20 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Marriage

20 years ago today, I was getting ready to walk down an aisle and marry the woman of my dreams. Right before that moment, I unexpectedly found myself in a room all alone.

Suddenly, I was hit by the weight of what I was about ready to do.  I was overwhelmed thinking about what it would take to be a loving husband for the rest of my life.  Tears rolled down my cheeks. I dropped to my knees. I prayed that somehow God would give me the strength and courage to be the man and father that He wanted me to be.

After all these years, I realize how much I still need that prayer today. If 20 years of marriage has taught me anything it is… “I’m a mess!” Marriage is the most beautiful experience on earth. It is also the most difficult thing you will ever do.

I can’t count the number of ways that I’ve failed as a husband over the last 20 years. I could have easily ruined everything on multiple occasions. I’m so thankful for the love and grace my wife has extended toward me.

In hopes that you can learn from my mistakes, here are 20 ways to ruin a perfectly good marriage…

1. Ignore your baggage– Everyone carries wounds from their past into their relationships. Like it or not, your past will always impact your present. Marriage became a lot more fulfilling when I started to unpack the luggage of my life and admit it openly.

2. Be selfish– Selfishness comes naturally to all of us. Marriage requires sacrifice and sacrifice hurts.  I have a daily decision of how selfish I will allow myself to be.

3. Don’t acknowledge your fears– A lot of our conflict revolves around actions. Sometimes we fight over the deeper level of our hurts. Our core fears often drive those actions and hurts. I wish I uncovered the fears that influence my actions a lot earlier.   

4. Live with unresolved conflict– Believe it or not, conflict doesn’t evaporate when you ignore it. It needs to be brought out into the open and discussed in order to move forward. It’s been 20 years and I’m still learning how to do this in a healthy way.  

5. Defensiveness– We all want to protect ourselves. Sometimes I resort to defensiveness as a way for me to feel safe. I’ve discovered that when I’m defensive it builds walls and kills the type of connection that I crave.

6. Believe your spouse should think and act like you– Differences are beautiful! Two people who are exactly alike probably don’t need to be married. The things that make you each unique can bring you closer together or drive you farther apart. My life is happier when I embrace those differences.

7. Refuse to be vulnerable- It was far too long into our marriage before I wept openly in front of my wife. Hiding what is really going on underneath the surface of my life didn’t help either of us.

8. Try to control the other person– When two people are grasping for control, nobody wins. I learned this the hard way about a year into our marriage and have been re-learning it ever since.

9. Always have expectations associated with your service– Doing nice things and expecting nothing in return is a lost art. Learning to serve with no strings attached requires intentionality…well, for me anyway.

10. Don’t have fun– Life can be difficult. Learn to enjoy the little things in life and laugh a lot together. Fun has been a great bonding agent in our relationship.

11. Play it safe– As I reflect back on the last 20 years, I don’t regret the risks we have taken. Each risk might not have turned out the way we envisioned but life is more fulfilling when you treat it like an adventure.

12. Refuse to forgive– I’ve been hurt. I’ve also been the source of a lot of hurt. I can’t think of a single time when harboring bitterness helped our relationship grow.

13. Rely on your feelings to guide you– The “butterflies” stage of relationships are fantastic, but they won’t be there through every phase of life. Feelings are great…but they are temporary.

14. Assume that sex won’t take effort- Sexuality takes intentionality. Sex is connected to every other aspect of your relationship. I was pretty naïve about the challenges that this could present.

15. Don’t express appreciation– The words “I love you” never go out of style. Neither does the phrase “Thank you!” It might seem like a small thing but being grateful rather than critical actually reframes the way I think about my wife.  

16. Look to your spouse to build your confidence. Confidence only comes through knowing the One who made you and embracing who you were created to be.  No person on this earth can give me this…no matter how amazing they are.

17. Pretend you don’t struggle with anxiety. Deal with your anxiety early. If you don’t, it will spread. Not every relationship has to deal with this but I did so I included it on this list…Thank you counseling!

18. Underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep- Many arguments can be solved if both people get some rest. In my life, there is a high correlation between agitation and exhaustion. 

19. Value “solving” your spouses problems over being present with them- There’s nothing more annoying than sharing your heart with someone and having them give you a checklist of things to do to “get over it”. I’m been guilty of this on multiple occasions. I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing I can do is simply be “with” my wife.

20. Try to work through things on your own- We weren’t intended to go through life alone…even in our marriages. First and foremost, our relationship is infinitely better when we are making God the center of our lives. It’s also tough to underestimate the importance of having other people speaking into our relationship. Sometimes these people have been mentors or other couples. We have also benefited in huge ways by going to counseling. I wish I had the courage to go sooner.

Fast or Far

Like many of us, I entered the New Year committed to getting back in shape. As part of that process, I began to run…again. Perhaps it’s the endorphins or my best efforts to distract myself from the pain, but I have started to notice more parallels between running and leadership.

Specifically, one of the biggest decisions that leaders need to make is the choice between going fast or going far. Rarely do they end up requiring the same things from us. Neither one is inherently better than the other. Becoming a world-class sprinter or a champion marathoner are both amazing athletic achievements. Yet, they require different types of training and focus.

Here are some post-run reflections…

1. Going farther requires attention to pace and rhythms

When I try to approach a long run like a sprint, I end up dragging and barely able to finish. Similarly, leadership for the long haul requires a pace that is sustainable. You can only go “all out” for so long before you drop over.

2. Train for EITHER quick results or sustainability

Sprinters and marathoners don’t train the same way. The type of muscles that sprinters work so hard to develop would deplete a marathoner’s body of oxygen in the middle of a long race. Similarly, systems that would be ideal to see quick results often don’t end up being what you need to have a long-term impact.

3. Having a community of people around you will help you go farther.

I’ve had the opportunity to run the “Tough Mudder” a couple of times. The first time I did it, the course was 11 miles of mud, obstacles, mud, hills, mud, feats of strength…and mud. It would have been impossible for me to navigate the course on my own. As a matter of fact, the courses are specifically designed so that you HAVE to depend on other people. Life has much more in common with a Tough Mudder event than a sprint. The farther you want to go, the more you need to depend on the people around you.

4. Tracking your progress is essential for staying in a long race.

Why are smart watches that keep track of your pace and distance so popular? Well, one reason is because when you are running for a long time, it’s motivating to know what progress you are making. That’s also the reason why there are mile markers in races. Mile markers let you know how far you’ve gone and give you the psychological strength to keep pressing on. If you are leading something over a long period of time, it is imperative to have ways to measure your progress.

Those are four similarities that I have noticed. I’m sure there are a ton more. I’d love to hear your insights on this too!