Why Your Marriage is Doomed to Fail

After spending the better part of my life studying relationships, including a fair amount of time trying to salvage them, I have reached the following conclusion: All marriages must fail.

It’s not that I have become jaded or cynical. Quite the contrary. Now, more than ever, I maintain hope that men and women everywhere can discover the kind of soulful love they’ve always craved.

How can I maintain my optimism in the face of such a bold claim?

The failure to which I refer is not that of our unions, but of our illusions of them.

Freedom from Illusion

We all enter into relationships with ideas of what they ought to be. This innocent hope is a blessing in and of itself, one Thomas Moore calls “the gift of naivete.” But this naivete cannot last, nor would we want it to.

James Framo, the father of couples therapy, once quipped:

“The day you wake up, turn to your spouse, and realize that you have been had. That the person you fell in love with is not the person you are in bed with, that this is all some dreadful mistake. That is the first day of your marriage.”

Framo paints a bleak picture of what appears to be the end of a relationship, and it is one I hear recounted in my office daily. Yet, he also offers paradoxical hope of a new beginning. Out of the ashes of dreamed perfection rises a more authentic and fulfilling union. 

I believe the end of this false-relationship is so important that I have taken to congratulating couples for arriving here.

The term for a relationship’s mortality is disillusionment. Culturally, we avoid disillusionment at all costs. In fact, so preoccupied are we with image that we will go to great lengths to create the illusion of not being disillusioned!

But disillusionment literally means “freedom from illusion.”  The death of our illusion, though tremendously painful, is also tremendously liberating. It is an invitation into something much more meaningful.

Marriage of the Masked

The marriage that must fail is the one between the two personas, the false selves each partner creates and, for a time anyway, mutually reinforces. Persona means “stage mask,” and it is only by removing our protective disguises that we allow ourselves to be known and, therefore, loved.

To be clear, this is not a romantic notion of “being ourselves,” it is a spiritual journey of becoming ourselves. Although we might prefer to view the process in terms of growth and development it is as much about the destruction of falsity as it is about the discovery of truth. It is as much about death as it is about life.

Speaking on the inevitable death of personas, Richard Rohr says “Your stage mask is not bad, evil, or necessarily egocentric; it is just not ‘true.’ It is manufactured and sustained unconsciously by your mind; but it can and will die, as all fictions must die.” Intimacy is particularly lethal to personal fictions. 

Rohr goes on to warn us about over-identifying in a particular idealized role, “like that of minister, doctor, mother, nice person…” or, presumably, relationship expert. “These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people into lifelong delusion.” I can personally attest to the latter, and experience has confirmed that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

The Continuous Reveal

The removal of the stage mask is not the great reveal we hope it will be. It is done piecemeal, bit by bit, in the continuous crucible of our relationships. Importantly, we cannot remove our masks alone. We need assistance through the painful extrication. Our resistance to this process inevitably creates stalemates.

Our personas are what most people want from us. They are rewarded and reinforced by the world-at-large, and for this reason we prefer to identify with them. Our partners hold a unique position as those who are equally enthralled with our personas and tormented by themThey have the difficult message we need to hear about ourselves, but are able to deliver it with love. 

When we become frustrated with the message, we must recall that in the course of our lives we had to have passed countless people who did not hold challenging truths for us, and we didn’t even give them a second look. This is what Terry Real calls The Mysticism of Marriage. On some level, we selected them so we could reach this point of disillusionment and hopefully, with enough skill and grace, break through together.

It is what makes life with our partners so challenging.

And it is exactly why we need them.

Yours, unmasked,


My greatest passion in life is to help couples craft the loving relationships they've always wanted. I do this in Austin, TX through my work in private practice, and everywhere else here on my website.

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