8 Reasons Modern Marriage Isn’t Working

8 Reasons Modern Marriage Isn’t Working January 26, 2016

wedding day couple

As the founders of StrongerMarriages.org and the co-founders of StrongerMarriages.commy wife Ashley and I have had interactions with thousands of married couples (both online and in person), and I’m ready to make a potentially scandalous claim…MODERN MARRIAGE ISN’T WORKING.

Just clarify, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with marriage itself. In fact, marriage is more important than ever as I pointed out in my post on 7 reasons why marriage still matters. The problem is that our modern culture has taken this beautiful gift of marriage, and gone about it in the wrong way. We’re missing the point of marriage, and as a result, families are being built without a solid foundation.

Here are eight key ways our modern world seems to be missing the mark when it comes to marriage. If we could correct our viewpoints and our actions in these eight areas, I’m convinced that modern marriages would instantly improve.

1. Engaged couples spend huge amounts of time and money to have a great WEDDING, but almost no effort preparing for a great MARRIAGE.

Weddings are big business. The dresses, the TV shows, the catering, the magazines and the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great wedding! Weddings are wonderful, but they are NOT the point of marriage. I’ve seen far too many couples have a dream wedding followed quickly by a nightmare marriage. The wedding lasts only one day but the marriage should last a lifetime, so make sure you’re planning for more than a one-time party. Some stellar resources to help you prepare for a strong marriage are available at the SYMBIS assessment for engaged couplesYou can also read my post on The Seven Questions to Ask Before You Get Married.

2. We view marriage as a CONTRACT but not as a COVENANT.

When you get married, the state views your union as nothing more than a contract. My two lawyer brothers have taught me that a “contract” is simply a document ultimately built on distrust between two parties where each person is primarily concerned only with his or her best interests. God created marriage to be much more than a contract; it’s a covenant. In a covenant, the focus isn’t on your own best interests but on the best interests of another. It’s selfless, and it’s timeless and there’s NO exit strategy. That’s the only way a marriage can really work, but our modern world has lost sight of this.

Dave Willis quote seven laws of love book marriage feelings commitment

3. We build marriage on our FEELINGS instead of our COMMITMENT.

There’s nothing wrong with “feelings.” They’re an important part of life, but they were never intended to be our compass or our foundation, because feelings are fickle. Marriage is far too important to be based on feelings. Instead, we need to build marriage upon our commitments even on those days when we’re not feeling it. Our modern world worships feelings and is quick to quit on a marriage the moment the feelings change, but the strongest couples have learned that marriage requires choosing to love each other even on those days when you struggle to like each other.

Dave Willis quote author seven laws of love book strong marriage requires choosing to love each other even when you don't like each other #7lawsoflove

4. We view marriage as a 50-50 partnership.

Marriage certainly is a partnership, but in our modern world, we’ve divided everything into “his” and “hers” in a dangerous way. When we look at marriage as “50-50” we’ll always be keeping score and measuring our spouse’s efforts against our own (and almost always scoring ourselves higher than we’re scoring him or her). We’ll be tempted to give less effort so we’re never doing more than our share. This eventually creates a climate in the marriage where neither person wants to do anything and entitlement ultimately replaces love. Instead of seeing the relationship as 50-50, see it as 100-100. Give the best of yourself 100% of the time.

Dave Willis quote marriage 50-50 divorce 100-100 7 laws of love book

5. We think the HAPPINESS of our kids should be a bigger priority than the HEALTH of our marriage.

Obviously, our kids need to be a huge priority and we would do anything for our children, BUT our modern world has mistakingly viewed children’s happiness as a greater priority than marital health. It’s not our job to raise “happy kids;” it’s our job to raise responsible adults. When all the focus is on the children’s temporary happiness, we end up harming the kids and harming the marriage at the same time. We also end up with an “empty nest” and an empty marriage. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the security that comes from living a unified home where their mom and dad are in a loving, committed marriage with each other.

6. We TEXT more than we TALK.

I love technology and I believe our phones and computers can be a wonderful tool to help us stay connected, BUT these same tools can also be a huge hinderance in having meaningful interaction with our spouse and loved ones. Too often, we’re sitting in the same room but we’re in different worlds. Modern marriages could greatly benefit from less screen time and more face time! We could benefit from less texting and more talking.

7. We have “outsourced” SEX and romance.

This one is going to step on some toes, but it needs to be addressed. One of the biggest marriage-killers in our modern world is that husbands and wives have stopped pursuing each other and have turned their sexual/romantic fantasies to outside sources like pornography, erotica and graphic romance novels. I talk more about this in my post on Why porn is destructive and also in our online video course on sex and intimacy in marriage. Modern marriage could instantly improve if we committed to not only being physically monogamous, but striving to be mentally monogamous as well.

