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The #1 reason for marriage problems and divorces? Refusing to Grow Up!

Patsy Rae Dawson

In the heat of an argument, one spouse is likely to yell at the other, “Oh, grow up!” And then throw a glass at the other. Obviously, in this scenario both spouses are acting childishly in dealing with the normal problem of just being alive in a complicated world.

But the childishness is more complex than just throwing a temper tantrum or a glass. It’s a way of thinking and solving problems that actually makes them worse. Over time, it destroys the husband's and wife's love for each other--even if only one partner refuses to grow up.

 Paul expects Christians to grow up

Paul condemns childhood problem-solving techniques

The Apostle Paul concluded his famous chapter on love—I Corinthians 13—with “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child” (verse 11). Paul asserted that the #1 root cause of being unable to love others is refusing to grow up.

This is much more than acting childishly in regard to life’s problems. Our brains do not mature to really solve problems until about age 25. Unless we become serious students of life, we may be set in our ways by then—stuck in childish problem-solving techniques. And using the mentality of a child to solve adult problems is the #1 reason for marriage problems and divorces.

The problem is compounded by our memories of growing up being those of a child. Many people think they grew up in loving homes; when in fact, they survived an abusive environment. It’s fairly easy for abusive parents to fool little children by making evil treatment of their families appear normal. Their favorite trick has always been to turn it into humor. (Proverbs 26:18-19)

Many people do not realize their family’s jokes were really lessons in cruelty. Perhaps years later when they are going through counseling to reclaim their lives or save their marriages, a counselor tells them the truth:

  • “Your mother was very inappropriate when she had you get in bed with her. No wonder you have problems performing with your wife.”
  • “Your father is a narcissist who doesn’t have the ability to love anyone other than himself. There was nothing you could do to win his love growing up…or now.”
  • “When your dad was making your mother the brunt of his jokes, he was emotionally abusing her. It really wasn’t funny to God. And doing it in front of you kids gave him a lot of power over her…and you.”
  • “When your mother screamed, ‘I wish you were never born!’ that was emotional abuse. Now you’re driving yourself crazy still trying to win an unloving mother’s love.”
  • "The way you fought with your siblings may have kept them from bullying you, but it is not the way you solve problems in marriage.”

Many men and women grow up imitating their parent’s form of humor. They think ridiculing their spouse while laughing shows their cleverness. Well, yeah, it does. But it also shows their immaturity.

Paul tells adult children to grow up into love of others

Paul continued his conclusion about the power of love with, “When I became a man, I did away with childish things.”  (I Cor. 13:11) Christianity is about growing up from the heart—changing the way a person treats others. It is about practicing love—not preaching it from the pulpit.

Many people refer to themselves as the adult children of an alcoholic or the daughters of narcissistic mothers. Studying to put away childish problem-solving activities lets them move away from being adult children to becoming adults. Sometimes people can make this transition on their own. Other times they need the skills and guidance of a Christian counselor to help them identify improper behavior in their family of origin.

God expects his people to grow up

God has always required children to examine their parents’ conduct

God has never given parents free rides in the way they treat their children and their spouses. In the Old Testament, he told children that if they keep doing things the way their wicked parents did, then they would rot away just as their parents would. He admonished the children, “Confess [your own] iniquity and that of your forefathers [parents and grandparents].” (Lev. 26:39-40)

Likewise, God told the children to expose the wickedness of their parents. In other words, “What goes on in your house, DOES NOT stay in your house!” (Deut. 13:6-11) Keeping family secrets empowers sin to grow and destroy every life it touches. Our love for God may stagnate, but sin always grows when left unchecked.

God has always warned about the consequences of refusing to grow up

God told the Israelites that if families hated him, he would visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations. (Exodus 20:5-6) But when families loved God and kept his commandments, then he would show lovingkindness to them. Modern psychology now understands how this happens as the children learn to be abusive or codependent in their families of origin. This continues for generations until someone accepts personal responsibility and says, “This dysfunctional behavior is stopping with me. I am choosing to grow up.”

Life is full of natural crisis points which force a person to make a decision—to continue in the ignorance of past generations and refuse to grow up or to study to move forward into adulthood.

Jesus expects his people to grow up

Jesus didn’t come to save families

Jesus plainly stated that he was not abolishing God’s principle of holding families accountable for their treatment of family members. Following Jesus sometimes, perhaps even often, requires renouncing the evil conduct of past generations. Jesus said a man’s enemies were not the government threatening to feed him to the lions in the sports arena. Instead, a person’s real enemies frequently are the members of his own household.

