If I only knew then what I know now.
Despite my own mistakes, and the many I have seen, I am still a believer in love and commitment. For every client I’ve helped through a messy breakup, I’ve had the privilege of hearing their story. I’ve listened, analyzed and agonized with them (and sometimes on my own time, too) and have learned a few things here and there that we all might want to consider before saying “I do.” And, if it’s too late, if your partner has already filed divorce, I’ve got a few tips for you, too, so that you maintain your integrity throughout your separation in an effort to ‘consciously uncouple.’
1. The communication issues you have in marriage won’t magically go away when you separate. If you’ve got kids to co-parent, counseling post-separation is often far more effective than battling it out in court when there is a disagreement about raising your children. You may have separate lives now, but you’ve still got to deal with the other – and, let’s face it – conflict is just not fun. By now, you’ve learned you aren’t going to change the other person. But it doesn’t mean you can’t find common ground and learn tools to overcome differing parenting styles.
2. Think prenup before a second marriage. Do I sound cynical? Maybe. But at least you’ll begin a conversation that you may never have had in marriage #1. Like whether or not there is an expectation that one or both parties will work. Will savings accounts be considered joint? Is either party bringing debt into the relationship? Will assets be acquired jointly? Will assets that have already been acquired continue to be the separate property of the spouse who purchased them? Compatibility is key for long term relationships and, let’s face it, money management can be a fire starter. Understanding your partner’s financial goals (or lack thereof) is a helpful component of any relationship.
3. Silence is (not) golden. My clients often admit to having been terrible communicators in their relationship. One client told me that he couldn’t remember the last time his wife asked about his day. He took it personally and felt shut out. Be a good conversation partner, thought partner, and laughter partner — and it may strengthen your bond.
4. Issues of your soul matter. One of the biggest breakdowns in the relationships I see is a fundamental difference in moral values. Common beliefs bind people together and keep priorities (like family and money) aligned. It feels good to be part of a ‘team’ and to work together toward a common goal. I’ve found that core values don’t waver, and when my clients have felt ‘compelled’ to change, they’ve ended up resentful and lonely.
5. Don’t take them for granted! Your spouse is not perfect, and neither are you. That’s okay. I’ve seen countless couples reconcile midway through a divorce. The relationships that seem to last (especially after such a difficult ordeal) are the ones where there was truly respect and admiration for each other. Once these couples realized that they could lose their partner, they became committed to the hard work of fixing their marriage because they knew it was worth it. Life without the other just isn’t as sweet.
Follow Erin Levine on Twitter for inspiration, tips and thoughtful divorce advice at @HelloDivorce.