Feb 112014 90 Responses

The Number One Cause of Divorce

(The following is an excerpt from Friends, Partners & Lovers)

I’m convinced the number one cause of divorce is not adultery, financial problems, or irreconcilable difference. Those are most often symptoms of a deeper problem.

While these problems might be real, I believe there is a bigger issue.

The most common issue I see with couples who are struggling in marriage is a lack of intentional investment in their marriage.

While it’s a fair debate of which comes first—did someone lose interest so they lost intention or did someone lose intention so they lost interest—either way there is a key idea:

We can influence our feelings by intentionally investing in our marriage.

As I’ve written before, our affections often grow toward our investments. Wherever we put our time, money, and energy also ends up receiving our passion, interest, and affection.

Think about what this means for a marriage: you will generally feel for your spouse to the extent in which you invest in your spouse.

Your feelings are often far less about them and far more about what effort you have put into your marriage.

Obviously there are exceptions. Some people have made bad choices in who they married or the spouse has made a bad choice in who they have become, but most of the time, we love our spouse to the extent that we invest in our spouse. (See: Marry a Partner, Not a Child)

Consider what this means: if your feelings of love are waning, they can be recovered. With some effort, intention, and energy, love can grow.

Every week I interact with marriages which are suffering. I am often like a triage nurse who observes the couple, makes an initial determination of the seriousness of their illness, and then gets them with the right specialist so the expert can assist them with the issue. As the couple leaves our initial interaction, I almost always give them the same assignment: on the way home, retell the stories of your first date, how you fell in love, what first attracted you to the other, what you love the most about each other, and what your dreams are of a future together. (See: Change Your Marriage Today)

This assignment serves the purpose of unearthing long-buried feelings and memories. Just by recounting the stories, a couple is more likely to feel love for their spouse.

With a little intention, our emotions can drastically change.

Here are 5 things we can do every day which will reconnect us with our spouse:

1. Pray about the specifics of your spouse’s day. Not only will this remind you of the work of God in your life, it will also require you to know the specifics of your spouse’s day and will make you wonder how their day turned out.

2. Always kiss goodbye and hello. This is a physical and emotional connection which serves as a reminder of the union between a husband and wife. Make it such a habit that even if you kiss, leave, and return, you kiss again.

3. Call, text, or email at least once a day to check-in. You can update one another on how the day is going. You can discuss any needs for the evening and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the schedule for the night.

4. Have at least 5 minutes of uninterrupted conversation. Whether it be first thing in the morning or the last thing at night, relationships demand conversation. Turn off the television, put down the phone, and talk. This might be more difficult with young children, but find a way to make it happen. Remember, if you were having an affair you find the time to engage in that affair no matter how busy you are, so make the time for your spouse.

5. Hug for at least 30 seconds. Before you leave for work or after you come home or as you go to bed, have an extended physical embrace which reminds your body, soul, and mind of your deep connection with this other person. Studies have shown that hugging reduces blood-pressure, but it also connects you with the person you hug. Physical touch must be more than just sex. By truly embracing every day, each partner will feel more valued and loved.

If your marriage requires anything, it requires intention. To the extent that both spouses are intentional about keeping the marriage healthy, the marriage will thrive. Apathy will slowly erode a marriage, but intention will cause it to continually grow.

90 Responses to The Number One Cause of Divorce
  1. […] not to find the one person created specifically for you. The great challenge is to pick someone and ... kevinathompson.com/happy-valentines-day-youre-not-my-soul-mate
  2. Felicia Scott Reply

    I totally agree!

  3. Ambee Reply

    Agreed, but would say the synonym of that phrase is selfishness.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      very true Ambee.

    • PreEngaged (@preengaged) Reply

      When reading the title of the post, ‘Selfishness’ was the first word to come to my mind too (that and Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse)!

  4. Liz Reply

    Thank you for this message and may God Bless you

  5. Steve Bruneman Reply

    Kevin, you and I should talk! I wrote a book on this subject. I’ve been a divorce attorney for 33 years, married for 20 and divorced, and have lived life for 57 years. My book is entitled “The Marriage Gamble”. It’s presently available only on my website – TheMarriageGamble.com. It’s helping lots of people learn how to stay happily married for life. I love your blog and agree with everything you have said. Steve Bruneman

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Steve, Thank you for the response. I would love to talk. Your experience sounds like it would be very helpful to people.

