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.

Gauges

There are two types of people in this world…those who can comfortably let their cell phone battery drain down to one percent and those who begin to panic when it reaches the half way point.

I am the second type of person.

Once my phone dips into a range I consider “the danger zone”, I feverishly start to look for an outlet. The same is true in my car. There is nothing more stressful than watching my gas gauge get perilously close to “E”. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I push the limits, but I can’t breathe easy until I know my tank is full again.

Over time, I’ve discovered that I have a set of internal gauges that tell me how I’m doing too. It’s easy to pretend they don’t exist because they don’t light up like the ones on my dashboard. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as real. Often the consequences for ignoring the gauges of my inner world are even more painful than getting stuck along the side of the road or not having access to my phone.

Here are a few of the gauges I use to monitor the health of what is going on inside my soul…

Positivity vs. Cynicism

I’m a pretty positive person by nature. When I am in a healthy spot, I tend to see the bright side of circumstances and believe the best about the people around me.

I know my emotional gauge is telling me that something is wrong when I start to become cynical. When the first words out of my mouth are sarcastic or my thoughts become jaded, I need to take some space and evaluate what is going on beneath the surface of my life.

Rested vs. Exhausted

When my emotional tank is full, I feel rested and at peace. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not busy. It means I have enough margin in my life not to run myself into the ground. Perhaps the best way to describe this way of life is “at ease”.

A clear sign that my tank is running low is the need for multiple cups of coffee in order to make it through the day. When I combine a weary physical state with rushing between activities and no space for silence/stillness, the results aren’t pretty.

Present vs. Distracted

I have learned to pay attention to my interactions with people as I monitor my inner world. When I am at my healthiest, I am able to stay engaged and focused in conversations. I feel “present” with others.

I know something is “off” when my mind begins to dart around in the middle of talking with another person. Living with a distracted mind isn’t fun for me (or the people I’m interacting with).  

Those are just a few of the gauges that I have learned to monitor in my life. How about you? What are some of the gauges that tell you how you are doing?