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Marriage Doesn't Work if You're a Narcissist

Faith

You can't fall victim to your love dying. It's not some resource that runs out. Love is a decision that you make. It's entirely up to you. Entirely.

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I'm not usually in the business of offering responses to blog posts written by other people, but, especially after my piece on divorce yesterday, an overwhelming number of readers have demanded that I comment on this.

It's an article titled "5 Reasons Why Marriage Doesn't Work Anymore," authored by a 29-year-old columnist. Naturally, because it has "5 reasons why" and "marriage" in the title, it's been shared approximately eight gajillion times on Facebook. You've probably read it by now even if you didn't mean to.

It's all pretty absurd, considering the writer -- a sex and relationship advice-giver by trade, apparently -- was married for three years and then divorced. This is marriage advice from someone who gave up after 36 months, which is kind of like pilot training from someone who flew one plane, crashed it 12 minutes after takeoff, then gave up and became a plumber instead.

[mattwalsh-social-instory]

"Yeah, but he has a really good perspective on what not to do!" No, he doesn't. If he knew what not to do, he wouldn't have crashed the plane in the first place, and he'd probably still be a pilot.

These days, people go to college, have a couple of life experiences, wash out, and next thing you know they're freaking Socrates. And, yes, I understand the irony of me saying this, considering I've only been married for three years myself, and I'm now writing about marriage not once, but twice in a week. I know, I know. I agree. I'm a hypocrite. Don't listen to me. Don't even read this. Three years of marriage? I'm an infant compared to many of you.

That's why I'm not giving advice. I have no advice to give anyone. Everything I say is self-evident, because I'm only smart enough to point out the obvious here. I can't give you more than that, and I don't claim to.

Regardless, it's sort of my job to keep my ear to the cultural zeitgeist and comment on it, for whatever it's worth. And, right now, our divorced relationship expert, Anthony D'Ambrosio, has people talking about why marriage "doesn't work." So allow me to contribute to this dialogue. Namely, by pointing out that he forgot the last two words of the sentence: "marriage doesn't work -- for narcissists."

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Now, admittedly, his reasons aren't entirely off base. He makes a couple of surface-level observations, and some of them fall relatively within the vicinity of true. It doesn't work, according to him, because married couples don't have enough sex, they argue over money, and they spend too much time on the Internet.

That's only three, I know, but numbers three through five on his list are basically the same thing repeated.

So there it is. Sex, money, Facebook. The three dastardly culprits breaking into our homes and stealing our relationships. He's not completely wrong. I mean, I get what he's trying to say. Interestingly, though, the real substance can be found not in what he was trying to say, but in what he wasn't.

I don't think he intended it, but one might read this as an unintentional and fascinating look into how selfishness destroys marriages. Indeed, self-absorption drips all over this thing, just as it drowns and kills so many marriages in this country.

Start with two key sentences. First, the title: "Marriage Doesn't Work." Notice that rather than talk about why he didn't work hard enough for his marriage, or why marriage doesn't work if you don't work at it, he's declared the entire institution dysfunctional.

This is a common delusion among narcissists and egomaniacs, which means this way of thinking is ubiquitous in our culture. We often take problems that we caused and turn them into universal and systematic issues. It's like if you get drunk and total your car against a tree, then write a 1,500 word thesis titled: "Why Cars Don't Work Anymore."

No, your car doesn't work. Mine runs just fine. And yours ran fine, too, until you chose to down a fifth of tequila and go for a cruise. The car isn't the problem. You are. It's you. You're the one

Then, a few paragraphs in, he says:

And while some of us have gone through a divorce, others stay in their relationships, miserably, and live completely phony lives.

Wow. What a depressing dichotomy -- good thing it's entirely nonsensical. Unhappy in your marriage? Either get divorced or be "phony." Suddenly, the act of living your vows and standing by your spouse is the dishonest, cowardly choice. The ones who cut and run are the bold pioneers out to find themselves and conquer life.

It's true, of course, that some married couples are miserable. The answer? To do the hard thing, the painful thing, and fight to change it. To forgive. To love. To improve. To remain. Phony? Someone who toughs it out even though it makes them temporarily unhappy is phony? How about courageous, Anthony? Or disciplined, or determined, or resolute, or loyal. Those are all infinitely more applicable descriptions than phony.

Is a runner phony because he keeps going even though his sides hurt? Is a firefighter phony because he rushes into a burning building even though he's scared he'll burn to death? Is a mother phony because she gets up in the morning and cares for her children even though she's tired and stressed?

[sharequote align="center"]It's called effort; selflessness. It's called not everything is about your damned feelings.[/sharequote]

No, these people are doing what they're supposed to do. It's called effort. It's called selflessness. It's called not everything is about your damned feelings. Sometimes you have a job to do. A duty. A responsibility to your wife, to your kids, and to God (incidentally, this was yet another secular marriage sermon that completely puts aside the spiritual component, which already makes it effectively useless).

Once you've posited the theory that obeying your vows can ever, under any circumstance, be considered phony, nothing else you say on the topic of love or marriage can be taken seriously. Sorry, but it really is that simple.

And it doesn't get better from there.

While lamenting the financial struggles of young couples, he states plainly that it costs "$300,000 to buy a house" and "$200,000 for an education." Somebody should probably tell him about community colleges and apartments. Or about the even cheaper option of no college. The point is, a half a million dollars isn't the "cost of living" for broke 20-somethings. It's the cost of living for extraordinarily foolish and materialistic broke 20-somethings. That distinction is crucial.

