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Family law attorney Joryn Jenkins offers tips on making a marriage work and how to avoid common relationship pitfalls.
As a family law attorney, I meet with many men and women who have made the hard decision to divorce. Having worked with people from all different backgrounds and age groups, it takes a lot to surprise me; I’ve witnessed just about every reason for separation.
While there’s nothing funny about divorce, my friends jokingly say that I’m qualified to be a relationship expert because of the clients I’ve helped through the process. It’s true. Time and again, I’ve seen what makes a marriage thrive, but also what makes a marriage fall apart.
Here are 11 relationship tips I’ve learned from my time in family law.
Before getting married:
1. Understand that your spouse-to-be will not change
My clients often share that they were aware of their spouse’s flaws prior to getting married. About 95 percent of the time, they believe the behaviour will change. It’s important to realize that your spouse will not change, and, in fact, character imperfections will likely worsen—or become more apparent—over time. Determine if you can live with your partner’s personality quirks forever—before you tie the knot.
2. Choose a partner who shares your financial views
Money is the most common cause of divorce. Couples often have wildly differing philosophies about how to handle finances and, once married, it can be difficult to harmonize separate value systems. If you choose a partner who shares your views on money management, investment strategy and household budgeting practices, you’ll be that much farther on the road of compatibility.
After the wedding:
3. Recognize that marriage is hard work
Begin your marriage with the idea that you will work together on “being married” every day. Being married is a work in progress and it is work. Address problems when they arise instead of waiting for tension to escalate into an argument that explodes between you. Don’t forget the little things that attracted you to your spouse in the beginning, especially when you’re managing a time of conflict. You may see each other every day, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to appreciate one another.
4. Go to a marriage counsellor regularly
Don’t wait for a fight to break out before seeking help from a marriage counsellor. This step should not be an admission of failure; it should be like signing up for guitar lessons or Tae Kwon Do. A marriage counsellor can assist couples in developing communication, problem-solving and co-parenting skills and can help resolve issues before they do real damage to the relationship.
5. Decide to grow together
Many people marry before solidifying their views on important issues. Before tying the knot, take classes on spending, child rearing, religion or any other sensitive topics. Get educated together. When you’re on the same page, the two of you can decide how to handle complex issues before they come up.
6. Ensure that you both have the same day off, once a week
Maintaining a strong relationship takes time together. Sleep in one morning a week to cuddle and talk in bed. If you have to brush your teeth, get up and brush and then get back in bed. Catch up on the week, vent about work or share a funny story. Lock the door. Connect. No kids allowed.
7. Share a hobby
You don’t have to share all of the same hobbies, but it is important to share some of them. Run marathons, play golf, watch movies or play music together. Whatever interests you share, engage in them as a couple. If you don’t share an interest, fake it until you do.
8. Shower or bathe together
My husband and I installed a double-headed shower, and at least twice a week we shower at the same time. It’s a great time to plan and discuss matters out of earshot of little ears. When my associate was growing up, her parents bathed together every night. She and her husband now do the same. This practice is easy to add to a busy schedule (everyone needs to bathe or shower,) and it’s a terrific way to unwind together.
As time goes on:
9. Never stop having sex
Sex is the one thing that most couples share that they don’t share with anyone else. As a married couple, you depend on one another to meet this need. Even if you are tired, not in the mood or not even attracted to your spouse in that moment, strive to make sex a regular part of your relationship.
10. Know that the grass isn’t greener
While it may be tempting to explore a connection with a new, exciting person, remember that everyone comes with his or her own set of flaws. Not only that, the turmoil that an affair brings is often not worth the excitement; most people aren’t any happier once the dust settles. Practise being happy with the one you’ve committed to. Actively work together to remember why you chose each other.
11. Don’t give up too soon
Remember that you vowed to be together “for better and for worse,” and sometimes it’s a “for worse” period. It’s possible that the good times will return if you weather the storm together and don’t jump ship.
Think divorce is still the right course for you?
These articles might offer a little insight:
Helping your kids through your divorce
How to introduce your kids to a new partner after divorce
Boomerang couples: How to reconcile after divorce
Joryn Jenkins is a trial attorney with 35 years of courtroom experience. Now she concentrates on the collaborative practice of family law at a private practice. Ms. Jenkins received her B.A. degree from Yale University and her J.D. from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.