Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Did You Marry the Wrong Person?

Did you marry the wrong person? A whopping 30% of divorced women believe they did.(1) How can so many people be getting it wrong? Was the other party so deceptive that they were fooled into believing something false? Or perhaps they failed to listen to their own intuition and chose to marry anyway only to discover they just made the most grievous mistake of their life? Perhaps it isn't about who you married but rather your expectations of the marriage. What are our expectations and how do we determine whether or not we made a mistake?

Years ago a friend told me, “To keep from getting in trouble with your landlord use straight pins to hang your pictures. That way when it’s time to move the holes will not be nearly as noticeable.” But when my newly hung pictures began crashing to the floor I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t hang your pictures on something unless you’re sure it can bear the weight. The same is true of marriage. Is the weight of our expectations for marriage more than it can possibly bear, or does the problem lay with our spouse?

To understand marriage and find answers to these questions, it’s helpful to take a historical look at the changing roles of marriage in our culture. In the 1800s we had institutional marriages which were necessary for survival. After the industrial revolution the purpose of marriage began to shift from survival to becoming more relational. Thus we had what sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin refers to as companionship marriage from approximately 1850-1965.(2)

The counter cultural movement of the mid 1960’s was the birth of the individualistic marriage. Marriage was no longer an absolute; it morphed into one of the several paths one could take for personal fulfillment. The purpose of marriage was now to make me happy. It was about finding a life with another who could “complete you”. The individualistic marriage began shifting away from commitment to one of contentment. If it’s not making me happy then perhaps I’d be better served by something else. Once the weight of self-fulfillment was placed on the back of marriage it's no wonder the American divorce rate began to soar.

The new model of marriage creates a natural pathway to wondering if you have made a mistake in choosing your spouse. If the goal of marriage is now personal fulfillment and I’m miserable, then my marriage is certainly failing to meet my expectations. This quickly leads me to conclude that I’ve married the wrong person.

I'm old enough to remember when marriage proposals, while significant, were not the grand event they are today. Marriage proposals were once an invitation to partner together in life, and they were typically done privately. In today's world there’s a new expectation that they be a romantic production which communicates the depths of one's love for their future partner. Failure to make the proposal a big deal could be construed as a lack of love for one’s potential mate. The proposal now carries new significance, and for some serves as a measure of how highly the bride is esteemed as well as a predictor of future relational bliss. We begin answering the question of whether this is the right person by their ability to make us feel good about ourselves.

The shift from love-based marriages to happiness-based marriages isn't just displayed in proposals. It's also measured by how much you're willing to sacrifice for my sake to make me happy. This trend can even be seen in television programing. Instead of programs such as "I Love Lucy," reality TV shows such as “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Bridezilla” now capture market share. How much are you willing to sacrifice to make me feel special? Determining whether or not this is the right person is often measured by the significance of the sacrifice you’re willing to make for my sake.

It is important to affirm that some people do marry the wrong person. Abusive marriages, marriages where one party has no interest in being faithful, or marriages that have been abandoned must consider safety first. There are some whose hearts are hard and who are only willing to show compassion and concern for themselves. Safety is the issue and continuing in the relationship where your mate isn’t safe may be unwise. 

I do believe there is benefit and potential in the current view of marriage. The danger is that when an individual places the responsibility of their happiness on another person failure is almost inevitable. We fail to see that my mate isn’t my problem, but my mate reveals the problem in me.

My warped thinking about marriage wasn’t challenged until I had to take responsibility for my infidelity. At that moment, I realized I’d been asking the wrong question.  It wasn't a question of whether I’d married the right person, I needed to be asking if I was being the right person. The first question placed an undue burden on both Stephanie and the marriage, while the second placed the responsibility where it belonged. I needed to take personal responsibility for my own life rather than abdicating that responsibility and placing it on someone else. My focus needed to be on becoming the best person I could be, someone I could respect, and someone I’d want to be with. Abandoning the quest for the "right person" and exchanging it for the quest of becoming the right person changed everything.

