We get relationship advice from therapists, research psychologists, and let's face it, TV talk shows. One profession that knows a lot about relationships, or at least, about how they end, are divorce lawyers. What relationship advice would they give?
To find out, I spoke with Howard Goldstein, a family law attorney in Newton, MA. A "Super Lawyer" according to Boston Magazine, Howard is recognized not only for his expertise in divorce law, but also for his community involvement and teaching.
In your experience, what are the main reasons people seek divorce?
There is no single reason why people divorce. There are a great many cases where the incompatibility is obvious and you wonder why people got married in the first place. I am also saddened frequently because I see two lovely people who have decided to divorce and I am baffled about why they are divorcing. Marriages can survive all kinds of things, including infidelity if the spouses are willing to work at their marriage.
Is it true that women initiate the divorce more frequently?
I've heard about the research that women are more likely to ask for the divorce than men. I don't see it in my practice as much, but I suppose it may be true that women are less willing to stay in unhappy relationships. I hear from my male clients "Yes, our marriage wasn't ideal, but wouldn't have divorced my wife". I don't want to generalize, but to me it seems that men tend to pay less attention to the issues in the relationship that for women are deal-breakers. By ignoring issues men make it harder on their wives to hang in there.
What relationship advice would you give to couples?
In my view, people give up too soon. Often people are unwilling to do the hard work that is required. Marriage is hard work, but people often get married with all kinds of romantic notions about it. They expect love and passion, and don't expect to have to put a real effort into making the relationship work.
People also have a fantasy that life will be better after divorce. So rather than staying and trying to work things out, they might be looking to the divorce as a solution to their problems.
When you say "fantasy", are you implying that it's a false expectation?
Yes. Life doesn't get easier. Divorce can be financially devastating. Let's face it, it's cheaper to live together. People get divorced and all of a sudden, there are two rents instead of one, two sets of bills, two cars, etc. Consequences of the divorce are also very hard on women - single motherhood is very challenging.
But more importantly, people think that life will get easier because they attribute their marital problems to their partner. But then they are surprised that the next marriage falls apart, too. They hadn't worked on the issues that caused them to be unhappy in the first relationship, they didn't own their contribution to why they were unhappy. Let me tell you, happiness comes from inside. Others don't make you happy. Every person is in charge of his or her own happiness.
If it does come to a divorce, what can people do to at least make it amicable for the sake of co-parenting?
I am a big believer in Mediation and in Collaborative Law. Very few cases require litigation. Be very careful choosing a path in divorce. Whatever your reasons for divorcing, if you have children, you will be in each others’ lives for a very long time. Making an enemy during the divorce will create a lifetime of heartache. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and unless your spouse has a serious mental illness or character disorder, be generous with your soon to be ex-spouse and it will pay dividends for you and your children.