Jesus requires his followers to grow up. Sometimes this sets a son against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Just because they are our family and we love them, it doesn’t guarantee they act like grownups. (Matthew 10:34-39)

Jesus requires his followers to walk away from their parents’ sins

When a scribe asked for permission to go bury his father before following Jesus, he received an unexpected answer. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.” (Luke 9:57-62) In other words, Jesus expects his followers to openly reject the sins of their parents and past generations.

When we move beyond our parents’ failures, we open ourselves up to grow into functioning adults. But if we choose to stay locked in appeasing our parents as adult children, we can’t understand or proclaim God’s love for men and women and children. Jesus told the scribe to let the dead bury the dead so the young man would be free in Christ to mature.

Refusing to grow up causes marriage problems

 Refusing to grow up leads to spouse abuse

Farrah Fawcett’s shocking movie, The Burning Bed, brought spouse abuse out of the closet in 1984. Laws were passed to take spouse abusers to jail. Shelters for women sprang up everywhere.

Both men and women can choose to imitate the dysfunctional behavior and sin of past generations. Both are affected in much the same way. The main difference is that men possess greater physical strength than women and are often able to do greater damage. Additionally, many men find justification in false fundamental religious beliefs regarding subjection and leadership to escalate their abuse of their wives.

However, many people believe abusive women often excel in emotional battering. Research on college campuses indicates that women are becoming more physically violent than in the past. Husband abuse is not quite so well-kept a secret as it used to be.

Until recently, psychologists asserted that abusers abuse their spouses and children because they were abused themselves. That theory was recently debunked by Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men and Should I Stay or Should I Go? A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can—and Should—Be Saved. Bancroft referred to three recent studies in a speech where he said:

And all three of these studies came to the conclusion that the emotional effects didn’t turn out statistically to be good explanations of why they became perpetrators. The emotional effects caused all kinds of other problems, it’s not that they didn’t cause serious problems, they did, but they didn’t turn out to be what causes perpetration in the next generation, when they reach adulthood, it’s the indoctrination. In other words, what all three of these studies have found is that boys who don’t buy into the abuser’s ways of thinking, who don’t look down on women, who don’t become really oriented towards domination, who aren’t contemptuous, who aren’t superior, who don’t make all kinds of excuses for their violence, actually interestingly, don’t turn out to have any higher rate of becoming an abuser than boys who grew up in non-violent homes. [emphasis added]

Notice Bancroft’s conclusion when boys grow up with fathers who abuse them and their mothers:

In other words, you growing up around a batterer does not increase your chance of becoming a batterer yourself…except to the extent that you take on your dad’s mentality.

Bancroft explained what the indoctrination teaches a receptive boy who is studying and learning from his dad how to treat women:

He believes in his right to rule, not necessarily in all fronts of his life but when it comes to a partner, he believes in his right to rule…. The abuser really sees himself as superior to his partner and he believes he is entitled to a relationship that works completely on his terms and that he’s entitled to all kinds of double standards. There’s a completely different set of rules [for him as compared to her]. (Barbara Robert’s transcription of speech given by Lundy Bancroft, made with Bancroft’s permission and posted on her Web site at

Visit Barbara Roberts’ Web site to listen to the recording of Bancoft’s speech or read the complete transcription. It contains many more insights and information about the three studies that were done. Bancroft did not mention this, but many mainstream religions encourage men to perfect an attitude of entitlement and superiority. Indeed, many wives complain that asking church leadership for help with an abusive husband is wasted effort.

Girls also can learn from an abusive parent how to treat their mates. One wife in her early forties told me, “I’m on my fifth marriage. It is about to end because I abuse my husbands just like my step-mother did my dad. She’s not even my real mother! But I’m just like her.”

Refusing to grow up leads to sexual problems

In the Song of Solomon, the teenage Shulammite maiden gave her mother credit for teaching her how to choose a husband and how to enjoy the sexual relationship in marriage. She also told her shepherd boyfriend that she had carefully examined his family to make sure he had also grown up in a loving home. As a result of their healthy upbringing, she was confident they would enjoy a fulfilling sexual relationship (Song of Solomon 8:1-3)

In contrast, King Solomon grew up in a very dysfunctional home. David and Bathsheba’s first child died as part of the consequences of their sins of adultery and murder. Solomon was their second child. But David brought Bathsheba and Solomon into his harem of many wives and children. Tranquility gave way to sibling rivalry and incest.

