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Culture Challenge of the Week: Lonely, Hurting Marriages

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

“I just can’t do this for 20 more years!” Stacy’s lonely marriage was worse than it had ever been. Now she wanted out.

National Marriage Week, which kicked off on February 7th this year, reached a crescendo on Valentine’s Day. Across the country, millions of married couples exchanged cards, sent flowers and had romantic dinners as they celebrated their commitment to each other. It was a beautiful reminder that in spite of the naysayers, marriage is not dead.


But for hurting couples like Stacy and her husband Brandon, Valentine’s Day or their own wedding anniversaries only emphasizes what they don’t have. Many couples quit, propelled by the desire to find something better.

It’s a tragedy that’s become routine. Our culture makes it easy to undo a marriage---from no-fault divorce laws that allow one spouse to end a marriage unilaterally to “marriage” counselors predisposed to see divorce as the best solution to a person’s unhappiness.

And when divorce occurs with a person’s family or social circle, it has a destabilizing effect on others’ marriages. One 2010 study found that when a couple’s close friends divorce, their own risk for divorce spikes by 75%. And a sibling’s divorce increases a person’s own likelihood of divorce by 22%. These events move divorce from the “unthinkable” to the “thinkable” category—and weaken a couple’s commitment to their own marriage.

Marriages plagued by abuse, serial infidelity, or substance use may indeed require dissolution—but the majority of marriages fail not because of serious pathology but because of interpersonal issues.

Ironically, the poor economy has produced one silver lining---fewer couples have gotten divorced in recent months. According to one report, as many as 38% of couples considering divorce opted to stay together because of today’s economy.

Some critics bluster that financial pressures that keep a couple together when they otherwise might split will imprison couples in unhappy marriages.


I disagree. I think it buys time. And often what a couple with a struggling marriage needs to do is simply buy time. Chasing something “better” is often a less successful recipe for happiness than working on what you have.

How to Save Your Family: Get Help for Your Hurting Marriage

What’s the solution for a couple like Stacy and Brandon?

Don’t give up.

Work on your marriage—because your odds of finding happiness are amazingly good if you stick it out.

According to one University of Chicago study, 77 percent of couples who described themselves as “very unhappy” in their marriages—but who stayed together—five years later described their marriages as either "very happy" or "quite happy." Interestingly, unhappy couples who did divorce remained unhappy even apart.

It’s natural, in the midst of pain, loneliness or when we are carrying overwhelming burdens, to feel like escape is the only option. But circumstances change: financial pressures come and go, teens become young adults (marital stress often peaks when teens are in the house), and jobs and health issues wax and wane.

And relationships can change, too.

Couples like Stacy and Brandon need to know that their marriage not only can be saved, it can flourish. Finding help is the key.

One vital source for marriage help is, headed by marriage experts Dennis and Barbara Rainey. The web site shares stories of couples wounded by infidelity, financial irresponsibility, painful loneliness, and even hatred---but who discovered life-changing help to change those situations. In the process, they rediscovered God’s plan for their marriage and found happiness.


Retrouvaille, a “lifeline” for marriages, is a highly effective program for couples with serious marriage problems. And check out these websites, Smart Marriages, National Marriage Week for outstanding, targeted resources to help any marriage problem. Dr. James Dobson, who has been helping families stay together for years, has a new powerful national radio show and website to help couples in need:

Reach out. Ask for help. Your marriage is worth saving!

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