The divorce lawyer’s guide to staying married forever: DO have rows, DON’T fret if he’s always running late – and other tips every wife ought to know.
- In the UK an estimated 42 per cent of marriages now end in divorce
- Saying ‘I am sorry’ can clear away a great deal of resentment and hurt
- Couples can drift into bad habits or get taken for granted, or get bored
Between them, Janet Clegg and Hilary Browne Wilkinson have spent decades as leading divorce lawyers refereeing the end of dozens of high-profile marriages worth millions of pounds.
Here, they draw on a wealth of practical and legal experience to offer expert advice on keeping your marriage alive.
As divorce lawyers, we have helped hundreds of people deal with the messy end of relationships – the deep emotional impact, the profound sense of loss and the financial turmoil.
In many cases, divorce occurs not because of some great rift, but because relationships drift into bad habits, get taken for granted or become boring
In the UK an estimated 42 per cent of marriages now end in divorce, with a greater recent rise in marital breakdown among those aged 50-64 than in younger age groups.
In 2012, 13 divorces an hour were granted in England and Wales. But there is nothing inevitable about so many marriages ending this way.
In many cases, divorce occurs not because of some great rift, but because relationships drift into bad habits, get taken for granted or become boring.
We could – and should – try harder to save them. The best divorce lawyers understand not only what can go wrong in a marriage, but also how solid, happy relationships are able to last the distance.
You can’t help but see the pitfalls and that means you can see how to avoid them, too.
WHY SAYING SORRY IS SO IMPORTANT
At our practice, we would marvel at how forgiving people could be. It was rare that one act of infidelity or cruelty would trigger a divorce, and it seemed to us that most people in love tended to overlook or forgive bad behaviour more than they might in friendships or relationships at work.
Happily Ever After…? An Essential Guide to Successful Relationships by Janet Clegg and Hilary Browne Wilkinson
But most people didn’t forget, either, and when the relationship came to an end, it was amazing how many clients could recall so much detail of the hurt they had endured over many years.
In our experience, three little words – ‘I am sorry’ – can clear away a great deal of resentment and hurt.
Be considerate. It may sound trite, but a simple ‘thank you’ and a hug for doing the shopping, listening to work problems or just bringing a cup of tea in bed, really does oil the creaking wheels of a long-term relationship.
TIP: No matter how deep our feelings are for each other, it’s inevitable that we’ll hurt our partners at some stage, whether deliberately or through thoughtlessness. Saying sorry can prevent that hurt from becoming corrosive resentment.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR DANGER SIGNS
Time and again, we saw the following seemingly mundane problems cause a high degree of tension in marriages:
Whether chronic bad time-keeping is a lack of self-discipline, a conscious effort to control a person, or a symptom of just trying to fit too many things into the day, the effect on the punctual partner can be explosive.
At the start, we may be inclined to excuse it as endearingly ditzy, but as a relationship progresses and trains and planes are missed, the beginnings of films and plays are never seen and friends smile grimly as they wait to order food, bad time-keeping can be seen as highly disrespectful and very expensive.
Be in no doubt that infidelity will change the nature of most relationships – and is quite likely to cause its complete breakdown
TIP: Lateness needn’t be a deal-breaker, but don’t passively give in to it, either. Find practical ways to reduce the irritation. For example, leaving tickets at the box office, or travelling separately to the airport or restaurant can relieve stress for the punctual partner.
Tiffs over tidiness
We were amazed at how frequently this came up. To the tidy half of the marriage, dirty pots and pans around the kitchen or clothes strewn around the bedroom were, too often, a visible symbol of contempt and laziness.
On the other hand, the tidy partner’s need to keep chaos at bay at all times could stretch the other’s nerves to breaking point.
If you’re not careful, this argument can become a permanent battleground, with the untidy partner becoming ‘the naughty child’ and the tidy half the ‘nagging parent’.
TIP: We heard of one couple who drew an invisible line down the middle of the bedroom – one half was perfectly ordered while, in the other, chaos reigned.
Both agreed not to comment on the other’s side nor encroach on it. Extreme, perhaps, but co-operation is key.
Solo, not shared, hobbies
A shared love of travel, Civil War reconstructions, paintballing and so on can strengthen and add joy to any relationship.
But what if the hobby is not shared and takes hours of a partner’s spare time away from us and/or costs a lot of money?
What if they’re spending all night playing video games while spending hundreds of pounds on their virtual pastime?
TIP: A willingness to tolerate each other’s traits will help. But be grown-up about it. Don’t expect a partner to give up a hobby, but do expect them to cut back if it’s getting out of hand.
LEARN TO DEAL WITH CONFLICT
In our practice, perhaps counter-intuitively, it seemed to us that some anger and disagreement between couples was necessary in order to keep a relationship energised and moving forward (file photo)
In our practice, perhaps counter-intuitively, it seemed to us that some anger and disagreement between couples was necessary in order to keep a relationship energised and moving forward.
By contrast, indifference between partners usually heralded the end of a marriage.
If we saw a client shrug their shoulders, sigh and say: ‘What can I do? There’s no point in arguing’, it was a sign someone had checked out of the relationship and had neither the will nor desire to maintain it.
Crucially, however, we also saw that it was how couples dealt with conflict, rather than what they argued about, that determined whether the relationship would necessarily end in divorce.
Dysfunctional conflict takes many forms, from screaming and smashing things to refusing to engage, emotional blackmail to childish sulking.
If you can argue without falling prey to any of these bad habits, then you stand a much better chance of working through problems.
TIP: Conflict isn’t always a bad thing. But think about your style of resolving disagreements. Remember, openly humiliating a partner can be as painful and damaging as a physical blow.
MAKE YOUR SEX LIFE A PRIORITY
A lack of sex might seem to signal the end of a marriage, but in our experience, it rarely did.
Only diminishing intimacy combined with other factors might eventually spell the end of a relationship.
We found on many occasions that conflict relating to money, lifestyle or children far outweighed sexual problems.
But what’s going on outside the bedroom has a huge effect on what’s going on inside it.
If you aren’t kind to your partner and you don’t respect them, it’s more than likely your sex life will suffer or even be non-existent.
TIP: There is nothing like contempt or resentment to kill desire.
DON’T ASSUME THAT LOVE CONQUERS ALL
Figures for people admitting to extra-marital sex vary wildly, with some surveys claiming up to 70 per cent of married men and half of married women have had an affair. Infidelity was certainly a common cause of divorce in our practice.
The betrayed spouse is very often at a loss to explain why his or her partner has been unfaithful, and it’s by no means always the case that affairs are all about sex.
In fact, we think the reason why people have affairs is, in the main, irrelevant. It’s how each individual in the couple views infidelity that will determine whether the relationship will collapse.
Some of us may forgive our partner’s infidelity time and again. Others may call an end to the relationship after one incident.
None of us really knows what we might do until we’re faced with the situation, but one thing is for sure: on learning that our partner has been unfaithful, most of us will question every aspect of our life; and trust will be hard to regain.
TIP: Be in no doubt that infidelity will change the nature of most relationships – and is quite likely to cause its complete breakdown.