HOW NOT TO SUCK AT MARRIAGE… PERSPECTIVES OF A DIVORCE ATTORNEY
The first thing to note is that I am in no way a relationship counselor or psychologist. The advice I offer is based solely on my experience as a divorce lawyer listening to hundreds of men and women describe the deterioration of their marriage. Since no one pays a consultation fee to come in and brag about how good and fulfilling their marriage is, my expertise is limited to what not to do. While no two terrible marriages are quite the same, I have picked up a few common threads that unhealthy relationships share, and I hope they can be as helpful to you as they have been to my marriage. I have consolidated my findings into the top five bad habits:
Three words: Never Stop Dating.
Most fairy tales end with the protagonist marrying their prince charming and then vaguely alluding to a pleasant interval before death. That’s because we have collectively decided that the tribulations of courtship are far more entertaining than reading about two exhausted spouses changing diapers or fessing up to blowing past the monthly budget. Let’s be honest, the only reason we watch shows about married celebrity couples is the assurance that there is an imminent and sloppy divorce about to occur.
In many relationships I become professionally involved in, one or both spouses get married and then slip into a sort of early relationship retirement. Its like, “I said ‘I do’… what more do they want from me?” Well, they want everything from you. They want love, attention, excitement, sex, and companionship. Those needs do not go away with marriage. It is important to acknowledge, however, that those things become harder to provide. It’s easy to be spontaneous and sexy when you are 25, without kids, and have a functioning metabolism. It’s much harder to muster the strength to surprise your spouse with a date night when you are 15 years into a 30-year career and can actually feel your body expand every time you bite into a chicken sandwich.
There is no easy fix to this conundrum. The only solution is effort. This amazing person agreed to spend the rest of their life with you… wake up every day and earn it. Plan sneak attacks of kindness, take a day off work, send your kids to school, and spend the day together being irresponsible. You will fall short of this goal. All of us do. The important thing is not to rest on your laurels and to know that marriages take work, effort, and stamina. There are some people for whom marriage is easy. These people are frightening, best avoided, and should never be followed on Instagram.
When I talk about communication as a divorce lawyer, people tend to envision couples screaming at each other from across the room and hurling plates against the wall. While the destruction of ceramics is a time-honored divorce tradition, the communication I am talking about is less explosive and more intimate.
Your partner cannot give you what you need if you do not tell them what that is. I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “your husband/wife is not a mind-reader.” While cliché, that advice holds true for most relationships. In many of the marriages I come into contact with, my clients feel as though their husband or wife has become a stranger. Being explicit about your needs is critical to establishing good communication and a productive marriage. If you need your husband to be more affectionate in public, tell him! If you need your wife to understand that you sometimes just need alone time, tell her! If you find that you have trouble reading your spouse’s moods, and don’t know what they need, sit them down and straight up ask them. Be aware that what your spouse needs may not come naturally to you and be willing to compromise. Opposites can and do attract, but if you are an introvert, be aware that your extrovert spouse may need a night out once and while and a break from watching you play Call of Duty in your loungewear. If you are an extrovert, be aware that taking your spouse to your friend’s baby shower is exhausting to them, and next time plan something that they find restorative.
Failure to tell your partner what you need can lead to long-term resentment and dissolution. Checking in on your needs, and asking your partner what their needs are, acts like a pressure valve that cools the relationship off before you hit a nuclear meltdown. If you find that you’ve gone a few months without checking in on the relationship, take some time to see how your spouse is doing, it will pay dividends in the long run.
If you find yourself stalking around the house, muttering, and tallying your spouse’s misdeeds in a mental book of grievances… something may have gone wrong. Obvious marital misdeeds should be handled appropriately, and divorce is sometimes the answer, but if you find yourself assigning your partner the worst possible motives for everything they do, you may be suffering from resentment.
Resentment is an easy trap to fall into and a hard one to dig out of. It usually occurs when something is not going right in our lives such as careers, parenting, Christian McCaffery injuries, etc. When the option is between blaming ourselves, the world, or the closest person in our proximity, sometimes our spouses bear the weight of our displeasure. The solution to this misplaced annoyance is communication, introspection, and perspective. If you lash out at your husband or wife and know deep down that it was less than deserved, take a deep breath, apologize, and tell them the real issue. You may be surprised to find that your spouse actually wants to help you solve your problem… or maybe just commiserate over a glass of wine. Be vulnerable to each other. Be each other’s biggest fan. Revel in your spouse’s victories and defeats as if they are your own. Remember, the marriage dynamic popularized in sitcoms of an exasperated spouse (usually wife), rolling their eyes at their obnoxious, oblivious partner might be funny to watch on TV, but it is not funny to live.
I’m going to be blunt about this: if you have read this far into a divorce lawyer’s legal blog, I promise that you are not cool enough to pull off an affair. It will blow up in your face spectacularly. Affairs tend to end less like Antonio Banderas movies and more like grainy cell phone footage of Urban Myer getting grinded on at chain restaurant. If Bill Gates lacked the intelligence and resources to pull off a clandestine tryst, what are your chances?
Apart from the obvious moral ramifications for you and your family, marital infidelity is also legally relevant regarding alimony and laws like criminal conversation and alienation of affection. So, I hope you have high body confidence because there is every possibility that some overworked, middle-aged district court judge is going to be angrily leafing through those “sexy” pics you sent to your side piece before making their alimony ruling.
Just don’t do it.
- WHEN DIVORCE IS THE ANSWER
While I have tried to inject some humor into the subject of marriage and divorce, I realize that divorce is often the most difficult thing many people experience in their lives. Additionally, there are issues that I am not qualified to talk about such as substance abuse, physical abuse, and mental health issues that put incredible strain on relationships.
What is not often discussed is how uplifting and transformative divorce can be. People stay in unhealthy and unfulfilling marriages for many reasons including money, family pressure, shame, and fear of the unknown. It takes bravery to recognize that the responsible thing to do is walk away from a relationship in which you have invested time, effort, and love. It is a privilege to help clients navigate through those issues and realize that it is not too late to start a new and exciting chapter of their lives.