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.

My tomb

I know what it’s like to live a privileged life. Sure, I was born with certain advantages but I have also put a lot of effort into my success.

I’ve dedicated myself to working hard and living a moral life. In return, I’ve been blessed with resources and respect.

There is only one problem. All that striving and all those possessions don’t bring me joy. There is an ever-present ache inside my soul that won’t go away. Like a cancer that spreads silently underneath the surface of my skin, this gnawing pain is always with me.

In desperation, I turned to a man who seemed to have a peace that evaded me. His life was not dominated by the pursuit of wealth or status. He was clearly not anxious or driven by the opinions of people.

It took courage to ask him a question. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth but I managed to blurt out, “What do I have to do to have a life of true meaning?”  Underneath the question was a longing to make the aching pain stop NOW. 

His response was nonchalant. I’m used to people paying me more respect. He simply listed off commandments that I needed to follow.

Frustrated, I replied, “I’ve done all that since I was a kid!”

I think he heard the desperation in my voice. He turned and looked me directly in the eyes. It was only a few seconds but it felt like hours. An expression, I can only describe as “love” radiated from his face. Somehow I knew he truly cared for me.

Like a good doctor, he saw the disease that was destroying me. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then you will have the life you are seeking.”

Tears filled my eyes. He knew the one thing that was in control of my life. How could I give up the comfort and safety I had worked my whole life to attain? He could have told me to fly to the moon and it would have been easier.

I couldn’t look at his face anymore. I was seen for who I truly was. I bowed my head and walked away weeping.

My story could have stopped there…but it didn’t.

That look of compassion continued to haunt me. I secretly began to follow him. I watched as he cured the ill and cared for people that no one else thought worthy of respect. THIS was the life I desperately craved!

Just as I was about to leave my successful life behind, I was shaken again. He was sentenced to the brutal death of crucifixion. The hands that healed the sick were nailed to a piece of wood. The body that embraced outcasts was beaten so badly that you couldn’t even tell he was human.

Yet, as I stood at a distance, I saw him look at his tormentors with the same love that he showed me. He never cursed them or demanded justice. He forgave them.

He willingly gave EVERYTHING he had.  In his death, he showed me how to live.

I watched in stunned silence as he gasped his last breath. Once again I wept the bitter tears of regret as I thought about “What could have been”.

Suddenly a feeling of resolve came over me. Today is the day it all changes! No more being dominated by the expectations of others or pursuit of wealth.

Even if the entire world is ashamed of him, I won’t be. I boldly went before the governor and asked for Jesus’ body so that I could bury it. Yes, associating myself with a convict could have cost me my life too, but I didn’t care anymore.

My relationship with my possessions began to change as well. One of the first things I did was buy as many burial spices as I could. I spared no expense. It was a small way for me to symbolize that money was no longer my priority.

Finally, I put him in MY tomb. I thought I would be the one laying here one day. It was a way for me to represent the truth that a part of me really did die. It may sound odd, but in dying, I found that I could truly live.

There is someone laying in my tomb yet somehow I’m more alive than I’ve ever been.