What causes divorce? As a divorce lawyer for over 20 years, I am entrusted with the most intimate details of the intensely personal stories of my clients. And I am honored and humbled by their trust in me to walk beside them.
And to guide them to safety, security, and what I strive to be a better future for them. I observe and I listen. Because they need me to.
Yet I can’t help but notice that the cause of most divorces is basically the same. But it’s not the explanation for divorce that clients typically describe:
I met someone else. Or he met someone else.
He never listens to me.
She criticizes me all the time.
He’s not affectionate.
She argues with everything I say.
He keeps to himself and doesn’t care whether I’m here or not.
We haven’t had sex in months (or years).
But these are just the symptoms of the real and underlying reason why these marriages fail.
Divorcing spouses have simply stopped talking to each other. For a very long time.
As a result, the marriage has ultimately failed to meet one or both spouse’s needs.
As human beings, we all have the same essential needs:
To be loved and accepted.
To be connected, physically and emotionally.
To be respected.
To be heard and validated.
To be accepted and appreciated.
To be important, needed, and wanted.
So, what can we do to improve our marriages?
How can we get our needs met by the marriage and avoid divorce?
I’m not a therapist. Or a marriage counselor. So, how would I, a divorce lawyer, know what keeps marriages together?
I just recently came across a book written by James J. Sexton, Esq., a prominent New York divorce lawyer, entitled If You’re In My Office It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together.
I’ve started reading this book and it’s fascinating how Mr. Sexton describes his keen and practical insights from years of working with divorce clients. The goal of his book, as he says, “is to help you have a marriage in which the idea of coming to my office would only ever be the most momentary of fantasies when your spouse does something boneheaded.”
What I’ve learned, as well as in my own marriage, is this. The secret to keeping your marriage alive and strong is to give to your spouse what it is that you need. Because in turn, you’ll begin to see your spouse giving that to you.
If you want to be loved, give love.
If you want to be respected, show respect.
If you want to be heard and validated, hear and validate your spouse.
If you want to be accepted, needed and wanted, accept your spouse.
Make it clear to your spouse that you appreciate him or her – and be specific.
What I mean by specific is something like “it really meant a lot to me when you [insert meaningful action.] I know you have a lot on your plate right now and I feel it’s important for you to know how much I appreciate it.”
Generally, for men, however, actions speak louder than words. So, for a husband, appreciation might be shown, for example, by offering an impromptu shoulder massage when he’s particularly stressed out.
By the way, whether you’re the husband or wife, an added bonus of all this appreciation-showing is this. Whatever it is you want your spouse to do more of, point out how much you love it when they do it.
Through it all, I believe the most important thing is to always act with self-respect and integrity. After all:
The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others. ~Sonya Friedman
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