Editor's note: This article was recently published in the Gwinnett Daily News. It has been republished here with permission.
Having a good marriage is a lot of hard work. But having a bad marriage is easy. You just need to do four simple things.
Misplace your priorities
A successful marriage requires both partners to put each other first. To ruin yours, just start putting other things ahead of your spouse - or better yet, put everything ahead of your spouse.
The list of things you can prioritize over your marriage is virtually endless: career, friends, sports, television. Even really good things, like exercise and volunteer work, can become disproportionately important, if you let them.
For that matter, an awful lot of people put their kids first. Of course the Bible doesn’t say we should leave our parents and cleave to our children; it says we should cleave to our spouse. But if you really want to ruin your marriage, make sure your spouse knows that the kids are numero uno.
Admire other pastures
There is perhaps no truer statement than “the grass is always greener.” As human beings, we’re constantly convinced that other people somehow have it better than we do.
Married people often assume other people’s spouses are superior to theirs - more attractive, more fun, lower maintenance. This is obviously what leads to most affairs. Of course, people almost always find out, once they’ve jumped the fence, that the grass wasn’t nearly as green as it looked. But this is a great way to ruin your marriage, not to mention your life.
It’s not just about other people’s bodies, either. Sometimes what we really long for is someone else’s life - their house, their lifestyle, their marriage. We assume, usually incorrectly, that other couples have fewer problems than we do just because their problems are different or less obvious. If you want to be miserable, that kind of thinking is a good place to start.
Sweat the small stuff
We all know the old saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” In a marriage, not everything is small stuff but most of it is.
In particular, most of what annoys us about our spouse is incredibly minor: leaving the toilet seat up, throwing socks on the floor, not putting dishes in the sink, buying too many shoes, snorting when they laugh.
The trick is to take all that small stuff and roll it into a big ball. Presto! It’s not small stuff anymore. It’s now officially a “big deal,” and therefore a sufficient reason to throw away 15 or 20 years of marriage. The fact that the big ball of stuff won’t hold together without a lot of effort, or that its individual components can’t be seen without a microscope, is irrelevant.
Make it a contest
Friends and acquaintances compete. So do siblings. But married couples are supposed to be unified - one heart and one mind and all that. If you really want to blow it, just turn the whole marriage into a perpetual contest, winner take all or lose all, as the case may be.
For starters, insist that you win every single argument, whether you’re right or not. This will ensure that you have even more arguments, which you can just keep right on - in the words of a great American - “WINNING!” You can even argue over who started the argument, giving you yet another opportunity to come out on top.
And don’t ignore one-upmanship. Does your spouse have an interesting story to tell? Make sure you’ve got a better one. Did he or she do something good? No doubt you’ve done something better. He or she have problems? Yours, of course, are worse. There really is no end to the areas where you can compete and the best part is, by winning, you’re actually losing.
See how easy it is to ruin your marriage? These are things we all do anyway, as a matter of human nature. So just go with the flow. Don’t fight it. Your marriage will be over before you know it.
Rob Jenkins is a newspaper columnist, a happily-married father of four, and the author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility."