The Trap of Marriage Comparisons and the Cure for Relationship Envy

In The Clear Choice 1 comment

It’s commonly accepted that envying what others have and do, or comparing your life with that led by others, is a personal problem that can lead to immediate and lasting dis-satisfaction with your own reality.

In recent years, we’ve even given this mental hang-up an updated name for the digital age: “The Instagram effect”.

It’s easy to look at happy people on social media and feel depressed.

That’s because it's easy to look happy in an Instagram post-- a small snippet of augmented-reality that’s just one in a series of highlight-reel clips that get posted purporting to show his or her ‘real’ life, home, job, kids and relationships.

Except that the social share show isn’t really ‘REAL’, is it?

Psychological researchers tell us that depressed people actually commit suicide because of how it makes them feel to compare their lives to the seemingly fit, healthy, wealthy, happy, and successful lives of people they follow on social media.

Other researchers may conclude that the discomfort we feel when comparing what we have and who we are to the publicly-posted “greatest hits” of others’ lives can at times provide the catalyst for positive improvement.

BOTH of these conclusions are true, in our opinion.

And what’s true for a singular person-- or a person who’s single -- is DOUBLY TRUE when it comes to the comparison of one couple with another through the less-than-truthful lens of social media pseudo-reality.

Marriage comparisons are a divorce death trap.

Even if seeing pics of a man and his wife posting ‘ussies’ from their private plane might motivate you to start a business, or the before-and-afters of a fitness influencer might inspire you to get off the couch and into a workout routine…it’s our opinion that the act of comparison itself really is the thief of personal joy.

Indeed, we believe much of the unhappiness in
many otherwise average marriages can be
traced back to the question:
“Who do you compare yourselves with?”.

If your comparison ‘benchmark’ is other couples who you feel are happier, more intimate, more intelligent, more beautiful, more popular, more compatible, more powerful, more accomplished, fitter and wealthier than you and your partner?

Well, that’s a giant, 34-car pile-up waiting to happen.

Mr. and Mrs. Cubic Zirconia here today, dear reader. We’d like to help our friends and customers step back from the divorce death trap that is a habit for relationship envy and marriage comparisons. Because we’ve been there. And it sucks. 

We’ve found various forms of personal and relationship envy in our own hearts before. And it ain’t pretty.

A brief personal example from Mr. Cubic Zirconia might serve to illustrate this point:
I can remember the couple of years after I had decided I wanted to be married as a wasteland of envy. I was hurting financially. Yet when planning ahead to a wedding, I felt irrationally that there was this need to ‘outspend’ other people. It didn’t matter if those couples were silver spoon babies who inherited everything-- or were spending Mommy and Daddy’s money while the parents were still alive-- or if the couple-to-be-wed had earned the money themselves that they were spending lavishly on a wedding. Because we couldn’t match that kind of WOW wedding budget, I was jealous. I was uninterested in planning the kind of wedding that we could afford. And yeah, I felt like less of a man and less of a catch, too. 

In the decade afterwards, as my personal and financial success increased to the degree my current wife and I could have afforded a more expensive wedding, I realized I no longer wanted that-- and began to feel some regret at how much and how long I had procrastinated tying my life to hers, since it was clear she never needed the fairy tale wedding. Pretty amazing, too, to think that what financial success I’d begin to gain was due in no large part to having married an amazing woman who kept me focused and moving forward. Somewhere along the path, I realized how dumb I was to feel that envy over other couple’s journeys. 

Frankly, even the wealthiest people in the world suffer wedding envy when they try to out-spend others in creating the so-called “perfect wedding”-- and yet even the ultra-rich fall short every time

Envy is bad for the soul, and bad for soulmates, too. 

Yet it’s a weird quirk of human nature that just because something is bad for us, it doesn’t guarantee we’ll actually stop doing it. 

To be honest, sometimes it seems we homo sapiens are masters of self-harm. 

And we’re no different. 

We’ve found this same comparison trap a number of times since that story.

And the lesson once learned needed to be learned again.

Today we’ll talk about what we felt was the once-and-for-all solution for us to STOP DOING THAT ISH.

Lots of people feel bad or depressed at times. One area where we see some people feeling bad is marriage comparisons-- both IRL (“in real life”) and on the hit-the-high-points summary other couples show through their social media feeds.

If it’s a constructive way of looking at what another couple has, who they are and what they do together-- so be it. That can be a positive force for change and betterment in our own marriages.

No, what we’re concerned with is the kind of comparison that leaves us feeling envious, a lingering cloud of unhappiness darkening even an otherwise happy day and raining on the normally sunniest of relationships.

This is rarely more true than the totally incorrect but oh-too-common correlation of happiness and affection with the price of a gift, trip, meal, wedding or daily reality. 

The fanciest restaurant. The most expensive vacation. The swankiest engagement ring. Each can be a wonderful gift for the one you love. No doubt about that. But there seems to be a rampant misconception in today’s culture that a gift giver’s affection increases with the price tag of the gift. 

And when the gift has a small price tag, sometimes we feel small (men especially fall into this mental mistake, but some women do too). 

That way of looking at things is wrong on so many levels. And it leaves out the tremendous importance of shared experience between gift giver and recipient. 

If she’s the right partner, she’ll love your dinner dates together even if you can’t always (or ever) afford the most expensive restaurant. 

