Grown Child in Difficult Marriage After Cohabitation

How can I help my grown-up son who is in an unhappy marriage after living with his wife for several years prior to the wedding? It's a difficult and complicated situation, and lately he's been talking about getting a divorce. Is there any way I can reach out to this young couple?

Your son’s story is sad but not surprising. The best research indicates that couples who cohabit prior to matrimony have a 50 to 65 percent higher divorce rate than those who don’t. To a certain extent, your son entered this marriage with the deck stacked against him.

Does that mean that his situation is hopeless? Absolutely not. Precisely because they were birthed out of relatively “casual” relationships, most of these marriages break up for relatively “casual” reasons. They fall into a (growing) category that psychologists refer to as “low conflict” divorces. There are no huge fights, no affairs, no episodes of violent domestic abuse leading to the dissolution of these marriages. Instead, these couples usually claim that they have simply “fallen out of love.” In such cases, it’s typical for a husband or wife to say that his or her spouse is “no longer meeting my needs.”

People who take this view and who get divorced for these reasons fail to understand what marriage is. It’s not just a vehicle for meeting one’s personal needs. If your son and his wife fit this description, look for an opportunity to talk to them about their attitude. Tell them that their perspective on marriage is narrow, self-centered, and individualistic. God created marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Any commitment of this magnitude involves self-sacrifice, longsuffering love, and a willingness to put your spouse’s needs above your own.

If your son and his wife are Christians, you may be able to reason with them on the basis of this biblical perspective. If not, there’s some interesting new research you may want to share with them. Certain studies indicate that if a couple struggling in a troubled marriage will simply stick it out, there’s a high probability that they’ll be able to describe their relationship as “very happy” five years down the road. On the other hand, if they dissolve their marriage, they’re likely to end up just as unhappy in the single life as they were in the married state.

Besides praying and speaking the truth in love, there’s one important thing you can do for your son and his wife. Tell them that you love them and that you consider their relationship worth saving. Then encourage them to seek professional counseling. They can call our staff of licensed Christian therapists for a free, confidential session over the phone and referrals to qualified marriage counselors in their area.


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