8. We think DIVORCE will solve all our problems.

There’s a huge modern myth that divorce will solve all the problems you’re facing in your marriage, but the reality is, divorce usually creates more problems than it solves. Instead of being so quick to jump ship when struggles come, let’s resolve to work through our issues. Let’s create solutions instead of creating excuses. Let’s fight for each other instead of fighting against each other!

For more ways to build a rock-solid marriage, check out my brand new book The Seven Laws of Love: Essential Principles for Building Stronger Relationships and you can also Download our new “MarriageApp” from iTunes by clicking here.

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  • SWM

    Although these are good points I think some things is overlooked. Marriages of old last until death because 1) Death came quicker- est say couples on average were married 7 years before one or the other died in days of old 2) women were unable to work and support themselves in most cases- this means they needed marriage for food, clothing, shelter which leads to point 3) many stayed in marriages that were abusive because they needed the resources it did supply ( at least in part) these needs and 4) its a misnomer that marriages of old lasted – when doing genealogy one discovers that many marriages did not last. There are many cases where the men left the women after a while then went on to marry again elsewhere easily because there were no way to trace who was married where especially when you are talking about times before 1700s.
    Just food for thought when talking about the staying power of modern marriages.

  • Harry Amos

    Yes, while I agree with all eight points in the above article (though only partially with seven), it is a grave error to romanticise marriages in eras of history gone by for the four reasons above and a few others besides. After all, even if it ever existed (and it didn’t!), how far back in history is this “golden era” anyway?

    Obviously the author comes from a Christian biblical perspective, which has much commendable and needed advice (as this article and a good deal of research demonstrates), but also awful historical recommendations for gender and marriage!

    “Do not intermarry with [those in the Canaanite tribes]. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons.” (Deuteronomy 7:3)

    “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her.” (Deuteronomy 22:28–9)

    “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Numbers 31:17–18)

    Feel free to read them in context for a better flavour! And my personal favourite, God said to David, “I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.” (2 Samuel 12:8)

    Sure, Christianity’s relationship with the OT is a complex subject and there’s definitely good cultural observations and suggestions here… but I’d generally suggest cherry-picking the good bits from multiple sources of wisdom!

  • CarliCanada

    Harry Amos, your sarcastic nit-picking verses from the earliest books of the Bible–the Torah–is ridiculous. The Torah and the ancient people (Jews) who observe it are still thriving and influential throughout the world in science and arts and media and film whereas many other ancient peoples of greater numbers and greater skills have died out, long forgotten. Not all influential Jews are religious, of course, but the Jews who still follow the Torah are renowned for strong community, family, and marriage bonds.

    From the Torah we learn about the value of a covenant and that as stated in Point #2 above, why spouses should make a covenant of marriage with each other. This covenant should be sacred to the couple, never to be torn down and desecrated. A marriage built merely on feelings and emotions and fun and laughter has to stay in Happy-land or it will flounder. A marriage built on a covenant, though, can survive anywhere. The Jews certainly know what it means to survive, and the great body of Scriptures they gave us will teach us how to survive through the storms like they have done, so long as we don’t follow your method: snip out examples of very ancient, cultural practices that no longer make sense today, then act like the whole Bible is a joke.

    Speaking of Jews, have you heard of Dr. John Gottman? He is a renowned marriage expert with 40 years of study, who apparently walks the talk. (He sings a proverb to his wife every Friday as a way of showing her his love.) He has repeatedly found that criticism, sarcasm, and contempt are devastating to marriages, and are highly predictive of divorce. (FYI: I’ve been married 25 years so far; my parents were married 67 years before one died; my husband’s parents have been married 55 years. Our marriages have all weathered storms by the grace of God.)

  • Harry Amos

    Whether or not I’m nit-picking is up for the individuals reading my comment to judge (I have read the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament), but I was not being sarcastic. I would be being sarcastic if I was saying “oh the Hebrew Bible has SO much wisdom for good marriages” or something similar and you should note that I said no such thing. I never suggested the whole bible is a joke (Hebrew or Christian), but rather one ought to be careful idolising it or skipping over parts of the ancient Israelite definitions of marriage that make us modern folk deeply uncomfortable.

    Yes, I’ve heard and read many apologetics for these passages, but they are highly problematic and often plagued with philosophical fallacies or highly biased perspectives on ancient history. For example, how do you personally reason out of Deut. 22:28-29?

