Leandie Buys Realtionship Therapist & Clinical Sexologist

5 Most common reasons marriages fail

There are five common reasons marriages fail. I have been a relationship counsellor and sex therapist for many years, and there are five common themes amongst the couples that I counsel…

Identifying these five common reasons doesn’t mean that marriage is a bad thing. In fact, I believe in marriage. I also believe that most marriages can work, and are worth fighting for. All couples will go through tough times. There will be times were you and your partner don’t like each other much, or can’t even have a civil conversation with each other, but there will still be some underlying love… the reason you got together in the first place.

Over the years the “not liking each other” can build up, and if issues aren’t resolved, they can smother the love.

From lack of an intimate connection to exclusive interests such as extreme sports, and sex addiction, here are the 5 most common reasons that marriages fail:

1.       Lack of intimacy and sex

In my practice, this issue has been the number one cause of divorce, or couples filing for divorce. I think if there was such a thing as a libido boosting pill for women, most of us would take it. Men usually have a higher libido than women, and this can often cause issues in relationships. (There are women who present with a higher libido than their male partner, but this is less common. However, the counselling and solutions would be similar.)

Often, the woman will come for therapy first. She will be convinced that there is something wrong with her, and that she is not being a ‘good wife’ or sexual partner for her husband. She will even have had her hormones checked to see if there is anything wrong. Usually, there is nothing out of balance.

As we continue through therapy, we will find that it is not her hormones that are the problem, but the relationship itself. Solving the issue usually requires the couple to come for counselling together. We then work through a programme specifically designed for couples with “desire discrepancy” – the term we use when one partner has a higher libido than the other.

I have had many many success stories based on this programme, and I’ve become convinced that lack of sex and physical intimacy doesn’t need to lead to divorce.

2.       An affair whether emotional or physical

Whether it is and emotional or physical affair, the effect is the same on a relationship.

Many people think that a physical affair is ‘worse’, but in fact, the resultant trauma is exactly the same. Betrayal leads to the breakdown of all of the bonds that hold a relationship together: emotional, physical, spiritual.

The trust, respect, loyalty, and communication are so damaged that many couples decide to divorce because they can’t find a way to get past the betrayal. I often see situations where the unfaithful partner leaves their marriage because they truly believe that they will find more happiness and fulfilment with the other person.

However, when a couple who has experienced betrayal wants to try to overcome it, and are committed to working on their relationship, it is a very powerful and life-changing process. The key is for both partners to realise that the betrayal was a symptom of the other issues in their relationship, it was not the cause of the issues.

Rebuilding a relationship after an affair is not easy, but the new relationship often ends up being stronger, happier, more loving, and more fun than it ever was before. This is why I believe that an affair doesn’t necessarily have to be the end.

3.       Lack of clear boundaries in the relationship

Another one of the things that seems to come between couples is the issue of boundaries and expectations. We all know what boundaries are, but we don’t often talk about them and verbalise them. Boundaries and expectations are also different for each person in a relationship. Boundaries are influenced by your own experiences, your background, your faith, and the examples that you’ve been shown in life.

For one person, having close friends of the opposite sex might not be an issue. For another person, it might be a complete no-no.

Because we don’t often verbalise our boundaries and expectations in relationships – we often just expect our partners to be on the same page as us – we end up being frustrated and resentful when these boundaries are crossed.

For example, if you don’t want your partner to chat to someone you don’t know on Facebook, then make that clear. Don’t get upset if they’re sending messages back and forth if you haven’t discussed the issue, and given your partner a chance to respond.

If you want to be in charge of your own bank account and you don’t want to share an account with your partner, then make that clear right from the start.

If you want to raise your children in a certain faith, with certain religious boundaries and expectations, then discuss it with your partner before you have kids.

It’s difficult to come up with a complete list of boundaries and expectations at the beginning of a relationship, they usually present themselves as time goes by. What we need to be better at is dealing with the ‘offence’ when our boundaries are crossed.

Try to deal with your anger and frustration before you approach your partner about the issue. Discuss it in a non-defensive manner, and try to give them context so that they can respond appropriately.

Saying “stop calling everyone darling” is not constructive. Rather say “I feel like it crosses boundaries when you call other men and women ‘darling’ because you use it as a pet name for me. It takes away from the special bond we have, and it makes me feel jealous and a little bit betrayed.”

Your partner probably doesn’t even know that they’re hurting your feelings when they do or say certain things. Being clear about how it affects you will make them more likely to understand your point of view.

Being able to communicate clearly can help prevent the breakdown of communication in your relationship, and can help prevent the breakdown of the relationship as a whole.

4.       Growing apart – no joint interests

This is particularly important in long term relationships. Couples who have been together for a long time often find themselves looking at each other down the line and thinking “what do we have in common anymore?!”

