Ministry Resources

Risk Factors for Marital Problems

Author: Howard J. Markam

Is it possible to know what factors in a person’s life might contribute to marriage difficulties?

Static Risk Factors

Many of these risk factors relate to stable, individual characteristics of each partner. You could think of these factors this way: all other thing being equal, the more these factors are present in the lives and backgrounds of the marriage partners, the greater the risk to the well-being of that marriage over time. Here is a list of such factors. The list is not exhaustive, but it covers the biggies.

  • Have a personality tendency to react strongly or defensively to problems and disappointments in life
  • Having divorced parents
  • Living together prior to marriage
  • Being previously divorced, yourself or your partner
  • Having children from a previous marriage
  • Having different religious backgrounds
  • Marrying at a very young age
  • Knowing each other for only a short time before marriage
  • Experiencing financial hardship

There is something very important about this list that we’d like you to notice: once a couple is married, they can do nothing to directly lower any of these risks. In our academic publications, we call these factors static because they are relatively unchangeable. Reflecting on these factors can be useful in understanding how much risk the two of you may have, but there is little you can do to change any of these — and certainly not quickly.

In contrast to the static factors shown in the preceding list, there are risk factors that relate more directly to how you treat one another, how you communicate, and how you think about your relationship. We call these dynamic risk factors because, although they do increase the risk that a couple won’t do well.

The following can all be changed with some thought and choice and effort.

  • Negative styles of talking and fighting with each other, such as arguments that rapidly become negative, put-downs, and the silent treatment
  • Difficulty communicating well, especially when you disagree
  • Trouble handling disagreements as a team
  • Unrealistic beliefs about marriage
  • Different attitudes about important things
  • A low level of commitment to one another, reflected in such behavior as failing to protect your relationship from others you are attracted to or failing to view your marriage as a long-term investment
  • Not practicing faith together
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