Why Do Marriages Fail?

Updated 2/17/23

So why do marriages fail? Pretty big question with a pretty simple answer. So often people say, “Well, what happened with your marriage? What happened to their marriage? What went wrong?”  It doesn’t seem like it is ever any one thing.

Symptomatically, there are so many things, so many factors, that build up over time, and it’s not just infidelity. It’s not just anger issues. It’s not just incompatibility.

It all still boils down to what I see as “the one thought behind all emotional pain.”  It’s a conditional thought: the condition that I need this to be ________________.

If Only They Were Different

Remember that in English class we learned about conditional statements like “If __________, then __________.”   “If only you would __________, then I would be happy.”

The mind comes up with those all the time. Our Survival instincts make it almost like a “Condition Generator!”  The mind looks at something and it says, “If only you were this way, then I would be feeling better right now. If only you would take out the trash, then I could relax. If only you would hug me a few seconds longer, I would feel truly supported. If only. . . .”

I talk so much about moving into unconditional connection to self, others, life, and unconditional thriving. It is really just the absence of those conditions that brings us relief.

It turns out that it’s super easy to spot and neutralize those conditions, once you know how.

The Polarized Brain

Yes, we have a simple way to question the conditions, so that they simply fall away—which leaves you UN-CONDITIONAL, or without conditions in that moment.

But why do we create the conditions to start with? Well, I think it really boils down to the way our brains are wired.  Our survival instincts are such that our brains are like an on-off switch—like electricity—and in fact they do run on electrical impulses. That makes the thinking brain a polarized “black-and-white” instrument whose job it is to make judgments: good/bad, fat/thin, smart/dumb. It wants to label things. That’s our survival instinct where we had to label: “That’s gonna hurt me; that’s something I can eat; that’s something I need to have sex with.”

The brain is just wired to judge and label and categorize for survival—and also to have sort of a worse case approach to things. In order to keep us safe, it’s wired with a negative bias so that it’s scanning the environment for what could go wrong, how we need to take care of ourselves, what we need to be ready to do next.

Labeling in Marriage

That labeling gets applied to the players in a marriage, or any high-stakes relationship. There’s only so much energy within the container of the marriage, and there’s this polarized nature of our brains. Even if we start out as pretty much just similar personality types, we’re going to start looking at that person and saying, “Well, you’re that way—a way that I’ve already decided is not a good way to be in the world, and it’s a way I don’t want to be and in order to be happy, I need you not to be that way too.”

We’ve developed shame around that characteristic, so we’ve either stuffed it down in ourselves or we’ve gone blind and completely denied that we do that same thing.

We don’t even know that we have this trait we are hating in the other—-and that it is, in fact, our real source of pain in the moment. But we spot it in other people, and it drives us crazy. (The reasons we do that to start with go back to childhood programming, which I talk about in other videos.)

The other person is doing the same, and pretty soon, we’re looking at them and saying, “Well, you’re super different than me. I need you to be more like me.” But in some ways, we really don’t want that because we also don’t always like all the things about ourselves, And we originally were looking at the other person as someone who could help fill in our gaps and weaknesses. So it turns out that we come further and further and further apart the more this finger pointing goes on.

Let’s assume there is only so much of each kind of energy in the container of the marriage relationship.  It’s like, “Well, I’ll take up all the quiet, sullen energy in the relationship.” That leaves the really demanding, talkative, emotional energy in the relationship, rather than both people really having both propensities.

They get over in their corners and they say, “You’re this” and “You’re that” and they defend when the other tries to put them in that box.

Use Those Polarities to Evolve Ourselves

Once we understand these survival driven polarities, it’s not hopeless at all. In fact, it’s wired in such a perfect way so that we can use those polarities to evolve ourselves back to the center to become a whole person, to become a couple that really works as a team. Each can do their own life and then come back together, and use whatever is triggering them to see where they’ve gotten over in one corner, and that is what’s hurting—not anything the other is doing!

