My name is Jennifer Smith, I have practiced family law for over 12 years, I have been divorced three times (yes, that is not a typo) and I am getting married again in 2016! I often get the question – you are a divorce attorney, why are you getting married? Because, although I see the ugly side of divorce way too often, I also see what folks do wrong and learn what I can do to be a better spouse. I have looked at my prior marriages as well to learn what I could have done better. I am a believer that it takes two to divorce; it is very rare to have one perfect spouse who is involved in a divorce. Below, I am going to set out the things I did that I feel contributed to my divorces and how I intend to do things differently with number 4:
Marriage Number One – married too young, suffered from low self-esteem and reacted to arguments way too emotionally. There are a number of other reasons, but as far as my part, I feel like these were my problems. I made the choice to marry too young and let my low self-esteem affect how I allowing my spouse to treat me. When I would get fed up, rather than discuss it as a rational person, I would yell, scream and maybe throw something. I admit it. I was 23. I grew up where those kinds of things happened. It was my “normal.” This all culminated finding myself going with the sheriff to pick up my belongings because I feared for my safety. My first divorce happened in the middle of law school. I credit the support I had at my employment while I was a paralegal and going to law school toward increasing my self-esteem to make me see I deserved better and needed to do better to paraphrase one of my favorite Dr. Maya Angelou quotes. One of the major things I did after the separation was read books about relationships, marriage, and how to argue in a constructive manner. If you wouldn’t yell and scream and your best friend during an argument, you don’t do that to your spouse.
Marriage Number Two – blinded by rose colored glasses and not speaking my opinion. I thought this was my happily ever after….. if you love someone enough it has to work….. ummm…… no. The mistake I made was being oblivious to what was going on in my spouse’s life that may have lead to the decision to marry. I was a comfort to him, and once life calmed down I found out that while he loved me, he was “not in love with me.” It was hard to get over that one, to say the least. I also just kept making excuses for things that were happening, when I should have said something about my concerns. I didn’t. Looking back I suppose I was a kind of enabler. The moral of the story is you need to speak up about your opinions and not make excuses. Don’t be in denial; communicate in a respectful way.
Marriage Number three – it looked good on paper, but there was a lack of chemistry. This one I can’t go into very much except to say that just because someone looks good on paper doesn’t mean you are meant to be together. You can’t ignore chemistry. If you feel like your chemistry is waning over time, there are positive ways to address it rather than making it a criticism about one’s appearance. One thing I hear a lot is the problem of one spouse gaining a lot of weight or not taking care of themselves in general. They lose their attraction to them and things go downhill. Here is my suggestion: suggest the two of you start a new activity – dance lessons, training for an event, whatever may be of interest. Make it about fun and bonding, not “you need to lose some weight.” Maybe a cooking class to cook healthier meals. Put yourself in their place; how would feel if someone was saying what you plan to say to them about your appearance? Also, what is the root cause of this? Is it a health issue? Is your spouse super stressed at work or with kid duties? Can you offer help to make that easier? A housekeeper to clean the house? A housekeeper coming once a month for a deep clean is cheaper and less emotionally damaging than a divorce. The problem may fix itself if you explore the root cause. Personal story again, I gained a significant amount of weight and was very depressed for a number of years, to later discover I had a thyroid condition. Once it was treated, it made a big difference, though it didn’t fix the problem entirely. At least I did not feel like laying the in bed all day every day. These things donn’t always happen because someone is “lazy and doesn’t care.” It may be a legitimate physical or medical condition. In addition, I cannot stress how important it is to consider marriage counseling before you get to the point you hate the sight of the other person. Getting help is the sign of a healthy marriage; ignoring your problems and letting them fester is going to guarantee you a trip to divorce court. If you have an issue you seem to fight about regularly (same topic three times for example), I would work with a marriage counselor to address it. You may not like the first one you go to, try a couple to find the right fit. Again, wouldn’t you rather do that than find yourself in divorce court?
So, my point in writing this is – we all make mistakes. We just need to learn from them and “do better.” My goal for my next marriage is to constantly be on a mission to better myself and be the best partner I can be. I am going to be open with communication and communicate in a respectful manner. I expect the same from my partner in return, because I have learned I deserve it. After all these years, I have finally found my missing piece, and that is why I am getting married. My life is better with him in it.
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