New York City divorce lawyer James J. Sexton has faciliated the demise of over 1,000 marriages. “There is almost no story, no matter how sordid, that can surprise me,” he notes.
Without purporting to have any formal education in what makes a relationship thrive, he recently published a book (If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together) in which he shares what he has observed makes relationships fall apart irretrievably.
In this abridged and edited version of an article in Psychology Today, Sexton shares ways to divorce-proof a marriage and maintain connection to one’s spouse.
1. Be a cheerleader for your spouse.
Be a voice of support and encouragement for your spouse: a shelter in the storm of disparagement and criticism. Be a cheerleader for the small things s/he is doing well. Resist the temptation to compare your spouse to an imaginary ideal you’ve created in your head, or what romance films have told you a “perfect” spouse would look and act like.
2. Realize that nobody can do everything.
Resist the temptation to focus your energies and communications on the ways your spouse has “failed” you by not meeting 100% of your needs 100% of the time. Love is not binary, and not every virtue and vice in your relationship is equal. Reject the idea that if a marriage isn’t perfect, it sucks. A spouse who meets many of your needs much of the time is a massive win.
3. Recognize that equity, not equality, is the goal of marriage.
Marriage gives you a myriad of opportunities, day after day, to show small affections and acts of kindness to another person. Avoid the “stress competition”; if your needs aren’t being met at any particular moment, it’s not going to improve the situation if your spouse’s needs aren’t met either.
Pay it forward. Extend a kindness or a compliment. Let your own needs take a back seat from time to time, and give your spouse the kind of selfless support and encouragement you would extend to a close friend.
4. Have sex with your spouse.
We all want to be sexually attractive to our spouses. We want to know and hear from our spouse, if not in word, then in gesture or body language, that we are still desirable and sexually exciting to them. We want more than a spouse who is willing to have sex with us; we want a spouse who wants to have sex with us. Honestly discuss sex with your spouse, and share with him or her how your needs and desires may have changed as time passes.
5. Remember that you could get divorced.
One of the best and fastest ways to ruin a marriage is to think that just because you’re not talking about divorce, you’re never going to end up in my office. Your spouse’s love wasn’t permanently and irrevocably gifted you when you walked down the aisle. It was loaned to you. We tend to handle things more carefully when we remain conscious of the fact that they are fragile.