The Four Marriage Killers

We are frequently asked by media, pastors, counselors and other professionals what leads to couples considering divorce. We have met, one couple at a time, with over 240 couples whose marriage is on the brink of divorce (many separated, some who have already filed, and one that had divorced two years prior), in a day long Marriage Intensive.

What Causes Infidelity and Mistrust

Our experience tells us that the ground-breaking research that Dr. John Gottman performed over four decades with over 3,000 couples holds true. Before there is infidelity or major financial mistrusts in the marriage, there are four Marriage Killers that show up in the marriage.

The four Marriage Killers create a negative pattern of interacting in the marriage that causes spouses to stop talking to each other. Hurt feelings, hardened hearts, disappointment, and bitterness leads to spouses being unable to resolve relationship issues. Each spouse attempts to protect themselves from the other. Connection and intimacy is broken and loneliness sets in.

The Four Marriage Killers

  • Criticism – There is a way to tell your spouse about an issue that crushes their spirit. Criticism is not only telling your spouse about something that you would like to change (how you want them to stop doing something or how you want them to start doing something), but telling them the reason the issue exists is something about their character. Instead of, “I need you to do what you said you would do and empty the trash when it is full without me saying anything” a spouse says something to the affect of, “You never take out the trash. You are as lazy as your father.”
  • Defensiveness – When a spouse refuses to accept any responsibility, they are being defensive. Sometimes defensive is outright denying responsibility, but other times it looks like blaming someone else or counter-accusing your spouse so that the issue is complicated by other issues in the marriage.
  • Stonewalling – When a spouse builds a wall between them and their spouse in order to protect themselves in some way, they are stonewalling. Stonewalling can look at The Silent Treatment sometimes, while other times it can look like withdrawal in any form. Instead of having the conversation your marriage needs, a spouse withdraws to their man-cave, or becomes involved deeply in their device or television program. They move to another part of the house or to the garage and refuse to talk about the issue. Volunteering for extra jobs or taking on chores away from your spouse can also be forms of stonewalling.
  • Contempt – Contempt is any way a spouse tells their you that you are an idiot and/or that you do not matter. When a spouse sighs, rolls their eyes, or gives that look that shuts their spouse down, that is contempt. Sarcasm, using quick wit to slash your spouse’s heart with a word or two or a phrase, is contempt. Talking about your spouse in negative ways to others is a form of contempt.

Why Marriages Fail

All spouses engage in Marriage Killers.   Marriages that do not make it are marriages where the Marriage Killers are running wild. They happen frequently and there is no repair afterward. They employ the Marriage Killers longer than those who make it.

Couples who do life together forever will sometimes experience Marriage Killers. The difference is that they realize what is happening and stop.

‘Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.’ Ephesians 5:21 (Message)

  • They have learned to bring up issues in a way that does not crush their spouse’s spirit.
  • When their spouse brings up an issue, they stay with them and have the courageous conversation and look for some part of the issue that they can take responsibility for.
  • They have future-focused conversations about the issue with the long-term relationship goals in mind.
  • They bring the issue up to their spouse, instead of holding it in and later using zingers or contempt to hurt their spouse when they least expect it.

What do you have to say?

We love to hear from readers.  Have you ever heard of the Marriage Killers before?  What is the one that you use the most?  Did you check out the links for each one to know what to do if you are doing it or experiencing it?  Do you believe that the Marriage Killers are the cause behind most infidelities and mistrusts leading to separation or divorce?

This article was written by Roy and Devra Wooten, authors of “The Secret to a Lifetime Love”. Learn more at © Roy and Devra Wooten 2016. All Rights Reserved. You may replicate this article as long as it is provided free to recipients and includes appropriate attribution. Written permission for other use may be obtained at

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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