This article was inspired by an original piece called, “How to Have an Awful Marriage,” by family and marriage psychotherapist Jay Haley, whom I greatly admired.
While I would never actually give this advice to any of the couples I mentor through my Couples Transformational Intensive (CTI) workshop, I marveled at Haley’s unique un-self-help approach.
It’s designed to help marriages succeed by showing couples the most common ways they fail — albeit in a humorous way.
Many times knowing what not to do can go much further toward solving relationship problems than being told what to do. So, if learning how to have a miserable relationship can help you have a happy one instead, then I am overjoyed to have turned the time-honored self-help approach on its ear with the help of Dr. Haley — tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Just remember to invite me to your 50th wedding anniversary party.
Ten Steps to Guarantee You’re Happily Never After
According to the Google Books Project, 129 million books have been published since the beginning of, well…publishing. More than half of them are about improving your marriage.
Okay, that second part isn’t true, but it can often seem like it is!
The world is awash with books and talk show gurus (who have their own books) telling us how to improve or save our relationships and/or marriages with more intimacy, better sex, enhanced communication, blah, blah, blah.
Of course, there are couples who are genuinely seeking to improve their relationships, but what about the hundreds of millions of people actively engaged in ruining them?
Don’t they deserve equal time and attention? Everyone knows that marriage takes work, but it’s a misconception that miserable spouses don’t work on their marriages at all.
On the contrary.
It takes far more effort and energy to sulk, scream, seethe, slam doors, criticize, complain, threaten, and withhold than it does to plan a date night once in a while.
This easy-to-understand, 10-step guide eliminates the work, outlining the most effective ways you can secure yourself a relationship free of even the smallest amount of happiness — at every stage.
As you master each skill, you’ll find it’s never been simpler to maximize your misery, while bringing passive aggression and power struggles to a whole new level.
(Good news: You’re probably subconsciously using one of the 10 skills already to sabotage your marriage or serious relationship — putting you ahead of the game.)
You’ll learn how to multiply your misery right up to the boiling point without actually ending in separation. (Divorce is not an option — you need a sustainable misery fix, after all — but threatening divorce repeatedly certainly is.)
No touchy feely psycho-babble here, just real tools you can use to increase the dread and drama you’re already addicted to.
Based on empirical evidence from a new research report (Quantifying Misery in the Marriage State: A Longitudinal Study Since the Birth of Mankind) that has the behavioral science world buzzing, these universal, timeless principles have proven their effectiveness to ruin relationships from generation to generation.
STEP ONE: Marry the wrong person, or for the wrong reason
If your relationship begins in a positive way, then you’ve got your work cut out for you. (Do not fear, though: You’ll soon learn foolproof ways to suck the life right out of it.)
If you’re not married yet: The absolute guarantee of a miserable marriage is to begin it badly, and all you have to do accomplish that is make one (or preferably both) of these crucial mistakes:
Marry in order to avoid something else.
Fear is a great motivator, and in this frame of mind, you’ll be sure to choose your partner impulsively.
The possibilities are endless: You could marry to avoid poverty, having to work, family pressure, loneliness, your biological clock running out. Viewing your future spouse as an escape from a bad situation ensures that you won’t enjoy your their company — that’s not why you chose them. Bravo!
Marry the wrong person.
This tidy move will also guarantee a miserable relationship, as you and your spouse will be out of sync even before you say “I do.”
Here’s a classic example:
The hardworking, but overly serious, woman who finds herself attracted to the free-spirited “bad boy.” She admires his freedom and confidence, and thinks his non-traditional ways will help her break out of her shyness and let herself go.
He’s thinking her more conservative life will help him settle down and provide some future security.
After the wedding is over and the fascination wears off, she’s insisting that he get a “real” job to help pay bills, stop drinking so much, and be more responsible. He’s telling her to not be a conservative stick-in-the-mud and to stop being so cheap.
If that version won’t work for you, you might also want to consider one of these foolproof partnerships:
- The domineering wife and the wimpy husband
- The slob and the neat freak
- The tender heart and the emotionally unavailable
STEP TWO: Expect your spouse to “complete” you
If you’re not lucky enough to marry the wrong person or for the wrong reason, one of the best ways to make frustration the foundation of your relationship is to expect your partner to be all things to you — your lover, teacher, entertainer, protector, healer, cheerleader, self-esteem builder, psychotherapist, and parent.