    I could tease out many more passages presenting a similar view on marriage throughout the Hebrew Bible, but that would make my comment unbearably long! I’d prefer people read the Hebrew Bible for themselves and came to their own judgement, having read the best of both critics and apologists.

    I should stress that as someone getting married in July, I’m keen to absorb marriage advice from many different places and have a *great* amount of admiration for those religiously inspired marriages which have stood the test of time. Generally though in my experience of Christian married couples, they tend to cherry-pick the good bits of advice in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament and ignore the uncomfortable bits! (As I do!) Like the fact that a woman’s consent to marriage was meaningless… but a father’s consent was everything. (Stuff the mother’s consent – she’s a woman after all! Or foreign slaves… their consent is kind of irrelevant.)

    Sarcasm and contempt aren’t useful in anything, I agree, however constructive criticism is *essential* to a successful romantic relationship, friendship or business relationship. Also, congratulations on your marriage – I hope it is a happy one and lasts as long as you both shall live. 🙂

  • Chris Allen

    On Point #1:
    Too many people rush to get married, or they marry because of a pregnancy, etc. We need to put more emphasis on helping individuals to become strong, self-honest, self-loving and valuing, caring, responsible people *before* they even *think* of getting married.

    Being self-honest helps you understand who you are, what you want and what is most important to you in a marriage. It not only helps you see your own flaws and good qualities, it also helps you recognize them in others, and helps you spot people who are being dishonest with you, and often with themselves.

    Being self-loving and self-valuing helps us counteract our critical, judgmental culture that pushes us to conform and to live in a state of anxiety over what others will think of us. It helps us be happier and more confident, which helps us be less attractive to abusers, and can help us spot abusers quicker. Note: our culture confuses self-love with selfishness; they’re two totally different things.

    We need to better understand ourselves, and work on ourselves (getting on the lifelong path to becoming more and more of who and what we really are) before we start looking for partners to share our lives with.

    Self-love and value also helps counteract a tendency many of us have to look to someone else to validate us. The latter leads to a desperation that conflates the normal human trait of “needing to be loved” into an obsession. I like to use the Twilight couple as an example of this, because they’re so extreme it’s quite clear:

    Bella was a human young woman who saw herself very negatively: she considered herself utterly unattractive to anyone; basically, she believed with all her heart that she was unworthy of love.

    Edward was a vampire who saw himself as a soul-less monster; he believed with all his heart that he was unworthy of love.

    When they formed their relationship, each of them put the other on a pedestal as “the epitome of a good person and an attractive person.” They needed each other obsessively, “like the air I breathe” and “the reason for my continued existence.” Why? Because having the love of this person they’d placed on a pedestal was the *only* way each of them could see value in themselves.

    The books are chock-full of statements from each of them disparaging themselves and lauding the other, even arguing with each other over who has value and who doesn’t, with the other always being put out there as “so far above me.”

    It’s a relationship of mutual dependence: each is totally dependent on the other to ensure that they have value—and it creates some unhealthy, obsessive behaviors.

    If you love yourself, value yourself, and yes, understand that you’re sexually attractive whether someone else tells you that you are or does not, you are far better placed to make a relationship with strength: seeing and valuing yourself honestly also helps you focus on the other person *as who they are*, rather than for how they can meet some desperate need that *you* have.

  • CarliCanada

    Congratulations and Mazel tov on your engagement and upcoming wedding! I sincerely recommend reading Daniel Gottman’s work as he illuminates what couples should do to resolve conflicts and keep their love intact.

    The reason I found you sarcastic and treating the Bible like a joke is because you didn’t cite any sensible marriage or relationship verses that can be followed today, but instead cited only those verses which are obviously for that time and culture only as they are outlawed today, calling 2 Sam. 12:8 “my personal favourite.” That’s why I tried to drive home the point that the Hebrew Scriptures deserve respect for clearly serving the Jews over their lo-o-ong history. That’s also why when you see a baffling or offensive passage that is from the Torah, you should always check what the Jews have understood from it since they have explored it so diligently in the original language!

    I don’t know the Jewish interpretation of the passage you cited, but let me cite one that I learned a few years ago. The Law of Moses included the concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jewish rabbis teach that this law was never treated literally as an excuse to get revenge (that if you somehow made me lose my eyesight, then I had the right to gouge out your eyes). Instead, this law enforced equality: it meant that the eyesight of the poorest man is just as valuable as the eyesight of the richest man and that the law must treat them equally, requiring fair compensation for the person who lost a body part or function from the person who caused the loss. The law could not favour the rich man or allow him to take advantage of a poor man and ruin his health, eyesight, etc. If you think about it, the law actually goes hand-in-hand with the Golden Rule: don’t harm someone else in a way that you wouldn’t want to be harmed.

