Doing Family Right

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Marriage: Marital Mayhem

Four Principles Guaranteed to Mess Up Any Good Relationship

From over three decades of working with couples, four principles have repeatedly surfaced as part of those marriages that fell apart. While you might not like what you hear, especially as it hits close to home, these lines of thought have contributed to countless broken families. Be warned.

1. Indulge Your Selfishness

There are few guarantees in life. But if you’re looking for a guaranteed way to wreck your marriage, never forget the cardinal rule: Marriage is all about your own personal happiness! After all, isn’t your spouse there to make you happy?

We teach our kids that it’s better to give than to receive. But if you’re paying attention to the messages coming from our society today, you could almost be excused for thinking that actually it’s better to receive…and then receive again! We’re supposed to look out for Number One, aren’t we? Sometimes, getting our own way means stepping on a few people along the way…even if it’s our spouse. This selfishness is expressed in unrealistic expectations, unusual freedoms, harsh words, controlling tone and independence. You have never moved from me to we.

Of course, the other side of selfishness is selflessness. The selfless person says, “Whatever I can do for you is all that matters.” But it seems that if you want to guarantee your own happiness, you need to operate on the “me” principle. It’s about having life’s table sloping towards me; the ebbs and flows of life must favour me. It’s about getting my needs met and my desires gratified. It’s about getting everything needed to please me.

If marital breakdown is what you want, never let go of your need to be satisfied first. Don’t worry about what your spouse needs; they’re on their own there. Live by this creed and you will be free from your spouse’s expectations and demands. It’s so natural to put yourself first. It’s what we all do. It’s often too big an effort to think about others first, so we don’t.

2. Justify Unfaithfulness

The next big step towards marital disaster can be summed up in the phrase, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

The thing to remember about unfaithfulness is that it’s so easy to slip into. You may hear “unfaithfulness” and automatically jump to “affairs”. Now, an affair is a great way to shipwreck a marriage, no doubt about it. But unfaithfulness comes in many more subtle forms. It doesn’t start at the bedroom door, but in the windows of your mind. A look here, some lust there, maybe throw in a bit of pornography and a dose of flirtation with others, and you’re well on your way before you even leave your spouse or jump in bed with another.

We live in a world where words like “faithfulness” and “commitment” are no longer that popular. We watch the “minute marriages” of Hollywood and justify that I am not getting all that I deserve. The idea of tying myself exclusively to another person for the rest of my life – a view that anchors the concept of marriage – is viewed as archaic and impractical. Where’s the freedom in that? Our sophisticated society regularly reminds us that if a relationship fails to bring me happiness (see point #1), the prudent thing to do is to discard it, or at least work around it. If my spouse isn’t meeting my needs, simply find someone who will.

“For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part…” Those words used to mean something. But in a culture that is quick to break its vows, perhaps a more honest pledge at the altar would be, “Till something better comes along, for as long as I feel like it, as long as we both shall love.”  This is a sad but true commentary on how many think of marriage…and yes, with tragic consequences.

3. Expect it to be Easy

You don’t have to go looking for storms in your marriage; they will come to you. There are forces intent on destroying your relationship; so if you want it to go down in flames, you just need to stay out of their way and let them do their work. Allow yourself to be blindsided by life’s difficulties.

The trials are inevitable. For two people to truly merge their lives into one doesn’t come with out some serious compromise and many “discussion”. For some, it will come in the form of financial hardship. Others will face health struggles, meddlesome in-laws, wayward kids, communication problems, sexual problems or just a lack of connection and friendship. Troubles like these wreak the most havoc when they take us by surprise and we are completely unprepared for them. Remember: when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Most marriages naturally grow apart unless you take intentional steps to keep it alive and a priority. If you have assumed your married life will uncomplicated and problem-free, beware, bumps ahead. When the crisis hits it could absolutely knock the wind out of your relationship.

Couples intent on surviving the storms of life prepare for them. Working through issues in marriage should be similar to breathing – you need to do it often and naturally. Smart couples expect them to strike in one form or another, and when they do they are ready. Sometimes they even find that the trials draw them closer together! I call it crisis intimacy. Your love gets forged as through the fire. The ordeal becomes the strength that binds them together, rather than a wedge that drives them apart.

So if you’re looking for a sure-fire way to mess up your relationship, assume that your marriage shouldn’t have issues and adjustments. This denial will kill any hope of something solid ever developing.

4. Pursue the Quick Fix

Building a good marriage takes time and effort. But for some reason, many people think they shouldn’t have to work on their relationship; it should just come easy.

Wouldn’t it be great if life was like a sitcom? No matter what problem the character is facing, it’s all wrapped up neat-and-tidy after 22 minutes (and 4 commercials). Adopt that mentality, and your marriage is doomed for sure. Demand instant change in everyone but yourself, and your marriage will buckle under the strain. Or worse, some couples try to ignore the problems and think they will just go away on their own. The thinking is even if your marriage has a deep wound, you don’t need to attempt to heal it – just slap a Band-Aid on it and continue on your merry way. It’ll take care of itself. Sorry…wrong.

You see, becoming a good husband or wife requires a willingness to change. It requires adjustment. All changes, especially character change, takes time. A lot of time. Habits of life when driven by selfishness and questionable modeling, will take a concerted effort to see and then address the needed adjustments. For those who don’t want a good marriage, the answer is simple: don’t take the time, don’t make the effort, don’t make changes, and yet expect things to improve. It’s like a flame: deny it oxygen, and it goes out. Think of time and effort as the oxygen in your relationship. Cut off the supply and watch the marriage smoulder and die.

Summary: We’ve approached this from the viewpoint of crisis, failure and breakdown. These principles work. They screw up any marriage. We see them present consistently in struggling marriages we work with all the time. Without a doubt, usually 2 or 3 of these principles are clearly seen in marriages that blow apart. If you find yourself with similar thinking or reoccurring habits along these lines, take it as a warning and choose to make a change. Talk to your mate about this article. Protect your marriage together. When in trouble, get the help you need. You will never regret making the effort to put your marriage and family first.

© May 2010, Dr. Dave Currie