I’ve been married four times, domestic partnered once, and engaged a forgettable number of times before the first marriage. I don’t know the recipe for a good marriage but I know four recipes for ones that don’t last.
Recipe the first: the undiscovered country.
This sunk all the engagements and the second marriage. Do not get involved in a serious romantic relationship until well after you’ve done your epic journey of self discovery and self acceptance. Be happily single for a couple of years first. Make sure you have a completely firm foundation of who and what you are. When you are happy and well adjusted by yourself, you can properly date compatible people and have a reasonably well balanced marriage or other romantic relationship.
I think this is the most common, most pervasive, and most invisible cause. The more marriages I see break up, the more obvious the pattern is that one or both of the participants didn’t fully know themselves going in. They chose partners who were compatible with their mistaken image of themselves. Not who they actually were. So the two were fundamentally incompatible but didn’t know it. The journey of discovery uncovered it. Painfully.
And I don’t think we can avoid it by setting a time limit on when to get married. Some people seem to know themselves fully coming out of high school, and others never do. My ex is around 60 and he is still jabbing all around the target but missing it. Some people never try.
And how do you know when you get there? For me, it was when I finally came to acceptance about my family of origin, about the things about myself I like least, about things I used to accept unquestioningly about my culture and the world. In fact, I’m still in that process, but the hardest, most painful work seems to be finished.
Recipe the second: ignoring red flags and gut feelings.
I knew my first husband was untrustworthy well before I married him. He was cheating to date me. When I set a boundary, he committed a fraud to get around it. I knew while I was holding the divorce decree that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t go with my gut. I kept my word and married him. When he would not budge on the topic of changing my last name, that was a clear signal that it wasn’t me he was interested in, but I ignored that, too. We had a week or maybe two before the fresh lies and absences began.
Recipe the third: accepting (or assigning) the role of parent instead of partner.
Don’t get me wrong; for some couples that kind of relationship works, provided everyone accepts that going in. This is what went wrong with my third marriage and domestic partnership. I didn’t treat them like fully formed grown-ass human beings, and then I resented doing all the heavy lifting. I see a huge number of relationships with this problem. This is the problem most others can easily spot too. Folks are learning how to develop good boundaries about this as an additional benefit of dismantling the patriarchy.
Recipe the fourth: changing somebody’s life without their consent.
I don’t hear as much about this as I used to. Remember in like the 50s when globalization was emerging, and men who worked at these big corporations were getting reassigned to offices in other faraway cities? It used to be customary for men to accept these assignments without even consulting their wives. “Hi honey, we’re moving to Boston.” That would totally not fly now.
But there are other ways that one partner can completely change another’s life, and life changing things require consent. They just do. It is the height of selfishness to sell your shared house, trade in a shared car, or adopt a pet without the consent of your partner. This one got my fourth marriage.