Heartbreak

I Killed All Of My Marriages With These 4 Flaws

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woman by water, sitting alone

There are few things more discouraging and life-altering than a failed marriage. We can study trends and track statistics on this subject, but spreadsheets do very little to explain to each individual person why their marriage went down the drain.

Anthropology, sociology, and many other -ologies are certainly valid tools in examining the general human condition and all its outcomes, but  what about individually?

I have experienced the heartbreak of marital implosion more than once myself. As one inevitably gave way to another, I began to notice four things within myself that forced me to admit that maybe  — just maybe  —  I was contributing to the outcomes.

Here are four flaws that killed my marriage:

1. I was living in the past

When I was in college, I went through what I now realize was a fairly garden-variety breakup. She was my first love and letting go was super hard.

I acted out in embarrassing ways in the wake of that coupling. This behavior caught the attention of our Dean of Students, who ordered me to the campus counselor for a headspace tune-up.

A classical psychotherapist, he dragged me back to my childhood to discover the roots of my attachment issues. Within minutes, he had me discussing my childhood and being raised without my biological mother. We camped on that issue for weeks without discussing any other experiences in my life.

My lack of a biological mom became my excuse for every negative action, reaction, thought, word, and deed in each adult relationship I recklessly ran into from that point forward.

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I failed to do the hard work of evaluating each potential partner on their own merits before deciding to commit to them in marriage. I simply threw them into the mother-sized hole inside me and became increasingly frustrated when they could not fill it.

As one marriage failed and the next began, that hole inside me became larger and larger as blaming Mom gave way to blaming exes. 

I did not take the time to really get to know the person in front of me, which was caused by my second internal issue.

2. I did not know myself

The most unfortunate result of those therapy sessions in college was that I walked away from them with a go-to defense mechanism: blaming others.

Blaming others for where I was in life became a defense mechanism that excused me from examining my own attitudes, actions, intentions, and culpability.

When my first wife cheated on me, I looped her back around to the fact that my biological mother cheated on my father. I wrote her off with a crass label to describe her decisions and enjoyed the sympathy of those around me who were all too willing to hold me up as a victim.

That gave me a comfortable distance from where my mind really should have been in that situation: why was our relationship so bad that she felt stepping out on it was perfectly acceptable? She owned responsibility for her choices, no doubt, but it's not likely that she cheated with absolutely no provocation whatsoever.

I was far too comfortable for far too many years with ignoring my own mistakes, which stunted my ability to grow, learn, and heal.

I had a long, detailed memory of the actions of everyone in my life — except my own. I did not know myself because I did not want to know myself.

Any person who truly lacks self-knowledge is, quite simply, lying to every person they ever show themselves to. You cannot allow someone to truly know you like this.

That takes time.

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3. I was extraordinarily impatient

I have always been in a hurry and my own impatience drives me in ways that are unspeakably unhealthy. Where relationships are concerned, I have only recently come to realize why I was always in such a hurry: I was afraid that healthy courtship would expose me before we could commit.

To my previous point, ignoring my own internal baggage was me lying to myself. Lying to myself meant I was lying to everyone else too.

The longer I spent getting to know someone, the longer they had to get inside my head and really dig around. I now realize I was unconsciously aware of this — to the point that I was zipping through dating processes to avoid laying my true issues bare for someone that might decide to dip on me because of them.

The laughable part is that they ended up leaving me anyway once they realized they had dated my shining and upbeat representative, only to marry the miserable true me instead. It turns out, people do not like being misled. 

That sword cut both ways: I allowed myself to be misled by not taking the time to get an accurate picture of the people I was committing to, either. Fast-tracked courtship is a bad idea.

Good marriages thrive on love, commitment, devotion, respect, and mutual consideration. And the key to developing those things is time.

4. I was ridiculously lazy.

I certainly had bad role models for how to act in marriage when I was growing up, but I take full ownership of this one. My laziness has always been easily the most fixable of my issues in relationships, but for some reason, I just rolled with it. I wondered why partners could not just love me for who I was pretending to be.

I've never been Mr. Fix-it. I am not a mechanic, general contractor, carpenter, or any other type of skilled laborer. When something went wrong in the house, I called someone to come address it.

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My lack of DIY skills became really embarrassing when I had to call my father-in-law over to figure out why our A/C wasn’t cooling our house. It turns out, you have to change the air filters more than once every decade or that tends to happen.

I had never been taught how to perform routine maintenance of everyday items. I had never had to build a deck with my bare hands or replace the alternator in a car.

Where I stand guilty on this subject is that I did not care to learn. Cars come with manuals. Youtube videos exist.

I was just too comfortable with being man-stupid and defending that fact by constantly self-extolling all my other virtues  —  none of which did us any good when things blew up and needed to be fixed.

My laziness ruined more than one good relationship.

The good news about all of the above issues is that it wasn't too late to address them and make wholesale, necessary changes in my life. 

I have filled the mother-sized hole in my own life by simply forgiving her. Grace makes a wonderful caulk for the soul.

I sat with a more carefully-selected therapist in my more recent adult years and, rather than confronting my parents or my exes, instead confronted the one person that was really causing all this damage: myself. 

He and I still have work to do, but we are in a much better place now.

I travel a lot, which has given me the sweet nectar of time to journal about my past, my mistakes, my unhealthy thoughts and choices, and the resulting present. I'm learning that I'm not nearly as far gone and irreparable as I once thought. 

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Frank Vaughn is a military veteran and a regional Emmy and Associated Press Media Editors Award-winning journalist.

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