When self-fulfillment is the goal you risk placing the responsibility of your happiness on your mate, and it won't be long till things get rocky and the allure of something else will catch your attention and possibly lead to infidelity. If you suffer from believing your happiness is your spouse’s responsibility, it’s far more likely that it’s your mate who has actually married the wrong person. Here are a few ways to determine whether your mate married the right person.

Your mate may have married someone who is not being the right person if:

  • your primary focus is on what's wrong with the marriage rather than what's right.
  • you live in a fantasy world dreaming about what would make you happy rather than learning to enjoy what you have.
  • you constantly think about what irritates you about them rather than focusing on what it must be like to live on the other side of you.
  • you believe you rarely make mistakes in your relationship. (This is juxtaposed to being a person who cares about their mate’s pain and is quick to take personal responsibility for their failures.)
  • you feel it’s your responsibility to help them become the right person rather than being a person who focuses on their own faults.
  • while reading this newsletter you’re thinking this is something your mate should read rather than exploring how this applies to you.

While it's more than possible for marriage to fulfill your needs for happiness and self-fulfillment, it requires ongoing work for both parties individually and as a couple. When that happens it’s a gift, not an inalienable right. Therefore we need to celebrate the moments when it occurs and work at maintaining an attitude of compassion and concern for your mate. Love acts in the best interest of another and I believe when love is my focus I’ll experience self-fulfillment.

I personally don't believe there is just one right person to marry. Marriage is God's primary people growing machine. If you think you've married the wrong person because you're not happy, then I’d like to invite you to consider the possibility that perhaps your spouse isn’t the difficult one, and perhaps you’re more self-centered than you care to believe.  If happiness is the goal and marriage is the means then you're not focusing on how to love; you've simply created a performance-based relationship, making it all about how well your partner does at meeting your needs.

If that’s the case then you might want to take a hard look at the expectations you’re placing on your marriage. For the sake of others you might want to learn to do things differently. Consider attending EMS Weekend or taking EMS Online. I guarantee both options can help you gain new perspective on your marriage.

 

1.      Gauvain, Jennifer. “The Shocking Truth for Thirty Percent of Divorced Women.” Huffington Post. n. p., 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

2.      Cherlin, Andrew J. “The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage.” John Hopkin’s Journal of Marriage and Family (2004): 848-861. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

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Question

If you have no romantic feelings about your spouse, what do you do in the meantime while you are trying to to become responsible for your own life and becoming the person you'd want to be with. When right now you have no desire to kiss or be intimate with your spouse and it's causing major tension. It's been years and that hasn't changed so it's way past asking them to wait 90 days.

Sharing this with spouse

OK. I understand that I am responsible for my own fulfillment and happiness in the marriage.
I won't pass the buck and give this article to my spouse. But wouldn't my husband who chose an affair rather than professional mental health treatment or marriage counseling, find this article supporting his choice? He found a path to his own fullfilment and happiness and was quite self-satisfied to be getting additional sex and ego boosts on the side without (he thought) interfering with his marriage. OK. I will take care of my own happiness and fulfillment. I am resentful when a marital partner feels that concept extends to setting up another relationship on the side. Should I share this article with my spouse who self-mmedicated for depression and infatuation with sex by taking on a mistress for 7 years?

Hello,

Hello,

I would say no, but it sounds like you guys are working out now since you said he had a mistress for 7 years and I didn't see the word divorce or separated in your post. Right now I am trying to repair/recovery from my wife having cheated on me 1 time, then 4 weeks later wanted a separation. Then during that time she trying to find out more about him and kept letting herself have sex with him...then towards the end realized she messed up and realized she was just getting used by this other man that made it seem like he was the best thing walking earth. This man turned my wifes issues with me against her and kept telling her he cared, to divorce me etc...but really he didn't care and instead bad mouthed her to me, her friends and his friends as well...but for some reason she kept believing he was this good guy. So I right now I am just hoping we can make it out of this and recovery as it seems you have, but if you haven't please let me know. If you have recovered any advised would be must appreciated.

