Why Are Marriages Failing? It’s Probably Not the Reason You Think

I had an uncle with a pain in his neck that caused him to constantly wince. Doctors could not diagnose the problem, so he lived with it for years. In time his neck began to permanently lean to the side. None of the treatments prescribed worked. About 25years later he went to a dentist to remove a bad tooth and was immediately relieved of all the pain. He suffered all those years unnecessarily due to a flawed diagnosis and treatment.

A wrong diagnosis can be costly and dangerous. I believe that every day we all witness a disastrous, dangerous misdiagnosis of mass proportions. Yet we continue full bore on the same path that got us into the mess that is the unraveling of marriage.

The diagnosis in our culture is that man is basically good, but his self-esteem has been damaged by negative influences. The problem with this diagnosis is that it is flat out wrong. I want to propose a different diagnosis and solution to the problem by asking, “How does our sinful self-obsession impact our marriages?”

Our self-obsession causes us to hide the truth about ourselves and blame others for our flaws. This self-obsession becomes a curse that that impacts our marriages in painful, destructive ways. It causes us to try to hide the truth about ourselves (Gen. 3:9–11). When exposed we evade responsibility and blame others for our wrongs. We want to appear as righteous, yet, we are not—so we blame. In this simple exchange we see why marriages are in trouble.

In their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson describe how a fixation on our own righteousness can choke the life out of love. They write: “The vast majority of couples who drift apart do so slowly, over time, in a snowballing pattern of blame and self-justification. Each partner focuses on what the other one is doing wrong while justifying his or her own preferences, attitudes and ways of doing things… From our standpoint, therefore, misunderstandings, conflicts, personality differences and even angry quarrels are not the assassins of love; self-justification is.”

Our sinful self-obsession impacts our marriages by causing the proper God-given roles in life to be damaged (Gen. 3:14–19). For man his curse is that he will face frustration in his work. For the woman, her role as man’s complement is impaired. When you put this together you can already see an unhealthy scenario.

What are some steps we can take to reduce the impact of our selfish impulses?

  • Confront your own self-centeredness—don’t wait for the other person to act first.
  • Accept responsibility for your sin—stop pretending to be the only victim and pass blame to others.
  • Know that you will not find the perfect person. There will be some red flags for you to consider.
  • Red flags alone are not the issue; it is your willingness to accept an imperfect person—just as they must accept you.
  • Understand that the painful vulnerability that healing a damaged relationship requires begins with self-sacrifice like that of Jesus. It is a sacrifice that may require a very high cost. But like Jesus, it is in that sacrifice that we have hope for our greatest fulfillment.

Like my uncle who suffered from debilitating pain for years due to a misdiagnosis, I believe our marriages and relationships suffer because we have accepted the wrong diagnosis. Our marriages are in major crisis because of it. What are some steps we can take to reduce the impact of our selfish impulses?

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DavidMcClain@churchleaders.com'
Pastor David McClain has a B.S. degree from Corban University, a M.Div. from Western Seminary and D.Min from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. He has been a pastor for almost 40 years, with 30 of those years in the U.S. He is presently the senior pastor of a healthy growing church in Alberta, Canada. This book is the result of years of research, experience and counseling and was presented as a sermon series designed to help believers contrast the biblical view of marriage with contemporary attitudes.

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