Marriage Troubles: Try a Therapist Before You Try a Lawyer
One of the most devastating realizations a comfortably married person can have is that the other person in their relationship isn’t happy with the way the marriage is working out. And because oftentimes people don’t effectively communicate, it’s frequently the case that the first warning you’ll have that your spouse wants to get a divorce is the paper you get from the lawyer announcing your impending divorce. Fortunately, most states (Michigan included) require a waiting period between 30 and 90 days (the latter around here) before a divorce process can be legally started — time that you can use to try to convince your spouse to see a therapist instead of an attorney.
But Aren’t You Lawyers?
The obvious question is ‘why are you, a law firm, trying to get people to see a therapist instead of coming in to see you?’ The answer is simple: Gucciardo Family Law wants to be a last resort. We firmly believe that some couples really are better off divorced, but we also believe that divorce shouldn’t ever be anyone’s default option for dealing with relationship stress. Unfortunately, there is a predictable pattern that happens within a marriage as it begins to crack.
First, the person who is considering asking for a divorce — the one who sees ‘the problem’ — asks their partner (who does not) to see a marriage therapist. The partner refuses, because they don’t understand the problem, whatever it may be. Things get worse, slowly, until the problem becomes bad enough that the partner who sees it reaches their tipping point and files for divorce. Suddenly, the ‘blind’ partner goes into a panic and starts begging to go to a therapist to fix the problem (which they still don’t understand!) — but by now, the other partner has committed to the divorce, and believes firmly that no amount of therapy can help.
Thus, marriage counseling is skipped completely, and only the divorce lawyers are ever called upon.
Instead, Try This:
If you are the ‘blind’ partner, this is really simple: if your spouse thinks you might need to visit a relationship expert, believe them. It’s not terribly likely that they’re wrong, given that they’re the person who sees the problem in the first place. You don’t gain anything by ignoring your partner’s literal cries for help.
If you’re the partner who sees the problem, it’s critically important that you follow a specific, three-step process to get your partner to sit down and talk about it with you. Those three steps are:
- Make Time. Ask your partner to set aside time before the end of the day — or if they are legitimately crazy-busy, before the end of the next day — to sit down and have a 20-minute face-to-face. Don’t let them say “Sure,” but instead, ask them for a specific time. It can be “after the game,” or “tomorrow at 3:30,” or any specific time. It can NOT be any sort of conditional or unknown timeframe, like “once I get this project done” or “whenever the kid leaves to go play with the neighbors.”
- Remove Distractions. When the time to talk comes, turn off the phones, agree to ignore the doorbell, and tell the kid(s) to do something quiet and non-dangerous for at least the next half-hour. If you need to and you’re able, hop in the car and drive around somewhere without a lot of traffic or obstacles to pay attention to. (This won’t work if your spouse feels like you’re trying to make them a captive audience, so if that’s a danger, don’t do it.)
- Pay Attention to Your Body Language. They say 90% of communication is non-verbal, and for most of us, that means that our body language will betray the fact that we expect the upcoming conversation to be hard, possibly even painful. If your spouse senses that, they will naturally tend to withdraw and avoid. Instead, deliberately set your body language to “I love you and I want to make our relationship even awesomer.” If they avoid a conversation when you’re being open and loving instead of tense and hesitant, you’re probably not going to get very far with the conversation in the first place.
Next time: how to have the conversation itself!
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We focus exclusively on family law matters so we are always available to answer your questions and help.