Thank you!!

You are right

Just wanted you to know that you said exactly what I meant to say in a post farther down this list of posts. I am not going to share this article with my cheating spouse because it will just give him the ammunition to further place the blame of his affairs on me. He has yet to take full responsibility and since his 2 affairs were emotional, he feels that he really did nothing wrong since there was not sex (he says no sex...I question that)and that he is not as bad as the porn addicts, love addicts, spouses who had multiple sexual affairs, etc. He still doesn't understand why he can't stay friends with his AP, who works in his office. I spent 35 years trying to make this man happy and all I got back in return was verbal, emotional abuse when things didn't go his way, no affection unless he wanted sex, and criticism of me as a person because of the way I was raised and the way my family is. I am now separated due to the abuse and trying to make my own happiness, although without closure of what happened in his latest affair with the homewrecker, it is hard to find closure and forgive. I know I need to fix myself, my low self-esteem, and my negativity and I am working on that in therapy. Forgiveness is a slow go. It's his second time with the same woman. Trust will never be there. Ever. I will have to trust God with him. ANd I can only trust God to help me get rid of the resentment, fear of a repeat of the affair (if it ever ended -- I don't even know that for sure!) and to help me somehow find forgiveness since it is not an option. All this is AFTER we have attend EMSW, I have taken Harboring Hope, and we each are seeing separate therapists. the one time we went to a marriage counselor, he listened for a few minutes, asked us if we even liked each other and then gave the marriage a 2% chance of making it! That should have been my closure right there, but 35 years is hard to just throw away and it was early on in the recovery journey. Needless to say I am now stuck in my feelings of resentment and unforgiveness and can't seem to move forward. Thank you for wording my feelings so well.

Did you marry the wrong person

Some people never will take responsibility for their decisions, actions, and place in life. There ability to accept personal responsibility is just not there. The percentage of people like this is very very high (perhaps 50% of the adults I have known in my 40 years of work) Other people accept too much responsibility (I suspect that is me) for their decisions, actions, and place in life. I am not sure you can change someone who just doesn't take responsibility for themselves and telling them that they should is waste of effort. Our culture has taken away the boundaries that at one time helped hold those who take no responsibility from injuring their spouses out of fear of consequences.

LIKE

I wish there was a "Like" button for what people say in these posts. I like what you said. I thInk I am the one who takes too much responsibility. Plus I didn't set the boundaries I should have and that allowed him to take advantage. You said it well. Thank you. LIKE!!!

Before or After Infidelity?

Have you found the hurt spouse's actions change after discovery to be more like this article? This article has very clearly put into words how I have felt since the discovery of my husband's affair. Before the affair, I was opposite and although hurt, continued in my belief that ultimately my happiness was my own to make. I clearly felt my husband looked to me and our marriage for his happiness and ultimately was how he justifies his affair. Before, I definitely would have been thinking he needed to read this article, HOWEVER, now I see a lot of these traits in myself ... I don't want to feel this way, but dealing with the ongoing pain of his actions, I have found myself bitter, impatient, angry and unforgiving of the smallest issues. This article reminded me of what my priorities should be. We both need to be reading this article!

He DID marry the wrong person

My husband, the betrayer, married the wrong person. Me, the betrayed. I am nowhere near a perfect wife, but I have kept my vows for 35 years. I put too much focus into trying to make him happy and he put a lot of focus into putting me down verbally and emotionally, focusing on my faults, telling me he's right and I'm wrong, and enjoying his 2 emotional affairs with the same coworker. I didn't make him happy enough because she "listens to him about his farm" and I don't, and that was his justification for his affair. So off he went to his office wife. Didn't matter that he rarely talked to me about anything of importance and he didn't tell me how important it was for me to listen to him about his cows and tractors. I'm not a mind reader.Many times I was lucky if he said anything more to me than "what is in the mail?" when he walked in the door. I have a lot of traits spoken of in the above article and I am in the process of trying to fix me. But he's had 14 months to try to fix himself and nothing has changed. I don't even know if he's still with his farm girl AP or not. I moved out when the physical abuse started up after asking too many questions about the latest affair. Yes, I'm still angry and bitter and unforgiving. Things keep popping up, information that should have been given at confrontation is slowly leaking out. Still screaming at me when I ask questions. I think I'm done. He no longer holds the key to my happiness, my joy, my love, or my life. I hold that key now. And I'm liking it.