  6. Susan Reply

    I’m traveling a lot this month, so I’ve decided to send an email at the beginning of each week to my mister, reminding him of my thoughts on the topics you shared: 1) recalling our first date, 2) when I knew I was in love with him, 3) the things I initially fell in love with, and 4) our future dreams. Since he’s a writer, he values written sentiments. Thanks for your blog, Kevin. It’s making a difference in lives and marriages like mine.

  7. Sondra Miller Reply

    I truly enjoyed what you said an I agree it just being at peace with yourself an God all else will fall in place . My husband an I have been married 44 years Feb 14 . an it hasn’t always been easy .I think whatever in life is good takes prayers an work

  8. Anne Reply

    This would be lovely if both parties worked together but when your partner is complacent and won’t talk or discuss anything…hides and lies things from you and you find yourself on the bottom rung of the ladder it becomes such a painful struggle every single day that you just sometimes have to say enough is enough before you lose all your self worth.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Anne, One of the saddest things about marriage is the fact that one spouse can destroy it while the other is doing everything in their power to save it. I’m sorry for your sorrow.

      • ann Reply


  9. George Tabakian Reply

    There is no commitment in Marriage anymore. Marriage is for life, better or worse, until death do us part. Yes it is important to express your love for your spouse daily, to have one on one dialogue daily with sincere interest. Additionally, as the empty nest syndrome occurs, Date Nights are important. My Wife and I have been married now for almost 30 years (2nd time around for both of us). Like most marriages, it has not always been easy but keeping God in the forefront has always brought us closer together. We do not and will not condone Divorce, though it’s often the easy way out. We were both Victims of divorce, totally against our beliefs.

    It takes two to keep the fire burning in Marriage and as it begins to die, continue to turn to the Lord for His intervention. Not Easy.


  10. Andy Reply

    I was wondering what your thoughts are when one spouse tries more than the other? I’ve read dozens of marriage books. Gone to councellors with and without hubby, work shops, tried to be a more Godly wife praying for years. Hubby won’t change and I feel used and neglected, so I must live like this for the rest of my life?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Andy, It’s a great question. My general thought, and please know that it is general, is to say I would draw some very clear boundaries of what you are willing to do or not do. If my spouse is 100% committed to the relationship, then there are many things I’m willing to do. Yet if they are not committed then I would begin drawing some clear boundary lines of things I would not do either. I would work all day at a marriage where my spouse is working on it to, but if they refuse to match the effort then I would begin to question how much I would do.

      • Dori Reply

        I, too would like to know how long one must continue when the other half has quit the marriage

        • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

          Dori, unfortunately that is not something I can say as a rule for every situation. I would get a good counselor and work through that question with them.

  11. boltimuss Reply

    Kevin, quick question. How do some of your suggestions apply when you work at home full time? I telecommute from home and my wife has stated that it puts a strain on our marriage. It is a good job, and pays well with a chance to lead to something bigger.

  12. Cheryl Ann Reply

    Very good article, Kevin. Last April I became divorced after twenty-three years. I did all of this. However, when you watch your spouse not care about their diabetes, the stress of that alone I couldn’t bare. No matter what I did, he’d do the opposite. Like cook healthy for him (he’d eat whatever he wanted when I wasn’t around) made sure he check his sugars regularly, bent over backwards for him. I became diabetic, then high blood pressure too. I ended up having to leave the marriage, because my health was being effected by the stress of his lack of responsibility. Today, and sense the divorce…I am much healthier! However, I won’t ever forget why I married him in the first place. It was his choice to stop caring or doing what was necessary for longevity of his health, our marriage etc. I sent your article to my son. He’s had a hard time understanding why I had to get out of this marriage. Thank you, for writing this, because I am sure it will help him with the concept of what’s need by both parities in any relationship. Blessings!

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Cheryl Ann, one of the great sorrows of a pastor is the reality that while it takes two to make a marriage, it can be destroyed by one. God bless.

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  14. Not Mrs. Ford Reply

    I completely agree with everything you said and did that faithfully in my almost 22 year marriage and yet here I am, divorced. You are one of the only people, especially among Christians, who’ve said that it takes two to make a marriage yet one can destroy it. I feel the judgement frequently and just say thank you Lord that they haven’t had my experiences.

  15. Rachel Reply

    Only Married for less than 2 years. We calling it a quit. He was very determined to end regardless how much effort is put in. Have actually done all you have written in the article but nothing is stopping him to exit leaving behind even his young child. He refused to hug to hold me and all talks are fire starter to yet another quarrel. As if these are not hurtful enough, he refuse to let the child call him father too. Prayers never come true and glooming days are always here.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Rachel, prayers for you. Sadly, if one partner isn’t willing to work then the marriage ends.

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  17. freeing hope Reply

    Almost all of the divorces of people I know have resulted from abuse. And at least one of the partners in the marriage was a Christian, and many of the abusers claimed to be. Most of the victims were women who tried the things you suggest in your article, very good things in a normal marriage, for many years, if not decades.. But in an abusive marriage, quite often, “trying harder” makes the abuse worse.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Amy, this article is not written toward those being abused. Abuse is a significant problem, but very few of the divorces I see actually involve abuse. Most involve what I discussed in this article.

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  20. heartbroken Reply

    I am in a young marriage and we were having our small problems…My husband run away and now he said he hates me for trying to save our marriage….He only wanted happy moments….I could not keep giving him only happy moments!! …it was awful to walk in eggshells …Now I am trying to move on with my life…

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  23. Allen e carter Reply



    Show Commentary
    Add parallel
    Malachi 2:10-12
    King James Version (KJV)
    10 Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?

    11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.

    12 The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts.

  24. Allen e carter Reply

    Malachi 2:13-17
    King James Version (KJV)
    13 And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

    14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

    15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

  25. Allen e carter Reply

    King James Bible
    For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Allen, thanks for the verses, but I’m not sure how they apply to this article. Can you help me understand?

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  29. Valerie Franke Reply

    I do thank you for these reminders, Kevin. My husband and I are going on 4 years, and have been facing some tough challenges. We do clearly love each other, but have been so exhausted from everything hitting us from every which way! This article has some very good key points to me to remember to NEVER stop telling him how much I love the man I chose to marry! I pray that God richly blesses you for putting out this effort to remind us not to stop loving even/especially when the times get tough!

  30. Me Time Reply

    I’m about to go through a divorce… my husband thinks it due to irreconcilable differences (it may be on his party) but my reason is (even though I don’t want the divorce) this very profound statement he said to me 7yrs ago when his step-daughter came to live with us (been married 9yrs) “you will leave before she leaves” (she’s 32yrs old)… we are a blended family as well (another issue).

  31. Blair Reply

    The root cause of every divorce is selfishness by one partner or both. My research on this topic has never been disproven (university study and as a private investigator for a law firm). Successful marriages are ones in which each partner unselfishly serves the other and then allows themself to be served by their partner so that both have the opportunity to feel the joy of serving their chosen spouse (Yes, occasionally letting down your gaurd and being served can be one of the most unselfish things you can do). This, of course, requires conscious and ongoing buy in from both partners.

  32. jsbaron Reply

    Great post. I think that when we put ourselves ahead of the needs of our family we create the conditions that can lead to the breakdown of that family. Whatever stage our family is in, we need to prioritize that ahead of our own selfish desires.

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  37. bretgatlin Reply

    This is one of the most profound messages I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It was an eye opening experience for me and I honestly believe this message has forever changed my marriage and my life. Thank you!

  38. DannyL Reply

    This approach to marriage makes marriage seems so mechanical. Lasting marriages are based on true love ( as someone who has been married for more than 25 years – to the same woman). The investment concept says I’m focus on maximizing returns and where this does not exist, I should go elsewhere where figure returns will be similar or higher. That’s the principle of investment otherwise it is not an appropriate analogy. Otherwise let’s drop the concept and focus on loving each other as Christ love the church and sacrificed himself for her.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Danny, Thanks for reading and for the comment. In my opinion, every description of love found in 1 Corinthians 13 requires intention. Living with intention does not mean something is mechanical. As a matter of fact, intention often keeps something from being mechanical.

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  40. monica Reply

    I love my spouse very deeply. We are currently separated and we have dealt with all of the above. I desire to invest in the marriage as I have attempted to talk to him about the issues. He refuses and has refused for 8 months now. Not a single sit down or conversation about anything. I have prayed and cried. I am slowly letting go because marriage is with 2 people and I am alone in the fight to stay married. thank you for your blog and other comments.

