I see new clients at 10am and 2pm every day, about 50 weeks per year. I am privileged to have prospective clients come in my office and pour out their hearts explaining issues that have become problems in their marriage. They tell me they are considering divorce and ask me for advice on how to proceed. Should they go to counseling? Should they separate? What should they do?
I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m not a therapist by trade, but in 22 years of practicing family law, I do see come common threads that may be helpful if you are considering divorce.
Many couples have a difficult time finding quality time together. While children are a wonderful addition to any family, they make allocation of “couple time” difficult. Work responsibilities and schedules also add to the complexity of the issue. Without time set aside for “one on one” time, couples drift apart and the focus becomes strictly on accomplishing the growing list of things that must be done in each 24 hour period. “She doesn’t have time for me” is a common complaint. Or “He doesn’t prioritize romance in our relationship”. I frequently suggest setting aside one night a week for “date night”. Get a babysitter or relative to come to your house and keep the kids so when you get home, they are asleep. It does not take spending money – dinner and a movie is overrated. Get creative… pack a picnic dinner, find a campsite and watch sunset over Sam Rayburn. Or take up a sport together – tennis, golf, fishing or hunting. And stay faithful to your commitment to the time – don’t cancel on each other. It’s actually good for the children to know mommy and daddy prioritize their time together.
In my opinion, sharing intimate time together is not a prize you give to each other when everything is perfect in your relationship. If it was, it would rarely come to fruition. Intimacy is the life blood of a good marriage. It carries the oxygen to each organ to sustain it. It removes impurities and fights infection. It’s difficult to give yourself to your partner when you’re having a “tiff”; but the exercise of a healthy sexual relationship will help put problems in perspective and may minimize the conflict. Conceptually, you love each other no matter what, right? Put that commitment into practice – and make it fun.
The converse is true of sharing intimacy with third parties within a marriage. Some couples are able to work through the issue of a third party relationship, but if you are having problems in the marriage, make every effort to work through those problems or make a decision to divorce before starting a relationship with another person. Approximately 75% of the people who come to my office for divorce are already involved in a relationship with someone else. This causes their decision about whether to divorce to be even more complicated because they have an affinity for the new person. The issue is then about choosing between your spouse and the new person instead of determining whether the marriage can be reconciled.
Physical abuse by spouses is rampant. I am shocked at the people who confide in me that they are the victims or perpetrators of family violence. Contrary to common belief, this is not gender or socioeconomically specific – women and men from rich to poor suffer from hitting, slapping, choking or rape within a marriage. There is no middle ground to this issue – it cannot be tolerated. Sadly, it is passed along generationally. Partners whose parents abused are likely to do the same. Counseling with a qualified professional is the only hope of reconciliation and immediate separation is usually recommended until the risk is minimized. Reporting to the police may also help to put an immediate stop to the behavior until behavior modification techniques can be put in place. If for no other reason than to prevent your children from making the same bad choices in the future, whether you are the abused or the abuser, seek professional help to rectify the situation. If that is not possible, divorce may be inevitable.
As many of you know, my husband of 32 years passed away in November 2017 and so many people have asked me to share the “secrets” of our happy marriage. My response is this: there are no secrets. It’s not magic, just mindful willingness to prioritize each other. Learn from your past mistakes, commit to spending time and… most importantly, have fun together!