As a “divorce lawyer”, I am rarely asked marriage advice. Instead, people usually come to me when their relationship is long past salvageable. The funny thing is, I am as pro-marriage as one can get. I have been happily married for nearly 9 years and have helped several close friends pull their relationship back from the brink of collapse. Yet daily all I do is help break up families and homes. Seeing as how long ago I made my choice to eschew a career in marriage counseling and decided to pursue this most hated profession, I have resigned myself to never being asked for marriage advice. Not letting things like this stop me, I am going to give this unsolicited advice on marriage from a divorce lawyer’s perspective. These tips address the four areas that I encounter in almost every failed marriage. I do not mean to oversimplify the very complicated institution that is marriage; I merely offer these tips for those who do not know where to start and who do not want to be seeing “bottom feeders” like me any time soon.
SEEK HELP EARLY: Like cancer, relationship problems are more easily fixed the earlier they are detected and treated. And like cancer, no one should try to solve the problem by themselves. Find an expert, namely a marriage counselor. Don’t pick the first one you run across. Try several of them out and pick the one that you think offers you the best solutions and advice. Don’t wait until things get really bad, either. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. You don’t even have to wait until you suspect something is really wrong. Talking to and getting help from someone about the little nagging problems in a relationship can make even a good marriage stronger. Time and time again I see two people who have tried “everything” except asking a person who solves these problems for a living. Yet I rarely see couples who regularly attended counseling. That being said, marriage counselors are not the only way to go. Support groups or even church groups are great help. Marriage is as important as health. Don’t neglect your personal health, and don’t neglect the health of a marriage.
LEARN TO SACRIFICE: Selfishness is the root of many of the problems we face in our everyday lives. Humans are social animals. God meant for us to interact and socialize with other like-minded people. Selfishness frustrates cooperation and alienates us from others. Often I see in broken marriages what I call “mutual selfishness”. This is where two people agree that they will let the other get away with selfish behavior so they can be selfish, also, despite not liking what the other does. For example, a wife may ignore her husband going to a strip club every night or not spending time with the kids as long as the husband ignores the wife’s out-of-control shopping and spending habits or maybe her prescription pill use. Both people are getting to do something they want all the while watching their relationship, their personal lives, and their family crumble. The solution to this problem is to sacrifice your own vices for the good of the relationship and your family. Once you do sacrifice, however, you must also demand the same from your spouse. When you lead by example, you can take the high ground and expect your spouse to also be a better person. They may not like it immediately, but once the benefits of a strong marriage and a happy family are realized they will be eternally grateful.
FIX YOURSELF: Many marriages, like many relationships, are doomed from the start because one or both people are not at peace with themselves, and therefore will never be at peace in a relationship. When someone has a hole inside, they often try and fill that hole with another person, creating a co-dependent relationship. The problem is that the hole is never actually filled; your relationship and your spouse are merely distractions from addressing that emptiness. Do not confuse being in an unhappy relationship with being unhappy. If you have been significantly unhappy in every relationship you’ve had as well as when you were single, chances are you need to figure out how to be happy with yourself before you can be happy in any situation. Luckily the solution to personal troubles is the same as the solution to relationship troubles: read the SEEK HELP EARLY section above and replace “marriage” with “personal”.
BE HONEST: This is by far the most important aspect to any relationship and belies all advice above. Of course, being honest does not mean you tell your spouse everything that is on your mind, to the point of being mean. Being honest means you do not hide the truth from the person you love, you communicate with your spouse about your feelings and your behaviors, and you are honest with yourself about what the problems really are and what you want to get out of the relationship. If you are honest with yourself about your own shortcomings, you will learn how to better yourself, what sacrifices you need to make, and whether or not your spouse can give you what you need. If you are seeking help, complete honesty is the only way that any advice will be helpful and the only way that you will be able to use that advice successfully. If you want your spouse to be honest, being honest yourself is the only way you can expect the same from them. Most importantly, be honest with what you really want out of a relationship. If your answer is that you want to explore all of life’s experiences and live your life to the fullest, the confines of marriage may not be for you. If you want to be able to indulge yourself regardless of how this makes others feel, then marriage isn’t for you. But if you want to make a stable, happy, family life with a partner and best friend to help you in this journey, then marriage is definitely what you want. It is hard work, though, and unless you want to be seeing (and paying) me for divorce advice, perhaps you should heed a little marriage advice from a divorce lawyer.