Vacations with the man made to be your perfect pair are going to kick-ass because of who’s there with you more than for who on social media wishes they were there, too, when they see your Instagram pictures. 

And the engagement ring: guys, are we really going to let a century-old marketing campaign dictate how much you need to spend to “show you really love her”?

All that loses its influence to hurt you when you make one small decision we’ll reveal right now.

One way to limit the danger of marriage comparisons is pretty simple.

Think of the couple and person you’ve compared your marriage and life with.

Just ask yourself if you'd trade your life for theirs.

Would you give everything of yours for everything of theirs?

Caveat emptor, though, and all that.
Buyer beware!

You can't just wish you could trade for another couple’s financial stability, career success, good looks or well-behaved and multilingual genius kids.

This isn’t just a take whatever you like and leave the rest kind of thing…when you trade lives, you’d have to trade for everything.

That good-looking couple with the great big house, paid-off cars and adorable child tragically suffering from a rare genetic disorder requiring round-the-clock caregiving?

Can’t have the good stuff without the pain, too.

The his and her politicos on the nation’s highest stage, writing best-selling books, connected to every cultural leader of note, rousing tens of thousands of fans in paid speeches? A simple wish and the life of influence, power and privilege can be yours.

You just have to accept that you won’t be safe from assassination or assault without bodyguards. Trespassing curiosity seekers will dig through your garbage for souvenirs. Talking TV heads will always know your job better than you do. And you may feel physically ill just to read some of the sick online comments of keyboard digi-warriors you actually thought you were doing a good job of helping in real life.

That cute couple who was completely unembarrassed to display their affection publicly with a passion that made you almost feel uncomfortable? The wife who attracted one of those naturally romantic men, who up until his early death would open the car door for her and hold her hand when they walked through town. Who'd been both committed and faithful, who clearly adored her and would often comment on how lucky he was to have a woman like her at his side…

Would you trade your problems for his and her inability to conceive a child, or suffering a half-dozen pregnancy miscarriages even after spending every extra cent either of them earned for almost two decades on trying and failing to adopt or to get pregnant with every fertility method invented? Is hers a life you’d still want when you learned that not only were she and her husband biologically unable to have children, but she also became a widow before 45? 

The red carpet treatment and luxury lifestyle of a movie star couple can be yours, too in trade-- just for the asking.

But don’t ask for your old life back when you realize your new ritzy reality comes in a package with 15-hour work days, months of separation from the people you care about most, and daily rumors of infidelity claiming both you and your spouse are each cheating on the other. Toss in kids with serious entitlement issues (maybe drug problems too), extremely restrictive diet and fitness routines, and zero personal privacy? Yeah, sounds like so much fun to live on the other side of the lens of vultures who make their living trying to get candid-- preferably embarrassing-- photographs of you and your family.

This isn’t just a rhetorical exercise, dear reader.

It’s for you to understand: 


Whatever hardship the couple you wanna trade with has known in their lives is now yours to live with. Whatever consequences he and she experienced from bad past decisions, you now own that, too.

You own their belongings, family, health, wealth, status, looks and power—and also their baggage, fears, pain, shame, problems, mistakes, regrets, and all the rest of the negative stuff.

And don’t forget what you’d be giving up if you made such a trade.

Think about the highlights of your own life.

The friends. Family. Those you've loved, those you lost. Places you've experienced, and adventures you’ve lived. Lessons you’ve learned, things you’ve cherished.

All that would be out the window-- disappeared, invisible, as if it had never happened (indeed, all your good memories would have happened to someone else).

The bad with the good.
The good with the bad.

We’ve told other people about this exercise for years. 

It isn’t just something to read about, though, if you have felt the envy in your heart. 

It’s something to use as a catalyst to make a change. 

For some people, that’s making a pact as partners to STOP COMPARING him or her to other hims and hers

For others, it’s a decision to swear off social media-- or severely limit the number and type of news feeds in your daily digital diet. 

In light of taking the bad with the good and and seeking the full picture of what other people’s lives are like, we think you’ll find what we did: the more you think about trading places with another person or couple-- -- if and only if you’re being honest with yourself-- the less you’re going to want to swap with anyone. 

If you’re anything like Mr. and Mrs. Cubic Zirconia, that realization feels comforting!

It means that even if you're discouraged about something in your life, family or marriage this year, you can use this small “comparison” exercise to help you put things into perspective.

It’s just life.

We all get through it.

If you’re like us, doesn't the thought of losing all of those great memories from your real life give you some serious hesitation in wanting to have lived someone else’s life?

The special moments in marriage you’ve shared with your lover, partner and great friend….doesn’t the thought of no longer remembering those make the idea of somehow trading with another couple a lot less appealing?

Let’s leave you with a few final thoughts: 

  1. Love is in your heart-- not eaten off your dinner plate. 
  2. Marriage is in your heart-- not reflected from how many Instagram likes you get. 
  3. Commitment is in your heart-- NOT worn on your hand.

Mr. and Mrs. Cubic Zirconia


1 thought on “The Trap of Marriage Comparisons and the Cure for Relationship Envy

Finn O'Shaughnessy

Not all progress is visible and not all victories are gonna get celebrated.

Just because someone’s ahead of you doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path.

Just because there is no applause doesn’t mean you didn’t score.

But yeah, look at and talk to my wife and you’ll know I know I did!

February 20, 2024 at 16:58pm

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