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Ask Jack: Marital Sabotage

After three failed long-term relationships and my marriage recently ending in divorce, it’s clear I am a part of the problem. I’m fortunate to have a great career and full social life, but I keep hearing the same bad marriage advice from the same people.

Unfortunately, I think following some of that advice has (in part) led me down this road. I’m doing ‘my part’ and going to therapy (better late than never at 46!)…but I’d like to hear from an expert on what common relationship saboteurs I should avoid bringing into my next relationship. — Jace

Hi Jace,

Wouldn’t it be nice if the only advice doled out was actually helpful? There is no doubt that relationships are messy and that marriage is no a walk in the park. It doesn’t matter what your relationship status is, whether you are dating, engaged or married, every relationship has its own set of demands.

That is to say that every relationship is different, so sometimes the tried-and-true, time-honored advice doesn’t really apply — as you’re figuring out, Jace! To be clear, there are no right or wrong set of rules that apply to every relationship. What works well for one couple might not work for another at all.

Before digging in, I think it’s important to note that when ‘setting rules’ like this, only two things really matter — that the rules are crafted specifically for whatever relationship you’re in presently (not based on past ones) and that you must remain flexible, always ready to adapt if/when things change.

That said, there are definitely some common ‘marital saboteurs,’ (packaged as good advice), that I wish people would stop handing out! Like…

1. Always ‘agree’ to keep the peace.

How often have you been told to ‘keep the peace.’ No matter what the issue is, don’t ‘stir the pot’ within your marriage. I challenge this adage because I don’t believe it applies to this century’s marriages, and I also don’t believe it actually leads to success.

Obviously, there are some things that you shouldn’t waste your time arguing about. That said, if you keep the peace always, shaking your head in agreement even when you seriously don’t agree, you are creating an unsustainable dynamic. Eventually, this philosophy leads down the road of resentment — the partner that ‘keeps the peace’ will feel powerless until they implode.

“All healthy relationships experience conflict.”

Don’t shy away from conflict when it’s in the best interest of the relationship to speak up. Finding a healthy balance to navigate your way through difficult conversations is essential to relationship longevity — and resolving disagreements in this way brings you closer together.

2. Secrets have no friends.

Let’s be real, there are some secrets better told to your best friend (or therapist, Jace!) rather than to your partner. We all have secret inner thoughts and things we’re working on, there’s no need to disclose everything to your partner, that’s not reasonable or healthy.

It’s absolutely OK to keep things to yourself — about your past, about your fears etc. Obviously, the breakdown of trust is profoundly damaging in marriage/relationships, so if you are hiding something major that your partner has the right to know, this does not apply.

Successful couples recognize the importance of ‘me and us’ time.

“Both partners should be supportive of each other’s separateness — that’s what makes the relationship interesting and dynamic.”

3. Gender roles rule.

Enforcing pre-defined marital roles for yourself and/or your partner is a big no-no. No marriage fits into a one-size-fits-all box, so why would anyone assume their partner does either?

Make your own rules and respect your partner’s right to individuality.

We’re discovering more and more that ‘gender,’ and more specifically masculine vs. feminine qualities are socially constructed concepts. As long as both you and your partner are happy with the dynamic, break the norms and switch-it-up!

4. I-spy with my little eye…

‘If you want to know if he/she was really working late, do a little digging.”

This is a slippery slope. Don’t play adult i-spy, it’s toxic! Is it possible your suspicion is born from personal insecurities? Look inward first, always. If you really feel uncomfortable, however, and your partner’s behavior could be putting themselves, or you, in danger (such as a gambling problem or addiction), they make an app for that!

5. Get help when the problems start.

Don’t we all need a little help? Of course you should have some kind of relationship counselor — especially if you’re repeatedly experiencing the same fallout issues in multiple relationships.

The most important part of this — do it early! Do it when things are still good — before you can’t stand to be in the same room, before you start looking for a way out.

“Do not let fixable problems fly-by.”

For some, seeing a counselor sounds like a super scary concept — ‘oh no, I don’t think we’re there yet!’ I argue that this is an unproductive taboo. Among the many benefits, a great thing about counseling is that it teaches you how to have stellar communication — how to actively listen to one another without talking over each other. These sound like simple concepts, but it’s actually pretty tough to accomplish, especially over time with the same person.

“Relationship counseling isn’t your last hope.”

“It’s the thing that prevents you from needing a last hope.”

Remember, relationship advice is by no means universal. Even these rules are subject to change depending on the relationship and the two unique people within it.

In that vein, challenge everything Jace! Whatever advice you are getting, think on it hard before actually applying it.

You’ve got this,


Welcome to Ask Jack! An advice column where our male friends and colleagues tackle selected reader questions submitted via the ask page. Not every ‘Jack’ will do it in the same way — so don’t miss a single episode!

Today’s ‘Jack’ is a self-taught blogger from L.A. He started writing at a young age and now has his own digital content training company. He shares his knowledge on men’s issues across the web.

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