May 162017 7 Responses

The Hidden Flaw Destroying Marriages

There is a flaw never mentioned in divorce papers. Of all the couples who have ever deconstructed the demise of their relationship, I’ve never heard them use this description. Yet there is one trait eroding relationships every day. The problem is cowardice.

Not every person who gets a divorce is a coward, many are heroic. Some of the most heroic people I know are single moms and dads doing the work of two people finding a way to make a life for themselves and their kids despite the foolish decisions of their ex-husband or ex-wife. Even when you are right to do so, it takes determination to walk away from what you know and into the unknown, especially when kids are involved. Not every divorce is caused by cowardice. But it is at the root of many divorces.

A healthy marriage demands courage. It requires that we willingly choose discomfort, uncertainty, and suffering. To the extent that a couple is courageous, they will grow and mature. When either, or both spouses, exhibit cowardice, the relationship will stall and possibly devolve. (For more of what makes a marriage work, see my book Friends, Partners, and Lovers–What It Takes to Make a Marriage Work)

What Is Courage?

Courage is not about an outcome; it’s about the process. Courage is the attitude (followed by action) to endure hardship because it is right and potentially profitable. Cowardice is a refusal to do the right thing because of immediate threats of discomfort, suffering, or risk.

We often think of soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy as the preeminent example of physical courage. We consider a fictitious character like Atticus Finch as someone displaying moral courage.

In marriage, courage is displayed when:

  • vows are honestly said to one another despite not knowing what the future holds
  • verbal restraint is the response to a harsh word which is spoken
  • help is sought because a problem can’t be overcome
  • common decency is given to one another despite difficult times
  • hard words are spoken, but not in a harsh way
  • personal sins are confronted for the sake of the individual and the marriage
  • forgiveness is given and sought

Cowardice is the norm. It comes naturally. Life is full of enough pain, it becomes second nature for us to run, hide, deny, and lie in order to avoid any additional discomfort. But our natural response is rarely the proper response. A healthy marriage requires that we do what is unnatural. To choose discomfort in the short-term in order to experience success in the long-term.

4 Areas We Must Have Courage

Cowardice must be rejected in every aspect of marriage. But there are four specific areas where courage is demanded.

1. Courage to face the truth. A relationship is real to the extent that it deals with the truth. When denial and falsehood persist, a marriage might appear strong, but it’s not a true relationship. Intimacy demands honesty. Only when two people present their true selves to one another can they experience meaningful love. (See: Can You Tell Your Spouse the Truth)

2. Courage to run toward one another and not away. If the first temptation toward cowardice is to hide, the second temptation is to run. It takes boldness to turn toward each other in the moments that we want to run away. Yet it’s only as we come together that we can do the work necessary to move our relationship forward. When a couple continually turns away from each other it creates distrust, a lack of support, and a broken marriage.

3. Courage to forgive and seek forgiveness. Nothing feels riskier than forgiving others and asking others for forgiveness. To admit our need and to refuse to use the offenses of others against them is contrary to a survival of the fittest world. We believe we must hide our weaknesses and exploit the weaknesses of others in order to survive. It takes courage to reject our natural inclination. To ask for, and to give, forgiveness to others is foundational for a healthy relationship.

4. Courage to endure. Humanity has always struggled with perseverance, but never has that been truer in the context of marriage than in our day. Cowardice is quick to give up. It’s an attitude which assumes failure, avoids pain, and changes direction at the first sign of danger. Courage is a different attitude. It expects hardship, embraces discomfort, and has a dogged determinism to endure. One of the greatest characteristics of a healthy relationship is a decision by both spouses to do whatever it takes to create that relationship. Notice this is more than just deciding not to divorce. Choosing health is a higher call than refusing a divorce. For that choice to become reality, a couple must have the courage to endure. (See Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance)

The Fruit of Courage

Courage has three primary fruits. When a couple continually shows courage in every aspect of their relationship, they will develop three characteristics:

Growth. A continual pattern of growth happens in courageous relationships. Because they endure the temporary pain which conflict creates, they can learn and make changes. For a couple with grit, conflict becomes a gift because it is often the source of growth. When a relationship is stuck, it’s often a sign the couple is lacking courage in one aspect of their relationship.

Maturity. Cowardice enables immaturity. It’s caused by it and creates it. But courage matures us. It allows us to move past childish behaviors, immature actions, and adolescent mindsets. A mature couple is often a courageous couple.

Connection. Courage draws people together. When a husband and wife boldly walk through life with one another, they will create a deep bond. They might experience more moments of disconnect, but they will reap the rewards of a long-lasting connection. In many cases, a lack of connection in an area is a sign of cowardice.

Start Now

Courage begins with a choice. It’s an internal mindset an individual makes. Proof of the choices are the actions which follow. A couple can only have tenacity after each individual commits to making courage a core value of their relationship.


  • Have you committed to being courageous in your relationship?
  • What is the next step where you need to choose boldness?

A healthy relationship demands courage. Few people in unhealthy relationships understand the role of cowardice in their brokenness. Yet to recognize the influence of cowardice is the first step to combatting it. Courage begins when we understand it can empower us toward a happy marriage.


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