Guest Post: Marriage Advice From A Former Divorce Lawyer

2010 February 11

Melissa Melanson and I have known each other for years. A few months ago, I suggested she write a guest post for GenMeh. Circumstances have changed since then and that topic is rather dated, but when she pitched me on the idea of providing relationship guidance from her former legal perspective (and just in time for Valentine’s Day!), I happily took her up on it.

P.S. No, I haven’t forgotten; I’m currently putting the finishing touches on your guide to the aimless life.

P.P.S. Interested in writing a future guest post for GenMeh? Drop me a line and we’ll see what we can do.

Photo by Francesca Tronchin

Marriage Advice From A Former Divorce Lawyer

When people find out that I practiced family law for a few years after law school, they get this uncomfortable look on their faces, like I said that I umpire cock fights or make my own hotdogs from scratch. They know that it happens, they know that it’s ugly, but they’d rather not think about it. I admit that part of the reason that I no longer practice law is because of the ugliness of marital breakdown, but it really wasn’t all doom and gloom. Change is inevitable and I was happy to help people navigate a difficult period of their lives. I also feel that I have benefited from the experience. I have never been married, but I have been up close and personal at the end of numerous unions. Eventually, you start to notice patterns. Some things are just obvious. Basically, if it could get you fired from a job or arrested, it’s a bad sign for your marriage. What I gleaned from my unique perspective on marriage is a little more subtle than that. I learned (and will gladly share with you) the kinds of things you  wish you could tell someone before they got married or before their happily-ever-after  fell apart.

The marriage has a better chance of succeeding when both people are adults

Think about the person you were when you were 18. How different is he/she from who you were at 22? 25? 30? Maybe you are the rare exception who was fully formed at a very young age, but most people are completely transformed by experiences like post-secondary education, living on your own and travel. Realistically, you might never fully know who you are or what you want out of life, but people grow and change considerably in their early adulthood. Before you commit your life to another person, it’s preferable to get your own life sorted. The complement to this is you shouldn’t commit to another person before they have their life sorted out either. While it’s true that people can grow apart after years of marriage, you can do a lot to avoid a situation where one partner outgrows the other if you’ve both already done most of your growing before the I do.

If your whole life revolves around you, you’re not leaving much room for a partner

The world is made up of givers and takers and the adage that marriage involves give and take is true. Relationships aren’t always equal, sometimes one partner is more demanding, sometimes, you take turns. Marriages seem to suffer, however, when the needs of one partner are never considered. After all, no one wants to play a supporting role in a movie about their own life. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you walk through life without asking what he/she wants and what makes him/her happy, but I’m afraid it does make you poor spouse material.

Remember that even if it doesn’t last forever, life will go on

Clients would often ask me, “Are you married?” and upon discovering that I was not, would ask if my line of work had created a distaste for the institution. I normally wouldn’t provide much of an answer (we’re talking about your life here, buddy) but one day a woman in her early thirties asked me, and she was the kind of the person that I was really rooting for –  a sweet person who had married a not-so-sweet man. I wanted to give her hope.So I fed her a line, which in retrospect wasn’t really a line at all, but something that I truly believe. I told her that working with people at the end of their marriage certainly has made me more cautious, or at the very least informed, about making such a commitment. But that’s not the end of the story.

The nature of divorce law where I practiced is such that you meet people when they break up to draft a separation agreement. At that time, they’re a mess, their whole life has collapsed around them. They then have to wait a year after they separate before they can get a divorce. A lot can change in a year. People would come back stronger, happier and often would have met someone else. They could not believe how much better their lives were, and after seeing what a disaster they had been just a few months prior, sometimes I couldn’t believe it either.

Marriage doesn’t come with a guarantee. All you can do is make the best choice you can, and recognize that just like in every aspect of our lives, we sometimes make mistakes. But even coming from my former line of work, if I haven’t ruled out marriage entirely, doesn’t that say something about its inherent risk-worthiness?

Melissa Melanson

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