As lawyers, we typically give legal advice on the procedures that occur once a divorce is filed, but we can also share what we have learned from thousands of failed marriages in the hopes that the next couple can avoid a divorce. The obvious first step to take to minimize the conflict in a divorce is to avoid a divorce all together. If divorce is unavoidable, Part 2 of this series will discuss steps you can take to minimize the conflict once the divorce is filed and resolve your case outside of the courtroom.
1. Finances. Many marriage failures start with financial disagreements, and, it is widely considered to be the leading causes of divorce in this country. Financial disagreements often lead to stress, resentment and anger. These stressors often manifest themselves in other ways, such as adultery (not trying to excuse the behavior).
What is a solution? Financial counseling. Both the husband and the wife need to go into the counseling with open minds and a desire to hear how they can improve themselves. An excellent course on marital finances is Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. About two years ago, I had a potential intake come to me discussing his "problems" because his wife was spending all "his" money.
I immediately told him that the problem was a two-way street.
Even if he was not the spender in the relationship, he was just as much at fault as she was because of his outlook on the situation and how he expressed his dissatisfaction to his wife.
I recommended Financial Peace University to him. There are other courses out there, but FPU is the one with which I am most familiar. They took the course together, and, two years later, they are still married and reportedly on the same "financial" page. It all boils down to communicating with each other in a way that you can develop a budget together that works to achieve your ultimate financial goals.
2. Failure to communicate. Failure to communicate can affect every aspect of a relationship. Some of this failure is not just the words that are used, but the timing. Discussing issues with your spouse when you are angry is never good. If you are upset about something, wait until you have had a chance to cool down to avoid saying something you will regret later.
Even if you are justified in your position, a failure to effectively communicate your frustration results in your spouse putting up their defenses rather than listening.
A good time to discuss your relationship is in marriage counseling. There is absolutely no shame in going to marriage counseling. Even if you believe your marriage is good, your spouse may not. I cannot tell you how many people have come into my office with the look of shock on their faces after being served with divorce papers.
They thought their marriage was good and had no idea why their spouse wanted out. There are many books out there that explain why one person can think things are great, but the other person may feel unloved.
A great book that I have found is "The Five Love Languages" by Dr. Gary Chapman. If your spouse comes to you and says he or she is not happy, stop whatever you are doing and listen. If you don't understand why they are unhappy, don't argue with them. Just tell them that you need help in understanding the problems and suggest counseling immediately.
3. Failure to maintain the romance. While the two previous sections often lead to this failure, I have had many cases of long-term marriages where the parties simply drifted apart from one another. They worked together to build a large portfolio of wealth, raised successful children, but they did not continue to work on their marriage. Often these divorces are fairly amicable, but they are still avoidable. In talking with many of these parties, it became clear that the common thread was that they became complacent in their relationship and focused all of their time together on raising their children.
My recommendation is to always carve out time for your relationship, even if it means maintaining a bi-monthly date night.
Patrick "Leh" Meriwether is happily married, a Cherokee County resident, and has been a partner in the law firm Meriwether & Tharp, LLC for 13 years. He is a certified mediator and arbitrator. His practice focuses primarily on Family Law and Divorce. His firm posts information weekly about different areas of family law on the firm's blog, www.atlantadivorceattorneyblog.com.