Tips to Strengthen Your Marriage and Avoid Divorce
Want to Avoid a Messy Divorce? Follow These Tips for a Healthy Marriage
We have all heard the stories. The high conflict divorce that stretched on for years. The one that costs the parties tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer fees. We have also seen the divorces of celebrities and the megarich that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Stories like this and other fears that we will explore in this article are keeping many people hanging onto unhappy marriages. Though I am in favor of anything that can save a marriage, I do not believe that fear is a healthy tool to use to hold a relationship together.
Fear is Never a Way to Save a Marriage from Divorce
Fear about custody, fear about alimony, fear about dividing the retirement accounts, and what I think is the most common fear of all; losing control over the other person.
As a divorce attorney, I have seen and heard stories of heartbreak and betrayal. Stories that would keep most people awake at night. After a decade of sitting on the sidelines and watching people’s lives crumble during the divorce process, I decided that there must be something that I can do to save some people from having to go through this process. Or at least, shield the ones who must go through the process from some of the emotional scars that manifest in divorce.
The First Step in Saving Your Marriage
The first step is to check the health gauge of your marriage long before you ever need to think about divorce. After years of marriage, people are in danger of falling into routines where husband and wife are more roommates or coworkers than romantic partners.
Avoid the Routines that Enable Resentment!
Years of prioritizing the children, paying bills, and keeping up with the Joneses can inflict severe damage to a marriage. This trend opens the door to apathy and resentment.
A wife may begin to resent her husband for working too much. Or, for going out with friends too often and leaving her alone with the kids.
Simultaneously, the husband could begin to resent his wife for not being interested in sex anymore. Little does this hypothetical husband realize if he were home more spending quality time with his wife, she probably would be more interested.
Let this very common situation go on for a few years, and you have all of the necessary ingredients for two people who, in the back of their minds, begin wondering what a divorce would be like. At first, it may just be a passing whim, and over time, it can become all they think about.
Don’t Let Fear Be Apart of Your Marriage
Most people will stay stuck in that phase for a few more years out of fear. Fear of what other people would think if they got divorced, how much of their retirement they’d have to give away in the divorce, how much child-support they might pay, how much alimony they may or may not receive, or fear of ending up alone.
For a while, these fears may be enough to keep people in their marriage, and though no one has filed for divorce, these folks are going through a long, painful emotional divorce.
This is one of the many reasons that you must never let fear be a reason to stay in a marriage.
Let’s get Something Straight
I want to be crystal clear on one point. Though I am a divorce attorney, I am not an advocate for getting divorced. I instruct every one of my potential clients who are recently separated or are still living together to seek marriage counseling before retaining my services. Because of that fact, I find myself in close association with many highly talented marriage and relationship therapists. Not to mention, some lessons I have learned from those professionals have forever changed my view of divorce and relationships.
Just because you’re Still Married doesn’t mean that your Marriage is Healthy
One problem that I see is that most people have no idea what their definition of a healthy marriage looks like, much what their spouse’s definition is. Sure, you can go online and read somebody else’s definition of a healthy marriage. However, the truth is that a healthy marriage means something slightly different for everybody.
So Fix It!
Sit down and ask your spouse what their definition of a healthy marriage is? Try it. Compare it to your definition and communicate to your spouse what your definition is. How much of this did you already know about them? Make a careful note of the parts of their answer that you did not already know. Here is where you may need to focus most of your attention, as this is usually the part that you have been neglecting.
I think this is a crucial exercise because you are not going to receive all you need from your partner unless they are aware of that need.
Your partner is not a mind reader. If you’re like most people, you got married with the unconscious expectation that all your needs were just going to suddenly and magically be met. After all, that’s what marriage is, right? The handsome prince and the beautiful princess live happily ever after. At least, that’s what we believe.
What those childhood fairytales did not teach us is that the true definition of “happily ever after” really means, “and now the work begins.”
Recognize Your Partner’s Basic Needs
Guys, your wife has some very basic needs that you have probably lost sight of, which include needing more quality time, more spontaneity, telling her she’s beautiful (you already think it, but she is not a mind reader). And the most important need of all more old-fashioned hugs.
I’ve been married for ten years and have six children. I can tell you that when the kids are screaming, work is going crazy, and we are both exhausted, and the babysitter can’t give us a date night — if I just stop and give my wife a heartfelt, long, firm hug I can see it refilling her emotional fuel tank before my eyes, and it cost me nothing.
When is the last time you surprised her by sending her flowers? What about having the babysitter show up without preplanning? Coupled with having reservations at her favorite restaurant set up as a surprise? I’m not talking about special occasions — this one would be “just because.”
Ladies, your husband has some very basic needs that you may have lost sight of including reassuring him that he is a good provider for you, let him know that he’s a good protector for you and that you feel safe with him, reassuring him that he is the only man on earth for you and that you love him and that he’s good looking (you already think it, but he needs to hear it whether he will admit it or not)
Men are hardwired with a completely different set of needs than women. We instinctively try to show our love to our spouse in the way that we seek to receive it. Do you see the problem there? Without a clear understanding of our partner’s needs, we are going to continue to give them what we hope to receive from them. This is often not at all what they need.
After years of this, our spouse can begin to feel emotionally unfulfilled and can even think that we are acting selfishly, which is not usually the case.
Just like a Professional Bodybuilder has a Physical Trainer, there is nothing wrong with a Healthy Marriage having a Marriage Therapist
I am a firm believer that everybody, I mean every single human being on the face of the earth, could greatly benefit from sitting down with a therapist at least once.
Individual therapy is not for crazy people like you may think. On the contrary, I believe that individual therapy is vital to keep people from going crazy because let’s face it — this world sometimes feels a little insane.
Likewise, couples counseling is not just for relationships that are in trouble. Just like professional athletes have fitness trainers, a healthy marriage should have relationship trainers. A regular visit to a Couples Therapist can achieve this.
In his glory days, Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t have professional trainers because he was fat or out of shape. He had trainers because he was in great shape and he wanted to be even better. This needs to be your attitude toward couples therapy and marriage maintenance.
Even if you think you have a “healthy” relationship, you must learn new ways to strengthen your relationship “muscles.”
Be conscious of the needs of your partner and remember to work daily on satisfying those needs. They will naturally follow suit for you.
This, in my belief, is the best way to keep your marriage healthy and avoid divorce.
Sean Smallwood is a divorce and family law attorney in Orlando, FL, motivational speaker, and father of six.