People change over time. It’s natural. Life circumstances, kids, work, finding different hobbies, can all expand our horizons, and add to our characters. The important thing in a long term relationship is to grow together, and to make a conscious effort to always maintain an intimate connection with each other. I try to encourage my patients to start a new hobby together, or work on a project together that will ensure that they get to spend interesting, quality time growing as a couple.

One of the major issues that I’ve seen in my practice is the increase in emotional and physical affairs amongst couples where one partner is extremely active while the other isn’t. Training for the Ironman, Argus, or running the comrades requires a lot of hard work and dedication. And while it is a very noble achievement, couples need to be aware of the impact that something like this could have on their relationship and guard against it.

For example, a man might be training for the Ironman. This requires him to be out of the home for many hours every day and over weekends. His wife might feel resentful as he pursues his ‘dream’ while she is stuck at home with the kids, trying to keep the house together, and battling stress at work. When he comes home, she will be irritable and frustrated while he will be on a ‘high’ from the exercise. While out running with his training buddies, he might talk about his wife’s irritable behaviour. One of the female training partners might say she’s having the same issue with her husband. This could lead to an emotional connection between them. Add the physical ‘high’ from the exercise, and the increasing lack of intimacy between the married partners, and it could all lead to an emotional or physical affair.

This is why it’s important for couples to be on the same page. Each person needs to be able to find their happiness and contentment out of a combination of their friends, family, hobbies, religion, and career. A portion of your happiness can be found in your partner, but make sure that you don’t rely on your partner to fulfil all of your emotional needs.

We will all go through times in our relationships when our partners aren’t able to contribute 100%. This can be due to huge career pressure, a physical issue, or a goal that they are pursuing. Couples need to be able to negotiate this time (I’ll enter 1 Ironman competition, and that will be it), and each individual needs to be able to find their own happiness in the other things during this time, while still offering love and support to each other in whatever way they can.

If you rely completely on your partner for your fulfilment, you will find yourself looking for someone else when your needs aren’t being met. This is not a recipe for a successful, long-lasting relationship.

5.       Sex addiction or compulsive sexual behaviours

This is often one of the most traumatic things to happen to a relationship as it usually involves multiple affairs, and regular betrayal. As a sex addiction therapist, I have dealt with a number of cases like this, and have seen many relationships end up in reconciliation. Just as with other addictions, like drugs and alcohol, sex addiction is not ultimately about the sex.  

Sex addiction is not about someone having a high sex drive, or the need to have a lot of sex. Sex addiction is about medicating a feeling of anger, loneliness, sadness, boredom, or exhaustion.

These men (I am going to refer to men as I am currently only treating men in my practice) have never learned how to express their emotions in a healthy way, and they have turned to sex as their ‘drug’ of choice.

Patrick Carnes who is a ground-breaking researcher and therapist in the research, diagnosis, and treatment of sex addiction refers to it as “a disease of emotions”. These men find it also difficult to attach themselves to someone. They can’t be intimate. And if they do ‘attach’ themselves to someone, they can easily detach themselves again

Sex addiction is about the chase. It usually starts with the person becoming pre-occupied with thoughts about sex. The brain releases dopamine from the pre-frontal cortex or pleasure centre of the brain. The dopamine is what “feels good” and it’s what sex addicts crave. However, they end up pursuing more and more extreme measures to experience this ‘high’.

So if sex addiction is not about sex, what is it about?

It is about trauma, it serves to soothe emotional wounds left from childhood.

Patrick Carnes states in his research that:

  • 87% of sex addicts describe their familial upbringing as “disengaged”
  • 97% of sex addicts report and early childhood trauma (usually childhood abuse).
  • 42% of sex addicts have a cross-addiction problem with chemical dependency.
  • 38% of sex addicts also have an eating disorder

However, one cannot justify behaviours such as:

  • Compulsive watching of porn
  • Compulsive masturbating
  • Going to massage parlours with a happy ending
  • Going to strip clubs
  • Having multiple affairs
  • Going to prostitutes
  • Using social media to have virtual sex, sexting or going into chat rooms

There are many unhealthy behaviours that stem from sex addiction, and it not only causes the addict extreme hurt and pain, but the partner of the addict too. However, with the right treatment, both can find healing.

As a certified sex addiction therapist I have seen many couples find healing even after so much damage has been done to the relationship.

If you think that you are a sex addict or the partner of a sex addict, there is help and hope. I urge you to make contact with me so that you too can live a healthy, happy, fulfilling life with your partner.

Follow this link to find out more about sex addiction, and whether you or your partner need help: http://www.sexhelp.com.

If you feel like any of the issues that I’ve mentioned above may be affecting your relationship, please feel free to get in touch with me to make an appointment that could change your life and your relationship for the better.