What does a divorce lawyer know about saving marriages? You might be surprised. After so many clients, I’ve pin-pointed four relationship pitfalls that couples need to address if they want to avoid a seat at my desk:
1. The Sex Cycle
“Luke and Meg” sat across from one another in my office. A striking young couple, they met me for their first session of divorce mediation. They both agreed mediation would be better for their two-year-old son Josh. Less than thirty-minutes into the session, I could pin-point where their marriage had broken-down: sex. Or, rather, lack of sex and intimacy since the child was born.
Meg, a first-time mom, was so attached to the child that she had systematically (unwittingly) distanced Luke from the intimacy they once shared as a couple. Meg claimed only she could properly comfort and parent their son. Meanwhile, Luke’s confidence in his abilities to parent was broken: nothing he did was good enough, so he stopped participating in parenting. This further divided them — and was certainly no recipe for romance! They were caught in a cycle that led to the death of the marriage.
Meg now asked for everything in the divorce, and Luke gave it to her, out of guilt because he wanted to feel appreciated (and frankly, get laid!).
2. Clash of the Titans: Stunted Communication
Opposites attract, until they don’t. “Angie and Marco” were both strong-willed and passionate about life. Marco confided that he used to love Angie’s passionate ways, until ten-years into the marriage when everything became a fight. The couple had failed to grow and develop ways to positively communicate. One night, Angie called the police and Marco was arrested. He spent the night in central booking – a dirty, crowded public lock-up. After that Angie desperately tried to call Marco and reconcile. But the damage was done and he wouldn’t consider counseling.
But some clashes can’t find a middle ground, especially if the couple hasn’t worked on communication skills actively during the marriage. Stunted growth and inability to tackle arguments in a positive way are problems that kill a marriage.
3. Failure to Listen
A client, I’ll call him “Bill,” swore to me that “his marriage was fine,” but then his wife slapped him with a restraining order to stay away from her. When he called to talk to her about it, Bill (unwittingly) violated the order and ended up under arrest – for violating a court order, as well as harassment for the phone call. “She didn’t have to do this,” he moaned. “If she wanted a divorce, she could have told me; we could have done this in a friendly way.” But, in reality, he hadn’t listened to her requests for counseling or divorce, until the cops got his attention.
Another couple, “Frieda and David” who I attempted to mediate some years ago, might have avoided their divorce had they developed listening skills. By the time I met with them, David insisted that his son and (soon-to-be ex-) wife were Jewish; Frieda insisted that she and the child were Muslim. Frieda had converted to Judaism before the marriage (she said as a “formality to appease his family”) and now she renounced it. David hadn’t listened back when the marriage started or he would have better understood her reasoning. Had I been able to help them, I would now have the secrets to peace in the Middle East.
4. Eroding Self Esteem
“Julia” was a career professional and mother of two. Her husband told her she was fat (… she weighed 110 lbs soaking wet). He told her she was stupid and ugly (… she was a Greek goddess with an MBA). Her husband told her no one would look twice at a woman with kids. Enter a co-worker who professed that he found her to be the most beautiful and interesting woman he’d ever met. And she was in my office the next day.
Perhaps Julia’s husband had low self-esteem and was trying to erode Julia’s confidence because he was scared of losing her. Or maybe he was just a jerk. Either way, Julia confided that she stayed with him too long because she believed his view of her.
Marriage should allow each person to lift and support the other to be their best. Once that stops happening you are in for trouble.
Have any tips about pitfalls that couples fall into? Did one cause your divorce? Share your thoughts in the comments.