Most people don't get married planning to divorce, but the research suggests so much of what they do before they wed sadly leads them to that place.
Part of the reason might be that, as a culture, we're often more enamored with the wedding than the actual marriage. A colleague of mine once worked in a church office. He regularly encountered heartbroken brides-to-be who made the mistake of booking the reception hall before the sanctuary, only to discover the church was already taken. When the pastor gently suggested to one couple that their first priority should be the spiritual, the exasperated young woman replied, "I know, but the party is the fun part."
I don't think this woman is alone. On our way to marriage many of us inadvertently stumble into habits and situations that will sabotage our futures – and sometimes before we've even met our future spouse!
This is why I want to share with you a list created by pulling together the collective wisdom of some of Focus' marriage experts. It highlights common things many singles and couples do before they're married that undermine their hopes and dreams of a fulfilling, lifelong union. It's a what not to do list, if you will.
1. Live together before you marry
Some couples stumble into cohabitation. A few dates turn into overnight visits, and soon it just seems easier to keep some extra clothes and a toothbrush around. They might not be officially living together, but they really are when you think about it.
Other couples plan everything out and enter into this type of relationship with marriage in view. Instead of a ring, a boyfriend gives his girlfriend the key to his apartment so they can "test out" the relationship and "see where it heads." They see the move as something that will help them prepare for marriage, when the opposite is really true.
My colleague Glenn Stanton lays out what cohabitation does for marriage – and none of it is good. Here's some of what his research analysis shows:
- Living together before marriage dramatically boosts the likelihood of divorcing once married.
- Cohabitation significantly increases a woman's chances of being a victim of physical, sexual and verbal violence from their mate.
- Cohabitating couples are three times more likely to be in poverty than a couple that's married, even if both work full time.
There are more points in this must-read piece. I also highly recommend this podcast interview on the topic.
2. Get into debt
Whether you bring in money problems from your single years, or accrue debt together while planning an extravagant wedding, the resulting woes can make a marriage miserable. Sure, there's a difference between borrowing to buy a home and racking up expenses on a credit card, but the bottom line is that debt will always affect a marriage and financial issues are a top reason couples divorce.
3. Marry an unbeliever
For some, it's an unpopular passage of Scripture. We find it in 2 Corinthians 6:14, and it reads: "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"
Those may be tough words to swallow, but God included them in His Word for a purpose. Pastor John Piper lays out some reasons in this Q&A, but I'll only highlight one here: "How can you be intimately, psychologically, spiritually, physically involved with a man who does not say 'Jesus is Lord,' a man who doesn't love your Savior?"
Marriage is a union between a man and woman at every level of life. To not have the most fundamental thing in common will sooner or later become apparent, especially after children arrive.
4. Refuse to go through premarital counseling – and refuse help after marriage
Marriage isn't easy. While every couple will walk through rough patches and have to learn some difficult lessons, the wise ones lessen those blows by going through some sort of pre-marrieds curriculum or counseling. This guided conversation through potential issues helps couples learn how to more intentionally communicate and work through the challenges that will crop up.
Once married, find a good mentor couple to continue the work of becoming one.
Incidentally, a refusal of any sort of accountability or someone who says they're a Christian but doesn't belong to a church might signify that the person is a "lone ranger." Often, these people also lack close friendships or mentors. God created us for community, and it would be wise to reconsider joining your life with someone who shuns this basic part of our DNA.
5. Dream of a "soul mate"
Don't tell Uncle Rico (of Napoleon Dynamite fame), but I don't think it's healthy to pine for a soul mate. It would seem that a longing for a soul mate encourages us to place unrealistic expectations on both ourselves and other people.
Dr. Tim Keller, a friend and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, has suggested, and I agree, that the bottom line is all of us marry the "wrong" person. We're all human and imperfect and sinful. The key, then, lies in working through the inevitable hardships that you'll encounter as a couple. It's in the continual sacrificing, listening and loving that husbands and wives become soul mates.
This isn't an exhaustive list of ways singles and couples can sabotage their marriage before it starts, but it covers the things our marriage experts and counselors hear most frequently when talking with people in marital crisis.