  41. Dave Reply

    Thanks Kevin. There but for the grace of God go I after 30 years of marriage. A sense of humor is a must. To be able to have a good belly laugh at yourself and with your wife and see the lighter side of what life throws at you is a huge asset. Believe me we’ve had some very difficult stuff to work through and we still manage to see the funny side with the sometimes challenging blessing of 5 kids. Try and live within your means and limit financial pressure. We come into this world with nothing and leave with nothing but we tend to accumulate on the journey and place our security in that rather than God. We can’t afford our own home at the moment but are trusting God to continue providing as he always has. The peace of God that passes all understanding that can only come through pressing into God with the power of the Holy Spirit living within is the only way to have life in your marriage in abundance. God is so good. 🙂

  42. Chantal Reply

    Hi Kevin,
    What can be done when someone marries a person that they never really fell in love with? I have a friend who didn’t have any romantic feelings for her spouse while they were dating but she couldn’t bring herself to say no when he asked her to marry him because he loved her so much. She thought she could talk her way out of getting married but found she couldn’t. So they got married and now 12 years and 5 kids later, she is struggling because she feels like she is still not in love with her husband. She feels like he is her best friend and she loves him, but not in that way. Your assignment would be hard for her as she never has been attracted to her husband or felt like she had fallen in love with him. It’s a sad situation because he is an amazing husband and he is her world. Yet they are currently separated while she tries to figure out if she wants to stay married.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Feelings of love can be changed. If she would choose so, she could love.

  43. Amy Reply

    I am recently divorced. Both my ex and I didn’t make an effort in our marriage. We both took it for granted at different times in our 24 years together. During our 23rd year, he had an emotional affair with a co worker, asked for a divorce. He felt she was who he wanted, not me or our children.

    I fought to save our marriage, and he struggled with who he wanted to be with. He has been diagnosed with depression and will not take medicine, but drinks instead. He says he loves me, but cannot get over the hurt I caused, but he says he forgives me for it.

    I love this man, I’ve forgiven him for the emptiness I’ve felt, and for the affair. He still left, says he doesn’t miss me and is not coming home. I’m heartbroken, he’s the love of my life. I pray he comes home, to me and his children. I know where I went wrong, what I should have done. I’ve changed for myself and for my children, I’m in a much better place. I want to share my life with him, as my husband and best friend.

    Always treasure what you have.

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  45. John Reply

    Some relationships require too much effort and just aren’t worth the trouble and you are wasting your life if you stay in a relationship like that. Marriage shouldn’t make your life miserable. It should make your life at least a little better most of the time. If you try and try and things just keep getting worse eventually you need to just let it go and get out and move on and try to make the best out of the rest of your life.

    Divorce made me a big believer in divorce. My life is so much better and I think it’s better for my ex wife too. It was devastating when it happened after we’d been together nearly two decades. I just knew I was married for life and as hard as it was I kept holding on to the belief that someday we would be that cute little old couple that still held hands, but I was delusional and selling myself on a relationship that really just made us both miserable. I will never live like that again. It’s not worth it. Life is too short to let yourself stay in a miserable relationship that no amount of effort repairs.

    I don’t think it’s just about effort. In fact, a really good relationship is pretty effortless, at least compared to a bad relationship. Life is hard enough. Why would anyone want to stay in a marital relationship that makes it even harder? I’ve been with my second wife almost six years and it’s always been easy for us. We don’t fight. There is no tension, no festering Ill will. Things are great between us in every way. We’re just a really good fit and we enjoy living life together.

    My ex wife is a good person. She tried. We both tried. We just weren’t a good fit. Yes, effort is important, but some people are just never going to be happy together, and that can happen even if both are good people and put in a great deal of effort trying to make it work. Sometimes it just isn’t meant to be and there is no shame in walking away from a relationship like that, especially if you’ve really given an honest effort trying to make it work.

    I am not saying people should be fair weather friends and jump ship when things get a little difficult, but don’t let yourself be miserable forever. Life is or precious and short. Don’t waste it.

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  57. Kim Reply

    Always enjoy reading your articles. They have helped me stay in the marriage trying to make things work and stick things out. It doesn’t happen all of a sudden but apathy is slowly insidious. What if your spouse does not grow with you in your marriage? Is not a partner? Does not want to do things together? So you are forced to do things on your own without a partner really. It leaves your friends puzzling as to why you stay together. It leaves your kids asking why you stay together. It can place you in situations where you truly have to be on guard morally. It’s not an ideal situation when one person prefers to stay at home and I want to be active and living and enjoying life. Also he refuses to work at a job And you are the sole income provider. ( I know it used to be that way but I feel it is harder if it is the woman. We were not meant to be the breadwinner. Sorry if I’m being old fashioned. ). I still try to be intentional when I am home but I keep feeling there should be more to life in having an actual partner in marriage and life and more happiness sharing the same things. However I also feel like things have to be extremely terrible to get a divorce. Conflicted because of my values and because I want to make it work for years but he’s just not going to be that partner for me. It’s not him and I can’t exprct him to change. And maybe he would be just as sad as I am if he tried to be what I wanted. It just seems sad

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Have the two of you tried counseling? To me, it’s unacceptable that he won’t keep a job.

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