The best source for marriage advice? Divorce attorneys. Before you protest, just think about it: Every day at work they see the types of marital problems that lead otherwise happy couples to split up.
With that in mind, we recently asked 11 family law attorneys to volunteer their best love and relationship advice. See what they had to say below.
1. A sustainable marriage is not about love, it’s about tolerance.
“Can you tolerate all your partner’s quirks? Even the ones that you don’t like, are they tolerable? Don’t marry your partner thinking that any of his or her quirks are going to change, improve or wane. As we get older, your partner’s quirks will only magnify. So if you can’t tolerate it now, you for sure are not going to be able to tolerate it in the future. Tolerance may not be romantic, but it is the key to a long lasting marriage.” — Melissa B. Buchman, an attorney in Beverly Hills, California
2. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.
“Unfortunately, many couples I see going through a divorce ascribe bad — or sometimes terrible — motives to everything their spouses do. What is the harm in assuming or presuming the best? Even if you’re wrong, it hurts no one. And it may be the start of a better relationship.” —Randall M. Kessler, an attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia
3. Don’t be afraid to feed your spouse’s ego now and then.
“Silly as it may sound, your spouse wants to feel strong, sexy and attractive. I have seen spouses cheat because someone else showed them attention and made them feel good.” — Christian Denmon, an attorney in Florida
4. Put your spouse before your kids.
“This may not be the most popular piece of advice, especially for parents, but after watching countless people get divorced because they allowed themselves to slowly drift apart over the years, I honestly believe it’s true. We are all busy these days. It’s far too easy to put your job, your house, your activities and your kids before your spouse. Don’t do it! While many people believe that their kids have to come first, if they don’t put their spouse first and their marriage eventually sours, it’s not going to be doing the kids any favors. If you value your marriage, choose to put it first.” — Karen Covy, an attorney and divorce coach based in Chicago, Illinois
5. Don’t wait until it’s too late to work on your marriage.
“Work on your marriage while it’s still a good marriage, don’t wait until there’s a problem. ‘Work’ does not have to mean counseling, it can simply be having a set date night once a month.” — Carla Schiff Donnelly, an attorney based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
6. When you need to discuss something important, timing is everything.
“When making a request, decision, criticism or apology, it’s crucial to do it when and where your spouse is at their best: after working out, perhaps, or on Friday night, or after a glass of wine or early in the morning before the kids are up. Ask yourself: Is this really the most constructive setting for my partner to hear what I need to bring up? I marvel at stories from clients about how they tried accomplishing something regardless of their spouse’s readiness to receive it and how shocked and dismayed they were when they got rebuffed or ignored. Bringing stuff up on a Sunday night, for instance, when you know he or she gets the back-to-work blues — or right after work, when you’re both exhausted? Bad idea.” — James Sexton, an attorney based in New York City
7. Know that you can’t change your partner.
“My piece of advice mirrors a quote from Maya Angelou: ‘When people show you who they are, believe them.’ In other words, many of us have this deep-seated desire to change our partners, especially women. This can manifest itself in actions like trying to get them to wear neutral colors instead of bold plaid shirts or attempting to change them from boring in bed to hot in the sheets. The bottom line is, we are who we are and either we accept it or go back on Match.com.” — Lisa Helfend Meyer, an attorney in Los Angeles, California
8. Love is about the little things.
“Marriage is work but worth the effort. Go on dates, speak one another’s love language and cherish the little things. Remember that love looks and feels very different as your relationship changes and evolves.” — Natalie Gregg, an attorney in Allen, Texas
9. Communication really is the cornerstone of every solid relationship.
“When people come to my office wanting a divorce, the stated reasons often have to do with money, sex or ‘growing apart.’ The truth is that in almost every case these complaints are the symptoms that have led them to my office, not the cause. The cause is a lack of regular communication. If couples would make a point of setting aside time to talk about what is going on with each of them, to communicate their real feelings, I think that far fewer of them would end up in a divorce lawyer’s office.” — Fred Silberberg, an attorney based in Beverly Hills, California
10. Be an active listener.
“Listen to each other when you fight. I mean, really listen. Try to understand your partner’s point of view and even if you don’t agree. Acknowledge how they feel, validate their opinion and show them that you care.” — Jason Levoy, an attorney and divorce coach in New York City
11. Marriage doesn’t get easier the second or third time around.
“When a client says, ‘I am so tired of him or her and their sloppiness, overspending, drinking, their kids or their stinginess,’ I tell them, ‘don’t think that it gets any easier with the next person.’ Marriage is hard work and if you can’t do the work, don’t get married. The second (or third) time is not any easier than the first, in fact, it’s usually harder.” — Georgialee Lang, an attorney based in Vancouver, Canada
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