All of them!
Welcome to part 2 of my series on marriage. As I mentioned in my last post, I think the way our culture views marriage is fundamentally broken, and I want to try to do my part to fight it.
I decided to address a few things that I believe can be toxic in marriage and yet are far too common. Let me know what you think! I’d be happy to hear your disagreements and additions!
Being selfish: This basically encompasses the rest. So many problems in life come from human selfishness, and when two people come together “as one”, selfish behavior will quickly drive them apart. You can’t go into marriage with the mindset of “what will I get out of it”. Marriage isn’t just a solution to your problems and certainly not something you can do “on the side.” INSTEAD, don’t look at what you can get out of marriage but what you can put in. Marriage requires loving sacrifice from both parties. The adage “Happy wife, happy life” bears some credibility because when you focus on the happiness of your spouse, it provides a much healthier environment for your marriage to thrive.
Watching porn: Ah, the fun taboo. It’s ruined so many marriages and lives, but so many people deny it’s harmful effects. I don’t believe it belongs in anyone’s life, but it’s even worse in a marriage. Marital intimacy should be just that: intimate, private, personal. Watching others intimacy and/or bringing it into your own marriage is not healthy. Porn sets unrealistic expectations, breeds insecurity, and ultimately uses people as things. An argument I’ve heard many times is that watching porn as a couple can strengthen the relationship. My response is that it’s kind of like arsenic: no matter how or with whom you consume it, it’s still poisonous. INSTEAD, keep it far away from you and those you love. If you have a bad habit or addiction, look for help. Communicate with your spouse and strengthen your friendship while practicing marital intimacy without outside “influences”.
Badmouthing: I see (hear?) this far too often. At work, at the bar, on Facebook – people trash their spouses and tell the world of the their mistakes and personal matters. This isn’t acceptable to do to strangers much less your husband or wife. Not only is it extremely hurtful and uncharitable, but I truly believe it changes how you think about your spouse. If you only focus on your wife’s flaws, and ruin her reputation by telling your coworkers how she’s always nagging you and bothering you and talking too much, you’ll plant and perpetuate a very negative view of her in your mind. Talk about toxic! INSTEAD, focus on your spouse’s good qualities and what you love about them. Brag about your spouse and be proud to be married to them. Be the one everyone tells to shut up about how great their spouse is and the first one to come to their defense when their reputation is at stake.
Keeping score: My wife and I are as competitive as they come. We like being right and we like winning. I don’t see anything wrong that. If kept in good fun, competition with each other can even be healthy between spouses. It becomes dangerous, however, when one spouse starts being prideful, or thinking they are truly “better” than the other, or feeling they are “owed” by the other. Obviously, both have their strengths and differences, but a mindset of “I’m better than my spouse” or “They owe me a favor” is obviously unhealthy. INSTEAD, don’t put your spouse down when they’re wrong or they make a mistake, and don’t think about what you’re owed. Focus on the strengths of your spouse and the things about them that you fell in love with. It’s one thing to lightly tease, but remember your own short-comings to put things in perspective. And when you do something kind, don’t add a point to your score – do it out of love without expecting a favor in return.
Being too independent: I consider my wife and I pretty independent as well. In fact, that was and is one of her many attractive traits. The culture today seems to be in love with independent people: those who live their lives without worry, who don’t let anything hold them back, and who don’t need to rely on anyone. There is something to be said for independence, but I believe that marriages requires you to give up at least a little bit of it. Being overly independent pushes your spouse and children away and can be detrimental to communication as well. INSTEAD, understand that knowing your weaknesses and asking for help is a strength. When you get married, you become a team. Learning to lean on your spouse and depend on them is an important part of a healthy marriage.
Playing the victim: Almost everyone does it. We all want to have the saddest story, the biggest hardship, the worst luck, and then tell everyone how hard we have it. When it’s someone in your friend circle, it’s annoying; when it’s a someone in your marriage, it can be toxic. It’s a common temptation to think you do more of the chores, have the harder workday, or change more poopy diapers than your spouse. Now, if there really is a significant workload imbalance, that should be addressed; but constantly playing the victim and feeling sorry for yourself is an unhealthy mindset. INSTEAD, try being empathetic to your spouse’s challenges and hardships, communicate with your spouse if you feel overly burdened, and together come up with solutions to better your situation.
This is far from a comprehensive list of all the things that can ruin a marriage, but I think it’s a start. As I alluded to earlier, problems seem to arise when you continually put yourself and your needs before your spouse. It’s obviously important to take care of yourself and “do you”, but marriage without sacrifice is doomed.
Come back next week for Brendan’s next post and in two weeks for Part 3!