I bought a house just a few months ago. Why not before? Because I couldn't afford it. My wife and I lived in rundown apartments and tiny rental homes situated along busy roads where trash constantly blew in our driveway and we couldn't take the kids out to play in the yard. When we could finally afford something better, we bought something better.

The writer even frets that the financial strain of spending exorbitant amounts of money on nice houses and massively overpriced university educations might make it more difficult to buy expensive gifts and vacations. Perish the thought!

Of course he doesn't question whether vacations and gifts should even be a priority, because, remember, we've ruled out the possibility that sacrifice and discomfort might be necessary in marriage.

Discussing sex, he says it is "the most important aspect of a marriage" yet "we only have sex once every couple of weeks." No word on how he's tabulated the frequency with which "we" are all having sex. Were we supposed to be faxing him weekly status reports?

In any case, yes, sex is important. Most important aspect? I think I'd give that title to faith, fidelity, and trust. If you have a very sexual marriage that's also distrusting, unfaithful and godless, it probably won't survive. But if you have a trusting, faithful, and God-centered marriage where physical intimacy happens "only once every couple of weeks," I think I like your chances.

Still, sex is definitely important, sure. And why? Because it feels good and, as the writer suggests, "makes your hair stand up"? Alright, that's a nice feature, but that's just what makes it enjoyable for you, individually. It's the part that serves you.

Sex is integral to marriage because it is the physical expression of marital love and devotion to your spouse. You give of yourself to the other. It's in that act of giving that you are brought closer, and it's here that, potentially, you participate in the miracle of creation.

Sex is loving, pleasurable, and procreative. You can't speak to the importance of sex in marriage without acknowledging all three of those facets.

His observations about social media and technology are fine (never mind the irony of writing social media clickbait about how social media is bad for you). Used immoderately, it can hurt your relationship. I don't think anyone disagrees. But the whole point -- and this is something you don't need to be married for 46 years to understand -- is that the success of marriage hinges not on regulating your time on the computer, but on the choice to love your spouse.

"Love, and do what you will," as the great Saint Augustine said. "If you keep silent, do it with love. If you cry out, do it with love."

One imagines if he were around today, he might add, "if you text message, do it with love. If you use Pintrest, do it with love."

[sharequote align="center"]Love is a choice. Love is always a choice. Love is an act. Love is a promise. Love is fulfillment.[/sharequote]

Love is a choice. Love is always a choice. Love is an act. Love is a promise. Love is fulfillment. If social media gets in the way of love, cut it off, like Christ commanded. But if it doesn't -- if you can keep these things in perspective and in balance and still love your spouse -- then so be it.

The problem is when we start to believe these things -- these external forces, these outside influences -- can come in and rob us of our love against our will. It's when we see ourselves as passive spectators in our marriages that the trouble starts.

He ends with this:

I hope you never experience the demise of your love. It's painful, and life changing; something nobody should ever feel.

I do fear, however, that the world we live in today has put roadblocks in the way of getting there and living a happy life with someone. Some things are in our control, and unfortunately, others are not.

"The demise of your love."

There is no "demise" of love. You can't fall victim to your love dying. It's not some resource that runs out. It's not a building that gets knocked down. It's not a thing you keep in your pocket until someone steals it or you accidentally run it through the wash and it breaks. Love is a decision that you make. It's entirely up to you. Entirely.

Sure, society puts obstacles in the way. I'll be the first to tell you that. And, sure, some things are out of our control. Gravity, for instance. The laws of addition and subtraction. The orbit of Jupiter. These things can't be changed by us. But I don't see what Jupiter has to do with marriage.

In marriage, unlike in astronomy, most everything is in our control, or at least within the sphere of our influence. And if it's something causing problems that we can't control or influence -- in-laws, for example -- then we can certainly control how we react to it (or them).

There is, in the end, only one reason why you don't love your spouse anymore: you decided not to. Period.

However, if we approach this from a passive, self-centered perspective -- where our love depends on our level of physical, mental and emotional satisfaction -- then there can be 100 reasons why marriage doesn't work. A million reasons. Anything can be a reason. Do I need to actually list them? Ok, let's see:

1) Sex life isn't up to snuff.

2) Money

3) Social media, Internet, technology, TV, yadda yadda.

4) Kids

...

47) She chews with her mouth open.

...

63) She gets mad when you watch football all day.

...

68) She's a cat person.

...

76) That other woman at the office is pretty and she makes you feel special.

...

100) Money again.

.... And so on, unto infinity.

If we put ourselves and our satisfaction at the center, and tell ourselves that our love for our spouse can be taken, or blocked, or destroyed by various invaders, marauders, and bogeymen, literally anything at that point can be a reason to end our marriage.

Anything can be a reason why marriage "doesn't work."

It might linger on for a while, but the first real challenge will blow it to pieces.

Don't take it from me, though. And definitely don't take it from this guy. He doesn't know anything about the topic, and I only know one single, solitary, enormously obvious thing: marriage and selfishness don't mix.

That might not be the most brilliant insight, but apparently it still needs to be said.

Listen to Matt's latest podcast here. Contact MattWalsh@TheMattWalshBlog for general comments and speaking engagements.

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