By the time of the Song of Solomon, King Solomon had already married 140 women. He eventually married 1000 virgins, demonstrating an unwillingness to commit to one woman. A verse-by-verse study of the Song of Solomon reveals that he never learned how to truly love a woman emotionally and sexually. He stayed locked in his fetish for virgins choosing to never grow up into a mature husband. Read my column Neuroscience exposes Solomon and his 1000 wives’ stunted sexual growth.

God made it clear in 1 Kings 11:1-11 that he did not want Solomon marrying foreign women. But Solomon ignored God's covenant and statues and married the women anyway and followed after their gods. God became very angry with Solomon and said, “I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.”

Yet in Song of Solomon 5:1b, God said to the Shulammite and Shepherd, “Eat friends; drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers.” In other words, God placed a hearty stamp of approval on the Shepherd and the Shulammite getting married and getting drunk on married lovemaking.

Healthy lovemaking is an expected result of growing up in a home where young boys and girls saw their parents flirting, kissing, and patting each other. Such affection between parents envelops the children, the fruit of their union of love. So if either spouse is inhibited in being able to enjoy lovemaking or enslaved in sexual addiction or adultery, both spouses need to look at the home of origin and the type of relationship the parents had. Then serious efforts need to be made to grow up.

Refusing to grow up causes marriage problems

I have listened to many women and men begin their complaints with, “When he was a little boy…” and “She thinks her parents are wonderful, but they…” As a result, in my Song of Solomon classes, I tell the students, “If you don’t examine your future mate’s home before marriage, I guarantee you will after marriage when problems arise. Then it will lead to bitterness and anger against your in-laws.”

Paul says unloving people are noisy gongs or clanging cymbals

In his famous description of love in I Corinthians 13:4-10 that many people display in pictures and on cards, Paul began with a scathing condemnation of unloving people.  Paul said it doesn’t matter how many good works a person does or how many times they attend church, or how many spiritual projects they complete.

Being unable to love others is like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.
Being unable to love others is like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.

If they don’t know how to love others; in truth, their religion is worthless. (I Cor. 13:1-4)

Immature Christians without the ability to love others are a constant source of irritation and discouragement to their families. They are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals that grate on their families’ nerves and cause their children and mates to climb the walls with rejection. And many of their children grow up to reject Christianity because of this hypocrisy in their homes of origin.

 Paul didn’t forget—He chose to grow up

The apostle Paul didn’t forget the bad things in his past because he listed them in inspired scripture in 2 Corinthians 11:21-31. Interestingly, he started with his parentage—being a Hebrew and an Israelite. He was so strong in his family of origin that he actually killed Christians before he was converted. Then he rehearsed persecutions he’d suffered as an apostle of Christ.

But Paul didn’t stay locked in his childhood experiences or adult sufferings. He moved on and urges us to do likewise in Philippians 3:12-16. He forgot them in that he refused to let them determine his present conduct. Paul grew up from being an Israelite adult child. He chose to be a Christian adult. He chose to live for Christ.

Solving serious marriage problems often begins with examining the homes of origin like the teenage Shulammite and her shepherd boyfriend did. Examining everything mom and dad did as teenagers is a normal time for moving forward into joyous living. But if this was not done in courtship, it is never too late to grow up. In fact, another natural time to do this is when a couple has their first child. They often start discussing how their parents treated them and thinking about what they want to do differently.

When the children begin leaving the home presents a normal time to question one’s life. Often childhood memories come to the forefront in dreams and flashbacks. It is as if the subconscious is saying, “You’re mature enough to deal with some heavy stuff in your past.” Thus, re-examining a person’s childhood allows adult children to put parental ghosts to rest.

However, some children don’t face their past until they are overwhelmed with caregiving. A parent who was never held accountable for objectionable behavior by the spouse often reigns with old-age terror. It’s seldom just the same ol’ mom or dad one grew up with. It’s a parent who has taken advantage of a lifetime to perfect abuse of others. Adult children don’t possess much of a chance of out-manipulating an evil parent who has mentally worked them since childhood.

