3 marriage killers worth watching out for

By Brad Rhoads

Marriages struggle for many different reasons. That's no surprise. From communication to finances, each couple has to face their own unique struggles. But, do you know the biggest marriage killers I've found over working with many couples?

Over the years, I've noticed a trend in the types of spouses who really struggle—and make marriage difficult. I want to address the three primary marriage killers. What are they? Glad you asked! The three biggest marriage killers are The Karen, The Haskell, and Lighter Fluid. Let's review each of these three marriage killers and not only decide which one you might be—but how you can overcome it to move from struggling to thriving.  

Karen The Critic.

For the sake of this post, a Karen is someone who is perpetually dissatisfied. And, if your name is Karen, I'm sorry. I guess we got tired of dissing Debbie and the downers, so we made a cultural name swap.

Why don’t we just give real-life Karens a break and use the word “kvetch” instead? Look it up. A kvetch is “a person who complains a great deal.”

In marriage, a Karen (or kvetch) is never satisfied. Their spouse feels like he/she can’t ever win or do enough.

The antidote for this condition is gratitude and grace. 

Gratitude. The opposite of complaining is expressing gratitude. Instead of pointing out what's wrong; point out what is right. Remember Philippians 4:8, “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, dwell on these things.”

We all have good traits. We all have bad ones. If you want to like your spouse, dwell on the good. Ask yourself: “Am I my spouse’s biggest fan or their biggest critic? Or both 😊?”

Grace. There are four theme verses for the critic to hold:

  • “Anyone who overlooks an offense promotes love” (Proverbs 17:9).
  • For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
  • “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  • “A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself” (Proverbs 12:23).

When you have a critical thought, extend grace. Let it pass; don’t share it. There are times to share input (see the rest of this post), but, if you lean toward being a kvetchy Karen, it is unlikely you’ll ever struggle with giving too little input. 

Haskell The Flatterer.

In the show Leave it to Beaver, Eddie Haskell would say whatever the listener wanted to hear. He flattered others but wasn’t authentic.

Those that lean toward being a Haskell will share compliments but rarely give constructive input. For most, this tendency isn’t malicious, but it has become an unhealthy communication pattern.

The tendency is to share the issue with others but not directly with the person involved. If they hire someone and are dissatisfied with the work, they’ll likely compliment the worker. Then, they’ll tell others his deficiencies.

This is harmful to any relationship, stunts growth, and harms the unity of the body of Christ as well. 

Why do we drift into “Haskell mode”?

First, a lot of us don’t like conflict and tend to be people-pleasers. We’d rather leave an issue unaddressed than deal with the unpleasantness that comes with addressing it.

Unaddressed issues don’t go away. They just get bigger until they grow powerful enough to take a large (and sometimes fatal) bite out of your marriage.

Second, some of us don’t like talking about emotions. It was not modeled at home growing up and just feels weird. 

If you tend to be a Haskell, have the courage to be truthful. Allow yourself to connect with your spouse and others by sharing honest yet loving feedback. If you have a people-pleaser/anti-conflict bend, it is unlikely you will overcorrect into that kvetchy Karen we talked about earlier.

Lighter Fluid—The Conflict Accelerator.

Many spouses have the tendency to overreact. I was that guy. When criticized, I’d be hard on myself, get defensive, and then point out my wife’s role in the issue.

If Marilyn offered input or criticism, I was like lighter fluid that could accelerate it into an unnecessary argument. Marilyn once said, “I’d rather not share an issue with you than share it with you.” 

If you tend to be lighter fluid in your relationship, remember these Proverbs: “a wise man loves rebuke,” “a fool shares his annoyance at once,” and “a kind word turns away wrath.” Be the spouse who listens and maturely opens the doors for communication, not the one who accelerates conflict and shuts them.  

To honor Christ and grow our marriage, we must avoid pattens that sabotage our relationships. 

Grace Marriage Mission

Answer this question for yourself: Do you lean toward being a Karen, a Haskell, or Lighter Fluid? Then, make time this week to discuss this question with your spouse.

  1. If you tend to be an over-critical Karen: dial back the feedback and amp up the compliments.
  2. If you tend to be a sweet-talking Haskell: grow in authenticity while continuing to compliment.
  3. If you are the combustible lighter fluid: keep it in the bottle by keeping your mouth shut and your ears open.


The Grace Marriage Checkup

Tags: Divorce, Parenting, Faith, Communication