By Tonya Graser Smith
What are the signs a marriage is headed for divorce?
I get asked this all the time. Last month, Woman’s Day Online posed the question and then quoted me in its story, “15 Surprising Traits That Make Couples More Likely to Divorce.” What a thrill, particularly because I was quoted alongside, Vikki Ziegler, divorce attorney, author of “The Pre-marital Planner: A Complete Legal Guide to a Perfect Marriage” and star of the Bravo reality TV show “Untying the Knot.” Not only is Vikki’s show entertaining, but she’s an extraordinarily talented, compassionate and committed professional who brings to TV many of the issues I often confront with my clients.
I hope you’ll give the article a read. It caused me to reflect one of the questions I hear the most. Here are further thoughts that came to mind.
Identifying the three red flags
I see three major themes for why people divorce – financial disagreements, lack of shared goals and interests, and addiction issues. Addiction issues come in all forms, most frequently alcohol, drugs, gambling, and compulsive spending. These are the core problems that can breed more debilitating marital realities, like infidelity and mistrust.
Steering clear of the big D
The answer for steering clear of these red flags is simple in theory, harder in practice. Communicate. Talk. Talk. Talk. It’s everything. Talk about things you may not want to talk about. And, of course, you must listen. When listening, focus on what is or isn’t important to your spouse. Even ask him or her, what is most important to you? And why?
All of my grandparents and aunts and uncles used to say, “Don’t go to bed mad.” But like many, I’ve gone to bed mad. But the point of the adage is not to let something linger for very long. Be willing to address it. Be willing to talk with and listen to your spouse.
When couples don’t commit to communication, over time they drift apart. They have his and hers activities and his and hers lives. They wake up one day feeling like roommates who no longer even like each other, much less remain in love with each other.
Talking through issues with trained marriage and relationship counselors – before and during marriage – is essential to keeping many marriages on track. They are pretty much essential when dealing with the trickiest of issues, such as addiction.
A neutral third party can help you have constructive conversations when you are finding it hard to talk at all. Trust me, you’d rather hire a marriage counselor than a divorce attorney. Sadly, by the time I get the call, it’s often too late; the marriage is likely over.
Making time for each other
You don’t have to do everything together, but you do have to make time for each other. You should want to do some things together. Make time for it. Plan for it. It gets harder after you have kids. It also becomes even more essential. You have to have a life together outside of your children. Or else what happens after they leave the nest?
So plan some date nights. Go out to dinner and, for an added challenge and extra credit, stay off your cell phones the entire time. Pick a TV series you both want to see and watch it together. Share with each other dreams for your future together.
The fact is marriage is supposed to last a lifetime. That was the vow. But how can you uphold it if you don’t communicate and put in the time?