Make your happiness their personal responsibility.
Thoroughly convince yourself that you weren’t “complete’ until your significant other came into your life.
Ignore the fact that it’s impossible for two people to become one; insist that your spouse spend all time outside of work and the bathroom with you.
If you can remember that your happiness always comes from something outside yourself, then every human mistake your partner makes will be a massive disappointment to you, providing endless opportunities to point out all of his or her shortcomings.
STEP THREE: Make no effort to actually communicate
Miscommunication is the cornerstone of a miserable partnership.
Your job is to ensure that your spouse has no idea what it is you’re trying to say.
This is your soul mate, right?
You’re supposed to be of one mind and one heart, totally in tune with each other — so much so that you know what the other is going to say even before you say it.
Why express your needs at all? In fact, don’t say anything, and just expect your spouse to read your mind.
When it’s painfully obvious that your spouse isn’t psychic, you can attack her or him like a neglected child. Insist that because he or she couldn’t read your unvoiced, repressed emotions like a ticker tape running across your forehead, that they couldn’t possibly understand or love you.
Do your best to let as much time as possible go by while waiting for your oblivious spouse to catch on to your display of emotional distress. When sufficient time has passed, your resentment will be under such pressure that it will explode all over your spouse in a nuclear display of needy self-righteousness.
Valuable miscommunication tools to use in place of actual words include:
- The heavy sigh
- The eye roll
- A disinterested tone
- A pouty silence
These vague, adolescent behavioral ticks are sure to be completely lost on your spouse, but you’ll be able to argue later you made it glaringly clear that something was bothering you.
The point is to never, ever say what you really mean. Be suggestive, brooding, forlorn, or silent; just be anything but literal and your relationship will be permanently lost in translation.
If real communication should accidentally happen, you can short-circuit the process by constantly expressing how you feel about something, but never what you’d like to do about it.
For bonus points, never miss an opportunity to criticize without offering any alternative suggestions.
STEP FOUR: Never admit it’s your fault
There’s nothing more excruciatingly miserable than being married to a victim.
That’s because in order to continually reinforce their identity, the self-proclaimed victim needs a bad guy — and who better to accuse as your personal perpetrator and oppressor but your spouse?
When you master the blame game, you’ll see how easy it is to keep your partner bouncing between utter confusion and self-imposed guilt for things they never said or did.
Victimhood 101 is the quickest way to create your own reality, and live in a dream world that’s totally free of personal responsibility. It’s also your bulletproof protection against any form of compromise and ensures that none of your problems ever really get solved.
Don’t believe a word of that nonsense about how we subconsciously project our faults outward onto other people. Repeat after me: It’s always someone else’s fault. Always.
STEP FIVE: Fight often, and fight to win
There’s no such thing as picking your battles if your goal is to create a miserable relationship. No issue is so small that it can’t be blown up into a huge argument — so take every opportunity to do so.
The goal in any argument is to make sure nothing is ever resolved.
That way, you can revisit the argument again and again. The two best ways to do this are:
- Withdraw and sulk
- Escalate until it’s appropriate to make a dramatic door-slamming exit.
Be sure to confuse love with emotion — we all know that lots of drama and emotions flying around are what make a marriage feel “alive.”
When arguing, always keep it personal, with lots of insults and name calling. Feel free to go off on tangents and dredge up past issues that have nothing to do with the matter at hand. A kitchen-sink approach to arguing is the perfect way to bury your spouse in belligerence.
It’s also the best possible diversion to reroute the shouting match when you know your point of view in the argument is simply indefensible.
Here are a few quick tips:
Never allow your spouse to finish a sentence. Cross-talk is kryptonite to real listening.
The louder you say something, the more you’ll be understood. If you must stop yelling for longer than the amount of time it takes to draw a breath, only pretend to listen while actually using that time to plan what you’re going to say next.
Commit to memory even the smallest failings of your spouse. After all, it’s all potential ammunition.
Never back down. Remember that winning is everything.
STEP SIX: Use sex as a reason to punish or avoid your spouse
Sexual desire is one of the most powerful human urges that drive behavior. If you can manage to make your sex life truly awful, nature will do the rest in magnifying your marital misery exponentially.
