By John K. Grubb, Attorney
5005 Riverway Drive, Suite 450
Houston, Texas 77056
An Attorney’s Observations Of Things That Keep A Marriage Together
I have handled hundreds of divorces in my career, have worked with fellow attorneys who collectively have handled thousands of divorces, and have observed thousands of divorces occurring daily in courts. There are many, many different reasons why marriages fail. Some marriages fail because the people made a tragic mistake in marrying each other — they should have known at the very beginning that their relationship was never going to make it. Other marriages fail because of pressure from family — frequently one party to the marriage is not accepted by the other parties’ family. Sometimes marriages fail because people change dramatically over the years. Sometimes marriages fail because people become alcoholics, drug addicts, workaholics, etc. However, I’ve observed many marriages that have one or all of the above traits, and they somehow have remained viable.
So what are some of the reasons marriages, even troubled marriages, remain viable?
I think the vast majority of marriages fail because of one or more of the following problems: money, sex, power, or respect. And the vast majority of marriages that make it even troubled ones, make it because of money, sex, power, and respect.
My observation is that the amount of money that a couple has is not near as important as how they manage their money and whether they share common goals. I’ve seen couples that make in the top 1 percent of the income chart get divorced because of disputes over how they’re going to spend or manage their money. I’ve seen couples that, by all statistical data, would be considered well off end up divorced because of disputes over money. And I’ve observed many couples who literally struggle day-to-day to the pay rent and keep the electricity on, who are happily married. I think the most important thing in connection with money is to have common goals and to work together to achieve those common goals. When I see young couples running into money problems, I frequently refer them to Dave Ramsey’s course, Financial Peace University. I have seen quite a few shaky marriages become solid after the couple completed the Financial Peace University course.
Every major statistical study shows that sex is an important part of marriage. As a minster’s wife told me, “you and I can do everything together as friends – we can hug, we can go to dinner together, we can go to movies, we can laugh, but we cannot have sex – that is for your spouse only.”
Generally, men are labeled as the aggressors, wanting more sex, and woman is labeled as more passive. I think that is an outdated tradition. My observation is that lack of sex is a problem for both men and woman. Frequently couples start out at about the same compatibility level on sex, but with work, career development, the operation of a house, children, etc., they frequently get out of phase with one another. And while the things people do with their children are worthy and good, how valuable are they to a child’s long-term happiness if the parents end up divorced? Once a couple gets out of phase, the relationship begins to deteriorate. I commonly joke that the average couple that has been married for ten or more years spends more time getting the oil changed on their car every year than they do on working on their sexual relationship. Sex is like any other good thing in life — you have to work at it, you can’t shove it aside, you can’t assume that its automatic, and you have to pay attention to what you’re doing.
Couples frequently get out of phase in the sex lives because of children — little league, softball, soccer, dance lessons, play dates, birthday parties, parent-teacher organizations, Cub Scouts, Brownies, etc., take a lot of time and frequently result in parents going in different directions. As a friend of mine says, “it’s divorce because of children.” I tell parents to put your marriage first, your children second, and in the long run of life your children will come out the winners.
Couples frequently get into power struggles, there’s nothing uncommon about that. Some people like green walls, some like blue walls, some like modern furniture, and some like antiques. Most of the power struggles over trivial material things do tend to dissipate over time. The power struggles that have I found that do not dissipate, and frequently lead to divorce, have to do with children. And a power struggle over children is really the ultimate form of disrespect for your spouse. Your child’s genetic makeup is one-half mother and one-half father. If a spouse does something to hurt the other spouse, he or she has just hurt one half of their child. If you find you and your spouse are arguing over the children, take a parenting class together, meet every Saturday morning to review the past week and plan the next week with the children, go out of your way to support your spouse in front of the children, and realize that your way is not always perfect.
Frequently, one parent is a stern disciplinarian and the other parent is lackadaisical about discipline; instead of learning to work together and to support each other, eventually, one person will triumph over the other and will essentially control the children. Usually, the person that is in control becomes more and more domineering. The aggressive person generally becomes more and more stern with regard to discipline. The lackadaisical person becomes more and more passive over time. What happens is that the person who loses the power struggle usually sits back and bites his or her tongue hoping that the problem will eventually go away as the children grow up. Once in a while, it does go away. However, in most situations, the person that sits back and waits for the problem to go away becomes more and more and more resentful of the power wielded by the other party. Eventually, one too many bricks are put on the balloon, and the balloon comes crashing down out of the sky. This commonly occurs when children reach the age of 12 to 15 years. And that’s when the real tragedy occurs because that is when children need both parents more than ever.
Finally, watch out for a power struggle with regard to “winning”. Sometimes our need to win can become overwhelming and destructive to your marriage. This is particularly true of “Type A” personalities. Remember the old warning about becoming so focused on winning that one will, “win the battle and lose the war.” I represented a man several years ago who was divorcing his wife after 26 years of marriage – a woman he described as a “lovely lady”. Why the divorce? In their 26 years of marriage, she insisted that they spend every holiday with her family. He actually liked her family, but he finally realized that she was determined to win every argument and that she simply did not respect his opinions and wishes. Always work to balance power between you and your spouse – over major things and minor things. And whether you win or lose, do so gracefully.
To sum up, if I have any advice to give couples to keep their marriages intact, it is developed common money goals, work on your sexual relationship, learn to share power, and respect your spouse. If you do these things, hopefully, you will never end up in a divorce attorney’s office.
If you reach the conclusion that there is no hope for your marriage and you need a divorce, contact Houston attorney, John K. Grubb.