For more than a decade, I’ve been working with people who’ve been divorcing their spouses. I’ve been told countless tales of infidelity, have received no end of parenting advice and been regaled with guidance that has, I am in no doubt, made me and my wife a happier couple.
It’s often said that, if you’ve learnt a lesson, you haven’t failed. This is something my most optimistic and forward-thinking clients have taught me time and time again. Following the end of their marriages they took stock, thought about where they went wrong and decided they wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. They’ve shared this information with me – whether mindfully or merely a casual comment – and I’ve listened intently, knowing that this wisdom would serve not just myself, but others too.
So, without further ado, here are the five most important things my divorcing clients have taught me about marriage:
Step back and empathise
As much as we’d all like a life of pure serenity never punctured by marital discord and argument, it’s an unrealistic expectation. A marriage is comprised of two individuals, after all, and you’re both going to want different things at different times. This, inevitably, will cause conflict from time to time.
When disagreement does rear its ugly head, though, the need to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes cannot be understated. Yes, it might seem obvious to say that you should empathise with your significant other but, when we become angry, we also become selfish, insular and can all too easily lose sight of this. So, make an effort to step back, breathe and try to see things from your partner’s point of view when you feel your blood starting to boil.
This won’t stop all arguments, but it’ll definitely mean you argue less – and that’s no bad thing!
Don’t fear the fallout
Like we’ve said, making a concerted effort to avoid arguments isn’t going to prevent them altogether so, when you do have a falling out, try to give each other a little time to heal.
In a typical post-argument situation, one party is usually willing and/or able to put it behind them before the other. If you’re this spouse, don’t push the issue. Instead, accept that your spouse is still hurt and, possibly, annoyed. It can be tempting to try to force a reconciliation, but this will just make matters worse. Respect your partner’s feelings and give them the time they need. It may feel like you’ve been rejected but this isn’t the case – it’s just a consequence of your argument and it will pass.
Give each other a break
If you have children, you’ll know just how exhausting day-to-day life can be. This is why it’s so important to give your spouse time to do something for themselves and – here’s the most important part – don’t make them ask for it.
Offering your spouse a day, or even just a few hours, off shows real appreciation for everything that they do. On the other hand, should they feel like they need to ask, they can feel like you’re unaware of everything they do and that they need to point them out to you. This, unsurprisingly, is certain to leave them feeling unappreciated.
Little gestures matter
Hollywood may have led us to believe that all romantic gestures should be grand in scale, but it’s really the little things that make the difference. Noticing when your partner’s tired, having a tough time at work and needs to be looked after is going to count for a lot more than a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day in the long run.
Remember, marriage is a partnership and is all about give and take. Just as it’s important to offer your partner a break before they’re left with no choice but to ask for one, you need to be mindful of their feelings and act accordingly.
Of course, there will be times where you, too, are exhausted and may miss things. That’s fine, though, just remember that the occasional gesture, inspired by just observation, shows that you care and that you’re paying attention.
Maintain and nurture other relationships
As easy as it is to become overly reliant on one another for companionship (indeed, it may well be that you don’t want to leave each other’s side at the start of your relationship) it’s not healthy. The most successful couples know this and even encourage each other to pursue their individual interests and spend time with their friends.
This is vital because, by spending too much time together, you find yourself living in a metaphorical goldfish bowl – something that will, ultimately, leave you feeling less and less fulfilled. By enjoying time with others, you’ll find it much easier to give more to your partner.
Jay Williams has worked as a case manager with Quickie Divorce since 2008. He lives in Cardiff with his wife and two-year-old daughter Eirys.