Why on earth would anyone listen to a divorce attorney’s advice on marriage? After all, isn’t it the lawyer’s job to help end a marriage?
I’ve had many years experience assisting people reach divorce agreements and litigating clients’ cases in the courts. And because of this I’ve been privy to quite a few details illustrating what goes wrong in these relationships. I’ve observed that the common thread in virtually every situation is that the couple has lost touch with each other.
Most of us take better care of our car than our marriages. (I was certainly guilty of that myself. It was one of the major reasons my own, first marriage broke up almost 20 years ago.) We know regular maintenance keeps our vehicle running smoothly. If it’s all tuned up with air in the tires and gas in the tank, we can depend on it to get us where we want to go. But when it comes to the most important relationship in our lives, we tend to think it will take care of itself with minimal effort and little attention. But, our marriages deserve at least as much attention as our vehicles if we expect them to help carry us throughout a lifetime.
Unfortunately, so many couples in my family law practice have lived the majority of their lives together, before deciding to get divorced. These are people in their mid to late 50s or early 60s with retirement just around the corner. How do long-married people wind up like this? Sadly, these marriages are like neglected cars. They’ve got broken fan belts, flat tires, rusted underbellies and dead batteries.
The Lucky Ones
My wife and I were in Dahab for a long weekend recently and ran into a young couple we know quite well. Chaya* and Sruli* were there, checking out a local hotel to see if it was suitable for their Passover holiday plans.
Chaya, who is 27, grew up as a Belz Chassid. Her husband was raised in the Peleg, Yerushalmi Chassidic sect. They had each decided to go against the directives of the Rabbis of their communities and get a secular education and jobs in the ‘outside’ world. Both were disowned by their families once they made these choices even though they remained observant. As a matter of fact, their outward appearance when they join us for Shabbat, often elicits questions from our synagogue friends. Sruli has continued his family’s custom of wearing his bekishe ( long black coat) on the Sabbath and our friends want to know how this kid (who is clearly not our son) is connected to us.
Since we met them 4 years ago, we’ve become like an aunt and uncle. We are a big part of their connection to the “real world,” and have advised them on a number of occasions. And sometimes we have acted as trusted counselors and friends with regards to marital issues and issues between them and their nuclear families.
Chaya told us that she and her husband felt like the lucky ones. “Most of the people we know, who have left our communities” she said, “have gotten divorced. And for those who have left a religious life, the number goes up to about ninety percent.”
I don’t know if Chaya’s exact numbers are correct. But I’ve seen them reflected in my own practice.
Even a Vintage Car Can Be Restored
One gentleman actually took this divorce attorney’s advice on marriage even though he came to me for a divorce.
Imagine my surprise when an 82-year-old man contacted me, wanting a divorce from his wife of more than 50 years. He was an American immigrant and as we began our chat, he asked if I was Ashkenazi. When I told him I was, he said, “Listen, I don’t want to sound racist, but you have to understand how different Sefardic Jews, like my wife, are.”
I explained that I understand all too well the challenges for two people from completely different cultures building a life together. My wife and partner of 17 years is Moroccan. “But, didn’t you realize those differences 35 or 40 years ago?” I asked him. “What has happened that you feel like you want to leave her now?”
I learned much more about his circumstances and realized this couple may not actually want a divorce. In the end, I got in touch with one of his sons, with the gentleman’s permission, of course. I told him to get his mother back home and to get his parents some counseling. As far as I know, he did just that because the elderly gentleman has not been back in touch with me.
A Divorce Attorney’s Advice on Marriage
I believe most of us don’t give enough attention to the differences in the ways we and our spouses grow through the years. That’s when marriage is like a car without regular maintenance. If attention isn’t given to all the moving parts, they can’t work in tandem to get you where you want to go.
I explained to Chaya that when a couple has kids, they spend the majority of their interactions around child related issues. They very often tend to ignore their own relationship. So, people who were two peas in a pod in the first ten years of their marriage may find that they have nothing in common anymore.
“What should we do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to us?” Chaya asked.
Obviously, I am not a marriage counselor. But, through my personal experience and my family law practice I have learned some valuable lessons. And there is one big change I made in my marriage, this second-time round, that has had an enormous, positive affect on our lives.
Date Night is Crucial
As I told Chaya and Sruli, the high price of going out and/or hiring a babysitter throughout a marriage is still a lot less than the price of a divorce – no matter how long you’ve been married. So even if you don’t have kids but especially if you do, designate a date night where the two of you actually leave the house and your regular routine behind. These date nights are an extremely valuable way to strengthen your relationship.
There are countless things you can do together – from a simple walk, to going out for dinner and seeing a movie. Discuss what each of you would like to do when you’re planning your date night. Share your ideas for a fun, relaxing time. Then PLAN IT and DO IT!
This precious time each week is just for the two of you. The goal is to decompress from the everyday pressures of child rearing and life in general. Take the opportunity to ask your partner how they’re doing and feeling and then listen and ask questions so you can really understand. Share your own thoughts and feelings. If you share a hobby, do that together. Talk about what you’re reading. It doesn’t really matter what you do. Just do it together. There is something very special about seeing someone you love enjoy themselves. And the calm you both feel after these relaxed hours will carry you through the coming days. Until the next date night.
Marriage Maintenance Commitment
One absolutely can not overestimate the value of this time spent together. Our kids are adults now and we’re empty nesters, but we still love our date nights! And, in addition, for years we’ve been spending a half hour every evening just sitting together on our balcony in the fresh air. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we just enjoy the quiet.
So take a divorce attorney’s advice on marriage. Treat your marriage like a car. Commit to those date nights! Consider it your weekly tune up. You’re checking the tire pressure; realigning the wheel suspension; filling it with fuel. When you experience the hum of the smoothly running engine you know it will get the two of you where you want to go.