Who knew you could get some good marriage counseling advice from a divorce lawyer?! Well, apparently there’s some wisdom that’s gained from being the final stop when a marriage hits the point of no return.
In his book “If you’re in my office it’s already too late”, James J. Sexton esq. imparts some important learnings from his years of negotiating and drafting the final piece of paper any couple thought they’d be signing after their marriage certificate.
Here are the two key takeaways that I'd like to share with you:
1. Don’t wait to get divorced to find yourself.
Remember when you start a new relationship, you each have your own lives, passions, interests, and ambitions. You are curious and titillated, wanting to know more about this whole life your love-interest has created for him/herself: "I love going on hikes and connecting with the deeper spiritual side of myself" or "I went through x, y, z, and then I finally landed this amazing job where I feel like I can make a real difference in the world" or "I'm taking these creative classes on the side because I find that they allow me to express myself in a way that I can't otherwise." You get the picture.
..... And then you get married, join your lives, bank accounts, hobbies, interests. Losing track of where you end and the other begins. Before you know it, there no “me” in “us.” And that feels ok when you are getting along and all is still lovely, but once bitterness seeps in, then you begin to blame your partner for giving up everything that made you, you. I see that in my practice all the time. Remorse and bitterness for all that was left behind of ourselves.
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be like this. You don't have to stop being yourself and continuing to move forward in your own life. You don't have to give up all of the elements that allowed you to be this interesting and multi-layered person. Part of what happens when your relationship begins to fall apart is that you stop enriching your individual lives outside of the marital dynamics. You fall into a state of enmeshed familiarity and eventually lose interest in each other. This in part can become the catalyst to affairs -- the desire to reconnect with the parts of you that made you unique, enjoying the pleasures of having someone be interested in you again ("tell me more about your creative writing"), and the excitement of meeting someone new that you want to know everything about -- just like things first began in your current relationship.
So don't be afraid to ask for what you want: "I need 2 hours every week to work on my creative writing" or "Once a month, I need a day to go on a hike and meditate." This is not an act of selfishness; it's a statement of your self-worth and the importance you give to your marriage in order to keep it alive.
2. Stay connected to your spouse/partner and communicate openly & frequently
You don't have to wait until you're secretly researching divorce lawyers or the legalities of separation to take stock of your marriage. There are many myths about couples counseling, one of which is, only couples that are on the brink of separation go to therapy. That simply is not true and should not be the pre-requisite to seeking the expertise of someone like myself.
I urge you to step back from your marriage every few months and check-in with each other. I know some couples who see a marriage counselor once every 3 months. Not because something is wrong; instead it's to have the time and space to safely assess where their marriage is at that time. Like meeting with a financial adviser, checking-in on your marital portfolio, if you will, is not an indication that there is a problem in your marriage. On the contrary, it's a testament that your marriage is important to you and that you want to grow your portfolio/assets together.