Ingredients for a successful marriage – a Divorce Attorney’s perspective
There is a saying that a relationship is not a place where you go to take, it is a place where you go to give. You need to look at your partner and realize that you are not going to change him or her. Ask yourself this: “Does my partner have the basic qualities that matter to me, characteristics that are not going to change over time?” Remember that it is not all about the wedding cake, the wedding ceremony, the wedding gifts or the wedding dress.
It takes a lot of work and effort to make it work. Lack of communication tops the list of the reasons for divorce. There is the cliché that women want men to know what they want and what they are thinking without ever having to tell them, but the reality is that couples need to talk and express their feelings and fears to their spouse. It is when spouses only start thinking about their own wants and needs and no longer function as a “team”, that things start to fall apart. Unfortunately in many instances our ability to learn about relationships shuts down at the point when the marriage begins to get tough and just because couples develop disagreements, I am sure that many marriages could have been saved if the couples persevered just a little more. Conflict should be seen as an inevitable part of relationships. One of the secrets to a good marriage is to find your equal partner, not a partner who is going to dominate or control you or who you can dominate or control. Any relationship for it to work must be based on mutual respect, common purpose and of course trust. When a couple start to lose one of those ingredients, the wheels come off. Many people get married and expect to live a fairy-tale but that is surely not the reality. Couples fight about trivial things, disagree on many issues such as the finances and children. Many people refuse to grow and blame their partners for all of the problems in the marriage instead of taking responsibility for their actions. Having said this, both parties must be willing to change for the better and if one refuses to do so, the relationship will be in trouble.
Keys to a happy relationship
The key to any happy and healthy marriage really is communication. Many of my divorce clients, when asked for the reason for the breakdown of their relationship, respond with the words “We grew apart” or “We have nothing in common any longer”. It is so important to be an active contestant in your own marriage instead of a passive spouse. In happy marriages there are no secret vendettas or agendas. Lack of trust is an clear killer, and harbouring bitterness and carrying grudges does not make for contentment. It all comes back to commitment and that, in tough times, you don’t even allow yourself to think of getting out. Couples must understand that not every disagreement has to end up as a full blown argument and it is not necessary to win each and every argument or to be always right. Sometimes rather let it be. It is also true that no marriage can survive without some sort of conflict, whether major or minor but the key is to make sure that the issues are addressed in a controlled and dignified manner, without personal mud-slinging or insults.
How to deal with in-laws?
I do not believe in divided loyalties at all. Once you marry someone, your loyalty and devotion first is to your partner and the family that you two create together. I am not saying that you should not be close to your extended family but if your mother-in-law for example is continually butting into your life and your relationship and offering opinions and solutions and you feel as if your husband is always taking her side rather than yours, then, it becomes your husband’s problem and not yours. Each person should take care of his/her own family tree, since you have the most history with your mother, and your husband the most with his parents. So, if you have a mother who is constantly on your husband’s case about how you should to be raising your children, stand up and say something to her. Never make it your husband’s fight. And, if your mother-in-law is drives you up the wall, tell your husband to deal with her. I have seen many cases where the in-laws became one of the reasons for divorce.
Main reasons for divorce?
Reasons cited by both men and women as the most common causes of divorce include loss of love and incompatibility, poor communication, addiction, basic unhappiness, infidelity, emotional problems, conflict over roles, and spouses’ personality traits. All studies on the prevention of relationship breakdown and the causes of divorce reach the common conclusion that a constellation of factors, not just one, is normally responsible. The following are the ten most commonly cited reasons, drawn from various records, and in no particular order.
Differences in priorities
A difference in priorities, which a lot of men and women discuss and anticipate prior to their marriage, can become major issues at a later stage. If one spouse wants to start a family and the other does not, it may create immense conflict.
Religious, cultural or ethnic differences
Couples of different religious, cultural or ethnic background may sometimes disregard the expectations of each other’s religion/culture/ethnicity, causing resentment. Conflict can also arise when children are involved, as most parents prefer their children to take on their own traditions.
It often happens that spouses aren’t able to constructively co-parent their children. Differing ideas on how to raise children commonly cause rifts in a marriage.
When times are tough, marriages take strain. Married couples, whether happy or not, may disagree about certain financial issues, which if not resolved can put undue stress on their relationship.
