Knowing How To Screw Up A Marriage

All-time greatest hair!

My daughter and I are doing a summer essay project. I wasn’t able to get this quite where I wanted before hitting my writing duration limit of two weeks. So I’ll pull the key points to the start and publish:

  • Marriage is an agreement to never knowingly hurt each other. Digging deeper, this implies a promise that I will take the time to absorb my spouse’s value system.
  • If you’re not sure then wait. Wait until you are willing to constantly offer yourself. Getting out of a poor marriage is awful and being in a great marriage is fabulous. Choose wisely.
  • Renew vows every morning. Every new choice provides the opportunity to leave the mistakes of the past.
  • You have a hidden superpower. You have the ability to create your spouse. First and foremost by who you become in the years ahead. Secondly, in the aspects of your partner you choose to support.

Finally, your relationships, your life => it only needs to make sense to you and your partner.

There’s a paradox. My current marriage, which works very well for us, depends on a path of going through my first marriage, which ended in divorce.

Success via failure.

Marriage Life Cycle

With each passing year, the “getting married” becomes less of a factor in my life. As we near fifteen years together, the “staying married” has been stable for a long time. These days, where I focus is the enjoying of marriage.

Getting => Staying => Enjoying

First baby

The Search

Prior failure is painful evidence that I might not be as smart as I think I am or, perhaps, I’m not in the right spot to find what I’m looking for.


Can I articulate what I am looking for? If I can’t articulate my needs then I’ll default to a set of criteria outside myself, outside my true needs. This is the old advice to start with the end in mind.

A kind companion with whom I enjoying sharing all aspects of my life => that might be a good starting point. Sharing “all aspects” has a decent shot at enduring through the stages of life and reflects a core value of openness.

For me, the step after that was to park myself in a place (two places, in fact) where there were a lot of people who shared my interests.

First vacation

The Getting

Arriving at a point where I had a shot at success was an achievement.

However, even at that point, my relationship CV was horrendous:

  • Five divorces in my immediate family, including my own
  • Blindly heading towards financial ruin
  • No sustained success in relationships
  • No proven ability to stay put
  • Addiction, alcoholism and mental illness throughout my family tree

All of the above were extremely useful as I gradually inverted my personal history => with a crystal clear idea about how to screw up a marriage => just do the opposite.

July 4th, 2005 => I embark on my second marriage with a clear thoughts on:

  • What I didn’t want in a relationship.
  • Where I didn’t want to live.
  • What it takes for me to ruin a relationship.

It was easier to figure what I didn’t want, than what I did. Most importantly, the pain of my prior mistakes left me motivated to change.

Where is this behavior, this choice, likely to take me?

I knew where my past choices had taken me – not where I had wanted to go!

Caring Enough To Change

Being motivated to change is not unique.

I’ve met many people with a passionate drive to overcome themselves. Often, this drive is applied towards conventional success => monetary wealth, power and sexual partners. I was this person. I had an opportunity to achieve a world-class marriage but decided to apply my energy elsewhere.

Our prior mistakes do not need to be renewed each morning!

The starting point in my own transformation was giving up on relationships. I spent 1,000 days seeking to make myself the absolute best (athlete) I could be. The physical outlet of this pursuit let me burn away a prior life of achieving what others valued. Extreme fatigue was a useful way to peel the onion and figure out who I wanted to be.

The Staying

Marriage is journey:

  • across time
  • facing common challenges
  • about which you have limited experience

Time => success is very different at 25, 50 and 75 years old.

Stress & Adversity => across long time horizons you are guaranteed to face adversity:

  • Parenthood
  • Babies and toddlers
  • Near death experiences of kids and each other
  • Death experience of parents and grandparents
  • Financial ruin
  • Alcoholism and addiction
  • Menopause, cancer, dementia, heart disease
  • Mental illness

Stuff happens to everyone, regardless marital status. We face these major events largely clueless about how to deal with them. How you handle stress, within your relationship, will have an outsized impact on outcome.

How To Love is a great resource on this topic and will help you increase the odds towards relationship success.

The Enjoying

How do you get to a marriage that is better than you ever expected?

Wait until you are ready to continually offer yourself.

Looking back, I think my first marriage was driven, at least in part, by an unwillingness to be alone. However, I am cautious about memory because I am an expert at fooling myself and back-fitting a coherent personal narrative.

On the other hand, the failure of my first marriage was absolutely due to an attitude of what I was going to “take” and a disregard for bringing anything, other than money, to the relationship. It’s an attitude that followed me for many years, in many different parts of my life. It didn’t serve me well.

What would I tell my younger self, or my kids, about marriage?

There’s no rush, rather than searching for what you think you need, turn inwards and work on becoming the person you want to marry. Once you are married, you’ll be able to apply this habit into supporting your spouse. Together, you will each become better partners.

Create your spouse => I look for ways to support anything that builds my spouse into the person I’d like them to become.

Often when I read advice on how to love, it centers on what to avoid in a partner. Rather than avoidance in others, seek to self-cultivate the traits you want to receive.