As a family law attorney, I work with many couples who have made the hard decision to divorce. Having worked with people from all different backgrounds and age groups, it takes a lot to surprise me anymore, and over the years, I’ve worked on divorces attributed to every cause you can think of — and then some.
Listening to so many stories about why and how marriages fall apart has really opened my eyes to what makes a marriage thrive, what makes it strong, and what makes it crumble. So, here are some of the marriage/relationship tips I’ve learned from my time in family law.
1. Accept that marriage is hard work.
Commence your marriage with the idea that you will both work together on “being married” every day. Being married is not a state of being; it is a work in progress. And it is work. So don’t ignore problems when you first notice them. Work on them before they fester and explode.
Treat your spouse like a date every day. Notice the little things that attracted you to begin with and enjoy them every day; don’t take them for granted. Don’t allow familiarity to breed contempt.
2. Accept that your spouse or partner will not change.
Many of my clients were aware of the issue that caused the dissolution of their marriage — their spouse’s behavior “flaw” or their relationship disconnect — prior to getting married. About 95 percent of the time, they believed that their partner would change.
Your spouse will not change. In fact, those little imperfections will only wear on you more acutely over time. Realize early what they are and determine if you can live with them forever before you tie the knot.
3. Consider the implications of signing a prenuptial agreement.
A prenup is designed to give you a way out. Marriage is designed to be a forever commitment. Do you already feel like you need an escape hatch? If you’re not comfortable promising to stay together through thick and thin, are you really ready to get married? While most attorneys will advise you to have a prenuptial agreement, their concern is generally for your finances. A wiser move is to wait to marry someone to whom you can really make a permanent pledge.
4. Choose someone who shares your financial views.
Money issues is the most common cause of divorce. People have diverse philosophies about how to handle their finances and get married without addressing how to harmonize their different value systems. They start out in love, and small disconnects go unnoticed. Later, when they are comfortable, they overlook larger disconnects; later still, they discount them.
At some point, their differences become too great to ignore; they can’t make excuses anymore. Because the couple has never learned to address them, the financial issues have caused rifts in their abilities to communicate, to problem solve, and to grow together.
5. Commit to growing together.
Let’s talk about the finances again. Many people marry before they have solidified their views on many issues, spending included. Take classes on spending, on child-rearing, on religion, and on other sensitive topics before conflicts start to rear their ugly heads in your relationship.
Get educated together. This will ensure that you both have the same information. Then decide together how you will handle complex issues before they arise in an emotional context.
6. Go to some sort of relationship/marriage counselor early and often.
Seeing a counselor should not be viewed as an admission of failure; it's more like signing up for guitar lessons or learning tae kwon do. If you can’t think of a good reason to go, I can: go to work on your communication, problem-solving, or co-parenting skills.
7. Make sure you share at least one day off per week.
Maintaining a strong relationship requires spending time together. Stay in bed together one morning a week and just talk — no agenda. Well, if there’s any agenda, it should be to cuddle. If you have to brush your teeth first, get up and do that and then get back in bed. Lock the door — no kids allowed. Cuddle. (One of you needs that, and the other one will find that s/he enjoys it more than s/he thinks s/he will.)
8. Share a hobby.
You don’t have to share all of the same hobbies, but it is important to share most of them considering that our hobbies consume much of what little free time we enjoy. Run races. Play golf. Watch movies. Play music together. My husband insists on running the weekend errands with me instead of splitting up to get them done in twice the time. (I brag about this all the time, even though he first made this declaration 22 years ago!)
Whatever interests you share, engage in those things together. And if you don’t share them, then one of you must change your interest. My husband took up golf; I had no interest. But he was spending six hours every week out on a golf course somewhere so I took it up too.
I developed an interest, if not in the sport itself, at least in the nature I enjoyed while out on the course, and, more importantly, in the talking we did while we were out there.
9. Shower or bathe together as often as possible.
My husband and I purposely installed a double-headed shower. At least twice a week, we shower at the same time. It’s a great time to plan, and especially to discuss matters outside of the hearing of little ears. I have a colleague whose parents bathed together every night, and she and her husband now follow that same practice. It's a great time to unwind, and it’s easy to add to busy schedules because you both need to get clean, so you’re not forced to make time for anything additional.
It helps to be naked with each other every day. It's something private and special that you only share with each other, so it helps to forge and sustain connection. And you never know where it will lead! Which segues into my next tip…
10. Never stop having sex.
Even if you and your spouse are best friends, you're also more than that. You are partners whose relationship initially grew, in part, due to your chemistry and sexual intimacy. Sex is a basic biological need. As a married couple, you depend on each other to meet this need. Even if you're tired, not in the mood, or not even attracted to your spouse in that moment, make sex a regular part of your relationship.
Vow to make love at least once a week. If you get to the end of a week without having done so, do whatever it takes to be intimate before the clock strikes midnight on the seventh day. I think this also adds an element of fun to the relationship.
11. Remind yourself that the grass isn't greener.
While it may be tempting to explore a new, exciting, attractive, and interesting person, remember that that person comes with his or her own set of flaws. The turmoil that an affair brings is not worth the excitement. People don't end up any happier once the dust settles. Be happy with the one you have and actively work together to remember why you chose each other.
12. Don't give up too soon.
When it gets really tough, remember that you vowed to be together “for better or for worse." Sometimes it's worse. But this, too, shall pass. The good times will return if you weather the storm together and don’t jump ship.
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