From over a quarter century of working with couples, four principles have repeatedly surfaced as part of those marriages that fell apart. While you might not like what you hear, especially as it hits close to home, these lines of thought have contributed to countless broken families. Be warned.

1. Indulge Your Selfishness

There are few guarantees in life. But if you’re looking for a guaranteed way to wreck your marriage, never forget the cardinal rule: Marriage is all about your own personal happiness!

We teach our kids that it’s better to give than to receive. But if you’re paying attention to the messages coming from our society today, you could be excused for thinking that actually it’s better to receive?and then receive again! We’re supposed to look out for Number One, aren’t we? Sometimes, getting our own way means stepping on a few people along the way?even if it’s our spouse.

Of course, the other side of selfishness is selflessness. The selfless person says, “Whatever I can do for you is all that matters.” But it seems that if you want to guarantee your own happiness, you need to operate on the “me” principle. It’s about having life’s table sloping towards me; the ebbs and flows of life must favour me. It’s about getting my needs met and my desires gratified. It’s about getting everything needed to please me.

If marital breakdown is what you want, never let go of your need to be satisfied first. Don’t worry about what your spouse needs; they’re on their own there. Live by this creed and you will be free from your spouse’s expectations and demands. It’s so natural to put yourself first. It’s what we all do. It’s often too big an effort to think about others first, so we don’t.

2. Justify Unfaithfulness

The next big step towards marital disaster can be summed up in the phrase, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

The thing to remember about unfaithfulness is that it’s so easy to slip into. You may hear “unfaithfulness” and automatically jump to “affairs”. Now, an affair is a great way to shipwreck a marriage, no doubt about it. But unfaithfulness comes in many more subtle forms. It doesn’t start at the bedroom door, but in the windows of your mind. A look here, some lust there, maybe throw in a bit of pornography and a dose of flirtation with others, and you’re well on your way before you even leave your spouse.

We live in a world where words like “faithfulness” and “commitment” are no longer in vogue. The idea of tying myself exclusively to another person for the rest of my life is viewed as archaic. Where’s the freedom in that? Our sophisticated society regularly reminds us that if a relationship fails to bring me happiness (see point #1), the prudent thing to do is to discard it, or at least work around it. If my spouse isn’t meeting my needs, simply find someone who will.

“For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part?” Those words used to mean something. But in a culture that is quick to break its vows, perhaps a more honest pledge would be, “Till something better comes along, for as long as I feel like it, as long as we both shall love” – sad, and with tragic consequences.

3. Expect it to be Easy

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You don’t have to go looking for storms in your marriage; they will come to you. There are forces intent on destroying your relationship; so if you want it to go down in flames, you just need to stay out of their way and let them do their work. Allow yourself to be blindsided by life’s difficulties.

The trials are inevitable. For some, it will come in the form of financial hardship. Others will face health struggles, meddlesome in-laws, wayward kids, communication problems, sexual problems or just a lack of connection. Troubles like these wreak the most havoc when they take us by surprise and we are completely unprepared for them. Remember: when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Just assume your married life will uncomplicated and problem-free; then when the crisis hits it will absolutely knock the wind out of your relationship.

Couples intent on surviving the storms of life prepare for them. They expect them to strike in one form or another, and when they do they are ready. Sometimes they even find that the trials draw them closer together! The ordeal becomes glue that binds them, rather than a wedge that drives them apart.

So if you’re looking for a sure-fire way to mess up your relationship, assume that your marriage shouldn’t have issues and adjustments. This denial will kill any hope of something solid ever developing.

4. Pursue the Quick Fix

Building a good marriage takes time and effort. But for some reason, many people think they shouldn’t have to work on their relationship; it should just come easy.

Wouldn’t it be great if life was like a sitcom? No matter what problem the character is facing, it’s all wrapped up neat-and-tidy after 22 minutes. Adopt that mentality, and your marriage is doomed for sure. Demand instant change in everyone but yourself, and your marriage will buckle under the strain. If your marriage has a deep wound, don’t attempt to heal it – just slap a Band-Aid on it and continue on your merry way. If you ignore the issue, it’ll take care of itself. Sorry?wrong.

You see, becoming a good husband or wife requires change. It requires adjustment. Any change, especially and character change, takes time. A lot of time. For those who don’t want a good marriage, the answer is simple: don’t take the time, don’t make the effort, don’t make changes, and yet expect things to improve. It’s like a flame: deny it oxygen, and it goes out. Think of time and effort as the oxygen in your relationship. Cut off the supply and watch the marriage shrivel.

Summary: We’ve approached this from the viewpoint of crisis, failure and breakdown. These principles work. They consistently mess up many marriages. If you see yourself in any of these four principles, take it as a warning and get the help you need. You will never regret making the effort to make your marriage work.

Copyright © 2006 FamilyLife Canada. FamilyLife, Canada is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada

By Dr. Dave Currie, with Glen Hoos

Dr. Dave Currie is the National Director of FamilyLife Canada . He and his wife Donalyn live in Abbotsford , BC , and are regular speakers at FamilyLife Marriage Conferences. Dave is also the host of Marriage Uncensored, a television program airing on CH Victoria, NOW TV (BC) and CH Hamilton ( Ontario ).