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False Beliefs That Can Ruin a Marriage

February 8, 2012

Cathy’s husband wiped his oil-stained hands on the rag beside his workbench. As he came into the house, he realized the rag was getting so dirty there wasn’t enough ‘clean’ on it to sustain another wiping. He saw Cathy reading the newspaper and casually remarked “Remind me to wash all the rags in the garage before Monday.” Cathy dropped the newspaper, narrowed her eyes and stared at him. Then she said, with an acidic tone: “I will have you know I worked hard today. I didn’t get around to the garage after cleaning both cars, wiping little kiddie butts and straightening out the mess with the IRS.”

Within 2 hours, Cathy was in the car headed for her parents house, leaving behind a bewildered husband and two preschoolers. Within two years, they were divorced. Her husband had no idea what hit him.

My wife used to work on a hospital ward devoted to people with emotional challenges. One of her regular patients was a young man who used to have code words to identify “unsafe” people. The problem was, no one knew what the code word of the day was until you said it. He would randomly collect the first word that went through his head. If anyone said that word throughout the day, he would refuse to talk to them for the rest of that day. Nurses and doctors were left to wonder what part of their speech had produced the silence. It might be a simple word like “talk” or something more complicated such as “remember”.

Cathy and this young man in the hospital had exactly the same problem. They exhibited this problem to different degrees, but essentially it is the same problem. Cathy and the patient were both operating on a false premise. The young man’s false belief was that a spoken word could identify a dangerous person. We will discuss Cathy’s false belief at the end of this article –  suffice to say, it is just as real as the young schizophrenic.

The false beliefs we gather to ourselves over the years become like tendrils of kudzu that wind their way around every healthy thought, seeking to choke the life out of them. Nowhere does this show its effects more than marriage. Allow me to quickly summarize several of the most common false beliefs and how they affect husbands and wives. At the end, I will use Cathy to show how the false belief infiltrates a person who would otherwise function quite well in society.

Here then are the most common false beliefs that can ruin a marriage:

  1. Independence: This is the belief that we really don’t need anyone else in life. It has a 100 variations, but they all focus on the self-sufficiency of the individual. This belief prevents a spouse from allowing the other person to get close, to interact on a deep level or to partner in marital goals. Those with Independence beliefs often have separate bank accounts, enjoy much different life pursuits than their partners, stop short of really expressing their needs, are constantly making new friends and discarding older ones and run away when they are asked to make deep commitments to their partner.
  2. Abandonment: A person with abandonment beliefs sees many situations as the springboard for their spouse leaving them. These beliefs are often accompanied by fear and result in both over-accommodating behavior and flashes of rage. The person with abandonment premises will constantly ask their spouse to account for their whereabouts. They will express how insecure they feel about the future. When their spouse criticizes them even moderately, they will say things like “well why don’t you just leave. I know you want to”.
  3. Love based on Performance: This belief says “I will not be loved unless I perform adequately”. Those who hold to this foundation often are overly critical of their spouses, seeking to bring down the performance of another person to elevate themselves. They can become workaholics, alcoholics, clean freaks, clingy, anorexic, bulemic, suicidal, or obsessive-compulsive. Their core idea is that must constantly be doing something to earn or deserve the love they receive from their spouse. It doesn’t help to tell them they are loved –  they won’t really believe it.
  4. Love Will Not Be There: There is an equally large group of people who just assume they will not be loved no matter how hard they try. Many of them just give up without really trying. These people will often test their partner by failing in really obvious ways in order to see how the other person will react. This belief can even push them into relationships with people they don’t really care about, just to prove they don’t care if they’re not loved. In addition, people with this belief may question their spouses to death, showing a total lack of trust.
  5. Alone: There is a common belief with many people that they are going to be alone. This is similar to the abandonment belief, but it has a nasty twist. They don’t really think a person is going to leave; they are more fatalistic than that. They often fear their spouse will die, or will be swept away in an unavoidable situation. They therefore go through life with few boundaries, allowing their partners to do anything they want to them, fearing the relationship is simply on borrowed time.
  6. Shame: This is a simple belief, but deadly. It is the core understanding a person carries that there is something wrong with them. When they were children, it came out as “I am stupid”, “I am going to be beat up”, “I can’t ever get this right”. In adulthood, this person often allows their spouse to find many things wrong with them, accepting blame when they have done little wrong. Shame beliefs foster such behavior as closet drinking, sexual deviancy, serial adultery, lying, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety disorders and even violence.
  7. Helplessness: These beliefs (and there are many) come from situations in childhood where a person was treated unfairly and given no recourse to bring closure to the issue. This unfair treatment leads a person to conclude they will never get a fair shake, and therefore they need to protect themselves. Helpless beliefs can result in adultery, pornography obsession, eating disorders, obsessive drug use, phobias, prostitution, violence, angry speech, etc. These beliefs often result in the worst of behaviors, since the behaviors are often ways of bringing a sense of “control” back into their lives.
  8. Escape: These beliefs focus on the only way to deal with reality –  run away from it. Every time life gets hard, this inner belief is triggered and the person finds some way to get away from it all. This often cuts the other spouse out of the picture and hurts them deeply. Most people with this belief abuse substances or use sex as an escape. Compulsive masturbation, compulsive gambling and spending are often seen.

