There's nothing like seeing couples at their very lowest point to teach you a little something about the value of a healthy relationship—and how not to screw it up. Just as a plumber has awesome advice on how to prevent sabotaging your toilet and shower drain, a divorce lawyer (who sees failed relationships every day) knows the kind of crap that ruins relationships.
To find out what sage relationship advice divorce lawyers have taken away from making a career of helping clients make a break from their partners, we talked to eight lady divorce lawyers.
Here's what they've learned about building a strong, lasting relationship.
THERE'S A RIGHT WAY AND A WRONG WAY TO ARGUE
A HAPPY MARRIAGE TAKES WORK
"I deal with divorcing couples every day, mostly mediating their disputes for them as a family lawyer-mediator. Here's what I know for sure: Divorce is hard! Like 'My world is crumbling' hard. It forces people to realize that (most times) they're choosing it or their actions have played a part in causing it. I come home every day and try to be thankful for the happiness I do have in my marriage and to continue to work at my marriage so it stays happy." —Julia M. Purchase, attorney and mediator practicing in Colorado
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
"My job has taught me the importance of being honest about everything. Be honest about your past and the weight of the baggage you bring to the relationship. Things like debt, child support, unresolved legal issues, paternity issues, medical conditions, parental responsibility all need to be dealt with in the open. Be honest about money and have a concrete system for how finances will be handled in the relationship, preferably before you get married. Be honest about other relationships by setting mutual boundaries concerning same-sex friendships, social media, and relationships with exes." —Judge Lake
DON'T LET LITTLE PROBLEMS FESTER
"Dealing with divorce and custody cases all day has definitely shown me that positive communication is the key to having a healthy relationship. I come home and make sure to talk to my husband about my day and ask about his day, and I always make sure to tell him if there is something on my mind regarding our relationship. Letting problems sit in the back of your brain will only make that problem seem bigger and all consuming, leading to poor communication and ultimately fights, disagreements, and negative communication. I have definitely learned to speak my mind and let my husband know immediately when I am upset about something." —Jana L. Ponczak, Esq., practicing in Baltimore, MD
LET THE LITTLE PROBLEMS GO
"I have been married for over 10 years. I certainly think that I have come to appreciate my own husband more as a partner, a friend, and a father to our three-month-old daughter after having learned of some of the horrendous experiences that many of our clients have dealt with in their marriages. I believe it has made me a more tolerant wife in that I am more willing to look beyond the faults of my husband (which of course, we all have), be more forgiving and accepting, and focus on the big picture of marriage and the life we’ve built together." —Laura Marks O’Brien, Esq., attorney practicing in Fairfax, VA
THE GRASS INS'T REALLY GREENER
"I've seen so many give up on marriage because things feel flat. Many of my clients think there is something better on the other side of marriage. And I often see the disillusionment that results when they realize the grass just isn't as green on the other side as it looked like it was from a distance. Seeing this pattern has helped me focus on the value of pushing through the mundane moments in marriage and being intentional about focusing on all that is positive about my spouse and my marriage." —Shel Harrington, family practitioner and adjunct professor
YOU WANT TO BE HAPPY OR RIGHT?
"When I’m irritated or starting to get upset about what my husband did or did not do (again!?), I ask myself if I’d rather be right or if I’d rather be happy. As I’m picking up that sock of his for the hundred millionth time, I remind myself that if I wasn’t picking up that sock it would mean that he was gone. I’d much prefer he stay here in this crazy household we share, socks and all. " —Anita Savage, Esq.
DON'T USE THE D WORD UNLESS YOU MEAN IT.
"Do not threaten divorce at every turn. I've seen too many clients who'd throw out the 'd word' during every argument or disagreement. Eventually their partner would just get tired of hearing it and call their bluff. Then they're on a one-way street. Don't say divorce unless you really mean it." —Abigail Beebe, Esq., attorney and principal owner of The Law Office of Abigail Beebe, P.A., in West Palm Beach, FL
FINANCIAL INFIDELITY CAN BE JUST AS HURTFUL AS THE OTHER KIND
"I think the most recurring theme in divorce is conflict over money. When spouses value and use money in vastly different ways (for instance, one is a spender and one is a saver), the hard work of marriage becomes even harder and sometimes insurmountable. Be sure you share similar views on how your money will be handled before you get married. Have frank discussions (more than one) with your spouse about money and be honest with him/her and with yourself about what money means to you. Do you like to spend or save? How much debt are you in? What’s the plan to pay it back? Will you both work, and how long do you expect to be working? Where will your income go and who will have access to it? What do you spend money on? What shouldn’t you spend money on? Where do you want to live and how much money will it cost to get you there? What if you or your partner lose their job, what’s the back-up plan?" —Anita Savage
FOCUS ON ALL THE GOOD
"In my experience as a lawyer it's often the silliest of spats that turn into major battles. When you find yourself ready to gripe at your spouse about that irritating thing they do (or don't do) take a breath. Make a mental list of at least three things they do very well and contrast that to the little thing that was your previous focus. Answer the question: Will what I'm about to say benefit our relationship? If the answer is 'no' then don't say it." —Shel Harrington
KEEP YOUR PRIVATE LIFE PRIVATE
"Maintain a sense of privacy in your relationship. Don’t get over-involved in social media and posting things about your relationship. Be respectful of your partner in the things you share with the outside world. Don’t post stuff about your frustrations, even if it’s in a joking way. All that stuff—good and bad—could be used against you in a divorce case. And being conservative about what you post may help you avoid divorce court in the first place." —Valerie Tocci, partner, Stutman Advocate Stutman & Lichtenstein
WORK TOGETHER TO STRENGTHEN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
"My job has also made me aware that a contested divorce takes a major toll on a person, certainly financially, but also emotionally. The litigious process affects nearly every aspect of a person’s life for a prolonged period of up to several years from start to finish. I think this has made me more appreciative of how important it is to work together as a husband and wife to try to overcome obstacles rather than rush to threats of separation or divorce." —Laura Marks O’Brien
DON'T GET TOO BUSY FOR YOUR MARRIAGE
"I've learned that not prioritizing the relationship does not end well. When both spouses are bustling around with children, jobs, extended family, and obligations, there is an assumption the spouses can connect somewhere along the way because they reside in the same location. Often, that is not a valid assumption. It is necessary to be intentional about carving out time. Some of those days may be limited to intentional minutes, but prioritizing that connection is a must. It is unrealistic to think you can put the marital relationship on a back burner during busy years and just pick up where you left off when you finally aren't busy." —Shel Harrington
HIRE A HOUSEKEEPER
"If you fight a lot about household duties, hire a housekeeper and a yard service. It may sound like a luxury but the money you spend for this assistance will be less than marriage counseling and less than a divorce. It will help alleviate growing resentment (which leads to fighting, sometimes daily) about who does more around the house when you are both exhausted after a long day of working and/or raising kids. It also frees up time to enjoy each other." —Anita Savage
SUPPORT YOUR SPOUSE
"Do not hold your partner back in any way. Support him or her, encourage their success, regardless of the endeavor, and be there. This includes: personal goals, professional goals, or anything. Also, don’t limit your partner’s freedom to do things that they enjoy. Do not prevent your spouse from spending time with friends, enjoying a hobby or their job. All of these things need to be present in both spouse’s lives or else it will lead to resentment. " —Abigail Beebe