Why Marriages Fail and How You Can Make Sure Yours Doesn’t

Ask your average group of people: how many of you would describe yourself as decent husbands or wives? How many of you think you are doing a reasonably good job as a husband or wife?

Every hand in the place will go up.

But, we know that nearly half of these marriages will fail. Many more will stay together but be unhappy. What’s going on here?

It was true of me. I would have said I was a reasonably good husband even though my wife would have given me an F. She was miserable. I was not meeting her needs, yet all the while thinking I was a pretty good husband. It could be true of you.

What is going on here?

This is one of the reasons why we need to set our sights higher than being reasonably good. We need to set our sights on being a fantastic husband or wife. We need to set our sights on thrilling our wife or husband. We need to set our sights on a fantastic marriage, not a decent marriage. I think I said that already.

It begs the question, though: how can so many of us think of ourselves as good husbands or wives and our husbands or wives are unhappy with us?

Think of the metaphor of your side view mirror and the warning that reads, “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.” The reason they appear farther than get-marriage they actually are is a trick of optics. The mirror is a convex piece of glass (think: shaped like the outside of a huge ball) that allows you to see a larger area on that side of the car, with the downside of distorting the perceived distance of things. Things look smaller, and if we are not careful, we will think they are farther since things that are smaller are normally farther away.

This is how we tend to look at the good deeds of our spouses. They look smaller to us than they look to our spouses. I am aware of every good deed I do for Missy-real or imagined. I give myself a point every time I do something good or think about doing something good. When it comes to my good deeds, objects are actually farther than they appear. That is, I tend to focus on the good things that I do while ignoring many of the good things that Missy does.

Yesterday was a travel day for us. As I was packing up my laptop I was very careful not to hit Missy’s feet with the laptop bag. I gave myself one point. She hates it when I crunch her toes with my laptop bag. (Strange, I know.) But, she probably didn’t give me a point for not crunching her toe.

I am very aware of everything I do or even think about doing for Missy. I am not always aware of everything she does. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. I am even aware of things I intend to do.

A couple of days ago I had the idea to send Missy an e-card. We did that a lot when we were dating, but I have not done it in a while. OK, maybe I haven’t done it in a long while-maybe not since we were dating. Anyway, I decided to send her an e-card. Give myself a point. But, when I got to the site to send the card, there was some kind of technical snag and I was not able to send the card. I still gave myself a point. It is the thought that counts, right?

The thing is, Missy never knew about that thought, and for a very good reason. I never sent it. She will never know about the e-card till she reads this. I doubt it will make her smile. But, I gave myself a point for the kind thought.

I am very aware of every kind thing I do or think about doing. I am only vaguely aware of the things that Missy does. I am not aware that the shoes I leave in the living room magically make their way back to the closet. I am not aware of when I leave dishes out and they miraculously make their way to the dishwasher and, when clean, back into the cabinet. I only occasionally think about how my clothes go from the hamper to being hung up.

I am very aware of all that I do; only vaguely aware of all Missy does. This is why I can think of myself as a good husband where my wife might not think I am doing so well.

They actually did surveys on this. They asked husbands and wives how much of the house work they each did. Regardless of what each individual said, the total worked out to 120%. So, if they both did 50%, they both thought they did 60%. Objects in the mirror…

If she actually does 70% and he actually does 30%, she thought she did 80% and he thought he did 40%. Objects in the mirror…

What does this mean for us, in terms of house work? However much you think you do, subtract 10% to get the real number. Suppose you both work outside the home and you both agree to do half of the house work. You think you are doing half. You are probably actually doing only 40% and she is doing 60%.

And, it is not just housework. It is true of every area of life. The Bible warns us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. It turns out, we do this constantly. We all have what psychologist call a self-serving bias. We think of ourselves more highly than is warranted. For example:

Most faculty members rate themselves as above average teachers, and virtually all high school students rate themselves as above average in social skills.
Most people in hospitals due to car crashes they caused rate themselves as above-average drivers.
Even when people have the notion of self-serving bias explained to them, most people rate themselves as above average in their ability to handle the self-serving bias. (The Me I Want to Be (John Ortberg)
So, what is the remedy? What did Jesus say? He said to go the second mile. He said to turn the other cheek. The idea is, do a little extra.

In Louisiana they call it a Lagniappe. It means to do a little extra. Go above and beyond. Do something unexpected. Include a little gift.

The idea of a baker’s dozen dates back to the 13th century. Thing is, bakers were not trying to do anything extraordinary. They were just humble enough to know that they miss-counted at times. They counted a 13th piece of bread when they sold you a dozen so on the chance that they miss-counted you would still have a dozen.

This is what we need to do in marriage. Do a little extra. Give a little Lagniappe. Do more than you think is really needed. Don’t do it thinking you are something special for doing it. Do it knowing that objects in this mirror are closer than they appear. Do a little extra just knowing that this might get you to even.

Jesus told a story of a servant who worked in the field all day long. When he got home, he prepared a meal for his master. Only then was he allowed to sit down and eat. Did he do anything special? Jesus said of him, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'” Luke 17.10.

Do more than your duty. Do a little more. Be a litttle more loving. Be a little more kind.


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