The easiest way to go from flirtation to friction is to screw up the sexual timing between you and your spouse. Always initiate sex:
- At the wrong time
- In the wrong place
- With the wrong frequency
- Or in the wrong way
Any beginner can easily include one of these wrongs when approaching a spouse for sex, but misery masters use them all over the course of a relationship, creating lots of sexual frustration.
Always want sex when your spouse is not interested or occupied with something else. Insist on having it on the living room floor thirty minutes before the kids are supposed to get home from school, or suggest sexual positions where you both can watch TV at the same time.
Then after the wife complains about her husband’s lack of planning, he gets to accuse her of turning into a frigid, sexless hausfrau.
What’s so effective about this method is that it adds a lot of tension and stress to the crucial moment, completely obliterating any possibility of intimacy occurring during your doomed interaction.
Another great way to create a miserable marriage and sex life: the cold shoulder. Arouse your partner and then inexplicably lose interest in the heat of the moment — or never tell your partner what actions work for you sexually, then blame them for not being able to please you.
Of course, this should only happen after years of faking orgasms, so sufficient frustration has built up between the two of you.
Never miss an opportunity to use sex as a weapon and withhold it from your partner. This has a particularly insidious effect on a relationship, and if things work out right, may lead to a completely sexless partnership — or an affair, which we’ll cover later.
Begin going to bed at a different time than your partner. As your bedtimes gradually move further away from each other, it’s virtually certain that this sexual avoidance will help you end up in the 15 percent of all married couples who suffer through a sexless marriage.
Statistics show that very soon, you’ll lose all physical attraction to your spouse and ultimately behave like disaffected roommates. Way to go, misery maker!
When all else fails, you can always fall back on some of the classic sex and intimacy-killing excuses to avoid deepening your relationship:
- I’m too tired
- I’m too busy
- I’m dealing with kid issues
- And of course, the quintessential headache
STEP SEVEN: Have a different financial philosophy than your partner
Research shows that generally speaking, we tend to be drawn to partners who are similar to us — except when it comes to money.
So if you’re a penny pincher, that means you’re more likely to end up with a frivolous spender, and vice versa. This is excellent news for anyone who wants a miserable marriage, especially since most couples don’t even talk about financial habits and plans before tying the knot (and neither, of course, should you).
Because money is the leading cause of conflict in 39 percent of marriages and the secondary cause in 59 percent, you can’t afford to not take advantage of allowing money to ruin your relationship, too.
If you’re the frivolous spender in your marriage, be sure to overspend — particularly on things you don’t need. Be creative and find ways to hide purchases from your partner. The impact will be much bigger when they get the credit card bill and it hits them all at once.
Financial infidelity is a great way to erode trust in a relationship, and as long as what you’re buying makes you happy, it’s so worth it!
And for penny-pinchers, hoarding your money and using none of it to actually enjoy your marriage also goes a long way toward moving your relationship into the gray zone.
STEP EIGHT: Use children to maintain or save your marriage
So, you’ve been doing the things we’ve discussed so far and creating a perfectly hellacious marriage for yourself, but you fear you might be headed in the direction of separation and a possible divorce.
What to do?
Not to worry.
The easiest way to preserve your disintegrating relationship and sentence yourself to at least eighteen more years of misery is to stay together “for the kids.”
Guilt is a great motivator, and you should use it liberally on yourself.
Not only will staying together take you to levels of misery you never thought you could achieve, but there’s also an added bonus: Your children will be predisposed to choosing miserable marriage partners for themselves after subconsciously marinating in your resentment and bickering, day in and day out for the first two decades of their lives.
Don’t worry about the therapy bills to come; it’s important to invest in their miserable future.
If you don’t have children and feel a potential divorce may be threatening your miserable future with freedom and happiness, it’s imperative that you have a child to save your marriage.
Not only will the baby not solve any of your problems, it will put your misery into overdrive with about 1,000 new responsibilities for you and your partner…and that’s just when the baby is feeling well!
This is highly recommended for young people who get married to escape their parents’ oppressive households.
If you’re a woman expecting a baby, focus all your attention on the child inside you to the complete exclusion of your husband. While he’s resenting his soon-to-be bundle of joy, he can leave you at home and party with his buddies, reminding you of how much weight you’ve gained and how you don’t look as great as you used to.
