasons couples stay together or divorce


After working with thousands of couples in marital therapy sessions and seminars conducted over 24 hours I’ve discovered some things that are fascinating, profound, but bittersweet that all married individuals and engaged couples should note. Read with an open mind.

I’ve discovered that the number one ingredient for keeping a marriage or any other romantic relationship healthy is humility. I did not hear or read about this word in marital therapy when I did my training in counseling psychology over 24 years ago. Now, there is a plethora of literature on the topic. Humility is the attitude, ability, and freedom to admit wrong, apologize, change, adapt, forgive and receive forgiveness, listen to objective criticism, and respect the rights of the other person to have a view, no matter what it is. It is demonstrating a teachable spirit.

I am not referring to what starts the marriage or what attraction there might be to lead someone to fall in love. I am dealing with an already established relationship and what keeps it healthy. With this in mind, it brings me to the word love. I am sure many of you are wondering, whether love isn’t more important. Some might be disagreeing with me. This is how I describe it: humility is the glue in marriage – the substance that binds romantic partners together. Love is the heat that dries the glue and hardens it to make it difficult to fall apart.

Love is the heat

When humility is absent, there is something painful that replaces it. It is the antonym to humility – pride, conceit. I can even add stubbornness, selfishness, arrogance, laziness. The Merriam Webster Dictionary reads: cockiness, overconfidence, impudence, boastfulness, chest-thumping, self-applause, self-assumption, self-centeredness, self-complacency, self-conceit, self-glorification. You should have gotten the point by now.

Here is why I say love is the “heat” that dries the “glue” (humility) in relationships – humility is an attitude and love, the behavior. Marriage coach Mort Fertel states in his book, “Marriage Fitness,” “Every marriage has problems, issues, and challenges. But in every instance the solution is the same. The solution is love!” This kind of love means the following: loving unconditionally, loving non-judgmentally, loving with understanding, loving with total acceptance, loving with total commitment. Humility allows an individual in a relationship to unquestionably do these five things.

I also discovered that the number one reason relationships (marriage, engaged, partnering relationships) break up is pride, or one can use the words stubbornness, selfishness, and apathy. What stands out boldly during my research is that 85 percent of relationships ended, not because of a specific behavior or activity like adultery, smoking, drinking, gambling, flirting, staying out late at nights, but because of an attitude of pride, stubbornness, selfishness, apathy, and traditionalism. In other words, it is the refusal of the guilty party to admit wrong, change, adjust, listen with understanding and to intelligently evaluate, without prejudice, one’s views or behavior and how it is impacting the relationship.

Pride is always the foundation for the development of other negative attitudes. Or one can say that stubbornness, selfishness, apathy, and traditionalism are some of the ways an individual demonstrates pride.

Traditionalism in this context is demonstrated when an individual holds on rigidly to a toxic (or even non-toxic) belief or practice in the family or church without thoughtful consideration for the specific context, even though it is destroying the relationship. The excuse is: “My mom and dad did this, so why can’t we do it? Or “That is what the Bible says – the wife must submit.”

It allows tradition to override common sense, cries for help, pleas to stop or change. Traditionalism forces one to “sit in a pot of boiling water” and thinking he or she will not get cooked.

Seeking to explore my hypothesis, I did a deeper research and identified a sample of 1,000 couples from my pool of couples. After reviewing the facts, the findings were that 85 percent of partners ended the relationship because the other partner refused to change a negative behavior. The complaint was always that the partner would not listen, admit wrong, was stubborn and proud. My research also showed that this did not happen overnight. It took usually several years of complaining – in some cases, five years, and in others, up to 25 years or more. The complaints were often about very serious problems like multiple unfaithfulness, violent fights, or the innocent partner contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Some of these partners were over time driven to depression.


• Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board-certified clinical psychotherapist. Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org or telephone 242-327-1980.

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Jealousy destroys