It’s not like they’re leaning on each other and if something happens, the other one falls. They’re both standing up straight. They’re both on their side of the street. And when they find themselves entangled and trying to run their happiness by getting the other to change, they can instantly come back and see how they are doing to themselves and the other exactly what they thought was being done to them. It’s amazing. It’s freeing. It’s compassionate. It creates so much connection and humor and fun!

The Symmetry Principle

How we get to that, though, is by using the symmetry in whatever triggers you about the other person. When I talk about the Symmetry Principle, which my research shows to be a completely reliable law of nature, here’s what I mean: Whatever upsets you holds within it the key to your direct path to peace in the moment and self-evolution over time.

You’re able to go through life “Living in Symmetry,” just not getting that triggered any more because you know you can harvest whatever you’re thinking about them (“they’re so this” or “I need them to do that”) and let it be your teacher, which neutralizes the big emotional charge.

What Shall I Do Until You Change?

In whatever “that” is—the thing that scares or angers or disappoints you— it turns out that when you really go into it, you will find examples of how you’re doing that to yourself and the other. You can find that you’re even MORE that way in that specific situation than your partner, but you were just blind to it.

There are a lot of reasons you’re blind to it. You are blind to it in that moment that you’re only seeing what they’re doing and you’re feeling like a victim of their behavior. In fact, you’re projecting onto them the very way that you see the world, the very way that you already treat yourself, and so you’re blind to the ways that you treat them that way.

In fact, you’ll find you don’t need them to change in order to be happy. You usually just need yourself to change. You can’t just sit around and talk about that, “Oh yeah, I need to be more such and such….”  Instead, you’ll be able to find the good intentions behind what they are doing, and find that  there’s something in this triggering moment that is just waiting for you—it’s your big chance to evolve the thinking that was the source of your pain.

They’re a Perfect Reflection

When we were little, we were in the middle—all focused and grounded and centered in the moment—and then something happened where we believed the thought, “Something’s wrong with me.” In order to be loved, I need to be this, and I need to do that, and I need to project.”

The mind came up with these scripts that help us survive. “You know there’s something wrong with me, and it’s that way, and they’re that way, and here’s what I need to do.”

And these original conclusions—which were often faulty to start with— keep getting reflected back to us throughout our lives—in both the good things in ourselves and the good we see in people, but also in the things that push our buttons and drive us crazy.

They are really just the perfect reflection of what we came to believe that’s still driving the bus on this really subconscious level, so they’ll show up in ways that we don’t recognize as our own mind that’s triggering us.

You can see that, when you wake yourself up via this simple questioning I teach, then this reflection here helps you—in fact it exponentially evolves the final stuck places, even those who have done much inner work.

It helps you realize that that thought was never true to start with. It was a childhood script you’ve been playing out, entangled with others for your survival, or your validation all this time.

It turns out it’s really easy to see through that thinking once you have this way of doing it. I didn’t know how before, and I’m afraid my marriage was the casualty of that. However, it’s very learnable, and I learned it since. In fact, in the next relationship, it really did a lot to make things clear for me and disentangled. At that point, I also decided I still needed to be with myself more, that in some ways I almost wasn’t really ready for those littlest parts of me to have that in my face so closely.

Reconnect to Yourself and Others Unconditionally

I have seen marriages turn around like crazy in this work with my clients. And once in a while, there are times when the best way to turn it around is to leave and change the nature of that relationship so that you’re either not living together or not married. But that’s not what we usually see, and when it is, the leaving is much easier and cleaner because you know how to do this work on your own stinking thinking.

Usually that’s enough to change the dynamics, and see the other person’s innocence, and really reconnect both to yourself and them unconditionally, by debunking those original conditions that the mind created. And it takes what it takes to come home and heal those parts of us and let these painful situations involve us into a life that finally fits.

So that’s my take on why marriages fail. Yes, there’s a lot more where that came from. We really know what to do with relationship issues by using these very simple, very efficient, processes. Relationships are your greatest teacher!