After the baby is born, it’s important to make your marriage all about the children.
Remember, you’re a bad parent if you even think about doing anything with your spouse away from the kids. Even when you talk to each other, it should always be about the children.
Repeat after me: My spouse and I no longer serve any purpose outside our parental roles.
STEP NINE: Have an affair
When the kids are finally off creating their own relationship dramas in middle and high school, and there are no more diapers and croup to stress over, consider replacing the lost misery with an affair.
When it comes to extramarital escapades, you’ve got options in terms of how much angst you want to create and how much effort you want to put into it.
The Bitter Affair
This option raises the most ill will between you and your partner because it’s always with someone your spouse knows.
The more intimate the relationship they have with this person, the better. Did someone say Best Friend? You could also go for a stranger, but be sure to choose someone who looks very similar to your partner — only 20 years younger.
The Baffling Affair
Keep your partner’s head spinning by choosing someone so inappropriate that it’s a complete mystery.
If you’re a man with a fashionable, sophisticated wife, then go for a tacky, uneducated lover. This keeps your partner’s mind reeling as to what could be so “wrong” with him or her that you would choose this person over them.
The Budget Affair
If you don’t want to spend the money or time on wining and dining, simply implying you’re having an affair can fill your significant other’s mind with endless paranoia.
Become overly flirty with co-workers of the opposite sex.
Get very friendly with some of your partner’s friends, wait staff in restaurants you both frequent, or even total strangers in online chat rooms.
Just be sure your partner witnesses these interactions. A sudden change in hairstyle, dress, makeup or cologne also goes a long way toward creating rampant insecurity and panic in your spouse, too.
STEP TEN: Abandon your spouse using technology
Adding a hint of quiet desperation and alienation to your marriage has never been easier in the Information Age.
Now you can completely abandon your spouse without having to leave the comfort of your own home. All it takes is overuse of cell phones, computers, iPads, texting, email, Instagram, social networks, and so on.
Text or email your partner as much as possible, because you’re just too busy to actually, well, you know, to speak to them.
The isolating nature of this method of communicating prevents you from hearing your spouse’s voice, responding to their energy, even seeing their face. Over time, electronic distancing does wonders to deteriorate relationships of all kinds, but especially marriages.
But don’t take my word for it: Oxford University researchers found that increasing technological communication between spouses led to decreasing marital satisfaction.
A text is the Post-it note of 21st-century communication, and should be used frequently in order to let your partner know he or she is an afterthought.
Why risk being touched by the sound of your partner’s contagious laughter when you can LOL and emoji your way to texting WTF happened 2 my marriage?
Never forget; technology transfers information, not emotion.
Emails and especially texts also give you the ability to fight dirty. Never miss a chance to hit and run your partner with a nasty message and then refuse to answer their reply or simply turn your phone off for hours.
It’s a fantastic cop-out from having to actually defend your point of view, and it’s a constant reminder to your significant other that he or she is instantly disposable.
If you’re having dinner at home, at a restaurant, or are out and about with your partner, make it standard procedure to constantly “check in” with your smartphone to break the possibility of any extended connection happening between you.
If you’re stuck at home together, consider wasting several hours on Facebook, YouTube, internet porn, or even video games as effective ways to ignore each other and grow progressively apart.
Abandoning your partner in 21st-century style sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. In fact, your subconscious addiction to your various gadgets keeps you lost in cyberspace more than you think.
Don’t believe me? Try making it through a three-day weekend without a cell phone or personal computer.
A poll from The New York Times showed one in seven people said they spend less time with their partner because of media. Even more amazing, one in ten openly admitted to spending less time with their children, too!
So log on to your gadget, tune in to The Net and drop out of your marriage.
Now you see just how much work it takes to create the miserable marriage you always wanted. Better get started!
Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the co-founder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative health center based in Los Angeles. He provides revolutionary healing protocols in integrative, osteopathic, anthroposophical, environmental, and family medicine, as well as clinical pharmacology. He served as an attending Physician and Clinical Facilitator at UCLA-SM Medical Center and is currently a Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Sadeghi is a regular contributor to Goop, CNN, BBC News and TEDx. He is the author of Within: A Spiritual Awakening to Love & Weight Loss, as well as the foreword to Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, and is the publisher of the health and well-being journal, MegaZEN.