As a divorce attorney, I find it amusing when friends and strangers pepper me with the same questions about divorce and relationships. First, do I believe in marriage or am I jaded because of my job? Second, do I have any tips on how to maintain a healthy marriage based on my experience as a divorce attorney? Yes, I certainly believe in marriage and in fact, consider myself a hopeless romantic. And while I am not a relationship therapist, I have the privilege of counseling men and women through the complicated layers of divorce. My unique position as a divorce attorney gives me behind-the-scenes access to relationships and what causes a relationship to both succeed and fail.
That being said, here are my top tips on how to maintain a healthy marriage (and a good way to avoid a trip to my office):
1. Act Like You're Dating: Just because you're married, doesn't mean dating goes out the window. It's easy to find yourself in the same monotonous routine once you're married, especially given all the new responsibilities you may face as a couple and as parents. However, that doesn't mean you should neglect each other. Many couples divorce because they don't spend enough time together. Or, couples divorce because their attention is focused on other responsibilities, including children and work. Like seasons, priorities change and spouses may feel neglected. When a spouse is neglected, there is a greater likelihood he or she will look elsewhere to fulfill his or her needs. So don't forget that your spouse needs attention and care, and priority should be placed on the relationship. Spend time alone, go out on dates, continue to nurture your friendship with one another and then you're less likely to even consider divorce.
2. Respect and Kindness Through Words and Actions: By the time a couple is ready to divorce, their relationship is so broken, that couples are unable to communicate with one another, much less with any mutual respect and kindness. Respect for one another and kindness through words and actions go a long way when you're in a relationship, whether it's a friendship or a romantic relationship. If you can respect your spouse and express your love through kind words and actions, you are creating a healthy dynamic that will reap rewards throughout your marriage. As a divorce attorney, I notice that clients who at least recognize the importance of respect and kindness, can maintain a more level-headed approach to divorce. This in-turn allows for a more civil, reasonable (and cheaper) divorce process.
3. Transparency and Communication: There's something to be said about "mystery" and its allure when you are in the beginning stages of a dating relationship, at least to a certain extent right? However, when you're married, keeping big secrets from your spouse can be damaging to your marriage. Many marriages fall apart because an individual's struggles related to finance, and addictions including alcohol, drugs and sex are kept secret. Being transparent and genuine about your struggles is never easy because it forces you to be vulnerable. However, if you value your marriage, you will work on and build upon your communication skills to maintain the relationship.
The underlying thread weaved throughout all the tips I have shared above is this: place priority upon your spouse's needs. Not always as easy as it sounds given that it's human nature to think about ourselves first. Marriage is a big commitment and once you take the step towards marriage, it is definitely worthwhile to make efforts to nurture it. And hopefully it will also help you avoid a trip down the dreaded divorce highway.