Wow

How do I show this to my wife without it looking like im "rubbing it under her nose?" It seems at times (most) that she relies on me for her happiness which I feel forces me into a "performance" mode and when I don't perform as she thinks I should, then I feel that I have let her down, again! I'm lost and confused as to what to do.

I thought..

Though we were so different, we had a companionship and partnership with my wife that was irreplaceable. I loved, cared and was deeply devoted to our relationship and our children. I thought I had definitely married the right person...until she slept with someone else.
Then I found that I had actually married an insecure, immature and selfish person. Now I'm convinced that I married the wrong person, not out of seeking fulfillment but because the marriage I want is based on trust, respect and honesty.
Why should I expect or settle for anything less?

I believed...

Believed we were different too. Believed he would always have my back, regardless of whatever life threw at us. Believed we were solid.
I totally agree with you. Marriage should indeed be based on trust, respect and honesty. Once trust is lost, it is so very difficult to rebuild. I have been cheated on, and, sadly for me, the result of my husband's short affair was a child. The said child is now two years old and, from my point of view, really complicates our recovery, as my husband is determined to pursue a relationship with the child,
I have chosen to stay because of all the things that were right in my twenty year marriage. It's certainly not easy, and I have felt like giving up numerous times but I do believe that the Lord can repair marriages. That's why I'm still here but it's very much a work in progress.

Did You Marry the Wrong Person?

Super article! For many years, I believed that I did marry the wrong person (so did my husband) and our relationship was an endurance test everyday, that left us unhappy, empty and frustrated. As I look back on those years now, I think "how could we waste so much time" when we could have been enjoying the relationship we have now. Lack of knowledge and understanding about what love really is and how to express that love to your mate was unknown to both of us. And yes......it did lead both of us into emotional affairs. Only by the grace of God and our willingness to stay together, did we survive. Today, our relationship is better than I ever could have imagined, and I am so thankful that we are still together. Thank you, Rick, for reminding me that your mate can't "make you happy", but loving your mate, can.
Melanie

How do you feel safe?

I believe we need to be responsible for our own happiness. I have forgiven my husband and am trying to make this work. I'm having trouble with. The safety part. My husband is trying to recover from a sex addiction. He caught an std. Am I risking my health. He is my only sexual partner and I do have a fear of catching a disease if he slips up. Perhaps I did marry the wrong person. Do I risk my safety to find out?

well...

did I marry the wrong person when he went through a MLC and had two affairs? I don't think so. Can I forgive him is the question. I'm not happy so??

Did I marry the wrong person?

