Marriage Advice from a Divorce Lawyer
It is amazing that despite the fact we spend most of our lives either searching for love and companionship or being in a relationship, this is the one thing we are never really taught how to do. Expectations and patterns are determined by the successful (and not so successful) relationships we see as children, on television, and by trial and error. By the time you walk through the front door of my office, it is often too late. And divorce sucks. It’s expensive and emotionally devastating. In 20 years of experience practicing law, I have often wondered why so many relationships fail. The complaints I have heard over the years have similarities in what was “missing.” Even when there is an affair, it is usually a symptom rather than a cause. Did these people know the things about their partner that now drives them out the door before they got married? (Most of the time the answer is yes). What did they think this relationship would be? Why do people marry people they know are unkind, unfaithful, selfish, or without common values or interests? While there is no way to foolproof a marriage, there are a few things that can make it (and your other relationships) stronger and healthier. Some of these work even when the marriage does not. Your children will thank you for a better foundation for their own relationships down the road.
1. Ask for what you need. This is first on the list for a reason. People do not read minds and this is not news. Imagine walking into Starbucks in a different city standing at the counter and not saying a word. Ridiculous right? No latte. Women in particular, seem to believe that if someone “really loves” them they are magically imparted with the ability to read minds. He should know what she needs/wants. People believe if you have to ask for flowers, the flowers become meaningless. Well, if you don’t ask for what you want, you won’t get what you need, as unromantic as that may sound. Resentment then builds unnecessarily. People are a product of their own individual upbringing. Just because your father brought your mother flowers each Friday, you may believe that is the only acceptable expression of love. You may give no value to the fact that your spouse fills up the gas tank so you never have to. If it’s the case that only flowers will do, ASK for them. Give a road map, not just “I like flowers,” but also for what occasions and what kind you love.
Think about it this way: We tell our employees, our children and our friends what we expect from them… why is our spouse any different? After my C-section with my daughter, my husband was not exactly enthusiastic about getting me a glass of water after his head had just hit the pillow. Really? I just gave birth you selfish #$%^. After years of commentary under my breath (which he really loved) regarding this one particularly jerky incident, I finally realized that this was not totally his fault. It was my fault too, for not telling him ahead of time what I needed and just expecting he would know. Flash forward to another baby (this time a sick one) and a knee surgery with an attentive husband by my side. If he hadn’t been, it may have been the end for us, but I did not struggle alone this time. The difference was, I asked for what I needed, in detail, and he gave it to me. People generally want to make each other happy, but sometimes just don’t know how.
2. Forget perfect. Marry someone whose crap you can live with, really live with, without expecting someone will change (they won’t) or getting “brownie points” for putting up with it or throwing it in their face. If it annoys you now, it will annoy you later, only more so. He’s a slob, or she can’t cook, are fine if you can handle it. Everybody’s list is different. The non-negotiable issues are different for every person, but don’t kid yourself into believing you can live with something that you can’t. If he’s a spender and you’re a saver, beware. Different views on finances or fundamental differences in morals or values are tough to overcome. For the record, it should go without saying, abuse, physical, or emotional, is non-negotiable and if it is not, seek a good therapist.
3. Realize fairy tales are for children. When I hear anyone over the age of 10 speak about their fairy tale romance or wedding, I cringe and then hand them a business card. Marriage is many things, but it is no fairy tale, I assure you. Let’s see how wonderful this sounds: Once upon a time, there were two people who decided to live together forever. All they could afford after the $100,000 wedding was a tiny condo. They both worked hard, and then had two children. Then came the sweatpants, the homework, the laundry, and the in-laws. They hit the lottery, moved to a bigger castle and bought a few new cars. Even though they now had all the money in the kingdom, there was still laundry, homework and in-laws. So, the princess left the prince because she was sick of the prince leaving his stuff all over the place, and he was glad because she never wore anything but sweatpants, her parents were a pain in the ass, and the laundry was piling up. No one would do it, of course, because in the fairy tale world, no one does laundry.
Have realistic expectations. Not every day is going to be great, but some will take your breath away from the overwhelming love you feel. Regardless of your economic status, there will be sickness and health, money issues, work troubles, and screaming kids. There will also be immeasurable joy. Expect both the good and the bad and hold on tight through the tough times by remembering the good ones.
4. Lower your expectations. People are human. They forget the milk, they have bad days, and they say things they should not say — annoying and stupid things. We let it go, because that’s life, unless we’re in a relationship with someone. When we’re married, we beat it to death as if it is somehow a personal affront, an indication that someone does not love us enough. Our expectations are higher of our significant other than anyone else. Most times unreasonably so. This leads to disappointment and resentment. Lower the expectations and be pleasantly surprised when someone does something great without it being expected.
5. Say thank you. Why is it that people often forget to say the kind things to the ones they love? We wouldn’t dream of allowing a stranger to go without thanks for a kind word or deed. It is automatic, a part of civilized society. However, the one who cleans up the kitchen, makes the dinner, pays the bills, or takes the kids in the morning so their partner can sleep does not get a thank you? Really? Cherish your spouse or partner and let them know they are appreciated, valued, or someone else may.
6. See the glass half full. Perception is reality. Life is hard or it is amazing, depending on the day. The same goes for our relationships. If you wake up wanting to be angry at your partner (or friend or sister), it would be easy. Focus on the stuff someone did wrong and everything they do will be wrong, not good enough, or done with the specific intent to drive you crazy. In reality, that is rarely the case. When you decide to focus on the good, it’s amazing how the day goes much smoother. The dinner is cooked and the laundry is folded, even if it’s not how you would’ve done it. When the day is really crappy, try to appreciate that it is all relative. Despite our difficulties, we are more blessed than many. Just turn on the news to see how truly difficult the world is for some, and the day seems a whole lot better.
7. Choose happiness. Most of the time happiness is a choice. When we’re first in love, everyone is happy and life is fun. Choose to be happy. Be kind and make your partner happy. Do the special things to make someone else happy that you once did. Make an effort to laugh with each other, celebrate and enjoy. It will carry you through a lot of the bad shit.
8. Say I am sorry. This does not mean you are WRONG, people, it just means you’re sorry. Sorry I made you feel sad. Sorry you are hurting. Show compassion to your partner’s pain, even if you don’t understand it. Do not explain why someone should not feel the way they do, just say sorry.
9. Realize not everything means something. Over breakfast, a man notices his wife having a piece of toast for breakfast when she usually has cereal. On the way home from work he stops to get her some cereal and brings it home to her. She immediately starts to yell at him, “You’re such a selfish person. I had Cheerios every morning for the last ten years, and you brought me Raisin Bran. If you loved me, you would notice what kind of cereal I eat. You don’t care if I am happy or what I need in life.” Husband has no idea what just happened. Sometimes a box of cereal is just a box of cereal. No hidden message, no hidden meaning. Don’t always think your partner thought something through and intentionally tried to hurt you. Look for the good, appreciate the effort.
10. Ego — put your partners first. Be a couple who supports each other in private and in public. Don’t talk trash about your spouse or let others. Say kind things to them and about them. Build each other up and find other couples who do the same. Be loyal. Make them feel important and needed. Put down your phone, stop texting and surfing, and pay attention! Be present.
Marriages are like anything we cherish and want to keep. We must first recognize the value of it, prioritize it and make efforts to care for it if we want to keep it. If we value our marriage, we are less likely to risk it. My office (or any divorce lawyer’s office) is the last place you want to end up!
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