Some narcissists repent of mistreating their families on their death beds. However, many more die with their hearts filled with hatred for their children who dare to grow up instead of slaving away for love that was never there. These parents go to their graves with bitterness turning their eyes black and pulling down the corners of their mouths into grotesque defiance of love. The Ecclesiastes writer says in 7:2-4 that such deaths are a proper time to examine one’s life:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Why wait for disaster to strike to decide if you’re going to grow up. Start studying and examining your family of origin now to learn how it is affecting your relationships with humans...and divine beings. If necessary, get Christian counseling.

It’s never too late to start really living—living for Christ in your home. And it’s never too soon to start creating a family legacy of love and genuine concern for others. The time is now to make the choice for yourself...and future generations.

Note: This article does not address ways of growing up. It focuses on the need to grow up as the #1 cause of marriage problems. Following is a list of resources I frequently recommend for accomplishing the work of growing up:

Childhood Abuse and Neglect

  1. Cloud, Henry, Ph.D., Necessary Endings, The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships that All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward.
  2. Cloud, Henry, Ph.D. and Townsend, John, Ph.D., Boundaries, When to Say YES, When to say NO to take Control of Your Life.
  3. Golomb, Elan, Ph.D., Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self.
  4. Littauer, Fred & Florence, Freeing Your Mind from Memories that Bind, How to Heal the Hurts of the Past.
  5. Littauer, Fred & Florence, Get a Life Without the Stress.
  6. McBride, Karyl, Ph.D., Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.
  7. Miller, Alice, Ph.D., The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting.
  8. Miller, Alice, Ph.D., The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self.
  9. Roth, Kimberlee and Friedman, Freda B., Ph.D., LCSW, Surviving a Borderline Parent, How to Heal Your Childhood Wounds & Build Trust, Boundaries, and Self-Esteem.
  10. Sandford, John Loren, Why Good People Mess Up, Keys to upright living in a seductive world.


  1. Eddy, William A., Attorney, Splitting, Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist.
  2. Roberts, Barbara, Not Under Bondage, Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery & Desertion.


  1. Chapman, Gary Ph.D., The Five Love Languages, How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Electronic assessment at
  2. Dawson, Patsy Rae, Christians Make the Best Soulmates.
  3. Littauer, Marita, Wired that Way, A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Maximizing Your Personality Type.


  1. Retrouvaille at


Sexual Problems

  1. Dawson, Patsy Rae, God’s People Make the Best Lovers.
  2. Dawson, Patsy Rae, The Song of Solomon, God’s Sex Education, CDs/MP3s.
  3. Kaye, Bonnie, M.Ed., The Gay Husband Checklist for Women Who Wonder.
  4. Kaye, Bonnie, M.Ed. and Dittmer, Doug, Over the Cliff: Gay Husbands in Straight Marriages.

Spouse Abuse

  1. Bancroft, Lundy, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
  2. Bancroft, Lundy and Patrissi JAC, Should I Stay or Should I Go?” A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can—and Should—be Saved.
  3. Bentley, Barbara, A Dance with the Devil, A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath (Who Tried to Kill Her).
  4. Dawson, Patsy Rae, Challenges in Marriage: What to Do When Sin Inhibits Love, CDs/MP3s
  5. Dawson, Patsy Rae, Survey on Spouse Abuse and Domestic Violence Among Christians For the Abused and Those Who Help Them for Both Husband and Wife Abuse at
  6. Evans, Patricia, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, How to recognize it and how to respond.
  7. Hare, Robert D., Ph.D., Without Conscience, The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.
  8. National Domestic Violence Hot Line at 1-800-799-7233.
  9. Stout, Martha, Ph.D., The Sociopath Next Door.


Permission to Reproduce The #1 reason for marriage problems and divorces? Refusing to Grow Up!

The #1 reason for marriage problems and divorces? Refusing to Grow Up! by Patsy Rae Dawson. Copyright © 2012 Patsy Rae Dawson LLC. All rights reserved.

The #1 reason for marriage problems and divorces? Refusing to Grow Up! by Patsy Rae Dawson is available at It may be copied for noncommercial use only, provided you do the following: 1. Retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices; 2. Make no modifications to the materials; 3. Do not use the materials in a manner that suggests an association with Patsy Rae Dawson LLC; and; 4. Do not download quantities of materials to a database, server, or personal computer for reuse for commercial purposes. You may not use this material in any other way without prior written permission. For additional permissions, contact Patsy Rae Dawson LLC at

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