In life, a couple doesn't plan a romantic wedding with the expectation of getting a divorce. However, the grim statistic is that almost 50 percent of marriages in America will end in either divorce or separation. If you feel that you need tips to divorce-proof your marriage, we sat down with Jennifer Mullett, a top Virginia divorce lawyer for her love tips and relationship advice to lower the chances of breaking up.
"People don't stay static, you have a different relationship from day 1 to day 3000. You have to remember that at different points in your relationship, you want to be intentional about setting the reset button on positive," says Jennifer Mullett, a top divorce attorney in Arlington, Virginia.
For lasting love tips, Jennifer is one of the best family law attorneys in the industry. In addition, she practices what she preaches in her own happy marriage so she doesn't turn into what she does for a living. As a partner at Mullett Dove Meacham and Bradley with over 20 years of experience, Jennifer has been recognized in publications such as Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, Top Lawyer in Family Law in Washingtonian Magazine and Northern Virginia Magazine.
FamilyApp sat down with Jennifer to pick her brain on the pitfalls that block lasting love. Often, married folks turn to a friend for love and relationship advice. However, a top lawyer sees what causes marriages to actually breakup and what you can do to prevent this.
What is the number one tip for staying together?
Good communication includes listening. Most marriages break down because the couple either stops communicating or cannot communicate effectively. Meaning, they don't make an effort to really hear what the other person is saying. My relationship advice is to learn to listen more
If you're thinking about divorce, what are three things to do to save your relationship before taking that step?
Lasting love takes work. In addition, here are three steps that I recommend before considering divorce.
1) Seek out couples and/or individual counseling early. Don't wait for there to be a complete breakdown in the relationship before you try to repair it. Going to counseling when one party has already announced a decision to separate is often too late.
2) See a family law attorney for a consultation to find out the realities of what a divorce may mean for the family. Many people decide to divorce before understanding the full implications for them and their families (legal, financial, psychological, and emotional). After they are armed with information, couples often choose to make a greater effort to repair their relationship.
3) Acknowledge that if a marriage is breaking down, both people have some responsibility. It is never a completely one-sided problem. Take responsibility for where you have failed in the marriage and work to improve your shortcomings.
What are the deal-breakers in marriage and what quirks can be overlooked?
The "deal breakers" that make it impossible to reconcile a marriage are abuse, drugs, and alcohol. In addition, mental health issues that aren't addressed and are toxic to the spouse and/or children can kill a relationship. Furthermore, conduct that destroys trust between parties such as adultery can break a marriage. However, even in adultery, there are some instances where the relationship can still be repaired, but it requires a very high level of commitment and hard work from both parties to reconcile.
It's important to note that rebuilding trust is also a process that takes a long time and it will not happen quickly. Often, couples can work through almost any other problem. If both people really want to make their marriage work then they actually can make the necessary changes to address the problems.
What do you think married people embody in their communication that divorced couples don't?
Going back to my answer from the top tip of staying together, couples really need to listen to each other and take into account the other person's perspective. The tone of communication between couples heading for divorce is usually about trying to convince the other partner why they are wrong and why you are right. "Winning" the argument is more important than the desire to examine how the other person is feeling.
In addition, there is usually a refusal to acknowledge that the other person may have valid points or that a situation can be viewed from multiple perspectives. In contrast, communication between happily married couples is more collaborative and focused on finding workable solutions and compromise.
What tip can you give for couples that are super stressed about small kids and also, if they are short on money?
Try to keep things in perspective that this is a short-term problem. Also, if you are stressed by young children in addition to limited finance, divorce will make things worse. Moreover, the money issue will be even tighter being a single parent. I would also suggest that people in this situation consider making changes in their lives to lessen the stress by prioritizing what matters to your family. For example, consider moving to an area with a lower cost of living or closer to relatives so you can have more support. Also, consider making a job change to make this happen.
Furthermore, money is a big issue that can tear people apart. Therefore, couples need open communication on how they spend it and if they are savers. You want to be on the same page and evaluate your life together. Ultimately, couples may have to make tough decisions and reevaluate what you are spending to save the marriage.