  • Ayeza Khan

    Modern marriages are not working, there are many reasons: Some are give below: 1. Expect more but less giving

    2. Ego Issues

    3. Cant understand each other

    4. Those Relationships made on artificial things, not worked on long term.

    Think about it and avoid these in your life. more about successful marriage

  • FireAndPlague

    I have heard many people disparage these Old Testament laws as outdated, cruel, misogynist, etc. However, one must consider the culture and the context. In ancient Hebrew culture, purity and virginity were highly valued (or at least they were meant to be). An unmarried woman without “virtue” had little to no societal value. No one would marry her, and she would be outcast from her family, leaving her only one alternative, prostitution. The law was for the protection of the woman, both for her provision and survival in case of rape, and as deterrent to the reckless or opportunistic rapist (little can be done to deter a truly determined predator, obviously).

    As for the remainder of your argument, consider that the current culture of sexual freedom and gender equality seriously warps our modern perspective on the Old Testament laws. Is it really moral to have sex with whoever whenever however one wants? Are women really equal to men? I’d contend that a clear conscience and common sense would deliver a profound and resounding negative to both of these questions.

  • Harry Amos

    #1 – I have studied the OT and ancient Hebrew culture and come to quite the opposite conclusion, falling out of faith after doing so. I agree culture and context are important. I also happily concede that the so-called Mosaic Law compares well against other ANE law codes, such as that of Hammurabi, for example. Many things were valued in ancient Israelite society – genocide (Numbers 31:17–18), racial purity (Numbers 25:6–13), religiously motivated slaughter (1 Kings 18:40), treating women as war booty (Numbers 31:7–40), etc… (If you want others I’ll give you more than these.) And besides, whatever happened to moral absolutism? And people charge me of moral relativism! 😛 Please read through these verses as if they weren’t part of your religion. Objectively speaking, they are abominable. Read them as if they appeared in the Qur’an instead. What would you objectively say then? Is the Qur’an any more violent than the OT? Please try and distance yourself from your desired conclusion. My view from my studies of both is that the OT is far worse than the Qur’an. What is your view of the Qur’an? Have you studied it?

    #2 Yes, it is right in my view, so long as it is consensual, unlike much of the legitimised sex in the OT. (Shock horror!) I should stress that I think it’s often not the path to happiness that society says it is; I have not, for example. So I’d happily agree there’s debate when it comes to your first question here. There is simply no room for debate in your second question. There are no historical or scientific or logical reasons why women should be considered less or lower than men. If you disagree, state your non-theological grounds. (Besides “but their biology is different – men can’t give birth!”) Yes, women are intrinsically worth as much as men. That’s non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. I have a clearer conscience than I ever did under a conservative evangelical faith, truly. 🙂

  • uncommonsensibility

    Wow, talk about native advertising.

  • FireAndPlague

    As to point (1), I think you mistake my meaning. I was not advocating moral relativism, merely acknowledging its existence. The moral code of modern society is different than it was in the days of Moses, but it shouldn’t be. I agree that morality is absolute and invented by God; the modifications to morality through the millenia are regrettable and wrong. You think that certain acts and codes prescribed by God in the Old Testament are abhominable because you view them through the lens of modern morality. I don’t think the Koran has anything to do with the discussion; whether the morality of the Koran is overall good or evil does not automatically declare the opposite about the Bible, or vice versa. I believe the message of the Koran is misguided and wrong, but that doesn’t mean that there cannot be snippets and sections of truth therein.

    (2). Again, your modern moral view distorts your perception of ancient morality. Saying that your morality is right and everything that contradicts it is wrong is extreme hubris. I did not say that women are worth intrinsically more or less than men; they are simply not equal (mathematically or logically equivalent). That would mean that a man was defined to be woman, and a woman to be a man, complete nonsense, obviously. A woman’s role in relationships, family, society, and the church should be different (NOT equivalent), but that does not mean it is worth less, intrinsically.