Men and women differ emotionally, mentally and sexually. Things change as the marriage progresses, i.e. children are born, health challenges arise and careers change. All these things can impact a couple’s sexual relationship. If a spouse is not being physically fulfilled, he/she will look elsewhere. In most cases, sexual dissatisfaction will result in divorce.
Addiction of any kind is like a black hole, sucking in everything in its path of destruction, throwing family life off balance the stronger it gets, putting undue strain on relationships. Whether the addiction is to alcohol, drugs or, increasingly, pornography or social networking, the effect is the same. Before the internet, strip clubs, videos and DVDs fed pornographic addiction. These days, more and more people spend countless hours viewing pornography online, buying into the fantasy. Addiction of this nature not only has a degrading effect on the individuals in the relationship, but also leaves disastrous emotional scars on children, close relatives and friends.
Social media like Facebook, Twitter and BBM/WHATSAPP is affecting privacy and family interaction more and more, as it blurs the lines between public and private domains. The nature of these media outlets encourages free-spirited posting, commenting and sharing of information, often thoughtlessly. Spouses who spend countless hours on social networks to the exclusion of valuable family interaction, create a disconnect that often cannot be repaired, and divorce follows. What is posted on social networking sites is not as private as many think, and Facebook flirting is cited as the cause of an increasing number of divorces. With a multitude of profiles just a click away, it has made it really easy for people to see if the grass is greener on the other side.
Infidelity/adultery, more commonly known as ‘cheating’, is near the top of the list of reasons for divorcing in South Africa. Adultery is defined as extramarital sex that wilfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations, leading to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship. Infidelity undermines the root of the relationship, namely trust, and is a violation of the mutually agreed rules or boundaries that a couple assumes when they start their relationship.
Abuse is one of the top reasons for divorce. Abuse occurs in all age groups, ethnic groups and class groups, and comes in a variety of forms, from physical abuse (domestic violence) to verbal, emotional, psychological and even financial abuse. It can include things like telling a child they are unwanted, name calling, ignoring, restricting a person to a room, monitoring phone calls, forcing a spouse into doing something that he/she is uncomfortable with and withholding finances. Abusers can be male or female and abuse can occur in heterosexual relationships, same-sex relationships and parent-child relationships. While women and children are the most victimised, men are also abused, especially verbally and emotionally, although sometimes physically too.
Lack of communication
The writer Josh Billings once said that ‘Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute’. Lack of communication is the single biggest cause for divorce and accounts for almost 70 per cent of all marital breakdowns. Without proper communication, no relationship can survive. Good communication does not mean always agreeing with each other. Couples with communication problems that usually lead to divorce are often unable to find a middle ground and are unwilling to compromise. A lack of communication in any area of a marriage can cause major damage to the relationship. Many couples lack communication when it comes to making decisions about finances, leading to financial problems and endless arguments. Many also fall down when they have to make decisions about their children.
What mistakes do couples make when they divorce?
Divorce need not be bitter or erupt into a war. Unfortunately, though, in many divorces, spouses turn what could be an amicable end to their marriage into an emotionally difficult and expensive legal battle by allowing their anger, hurt and fear to take over their rational thinking. Getting divorced is never easy, but when people realise that it is not about winners and losers and massive legal bills, but about making a clean break and working out the terms of the divorce together or with the intervention of legal representatives, then the process can be relatively easy. If you can, try your level best to conclude your divorce in an uncontested manner, without having to go to trial. Do everything you can to make the divorce as non-acrimonious as possible. Although your role as a spouse ends, if you have children, your role as a parent continues. A contested divorce means long unnecessary delays, huge legal bills and unpredictable emotions.
Very often spouses make the error of wanting a divorce for useless reasons. This comes from being wrapped up with the idea of being hurt and concentrating on one’s self rather than separating the actual events from the end results. It is very tough to lift your thinking and be ostensibly autonomous to your own situation, sometimes this is often impossible to do. But, when you can look at your situation objectively, and then go through your divorce decision making process, you may be closer to the real answers that you search for.
It is my view that the reason for many problems that we experience in relationships stems from the fact that people are fickle and that our circumstances and life experiences change and shape us every day. A healthy relationship is an evolving relationship and each partner should learn and grow through the relationship, and often through the conflicts.
By Bertus Preller
Family Law Attorney
Bertus Preller & Associates Inc. Cape Town