I strongly believed that I married the wrong person within the first 2 months following our marriage. I had a very skewed perspective and belief of marriage that I held my husband to such ridiculously expectations that were (now as I look back) only for my selfish benefit. After realizing that marriage was not what I thought it should be, I caved in. I gave up everything that I'd worked so hard to attain and I became the cookie cutter wife I thought he wanted. I kept minute amounts of who I was but began to attempt to become the type of woman he wanted or expected. THIS did not turn out to well because I have a very strong, social, and friendly personality. By this point, I began to feel trapped, controlled, and worthless. I was trying to please my spouse which was the polar opposite of trying to please myself (what I had initially tried). When my efforts to please him led me to fail time and time again and the verbal and emotional abuse increased, I grew more and more distant. The lack of appreciation for my efforts and validation for my attempts to please pushed me further and further away. I began to fight my way back to becoming MY OWN person but those attempts were to successful. My spouse and I have never agreed on anything. We are both stubborn and selfish in our own ways. Our lack of communication and value for each other led our marriage down a slippery slope. I engaged in two emotional affairs that I justified by believing that he didn't value or care about me. I sought counsel with a dear friend of mine who changed my view of marriage. I was told that marriage was a partnership not a dictatorship and that we should be working to please God and not our spouses. So, I caved in again and gave up all that I was to work on my marriage. I tried not being selfish, I focused on being a wife and mother, I tried working in a different area that was not my passion in order to do what was best for our family. After a couple years of this, he ended up engaging in an indiscretion which he claimed was all my fault. I accepted the blame (even thought it was a selfish pursuit on his end) and believed that I'd driven him away. At that point I began to think that no matter how much I tried, this marriage was doomed if he wouldn't change and try to work on our marriage as I was doing. Then came my disconnect, I had seasons of trying and seasons of disconnect. After a year if confusion, I just gave up. I engaged in a full out affair (which I'm not proud of). Now here we are, I'm back to thinking I married the wrong person and feeling like he's keeping me from being the person God created me to be. I feel like I have to suppress who I am in order for him to be happy. After reading this article though, maybe my way of thinking is still skewed and maybe he married the wrong person. Maybe the one who has been trying to fit him into the cookie cutter mood without realizing it! I honestly don't know now. I've always been an empathetic and caring woman and I THOUGHT I was caring for him and living him but maybe I wasn't? Time for yet another reevaluation and prayer. I've been asking God to show me my faults and my personal issues so that I can work on fixing me. It's going to be a long road that WILL NOT be easy, but He never said it would be. So, in the midst of all the darkness, pain, and negative thinking, I will praise Him, because He will use all this chaos for His glory and I will become a beacon to others who may be in a similar situation in the future.

I Married the RIGHT Person and am very thankful!!!

It was a wonderful article, and made me reflect once again how selfish i really was in my marriage. In the article ..."I realized I'd been asking the wrong question....I needed to be asking if I was being the right person....I needed to take personal responsibility for my own life...My focus needed to be on becoming the best person I could be, someone I could respect, and someone I'd want to be with. Abandoning the quest for the "right person" and exchanging it for the quest of becoming the right person CHANGED EVERYTHING.

I needed to be TRULY honest with myself, which was the hardest thing that I ever did in my life. The words in James 1:19-25, was something that I took to heart. It made me be honest with myself as I looked in a mirror (literally) and took responsibility for my actions. I thank God everyday that I did that, and I truly believe my wife would say it was the best thing that I ever did in our marriage.

Our marriage has never been stronger, and in her words, "It is the marriage that she always wanted." I am thankful for the second chance, the renewing of our vows, and to treat my wife with love and respect. My only regret is that I wish I had truly understood this when we first started our life together as husband and wife.

Thank you Rick for providing this ministry and helping families.

Are you serious?

I can openly admit my faults and I have, but when I felt like I could barely trust him when we were dating. Then when I found out that he had been constantly cheating on me since we had been dating I keep thinking back and wondering why I married him when I couldn't trust him. I never once tried to control him or make his decisions for him. 4 months into dating he tells me that he thinks he is going to cheat on me. It was my decision to stay with him. He then decides he wants to try to start a career in porn and tries to keep it from me. Yet I STILL married him. I didn't trust him and I married him anyways. I ignored EVERYTHING. He started sleeping with hookers while we were dating because according to him I wouldn't do anything that he wanted me to do, so he cheated on me. Then he went into the military. We got married, he was stationed 21 hours away from me and a few days later he was sleeping with hookers again. We were married and he didn't even care. I shouldn't have married him when I didn't even trust him. Now I have a 6 month old son, and a ruined marriage that in feel like is impossible to be fixed.

I did marry the wrong person.

I really feel like I DID marry the wrong person. I feel like I was trying to force everything to work out when it wasn't supposed to.

What type of affair was it?

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