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February 19, 2020

The Top 3 Reasons Marriages End (And How to Prevent It) – with Kimberly Holmes

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One of the most important decisions anyone can make is who you choose to spend your life with. Marriage impacts us emotionally, socially, legally, financially, and in so many other ways.

While the divorce rate in America is dropping, so is the marriage rate. That means married couples understand marriage is important, we might not know exactly where to turn for good advice.

Today, I sat down with Kimberly Holmes, the CEO of Marriage Helper, to learn more about the reasons why marriages end and what couples can do to save them. Kimberly explores three broad categories of marriage trouble, details some of the warning signs, and outlines steps that we can take today to be better partners tomorrow. 

The Top Three Reasons Marriages End

You’ve probably heard it said that money ends marriages. You might have also heard of people divorcing because they didn’t get along. It turns out that those common explanations aren’t the biggest reasons why marriages end.

Kimberly says that research from the University of Washington shows that the main reasons that marriages end can be divided into three broad categories … not feeling:

  1. Liked,
  2. Loved, or
  3. Respected 

So where does money come into play?

Oftentimes, financial issues are symptomatic of something bigger. When a couple divorces due to finances, they are not on the same page. As a result, that can often lead to one partner feeling continually disrespected.

That’s not to say that money can’t take a toll on someone’s marriage or relationship–it can and it does. In fact, financial problems are often symptomatic of a core issue–like a lack of respect–impacting the couple. 

sad spouse by bed

What Does It Mean to Feel Liked?

Oftentimes, people treat the idea of liking someone and loving someone interchangeably. Other times, we might think of love as the next step after we already like someone. Not so, says Kimberly. There is a difference between like and love, and partners crave feeling both. 

When you feel liked, you have the sense that your spouse wants to be around you and wants to interact with you on a daily basis. Kimberly says that there are ways to evaluate this in your own relationship.

  • Do you like your partner's presence?
  • Do you enjoy spending time together?
  • Do you want to converse and interact with them often?

Thinking about how you would answer these questions about your partner and then considering how they might answer should unlock more insight into what it means to feel liked in a marriage.

What Does It Mean to Feel Loved?

Love is more than day-to-day interaction and wanting to spend time with someone. That is why Kimberly is so quick to point out that feeling loved is different than feeling liked.

To feel loved is to feel that your partner puts you first. When we feel loved, we feel that our partner is selfless. They consider our needs before their own.

According to St. Sternberg’s Triangular Theory, there are three aspects to love:

  1. Intimacy
  2. Passion
  3. Commitment

A couple who is in love is committed to the relationship, even if things aren’t going well. There is a craving to be one, and there is a deep connection between partners. 

What Does It Mean to Feel Respected?

People often give and believe incorrect advice: men need respect and women need love. Kimberly emphasizes just how inaccurate this is. She says that every human craves to be liked, loved, and respected in their relationship. Kimberly elaborates further, saying that respect is key, no matter the person. 

Understanding how finances impact your marriage can help you also understand what it means to be respected in a marriage. For instance, if one person in the relationship wants to save 10% of their income and the other person chooses to spend differently regardless of their partner’s ambitions, this can be a sign of disrespect.

Couples don’t have to be in total alignment or agreement with every value and want; instead, it is important to think about how our words and actions complement our partner. Without this consideration, you can end up making your partner feel disrespected, which can start to erode your relationship. 

Related Article: My Spouse Doesn't Want to Talk About Money. What do I do?

Ways to Avoid Marriage Problems

Every couple fights. Disagreements are part of life. But there are ways to avoid or minimize marriage problems. 

Get to Know Your Partner Again

As a married couple, it is vital to learn what is more important to your partner. Kimberly says couples often start out strong but then stall out.

Frequently, couples ask plenty of questions when they are dating and when they are engaged. However, once a couple gets married, it can almost feel like the final level of the relationship has been unlocked.

Kimberly says that for many couples, this is when they start to grow apart. They feel like they’ve already achieved what they wanted, so the conversations and the questions slow to a halt. 

To remedy this, Kimberly suggests deliberately asking your partner one question each day. She also says not to worry about finding the “right” question. Instead, simply attempt to learn a little bit more about them.

Some possible questions include:

  • “Tell me about a trip you enjoyed as a kid.”
  • “What is your favorite restaurant near ____?”
  • “Who was your best friend growing up?”

The point is to show your partner a continued interest in their life. Continually asking questions can help you grow that knowledge and interest over time. 

couple talking and drinking coffee

Speak Up

In addition to getting to know your partner, take time to reveal more about yourself. For instance, let your partner know what you consider to be a sign of love and affection.

