Revealed: 6 Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage
Veteran divorce and family attorney Michelle C. Thomas reveals how you can avoid needing legal services — and what to know if you really have tried everything.
We’ve heard the stories. That many marriages will eventually end in divorce. And that money — and fights about it — are reasons why couples eventually separate.
But while some long-standing sources have noted about 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, the U.S. Census Bureau confirms the U.S. divorce rate has recently declined (along with the marriage rate, but let’s stay focused). Plus, 47 percent of Americans said the pandemic deepened their commitment to their relationship with their spouse or partner, according to the 2020 American Family Survey. These figures hint at hope.
After 18 years of practice, Michelle C. Thomas, divorce lawyer and strategist—and founder of M.C. Thomas & Associates, PC, in Washington, DC—has worked on her share of divorce cases. And while her goals are to “leave people feeling healthy, happy and whole,” she also believes divorce should be a last resort. After all, if you’re currently married, you could stay that way. So we talked about the steps couples can take to avoid ending up at a point of no (legal) return.
Read on as Thomas reveals what you can do to avoid sitting in her chair. And what to do if, after you’ve tried these tips, divorce still is the best option. (Note: If you’re in an abusive situation, your steps will be different. As Thomas confirms: “If you’re in danger, you need to take immediate action to protect yourself and your children.”)
Communicate with your partner. Thomas has watched lots of couples communicate with their partners over the years. And she lists this as her first tip. “Communicate constantly. Communicate effectively. Communicate respectfully. What drives wedges is when you stop talking,” she explains. “You can’t have intimacy with someone if you’re not talking with them.” Consider regular check-ins with your spouse, sharing decisions and discussing how you can both make the marriage better.
Understand your partner’s love language. The book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts is a best-seller for a reason. In this book, author Gary Chapman confirms people can share and receive love in different ways. And, as Thomas agrees, understanding this can help you avoid a divorce. “A lot of time, we love people the way we want to be loved, or the way we think they want to be loved, but not the way they actually want to be loved,” she says. “You have to make sure you’re in tune [with] what lights your partner up.”
Respect your partner’s space and boundaries. Boundaries are big, for many kinds of relationships. And they matter in a marriage. When Thomas thinks about her past clients, she remembers one couple that actually reconciled. “It came after they gave each other space,” she says, noting reconciliation is rare but that it happened in this case after one person moved out.
“When one person starts feeling taken for granted, they then stop doing things. Then the other person gets upset. Then it causes tension. “Before you know it, you’re not talking to each other.”
Space, of course, has been difficult for some people during this pandemic, as we’ve spent more time at home. But as Thomas notes: “It’s important to not smother each other. You need to develop yourself and be a whole person apart from your spouse.” And understand how much space a person needs. And there we are — back to communication.
Show appreciation. Thomas calls this “the big one” and says it’s important to show gratitude to your spouse. Even for the little things. Thomas says she’s found that in most fully functional couples, particularly those married a while, people can begin to take their partners for granted. “When one person starts feeling taken for granted, they then stop doing things. Then the other person gets upset. Then it causes tension,” she explains. “Before you know it, you’re not talking to each other.” And maybe you’re thinking about contacting a divorce lawyer instead. To avoid this more litigious chat, remember this tip.
Be willing to apologize. Have you ever seen those couples who are so wound up that they seem to be at war instead of in a marriage? What if one person took the first step and apologized? “Being prideful is the demise of a lot of relationships,” says Thomas. “Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?”
Get professional help. Thomas also suggests talking to a counselor, pastor or other trusted professional who can help. And she confirms you don’t need to wait until there’s a big problem. Think of this kind of check-in like car maintenance. Or a wellness appointment.
Tips for When You’ve Tried Everything
Still, Thomas notes sometimes divorce is inevitable. And it’s true. Sometimes two people just aren’t a match in a marriage. “If you’ve done all you can to save your marriage, contact a competent divorce lawyer at your earliest convenience so that you can be informed and empowered through the process,” Thomas says.
To find a competent lawyer, she recommends asking for referrals. And asking prospective lawyers how much of their caseload is devoted to divorce or family law, so you can see how familiar they are with these cases.
She also advises being proactive about protecting your financial future. “What that means is gathering as much financial data as possible,” she explains. “It’s really important to be strategic about any impending separation.”
Whatever you choose, talk with a professional for help. “You want to approach [this situation] from an empowered place,” says Thomas, noting there is life after divorce.
So do your best. And see how things go.