Divorce lawyers are all too familiar with what drives couples to their law offices, embittered and ready to call it quits.
Given all they’ve seen and heard, family law attorneys are uniquely qualified to give advice on what married couples should and shouldn’t be doing if they want to avoid divorce court.
Below, divorce attorneys from across the country share some unexpected, but spot-on marriage advice.
1. Make it a goal to be the first partner to say, “I’m sorry.”
“You can be right or you can be happy. Don’t be stubborn in arguments. Apologize as soon as you know that you are wrong. If you are not wrong, still apologize for upsetting your spouse during the argument.” ―Brad M. Micklin, an attorney in Nutley, New Jersey
2. Secure your own oxygen mask first in the event of marital turbulence.
“Life can be hectic and stressful, which can lead to anxiety, irritability and frustration. Those emotions can lead to dysfunctional behaviours that have a negative impact on your marriage. People need to take care of themselves first and take a deep look to determine how their job, their children and their friendships are meeting or violating their core values and affecting their marriage.” ―Christopher S. Hildebrand, an attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona
3. Be honest, but not that honest.
“Trust me: Many relationships are destroyed with one really critical, mean sentence that could have been prevented by walking away until you’re calm. Don’t be overly honest with your partner.” ―Lynda L. Hinkle, an attorney in Turnersville, New Jersey
4. Set monthly “state of the union” meetings.
“Poor communication is rampant in couples who separate and ultimately go through a divorce. How can two people live in a house and not even know how to talk to each other? It happens all the time. In these cases, it’s not surprising that spouses lead nearly separate lives, as if the marriage is the husband’s island and the wife’s island and the only bridge between them are the children. Monthly ‘state of the union’ meetings alleviate this problem. Each month, the spouses have a sit-down meeting. Each brings an agenda of talking points. The spouses then factually and logically go through each point and come to a consensus. Either spouse can create and keep the minutes (record) of the meeting or the spouses can alternate. You can definitely dedicate one to two hours out of a month to this, especially if you’re doing it over a glass of wine or some dinner.” ―B. Robert Farzad, an attorney in Orange County, California
5. Force yourself to have those unsexy conversations about finances.
“Keep informed of your finances, always. Often, there is one partner who is in charge of the money and bill paying and the other is left in the dark, often by their own choice. Everyone should know what is going on in the finances, and you should meet every month to talk about goals, failings, aspirations and where you are. Since money trouble is one of the No. 1 causes of divorce, working together on this is a key to a successful marriage.” ―Lynda L. Hinkle
6. When you have financial talks, treat them like business meetings.
“It is dollars and cents. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a financial-related issue, turn the heart off and treat it like a business transaction. ‘Feelings’ on the issue are irrelevant. Do you and your spouse have a dispute regarding whether the family can afford to buy the house? Affording is not the same thing as loving or wanting. Affording means you create a conservative monthly budget and decide if the house payment, property taxes, insurance, association dues and moving costs all fit within the family’s budget. You should also look at the real estate market and decide whether you are buying at a good time or not. The heart gets plenty of spouses in trouble when it is time to make financial decisions.” ―B. Robert Farzad
7. Remind yourself that not everyone is as happy as they look on Instagram.
“Everyone looks so happy on social media, we often think we are the only ones with problems. As a divorce attorney for 20 years, I can tell you, many, if not most, marriages are suffering in some way at some time ― you just can’t tell because they comb their hair and dress nicely for the Facebook pic.” ―Brad M. Micklin
8. Focus on your marriage first, even if it means giving others you care about the short shrift.
“Everyone else in the world with whom you interact should be a distant second to your relationship with your spouse. The constant bombardment of crises from everybody else’s life can become an unwarranted intrusion into your relationship. As a couple, focus on solving your problems and let other people solve their own problems. This is especially true for adult children and close friends.” ―Christopher Hildebrand
9. Make your own couple-focused holidays.
“Don’t wait for the Hallmark holidays to do something nice. Those are always expected. Celebrate your spouse when they don’t expect anything. Make it up. It will score you more points and you’ll be more appreciated. It’s a win-win.” ―Jason Levoy, an attorney and divorce coach in New York City.
10. Realize that when you always win the argument, you may lose your marriage.
“Couples are going to disagree and some disputes get more heated than others. It’s easy to become entrenched in your position and lose sight of what’s important and focus only on wanting to win the argument. Communication is one of the keys to a strong relationship, and learning to compromise with your partner creates a winning situation. Compromise is always a win.” ―Tanya Freeman, an attorney in Parsippany, New Jersey.