  • Harry Amos

    (1) Brb. I’m going to slaughter men, women, animals, children and babies from in New York because some holy guy told me YHWH wanted it. Oh… he also said we could keep all the virgins to have as our sex slaves too… neat… so all our modern improvements to morality since the days of Ancient Israel were a mistake? Damn… I’m going to find me some slaves… is slavery forbidden or not? Is rape ever okay? Gosh… this conversation would frighten me were it not for the extreme power of cognitive dissonance at work… The Qur’an has everything to do with the discussion because you can’t see how alike they are until you’ve read them objectively side-by-side for yourself. Would you ram a sword through the heart of a crying baby infant in Jericho because some supposedly holy guy said a deity told you to do it? (Fortunately modern archaeology thoroughly debunks Jericho, but I won’t go there. You are claiming the Bible is – somehow – inerrant. I am making no presumptions about it. Read Kathleen Kenyon, etc…)

    (2) No, I’m constructing my relative morality around the principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. You’re constructing your relative morality around your subjective interpretation of a library of ancient writings. I am not making a logical equivalence. I have done formal logic; that is not what I am doing here. I am saying men and women are morally equal. There is no difference to treat them differently except where discrimination makes good sense because there is a true difference between them relevant to the moral question at hand. The Bible unashamedly condones slavery, genocide, the (extremely) unequal treatment of women and so forth. Therefore, and in tandem with the vast array of historical and philosophical and occasionally scientific problems to any claims it makes, I reject the Bible on evidential and rational grounds.

  • FireAndPlague

    Responses to your inflammatory statements in the first paragraph:
    a) Do you believe in the concept of just war, where a nation is infested with so much evil that only a war can eradicate it?
    b) YHWH did not permit the Israelites to take captured virgins as slaves, but as wives.
    c) God never makes a statement about the morality or immorality of slavery in the Bible; he simply provides guidelines for the ethical treatment of slaves.
    d) Rape is never okay in the Bible. There is always a punishment, and it is usually more severe than the punishments meted out today.

    At this point, I could restate my views, bringing in other supports while I rehash what I’ve already said, and you will do the same, as indeed we have both already done. It is obvious to me that our starting points are simply too different. You believe in the perhaps slow, but inexorable ability of the collective human consensus to discover the truth of right and wrong (in essence, humanism); I believe in the depravity of man (it’s a blessing just to be alive) and the infallibility of God, who I believe speaks to us through the Bible. Our starting points are so different that I fear that we will never be able to convince each other, and on points of morality to compromise is to admit that morality can be changed, an obvious no-no. I only hope that our discussion will edify those who read it.

  • Harry Amos

    (a) Yes, I do believe in the *concept* of a just war. I don’t think Canaan passes the test. (Ignoring the aside fact that our archaeological evidence massively disconfirms this era of “biblical history”.) Please tell me why infants had to have swords rammed through them? They were that evil? Gosh…

    (b) In the LBA (and beyond) Ancient Near East, that was the *same thing*. Seriously, how much ancient history have you studied? So it’s okay to kill irredeemably evil babies yet capture a teenage bride for yourself? (Think of the average ages of marriage and life here – not saying *that* is eternally wrong… but a teenager is definitely going to have had far more involvement with an “evil” culture than a tiny babe.)

    (c) And silence is damning; that doesn’t get you off the hook. “Oh but I didn’t say that I was for or against murder – I just stood there.” It’s the same as God’s silence during the whole awful Jephthah’s daughter incident. (Judges 11:30–39) Considering God was supposed to be preparing an ethical guidebook for all time (heck – I wished he’d scrapped the pointless genealogies), it would have been awfully good of him to make sure we knew that slavery was ultimately not in accordance with his will. Oh, but hang on… nope. God’s pretty enthusiastic about slavery.

    “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” [God speaking.] (Exodus 21:20)

    “If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.” (v. 32) [N.B. Price of a slave is 30 pieces of silver… that’s the God-endorsed price of a human life…]

    “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.” (Leviticus 25:44) [N.B. So slaves are for life… nice… and race makes a difference to the way God sees people…]

    Isn’t God infinitely powerful? Could he not have squeezed in some tiny verse somewhere indicating that slavery has always been wrong in his mind?

    (4) The definition of rape is if consent is violated. [N.B. Though the Bible makes it about violating property rights.] Numbers 31:7–40 is about taking women as war booty. You can tap-dance your way around these things, but that’s bastardising the text to make it say what you want it to.

    “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) [N.B. The patriarchal language – only the men are important here. No consent is necessary for the female… ergo – rape. It is as simple as this.]

    I hope the same as you. But you don’t need to be so pessimistic. I am willing to be convinced by good evidence and good argument. My starting point is purely objective. (Though I admit it is difficult to separate my knowledge and prior conclusions.) Considering you believe I will face eternal infinite intensity punishment after I die for not accepting YHWH and his plan, please provide the best evidence and arguments for his existence, character and so on. I’m willing to be convinced, but I would ask you return the same!

    p.s. I am a humanist at the present moment, but neither optimistic or pessimistic on balance. 🙂