Sandra and Ben had anticipated getting married after their university graduation. They were looking forward to setting up their own home, being able to spend unprecedented time together, establish their own lifestyle, raise a family and continue to work in their chosen careers, supported unconditionally by the other. However, the reality that followed did not meet their expectations. Over time they became disillusioned, growing increasingly resentful of each other. They doubted their decision to marry. They blamed each other for their own unhappiness. What they didn’t realize was that each of them had engaged in relational sabotage: They had allowed destructive patterns to creep in and jeoparadize their relationship.
Messing up a marriage doesn’t usually happen overnight. You have to work at it. If I were to teach a class on “How to Sabotage your Marriage” based on twenty-five years of observations, it would include the following:
- Take your spouse for granted. Discontinue politeness and appreciation. Don’t acknowledge the other when they come home from work or outside engagements, don’t express appreciation for domestic chores performed, or income being brought home to meet family expenses. Don’t let your spouse know they are important to you.
– Here the “sins of omission” are just as great as are those of “commission”. It is the absence of appreciation, courtesy and acknowledgement that dismantle the relationship.
- Be satisfied with the mediocre. Don’t expect much from your relationship. Resist regular “talk times” or “dates” where just the two of you connect. Express disinterest when your spouse suggests doing anything different or fun and most importantly, don’t initiate any activities or time together which might get his or her hopes up!
– Although not overtly destructive, the apathy reflected here can be likened to the gradual wearing of carpeted steps… over time, it is the everyday grievances which gradually wear the relationship out.
- Be negative. Communicate your cynicism, discontent and unhappiness with your spouse as much as possible. Be irritable and grumpy most days, and don’t attempt to moderate your mood in any way. Be pessimistic about the future, and oversensitive about slights from others. Assume the worst of everyone.
– In Gottman’s *study of marriages he observed that “there is a healthy balance between positive and negative feelings and actions toward each other…That magic ratio is 5 to 1. As long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative, the marriage is likely to be stable over time”.
- Misplace your priorities. Ensure the career or children or your parents or (fill your own priority in) come first. Put any extra effort or resources that might be available for you into your own interests or hobbies or volunteer work. Believe that although you are too busy with these priorities right now, your spouse will understand and you can make up for it later.
– Fatigue and time pressure are two of the most common factors that rob couples of time available to increase their emotional and physical intimacy with one another. Your spouse will certainly get a clear message that they are not important if optional resources whether in the form of time or money are spent elsewhere. A painful lesson learned is that if you don’t make your relationship with your spouse a priority, someone else will.
- Speak demeaningly. Convey disrespect when you talk to your spouse by using insults, name-calling, sarcasm and mockery. Frequently speak sharply and angrily. Use nonverbal methods to communicate contempt such as rolling your eyes, turning away, and sneering. Criticize your spouse in front of others (especially your children).
– Steven Covey** discusses the impact of an emotional trust account where positive “deposits” such as affirmations, active listening, kindnesses and praise contribute to building up the other, and therefore contribute to a positive “bank account” and relationship. Criticizing one’s spouse publicly is one of the biggest “withdrawals” possible. Avoid it at all costs.
- Allow secrets and ‘little white lies’. Believe that little white lies don’t hurt. Have a private life and relationship(s) apart from your spouse. Avoid being accountable for your time and money.
– Lies are seldom little and never white. The practice of deceit, or withholding, creates a pattern of secretiveness which begins the process of trust erosion. Even though your spouse may not know exactly what is wrong, they know that something is wrong. Any type of deceit begins to erode trust, which is the very foundation the relationship and family rest on. While less visable, all else in the relationship depends on it.
- Allow domestic chaos. Be messy. Don’t clean up after yourself. And especially don’t clean up after others – that’s not your mess, anyway! Expect your spouse to clean/cook/chauffeur whenever necessary, because you have more important things to do. Make it clear that there is “man’s work” and “women’s work”, and ne’er the twain shall meet.
– Ask your spouse to “do their share” around the home, instead of asking them “to help”. Schedule a discussion to divide chores, deliniate priorities (Are home cooked meals a priority? How often does the lawn need mowing?) and make a list of the tasks that need to be done. Share onerous tasks and mutually assign others based on skill or proclivity. If necessary and you are able, hire help.
Although Sandra and Ben, like many others, had allowed their marriage to get to a sad state of disrepair, their relationship can be reconciled. As with any other goal worthy of attainment, the state of a marriage reflects the effort put into it.
* Gottman and Silver, at http://www.psychologytoday.com*
**Covey, Steven. The Seven habits of highly Effective people.