My parents split up when I was young. I often wonder how hard they worked to avoid a divorce, or whether they succumbed to its inevitability. I’m honestly not sure which one is worse.
I’m not necessarily a relationship expert. I’ve been married for over seven years (in a relationship for about a decade). I used to be an English and Literature teacher, so I consider myself something of a student of the human condition. And I’ve always been an outsider—I’ve had an ability to look at people from a unique perspective.
All of which is to say that you can take my advice with a grain of salt. Yes, I do think you can avoid a divorce. But I don’t always think you should.
What is a Divorce?
It’s important to note that a divorce is not the same thing as “breaking up.” A divorce is going to be a legal process. This means that there is going to be paperwork. There’s a defined process for developing compromises or settling disputes.
And divorce is expensive.
If you’re very, very unlucky, your divorce might even cost more than your wedding. That’s because, especially in messy or complicated divorces, a divorce attorney is often required. That’s often why divorces are thought of as a kind of last resort. They’re expensive. And they are pretty darn final. Avoiding a divorce sometimes starts way before you even start thinking about that.
Tip #1: Have a Small Wedding
The first tip I have for avoiding a divorce starts with your wedding: have a small wedding. This isn’t just anecdotal. There’s a significant amount of evidence to suggest that the more you spend on your wedding, the faster your marriage will be over. Okay—it’s not going to be true 100% of the time.
But there’s something to the notion that smaller weddings tend to focus on the more important things: your family, your love, your commitment. If you can imagine yourself getting married to your partner at a small wedding—then it’s likely you’ve found a good partner.
If a big wedding is the only way you can imagine getting things done, it just might be that that the wedding is more important to you than the marriage. And that’s not a good recipe for future success!
Tip #2: Try Couples Counseling
I know that couples counseling gets a bad rap. It’s usually seen as a kind of last ditch effort to preserve a marriage or a relationship. But I want to push back on that a little bit. For example, Kristen Bell and Dax Shephard—a fairly well known celebrity couple—extolled the virtues of getting couples counseling early. And they were right!
After all, couples counseling has several very real benefits:
- It opens the lines of communication: Not everyone is a born communicator. Couples counseling can help you learn some skills and tools that will come in handy as you, essentially, communicate.
- Provides a Neutral Representative: Disputes often develop throughout the course of your marriage. That’s natural. And those disputes are tinged with your own personal biases. That’s also natural. Couples counselors are really good at providing a middle ground in those disputes.
- Airing grievances: Sometimes the hardest part about marriage is articulating what’s making you angry or annoyed. Couples counseling gives you a safe space to air those grievances—that way it doesn’t get out of control.
Whether you decide to go through couple’s counseling or not, communication is key to a healthy marriage.
Tip #3: Talk About Money
One of the most common causes of divorce is, ultimately, money. People argue over how to spend it. People stress out about not having enough of it. People work hard for every cent of it. Money is one of the all-time, number-one sources of friction in a long-term marriage.
And there are ways to head off these arguments before they happen. Chiefly, transparency is key. You need to be transparent about:
- Your financial debts
- Goals you have (financially and in terms of living)
- The ways in which you spend money (and when you spend it)
- Long term and short term savings and priorities
And you need to talk about money issues. Many people just go into denial mode (one partner or the other is usually the culprit here). But that’s not really an option. Talking about money can be tough today, but save your marriage in the long run.
In many ways, humans are pretty terrible at choosing life partners. Think about what our criteria usually are. First and foremost, we often look for someone who is attractive. But that’s so rarely any kind of indicator about what kind of partner that person will make.
This isn’t to say that you should marry someone you don’t find attractive. Rather that finding someone to settle down with—and avoid divorce with—is usually going to be pretty difficult. The systems and rituals we have in place simply aren’t all that well calibrated to helping you find a life partner.
So it might be rough. In many ways, avoiding divorce boils down to spending a little more time—being a little more deliberate—with that first part: dating. But, you know, dating sucks too (or, at least it can for a lot of people).
There’s no one size fits all solution to avoiding divorce. Some people get lucky. Other people definitely get unlucky. Hopefully these tips can at least start a few conversations or get you thinking about it. One final thing I’ll say: divorce is not the end of the world, it’s the end of a relationship. And, with time, you’ll be okay afterwards.
Avoiding divorce is not worth years and years of misery if you’re in a terrible relationship. Run like the dickens if you have to. But if you want to avoid divorce because you see yourself being happy, it might be worth a shot. Only you can make that call.