Recently I ran across a post on Forbes from just before Valentine’s Day, and it struck me as really interesting. The writer offers compiled relationship advice from divorce lawyers. There are 15 total contributing to the article, and each has offered a single nugget of advice.
Some of these are exactly what you would expect from divorce lawyers – reminders to “sign a prenup” and make sure you have “a credit card of your own.” Of course divorce attorneys would recommend that you focus on protecting your money!
But others are surprisingly similar to many of the tips that I routinely share. They just happened to be filtered through the lens of people who assist couples in separating on a regular basis instead of trying to help keep them together.
Here are just a few of the places where I was surprised to find common ground.
“Don’t think you can change the other person. You can’t.” Many of us spend all kinds of time in relationships thinking that things would be better if only our partner would do X (or stop doing X). But the only true change that you can make happen is an internal one. Work on yourself and what you can do differently or better, and you may be surprised to find that your relationship with your partner improves for both of you.
“Be judicious with social media.” This one is spot on. It not only hits on the idea of spending time with each other instead of losing yourself in digital socialization, but also addresses the truly serious problem that some people seem to have with broadcasting the personal details of their relationship with the world (and often essentially taking marital fights online). A healthy, serious long term relationship between two people should be just that – between two people.
“Synchronize.” What does that mean? That often fights occur because of forgetfulness, omitted information, and communication snafus. The best way to avoid this is to make sure both of you are in the loop and have the same information – in other words, that you’re synchronized. The lawyer suggests using calendaring apps and sharing lists that automatically update for both of you.
“Put the sweatpants down.” A pretty straightforward and universal piece of advice, but one that all long-term couples need to remind themselves every once in a while: sex and intimacy are incredibly important. Both of you need to make an effort for each other.
One of the great parts of being with someone for years – or even decades – is that you can metaphorically let your hair down. You know each other. There’s an invaluable level of comfort. But over time, this can cause us to stop going out of our way to attract our partner or make them feel like they are attractive to us. After all, we already got them, right? They should just know how we feel. That may be true, but if you don’t stoke the fire, eventually it can go out.
“One very sure way to doom your relationship is to ignore your respective financial habits and goals.” This doesn’t mean that you have to be entirely on the same page with how you handle money and what you want out of life, but it does mean that you should understand and respect one another’s values and goals. That way, you can come up with a plan that makes both of you feel happy and secure – and you won’t be completely blindsided when you discover that your spouse’s retirement plan involves betting on horse racing or collecting and selling Beanie Babies instead of maxing out 401k contributions.
“Don’t underestimate the power of household chores.” I know one couple where it drove the husband crazy that his wife put her dirty clothes on the floor instead of into the proper laundry baskets, and another where the wife hated her husband’s seeming inability to remember to close the blinds. In the grand scheme of things, these are obviously small issues, but when your partner does the same frustrating thing over and over, sometimes they don’t seem small when they’re happening.
I recommend that every couple come up with a chore list and talk openly about their likes and dislikes so they can fairly divide tasks. The discussion should also involve sharing pet peeves (in a calm, respectful manner) and devising a plan to overcome them together.
“Make couple time a priority at least once a week.” If you have kids or particularly time-consuming or stressful careers, it can be hard to regularly spend time together as a couple, but spouses who neglect each other may not be couples for long.
This is kind of a “sister tip” to making an effort, but doesn’t have to involve sex or physical intimacy. It means having a date night, going for a walk together, enjoying a relaxing bath as a couple, or even just setting aside time to hang out and talk. The important point is that it’s just the two of you and you’re focused on each other.
“DECIDE you are going to be happily married.” A nice summation of all the advice, this divorce lawyer argues that it’s up to you to make the choice to be happy. How so? Because you are the one who chooses whether or not you’re going to take the time and effort necessary to prioritize your marriage. Do this, and you can be sure that you will have a happy, healthy, and long-lasting relationship. Let other things take precedence, and you may find yourself in need of a divorce lawyer’s help!
But just because you’re struggling through a rough patch doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It’s those that fight for their relationships that last – and seeking professional help can be an important part of that.
In fact, choosing the right therapist may be one of the most important decisions of your life – the wrong choice can hurt more than help – so treat it like you would if you were searching for a doctor to handle a medical condition. You’d want to find someone who specializes in handling that specific medical condition. Many therapists claim to “handle” couples or even “specialize”, but take the time to interview them. How much of their practice is actually working to strengthen couples’ relationships? What’s their success rate? How deep is their knowledge in this area?
The Houston Marriage Counselor has specialized in couples for almost 20 years, with a practice that’s over 80% couples, and continues to serve as the Chairman of Imago Relationship International’s Committee on Professional Training and Standards.