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Five Ways To Make Your Marriage "Divorce Proof"
I am a divorce lawyer. Over the past two decades, I've helped ease the demise of over 1,000 marriages. From completely mundane property divisions to the chaos in detention, I've had a seat on the ring for every possible kind of decoupling there is. I've seen otherwise sensible people spend tens of thousands of dollars arguing over who can keep a $ 50 toaster. I have listened to the tearful accounts of both those who have been betrayed and those who have betrayed. There is almost no story, no matter how dirty, that can surprise me.
Nobody has ever gotten divorced before. In our increasingly curated society, it's one of the most refreshing and honest things I do for a living. My clients can delete photos from their Instagram accounts or, in happier times, choose only the most flattering photos from their supposedly romantic getaways. Ultimately, however, once they get married, they can't pretend to divorce. They may be ready and able to deal with it when they get there, but they never adjust their heart's GPS to that destination.
In the interests of full disclosure, I admit that I have no formal education in what makes a relationship thrive. Nobody in law school taught me what makes people happy and connected in their marriages. However, I have had many opportunities to observe exactly what that is opposite a happy marriage. I learned why relationships fall apart irretrievably. I've seen up close what makes people feel apart and fall in love. I recently wrote a book about it.
Based on my firsthand observations, there are five ways you can divorce your marriage and maintain your connection with your spouse:
1. Be a cheerleader for your spouse.
In the challenges of our daily life as professionals, parents and people, there is no lack of voices that tell us what mistakes we are. In our increasingly advertising-steeped culture, we are bombarded with messages intended to make us feel inappropriate. Advertising is the opposite of therapy. Most of all, it tells us that we are not okay the way we are. Whether it's pistachios or sports cars, the message is always the same: something is wrong or missing, and the solution to our shortcomings or mistakes is the product sold.
In the face of this relentless onslaught, you are in a unique position to provide a voice of support and encouragement to your spouse: protection from the storm of degradation. If you want to keep your marriage healthy, don't waste that power. Rather than join the noise of the critics and alert your spouse, family, or anyone within earshot of the ways your spouse is not meeting your needs, encourage your spouse to appreciate your affection. Resist the temptation to compare your spouse to an imaginary ideal that you have created in your head, or as romance films have told you that a "perfect" spouse would look and act like this. Your partner needs a cheerleader. We all do that. If there isn't anything big to cheer about right now, cheer the little things your spouse does well. When people have a taste of victory, they often long for more of it.
2. Realize that nobody can do everything.
We as a culture created a crazy notion that if your spouse does not always meet all of your needs in every aspect of life, he will fail at work as a spouse. Perhaps your spouse is a supportive listener, good co-parent, and good financial partner, but they aren't the most exciting and satisfying lover you've ever had, or they don't enjoy exactly the same vacation habits or eating choices as you. Resist the temptation, encouraged by all sitcom marriages, to focus your energy and communication on the way your spouse “failed” you by not meeting your needs 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. Take a moment and prioritize the list of what goes well and what is not ideal. Not all virtues and vices in your relationship are created equal. Don't think of love as binary. Reject the idea that if a marriage isn't perfect, it sucks. Having a spouse who most of the time has many of your needs is a tremendous asset.
3. Acknowledge that justice, not equality, is the goal of marriage.
You and your spouse build a partnership together. No one in their right mind would suggest that the secret of a good partnership is that the two partners do exactly the same things and have exactly the same skills. In fact, the most successful partnerships are just the opposite: one partner is strong in areas where the other partner is weak and vice versa. Total equality is not the goal.
From a legal and intellectual point of view, it is true that you don't owe your spouse a back massage, blowjob, or kind word of encouragement. Sure, you can take the position that if your wife's ego is so fragile that you have to tell her she's beautiful, then she should take on her therapist - but why? How hard is it to be kind? How hard is it to be supportive and loving even when not technically required?
In marriage, day in and day out, there are innumerable opportunities for you to show small affections and kind actions to another person. A person who is as weak, lonely, confused and insecure as you are at times. And not just any person - a person who, of the 7.6 billion people on the planet, decided that you were the one to hold hands and walk the path.
If you've had a stressful day at work and your spouse tells you they had a stressful day at work, too. Don't try to "win" the stressful competition for that day and point out how the same or much more stressful your day was. If your needs are not met at any given time, the situation will not improve if your spouse's needs are also not met. If either of you is feeling terrible, it won't help to take steps to make sure the other is feeling just as terrible.
The marriages that eventually ended in my office began to yield stern results. They began to fall into the trap: "Why should I let my spouse spend a night with friends when I haven't had a night with my friends in ages?" Well done. You are the same now. Just as miserable.
Equality is not the goal. Justice or fairness is the goal. To pay in advance. Extend a kindness or a compliment. From time to time, let your own needs take a back seat and give your spouse the kind of selfless support and encouragement you would give to a close friend. Help your spouse find his or her happiness and center, and ideally they will help you find the same.
4. Have sex with your spouse.
I know. I know. Why Should You Need To Have Sex With Your Spouse? I mean, you've probably had sex with them a couple of times, and in full candor, it may not be as exciting or interesting as it used to be. Why should you be asked to do something that you are not as excited about as you were when you first started your relationship? I get it.
We all want to be sexually attractive to our spouses. We want to know and hear from our spouse, if not in words, then in body language and general physical response, that we are still desirable and sexually exciting to them. From what I've seen in my office, there is a massive and obvious link between losing a spouse's interest and appealing to have an affair. We don't just want a spouse willing to have sex with us. We want a spouse who wants to have sex with us. Desire is just as important, if not more important, than gender itself.
Honestly discuss sex with your spouse and let them know how your needs and desires may have changed over time. A spouse who cannot read your mind is not being stupid or paying no heed. Put simply, eat what the restaurant serves these days - even if the menu has changed or has become less exciting. The alternative is not hunger. It dines elsewhere. And that leads straight to my office.
5. Remember that you could get a divorce.
People don't like to talk about divorce. Sure, they enjoy the occasional brutal story about a War of the roses Scenario, but overall they don't want to talk about what it would be like if their own marriage ended. If you pretend you never get sick, you are not staying healthy. Refusing to think about funeral arrangements will not make you immortal.
One of the best, and fastest, ways to ruin a marriage is to believe that just because you don't talk about divorce you will never end up in my office. A conversation about divorce is a conversation about the ties that would be broken if your marriage ended. Do you know what else there is a conversation about? The connections you to have with your spouse.
It is in the presence of death that we are often most aware of the gift of life. When we are sick, we are deeply connected to the value of our health. Your spouse's love was not permanent and irrevocable for you as you walked down the aisle. It was loaned to you. Proceed accordingly. We tend to handle things more carefully when we remain aware of the fact that they are fragile.
Don't turn what was once abundance of affection and optimism into a pile of misery if it can be avoided. I've seen thousands of people lose the plot of the story that they wanted to write together. You don't need to add two more to that body number. You had what it takes to fall in love; It is entirely possible that you have exactly what it takes to stay there.
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