Whether you’re newly married or have been together a long time, at some point there’s a worry that’s probably crossed your mind: divorce. Even if you don’t have any urge to get divorced yourself, it’s hard to ignore the statistics flying around, the constant reminders that not all marriages make it. But just because divorce is common doesn’t mean it has to happen to you. One of the best things that you can do is look back and learn from relationships that have gone wrong, so you can stop yourself from making the same mistakes. And nobody knows divorce better than divorce lawyers.
Divorce lawyers have seen it all—from bubbling newlyweds to bitter splits—and they have a unique insight into what makes marriages fail and what makes them succeed, and they can spot toxic relationship behavior from a mile away. So here are eight ways to protect and strengthen your marriage, straight from the horse’s mouth.
If you ever have doubted the importance of communication, the divorce lawyers we spoke to were unanimous about its importance. “Communication, in my opinion, is the most important component for a happy, healthy relationship or marriage,” Marcia Mavrides, divorce attorney and owner of Mavrides Law, tells Brides. “Communication ensures both parties have a very clear mutual understanding of what they want out of their partner and out of life, whether it be in regard to career, finances, religion, children, etc.”
Communication has to be more than just talking—it needs to be about actively listening. “Listen to understand where the other person is really coming from,” Michele Hart, of M. Hart Divorce and Family Law in Morristown, New Jersey, tells Brides. “Listening is at the heart of close relationships with others. Instead of thinking of your own response, put aside for the moment your own judgments, opinions, thoughts, and expectations. How does the other person view the situation?” If you make the effort to see things from each other’s point of view, you’ll be so much stronger.
2. Prioritize Quality Time
It’s easy to get complacent in relationships, but it’s so important that you make the time to really connect. “I worked with a client who began the divorce process, but was able to repair her marriage by learning new techniques for communication in couples counseling and a commitment by her and her spouse to get to know each other again and communicate more effectively,” Mavrides says. “Date night, once per week, without their cell phones in hand was a key component to this new communication plan—by spending quality time with each other, without distractions, my former client and her husband were able to get to know each other again, enjoy each other’s company, and remain happily married. You cannot underestimate the value of quality, distraction-free communication!” Set time aside where you're really connecting.
3. Take Responsibility
A lot of relationships fall apart because one person sees themselves as the “good” partner, the one who never messes up or does anything wrong, while blaming everything on the other person—but everyone makes mistakes. “It is crucial to the success of the relationship that both partners humbly acknowledge how their actions affect one another,” Sarah A. Intelligator, Law Offices of Sarah A. Intelligator, tells Brides. “Failing to accept the blame means it is always your partner’s fault. If that is true, then you are sending the resounding message that your partner is inferior and can never do anything right,” says Intelligator. “In turn, your partner will grow resentful and feel as though he or she is constantly being judged.”
Hart agrees, saying “take responsibility—conflicts are rarely caused by one person. You might ask yourself, ‘What can I take responsibility for?’ Acknowledging your piece helps to build trust and respect.” Just by owning up to your mistakes, you’ll keep the relationship on a solid foundation.
4. Be Realistic
Sometimes, marriages go wrong because we have unrealistic expectations from the start. “There was an interesting study that showed the more expensive a wedding, the higher likelihood of a divorce,” Mavrides says. “This is likely because people focus so intently on the idea of marriage and planning their wedding that they don't take the time to make sure they are marrying someone they are compatible with.” If you’re honest about the person you’re with and set realistic expectations about your marriage, you’ll be in a much stronger position. Oh, and marrying the right person definitely helps.
5. Know That Things Change
“For those looking to get married (insert flashing warning light here): the people we marry are not the people we divorce,” Nicole Sodoma, managing principal, Sodoma Law, tells Brides. “People change and not at the same pace or in the way you dreamed when you said ‘yes.’ In fact, there are many people that will be married many times—but to the same person if they can courageously and loyally commit to acknowledging the change and working through it at whatever pace works in their marriage.” How do you cope with both of you changing and evolving? Sodoma suggests seeking advice and help, whether it’s from friends and family or professionals. Talking to other people and getting objective input can make all the difference.
For a relationship to work—and for a marriage to survive—you have to be willing to meet in the middle. “Marriage will be the hardest thing you will do (aside from becoming a parent),” Sodoma says. “Compromise and putting someone else’s interests ahead of yours on a regular basis is not necessarily easy or natural behavior. And, saying SORRY is meaningless unless you know why you are apologizing and will use your best efforts not to rinse and repeat.”
7. Stay Flirty and Playful
One thing that can create distance in a relationship is taking each other for granted; we stop romancing and flirting with each other. “During the courtship phase, it is all about planning fun dates and romantic weekend getaways,” Intelligator says. But then that can easily fade, so it’s crucial to keep it alive. “Whether it is a nice dinner out of the house or a weekend getaway, we experience a change of scenery that not only stimulates conversation but reminds us of our courtship. It reminds us why we decided to spend our life with this person.”
Not only should you keep your relationship full of romantic and sexy sparks, Intelligator also says you should stay silly with each other. “I happen to be a big fan of spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen while dinner is cooking,” she explains. “Believe me. You cannot possibly think about tomorrow’s work deadline when you are jokingly grinding up against your partner to ‘Turn Down for What,’ while the asparagus is roasting in the oven.” Sounds like a good place to start.
8. Be Honest
Finally, make a commitment to be honest with each other. “Honesty is fundamental to a relationship,” Intelligator says. “Without it, there is no trust. And without trust, the relationship falls apart.” Honesty isn’t just about not lying, it’s also about being candid and open about how you’re feeling—rather than withholding information and letting resentments brew. Be as open as you can, as much as you can.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution to making a marriage work, but divorce lawyers have seen them fail time after time because of complacency, a lack of respect, and being too self-involved. Taking the time to connect with your partner, thinking about their point of view, and remembering why you love each other can make all the difference.