Of course, there are certain things–flowers, chocolate, or champagne–that people associate with symbols of love and caring. However, it’s really important to know your spouse and to let them know you. If you would much prefer a thoughtful note or a kind gesture over a dozen roses, communicate that. Don’t expect your partner to be a mind reader. 

Assess and Act Intentionally 

In addition to communicating clearly, we need to be more intentional. Ask yourself what you know about your partner and what you don’t. Then, make it a point to start to fill in the gaps. 

Kimberly suggests doing a quick self-assessment by asking three questions:

  1. Do I want to see this relationship through to the very end?
  2. Do I have a craving for my spouse?
  3. Do I feel a deep connection for my partner? 

If you aren’t answering an immediate yes, don’t fret. One of the most crucial ways to build a stronger marriage is to identify where gaps exist. Kimberly says taking the time to complete this mental inventory provides an awareness of where to start. 

making a list in journal

Kimberly's Personal Experience 

Kimberly isn’t just speaking from a theoretical perspective. She knows firsthand how one experience can make it seem like you and your partner are on two totally different pages.

Kimberly recalls the moment she learned that her husband wanted to buy a car at auction. She says she wasn’t actually opposed to the idea of buying the car. The problem was that he had actually already placed a bid for $5,000. She had no idea. 

In that moment, she knew she could respond one of two ways:

  • With anger, or
  • With respect

Even though she felt justified in her anger, she knew that by being angry and possibly even disrespectful, she would only perpetuate the issue. That is why she chose to focus on what she wanted to happen next time.

To her, it wasn’t about buying a truck. She wasn’t trying to question his wants; instead, she needed to communicate to her partner how important it was that she be looped into conversations and decisions, financial and otherwise. 

Kimberly Holmes Marriage Helper and her family
Kimberly Holmes and her family

The Importance of Communication

When our busyness becomes overwhelming, that’s a recipe for disaster. Or it’s at least a recipe for arguments and strain on your relationship.

That’s why communication is crucial. In addition to having daily conversation and interaction with your partner, communicate to take the guesswork out of marriage. Speak up when your partner does something that you don’t like and make sure to tell them what you do like and value. 

Additionally, Kimberly says speaking up at the right time can make all the difference. Sometimes, we can feel so attacked or hurt that we speak up out of anger. The problem is that type of communication is rarely productive. Conflict is rarely the emergency that we think it is. Addressing an issue outside of anger almost always yields better and more productive results. 

It can be challenging at first, but once we learn to accept that we are not perfect spouses, we can commit to learning and growing alongside our partners.

Kimberly recommends asking yourself …

  • “What do I need to work on?”
  • “How do I work on that each day?”

These incremental strides will go a long way. 

The Importance of Time

There’s no way around this. You have to make time for what really matters. Kimberly’s advice is to focus on how to de-scale your schedules.

To know what is truly important, ask yourself what matters right now. Then ask yourself what will matter in 5 years, 20 years or even 50 years. Chances are, your answer is centered on family, not the current project at work that is claiming all of your time or the four different travel sports leagues you signed your child up for

You don’t have to eliminate everything; instead, make sure that you are carving time out for what really matters to you. Once you identify your priorities, focus on them.

Kimberly suggests literally blocking out time on a schedule. No matter what else you do to improve your marriage, Kimberly emphasizes that making time makes the biggest difference. 

Incorporating Rituals

A key way to avoid marriage problems is to incorporate rituals into your relationship. The ritual does not have to be anything dramatic or over-the-top. Instead, it can simply be a way to underscore what you know about your partner.

For example, if you know they loved playing board games as a child, planning monthly game nights can be a fun throwback. If your partner grew up taking a road trip each summer, make it a point to plan some kind of travel together.

Related Interview: Why Date Night is So Important in Marriage

The point isn’t to recreate the past or live in it. Instead, you simply want to show your partner that you know them and that you value them. 

Of course, communicating expectations is key here. It’s impossible for your partner to plan rituals if you never share what is meaningful to you. Finding a way to say what you need from your partner is important. 

Continuing to Work On Your Marriage

A marriage is always a work-in-progress. If you and your spouse are willing to continually put in the work to make each other feel liked, loved, and respected, you can avoid many of the challenges others face.

No spouse is perfect, and no one needs to be. Make a commitment today to reflect, think, and start speaking up. Investing in your marriage is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. 

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Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the award-winning writer, speaker and podcaster behind Marriage, Kids and Money - a platform dedicated to helping young families build wealth and thrive. Andy's advice and personal finance experience has been featured in major media outlets like Business Insider, MarketWatch, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and NBC News. Trusted as a personal finance influencer and corporate financial wellness speaker by global brands like JLL, Andy’s message of family financial empowerment has resonated with listeners, readers and viewers across the world. When he's not "talking money", Andy enjoys wrestling with his two kids, singing karaoke with his wife and watching Marvel movies.

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