What's the best tip for staying happily married?
Being intentional about the time you spend with your spouse, with your family, and with yourself. Although, it's easy to fall into the daily grind where one day rolls into the next. You have to be careful that you're just marking time without really taking a pause to enjoy your family and nurture your marriage and yourself. Apart from this, all three buckets are critical of taking care of your marriage, your family, and yourself.
Clearly, couples need to make it a point to carve out quality time together in a meaningful way. Though it may sound really basic, the key to a happy marriage is being happy.
As a divorce lawyer, what's the best tip you have to diffuse a fight with your partner?
It takes two people to have an argument and sometimes the best way to diffuse the situation is simply to not engage in the heat of the moment. Acknowledge the issue and suggest that you try to deal with it at a time and setting when you can discuss it in a productive manner. In addition, I would suggest that you can diffuse a fight by not trying to assign blame. Instead, identify the actual problem and try to focus on finding a workable solution.
We've spoken a lot about problems in a marriage, but are there red flags that non-married couples should look out for before getting married?
I can name three red flags to watch out for before marriage. First, if your family doesn't like your intended spouse, pay close attention because these people care about you and if they have concerns, pay attention. These are the people that know you better than anyone else. Secondly, if you don't feel like you have complete trust in your intended spouse before you marry, then this is likely to lead to more serious problems during the marriage. Lastly, if you believe your intended spouse will change after the marriage in their habits, priorities, views on family, politics, religion, personality traits, ambition (or lack thereof), you are probably wrong.
If any of these things are intolerable before you get married, you should recognize that it's unlikely to fundamentally change. Do not go through the marriage if this is not something you can accept.
What's the number one reason why couples divorce and what can they do to prevent this?
Usually, there isn't just one reason why couples decide to divorce. It tends to be lots and lots of things (some little and some big) that grow over time. These problems culminate in some final event that causes one party to end the marriage. In short, because it is usually lots of seemingly small things that build over time, it is easy to overlook them or not make a big deal. However, one day when it does become just too much and leads to something like an affair, this can do irreparable harm to the marriage.
As far as preventing divorce, be proactive. Consider seeking counseling early on even if you don't think your marriage is seriously in trouble. Also, be honest and open with your spouse about things that bother you before it builds up to the point that makes the relationship intolerable.
What's the best relationship advice you can give?
In addition to good communication, the best advice that I can give for maintaining a successful long-term relationship is to have realistic expectations. By this, I mean that in any marriage, you are not going to be happy every day. There are going to be times when life is hard and when the relationship is strained. You will fall in and out of love with your spouse at different times in marriage. Furthermore, the kind of love you feel for your spouse will not always be the same.
People are not static, they evolve and relationships do too. The relationship you have with your spouse after 30 years of marriage will not be the same as the one you started with and in many ways, it will probably be a lot better, but it will be different. You should expect these changes and embrace them as markers of a long and successful marriage.
Before considering pulling the plug on your marriage, there are many factors to consider. "People think that the grass is always greener, however, it's hard to be a single parent. Ideas that things are going to be better or easier aren't really true. Financially, you take a hit. Divorce lawyers see how people come out on the other side," says Jennifer Mullett.
She goes on to observe that happiness has to come from within and finding what fulfills you without relying on someone else or external forces. She also recommends before diving into marriage to have transparent conversations about money and priorities of life. Jennifer advises going into any relationship with the understanding you can't change another person.
What do the studies show? Studies show that if you want to stay married, hang out with friends who remain married. If a close friend gets a divorce, you are 75 percent more likely to get a divorce yourself according to researchers from Brown University, Harvard University, and the University of California San Diego.
When a close friend gets a divorce, it alerts us to the possibilities, said Helen Fisher, author of “Anatomy of Love” and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute.
“One person starts doing it, and others look at their own lives, and they assess their lives: If he can do it, I can do it,” Fisher said.
So you can strengthen your marriage by hanging out with happily married friends. In addition, if you want to stay married, pay attention. Listen more, and do fun things together that bring you joy. Intimacy takes effort and staying in a happy marriage is worth the work.