There are other beliefs than these, but I have found this list to be the most common. But every person brings their peculiar beliefs into a marriage. When two people come into a marriage relationship with false beliefs, this mixes up a soup of disaster. Let me show you how it worked with Cathy.

She had a belief that no matter how hard she tried, everyone who mattered to her would eventually leave. You would think this sprung from a traumatic childhood experience, but the roots were very simple. Her two older sisters were both hippies and moved out of the house quite young. They had been best buddies to Cathy and now she was the only child left at home. Her mother reacted to her oldest daughters leaving by drinking gin every night until she passed out. Dad dealt with his wife’s inebriation by working 60 hour weeks. Cathy spent most of her days quite alone with her thoughts.

In high school, she made up for this sense of being abandoned by trying to over-compensate. She became hyper-flirtatious and joined every club at school. But because she feared being dumped, she often got clingy with both boy and girls. The result of this clinginess was that people didn’t want to have anything to do with her. Thus, they fulfilled her fear and abandoned her. This just served to reinforce her fear. In order to overcome this, she tried even harder to get people to stay with her. With her girlfriends, she was known as the one who would help out in every way. She spent her own money and bought gifts, helped with homework, staying up half the night sewing cheerleader outfits for her friends. With boys, she basically allowed them to take any sexual liberties they wanted. Yet, despite this extra effort, people still got tired of how hard she was trying and rejected her.

When she married her husband Ben, she really wanted to overcome this. She knew she tried too hard, so she sought to back off and give him breathing space. But her fears kept growing. So often she would get angry and say “Why don’t you just leave? I know you’re going to leave”. Her fear led her to get violent at times, hitting Ben in the head. She sometimes even took out her anger on the little girls.

The day she left, her fear of abandonment had been acute for weeks before. She determined she was going to solve this fear by praying every morning and then serving her husband in love. She had been reading a few books on Christian marriage and she read that if you serve in love it will cast out fear. Now, that is a good principle, but it was no match for her false belief. For a week or more, she tried to anticipate Ben’s every need. But it was exhausting. By the end of the work week, she was an emotional wreck.

When Ben came in and innocently mentioned the grease rag, it echoed against her deeply-ingrained fear. He had one more demand she couldn’t meet. Something inside her snapped and she realized her fear had only been submerged in her cleaning and service. Now, it came rushing out with a fury. Even though Ben had not been criticizing her at all, that is what she heard. False beliefs often affect our hearing, causing us to interpret all communication according to the matrix of the belief. Cathy left and never returned. Her example is repeated millions of times a year, by both men and women.

Examine your own life. Can you see evidence of these sort of beliefs?

There is an answer, and it’s quite straight-forward. More about that in the next article.

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3 comments

  1. When searching through on the web I discovered your post False Beliefs That Can Ruin a Marriage The Gates are Open and thought it incredibly engaging. There is some very good ideas here. Your viewers may also like to take a glimpse at my post about rage. Thanks.


  2. […] In a previous blog post, I noted several beliefs that could ruin a marriage. All of our emotions and actions stem from things we believe. Therefore, when emotions and behavior are ruining a relationship, you can be sure that some kind of warped belief system is at the root. Root beliefs (also known as “core beliefs”) are not thrust upon us. We always choose what we will believe. There are some behavioral psychologists who teach the inevitability of some beliefs. For instance, they may claim that all abuse victims grow up with a belief that power has been taken away from them. That certainly is true of many people, but not even most abuse victims feel the loss of personal control. There are abuse victims who feel guilty; others feel fear; still others focus on shame. As we grow (especially between the ages of 5–10), we are presented with thousands of choices about what we will believe about life, other people and ourselves. Any number of these beliefs may doggedly hang on into adulthood, severely affecting our relationships and marriages. […]


  3. […] In a previous blog post, I noted several beliefs that could ruin a marriage. All of our emotions and actions stem from things we believe. Therefore, when emotions and behavior are ruining a relationship, you can be sure that some kind of warped belief system is at the root. Root beliefs (also known as “core beliefs”) are not thrust upon us. We always choose what we will believe. There are some behavioral psychologists who teach the inevitability of some beliefs. For instance, they may claim that all abuse victims grow up with a belief that power has been taken away from them. That certainly is true of many people, but not even most abuse victims feel the loss of personal control. There are abuse victims who feel guilty; others feel fear; still others focus on shame. As we grow (especially between the ages of 5–10), we are presented with thousands of choices about what we will believe about life, other people and ourselves. Any number of these beliefs may doggedly hang on into adulthood, severely affecting our relationships and marriages. […]



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