April 2, 2009

How To Destroy A Marriage

This has nothing to do with psychiatry.  Or maybe it's the only thing that has anything to do with psychiatry.

The writer of ShrinkTalk writes about an experience as a marriage counselor.  He lists 7 reasons why marriage becomes difficult for some people.

He comes up with his reasons based on his experience with couples.  Interestingly, however, all of those reasons are generally of the type "unrealistic expectations" or at least "the wrong impression."   In other words, the marriages failed not because of what went on in the marriage, but because people were oriented wrong before they even got married.

This may partially explain why arranged marriages or marriages "in the old days" lasted so long.  Everyone knew precisely what marriage was all about, there were no illusions or confusions.

If this is true, than perhaps the role of counseling is to quickly reorient disoriented people's expectations; or, perhaps people should go into counseling before they get married in the first place.

I thought about this, and came up with my own observations, all of which are post-marriage accelerators of divorce.


This statement is 100% accurate: cheating on your spouse is less detrimental to your marriage than rolling your eyes, looking away, and saying, "oh my God, you're so annoying."

I'm not saying you can get away with cheating.  But contempt in the marital interaction is the most important predictor of marriage failure; and, probably, those marriages should be dissolved as soon as possible anyway.  No good will come of them.

Bring work home with you. 

And I don't mean the quarterly reports.

You have another bad day at work, you come home and she asks about your day.  You answer from a 15 year olds playbook: "fine;" "nothing;" "same stuff."  And so she asks you to cut the carrots, and you snap.  "God damn it!"

You've brought your suppressed work-emotions home, and you let them out on your family.  Why?  Because you can; you don't need to suppress at home.  You're curt and irritable and withdrawn.  Maybe your wife understands.   For now.

I know, it's hard to keep those emotions in check after your boss has been riding you all day.  Yet then the UPS guy comes to the door and you are instantly nice, bright, warm. "Hey, thanks, have a good one buddy!  Go Raiders!"   You'll say it's an act, but the other way of looking at it is that you think it's worth  faking politeness to the UPS guy, but not to your family.  See? Does your family need to see the real, irritable you?

Oh, I hear you, my special, special, generation, the one that counts hypocrisy the greatest of all possible sins: "if I can't be myself at home, what's the point?"  Because that isn't the real you, there isn't a you.  Who you are is what you do.  If you come home and are cranky and curt and bossy at home, then you are a jerk.  You don't get to say, "I'm a nice person, but I just happen to be irritable every day."

Even if you aren't a jerk, what your family sees is a jerk.

Leave work at work; leave work emotions at work.  They have no place at home, they are not useful and they serve no purpose.  Of course you can talk about your crappy day, you can show her the schematics for the bomb you want to build. You can be angry at your boss, but don't be angry at your spouse because you can't get angry at your boss.

No time to yourself.

Self help guides get this wrong.  They say that to preserve sanity, you need some time for yourself; they say new moms need some "adult conversation."  That is counterproductive.

You rush through dinner, through clean up, through idle conversation ; you're checking off your "responsibilities" so that you can get a moment to yourself.  The result is you are not there, you're passing through, emotionally, until you can get to what you think you want to get to.   

Life is what happens while you're trying to get to the computer.

A lot of people are going to disagree with me, and they are wrong.  First, understand that your family is all there is.  There is no break, there is nothing else, there is no "adult conversation."  It is possible you may never golf again.   The kids aren't the distraction-- everything else is the distraction.   If golf is a pleasant diversion that doesn't cause you to rush through family life in order to get to it, then it's ok.  Otherwise, it's out.  Otherwise you will be rushing through family life to get to course.  And you will miss out on the family, and will still not get any real relief from golfing.

Once you have accepted this, you can then proceed to step 2: decide on two or three "distractions" you really like, and put them into your routine, with dedication and commitment.  If you are truly committed to them, your spouse will understand (and they'll have their own.)  But if you pick, say, going to the gym MWF, but you yourself aren't dedicated, it will appear to your spouse that you use it as an escape only when things get tough. (Because that's what it will be.) 

Loyalty over truth. 

This is going to be controversial: no matter what happens, your family is first.  That doesn't sound controversial?  Read on.

If I have a kid on the lam for a series of crimes he did coked up on heroin, and he asks me for some money to hide out in Uganda, guess what?  I'm giving him the money.  I may take some corrective actions; but no one else gets to.  

I know this doesn't work within the framework of a just society, but I do not happen to believe we live in a just society.  The only thing I do know is my family is all I really have. I may want to kill them, but you can't.

Knowing that many won't agree with that posture, I'll soften it a bit:

The same loyalty code applies to your discussions with outsiders about your family.  No jokes at your spouse's expense.  Ever.  You never tell your coworkers about your kid's drug habit, or your wife's porn addiction, or that you wish your wife had a porn addiction.  Certainly you have a best friend that you can commiserate with, but even within that relationship you cannot tell them anything permanently damaging.  No facts, only feelings.   For example, "my husband doesn't listen, he doesn't understand, he ignores me, etc" is ok on special occasions.  But "my husband punched a window, he takes Zoloft, he has a shoe fetish, etc" is definitely out.  Honor means: shut your trap.

First, it's disrespectful to your spouse.  Second, more practically, it changes the other person's relationship to your spouse, and consequently to you.  Telling your coworker you're divorcing your husband because he's sleeping with a cheerleader also tells your coworker things about you, e.g. "what the hell is going on in that house?" and "she talks a lot."

Communicating through kids.

If most of your conversations with your spouse are about your kids and not about each other, you're normal.  If all of your conversations are about your kids, one of you is probably cheating.

Couples end up talking with each other, towards the kids; but not to each other, about each other.  At some point you forget your spouse is an individual; you forget they had a past.  You forget they have a future.  All you know is that they are in your present.

Have you thought about what it will be like the day your kids go to college?  Sure.  Have you thought about what you'll do next?  Sure.  Have you thought about what your spouse will do next?   ("Be sad" means you haven't thought about it.)

Refilling Hedonic Supplies

See above.  You know how most sleights roll off you because you have a fairly stable sense of self, and a stable position in your family?  Awesome.  Now the same should go for complements.  Especially for complements.

You should say, "thank you" and move on.   If you find yourself flattered; or find yourself fishing for complements; then something is lacking at home which needs to be addressed, but more urgently you need to fix yourself that these complements have any power.

Remember the hot girl in high school, and you said to her, "I like your jacket" and she maced you?  She did that because she doesn't need your complements, and immediately senses that you're only doing it because you want something from her.  You need to adopt a version of this stance once you are married.

Every Lifetime Original Cheating Movie has the following line: "he made me feel alive again."  I know, that's the problem.  Your husband's problem for not making you feel alive-ish ordinarily; and your problem for needing that from someone else in the first place.

Marriage means: not having to look elsewhere for affirmation of identity.  


I'm on twitter.  If enough people sign up, I'll try to make it worthwhile.