kids after divorce

What Kills Marriages? Top Five Fails According to a Divorce Attorney

I came across this post title, “The 5 Most Common Reasons Marriages Fail, According to a Divorce Lawyer” Let’s dig into the reasons marriages fail in the words of a lawyer who helps couples get divorced.

5 Reasons Most Marriages Fail:

  1. Not Seeking a Therapist for Anger Management or Depression
  2. Refusing to Get Help for Alcohol or Drug Addictions
  3. Frustration Over Money Problems
  4. Problems With Infidelity
  5. Refusal to Go to Couple’s Therapy

Okay, I’m going to give this attorney some kudos for identifying the main cause for my divorce. In the most simplistic form, my marriage fell apart when I decided that killing myself at a big corporate job was not the way forward. My then-wife, who was working around 20 hours a week, was very happy getting to meet the bus after school. She was also happy at having a housekeeper and a nanny who could take the kids and provide an occasional nutritional meal. She was feeling supported by the status quo and when my golden parachute allowed us 8-months to reconfigure, she opted-out of the marriage rather than work on a new financial arrangement with me.

Yes, there were other problems. But of the 5, only money comes across as something we didn’t agree on. We did go to couple’s therapy. We each had therapists of our own. We didn’t appear to have any alcohol or drug addictions, though there was a propensity on both sides towards dependency. And with the exception of one emotional infidelity failure (See this post from The Off Parent: The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage) neither of us sought a sexual liaison outside of our commitment.

Even When You Try Marriages Can Still Fail

Even with the best of efforts, and good therapy, our marriage still failed over the issue of money and who was going back to work. There’s an irony here that cannot go unmentioned. As my then-wife was refusing to get a full-time job alongside me as we moved into the next phase of our lives. (The kids were getting ready to graduate from 3rd and 5th grades.) After the divorce, even with a hefty child support payment, she had to get a full-time job anyway. And without my support, her full-time experience was one of the things that seemed to stress her out more than anything else about the divorce. As we ended over money, she always tended to be hyper-focused on money, even when there were no problems in the balance sheet.

Let’s jump into the other reasons marriages fail and see if there are solutions or ideas that might prove helpful.

1, 2, and 5 all have to do with therapy of some sort. Taking care of what you are struggling with is a major requirement of staying in and maintaining a healthy relationship, married or unmarried. These personal issues are certainly relationship killers if left untreated. The problem is also that these issues are INDIVIDUAL FIGHTS and not a couple’s issue. If one partner is struggling with major emotional, chemical, or spiritual problems it is going to cause a lot of stress on any relationship.

The Big Three Personal Problems Keeping Us Down

  1. Depression
  2. Anger Management
  3. Alcohol or Drug Dependency

There are various ways of tackling these issues if the individual wants to change them. The first step, however, is the biggest one: the willingness to admit there is a problem. It’s interesting that this article on Fatherly, a site I know and love, promises “And how to avoid them,” but offers ZERO ideas of how to avoid these pitfalls.

Help for those struggling with personal emotional and mental issues. Therapy and coaching are both good sources of inspiration and information about most emotional problems you might be dealing with. Another source of great comfort and support for me has been attending Al-Anon meetings on a regular basis. You don’t have to be in a relationship with an active drinker to benefit from Al-Anon meetings. What Al-Anon teaches us from the very start is the problem is not with another person’s drinking, drugging, or abusive behavior, the problem is with OUR reaction and response to their dysfunction. We learn, in both therapy and Al-Anon that WE are responsible for OUR OWN happiness. We have little ability to make another person happy if they are depressed.

Depression, Anger Issues, and Alcoholism or Drug Dependency are personal crisis issues. An individual must address their own personal demons on their own. It’s helpful if you can work with an individual therapist or a coach to get control of the things in your individual life that are making you unhappy. Only by finding your own inner balance and happiness can you bring that balanced leadership and love to your family. Wounded people cannot function well in relation to others. As parents, we will bring our own problems down on the hearts and minds of our loved ones. Take charge of your emotional and chemical issues before they wreck your life.

Money Problems

Fighting and struggling around money is one of the most common relationship fights. Money, in some basic sense, means power. The person who controls the money gets to make decisions on what is bought, what vacations are taken, what opportunities are passed on and what adventures can be opened up for the entire family. As a family, money issues can be hard. Who’s going to earn the money? Who’s going to pay the bills and do the accounting? Who’s going to reign in the over-spender? How can we balance our income with our desired lifestyle?

The cleanest way to deal with money as a couple is to share the process of both earning and spending money. In many relationships, couples make choices about who will stay at home with the kids and who will continue on their full-time job track in order to support the lifestyle and family values that each parent has agreed upon. When things get crosswise, when money gets tight, the relationship may experience stress. In my marriage, when I was interested in resetting our financial agreement my then-wife decided to fight me rather than work on a compromise. This fracture was the fundamental rift that killed my marriage.


Emotional and sexual infidelity are terminal issues in my option. Once the proverbial bridge has been burned it can be very hard to rebuild the trust. I have heard that couples who are committed to rebuilding and resetting their marriages are capable of staying in a marriage after an infidelity. In my case, my ex-wife had a several weeks “lunching” relationship with a young man from her office. What I didn’t really understand until years after my divorce, was this was the same maneuver she was executing when she started having lunch with me. She was living with a man while she was taking lunches with me. I did keep trying to rebuild and reconnect with my wife, but the violation was fundamental and contributed to our eventual divorce.

To me, the idea of infidelity needs to be addressed BEFORE it is acted on. If you are thinking about seeking love and affection outside of the marriage, you need to ask and work on what is not wonderful in your marriage. If your needs are not being met in your primary relationship, it is YOUR responsibility to speak up. If you don’t ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT you cannot complain when don’t get it.

The Promise of Couples Therapy

Just going to couples therapy opens up the possibility for a healthy. In couples therapy you can express what’s not working for you. You can attempt to understand what’s not working for your partner. And, if things go well, you can decide to keep working on celebrating and creating WINS in your relationship while minimizing and moving away from the MISSES in your relationship.

It is only through constant micro-corrections that we can stay engaged, in love, and connected in your primary intimate relationship. We don’t ever get a day off from being compassionate and thoughtful. And when you are well-attached to your lover it becomes easier to make choices that move towards their heart rather than away from their heart.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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