It’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ 26 -30 November 2018. What does this mean? Well, this week the professional family law community of Resolution – some 6500 members strong- are reaffirming their beliefs in a constructive and non-confrontational approach to supporting couples in marriage breakdown.
FM Family Law would like to think that we approach every week as a good divorce week, but how great is it that the professional community are spreading the good work of Resolution family lawyers with these initiatives.
A Good Divorce…..?
Well, we will write about that another time. But it’s made us think about what actually makes a ‘good’ marriage?
Our combined years as family lawyers have taught us many relationship lessons. Not just in terms of break ups: some of the most fulfilling cases we’ve worked on are those where couples have worked hard to address their differences and have come out of the other side, together, a bit bruised, but stronger.
Michelle Obama’s Memoir ‘Becoming’ was released last week. Through the perspective of a high profile, enduring marriage, we thought we would take a look at some relationship lessons.
Lesson 1 – Dont be afraid to get counselling
Michelle Obama recently revealed that her and Barack have undergone counseling to address issues in their marriage. Just like the rest of us, one of the most high profile and successful marriages on the planet needs work, too:
“I want [young people] to know that Michelle and Barack Obama — who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other — we work on our marriage and we get help with our marriage when we need it.”
[Time November 9, 2018 time.com/5450376/michelle-obama-marriage-counseling]
When we approach counselling we tend to feel that we are most certainly right, and that the process will leave us vindicated. But the therapist is not going to take sides. Instead, talking to a trained third party during marriage difficulties can “unlock the rigid and inflexible mind-set that each partner may have about the other, or the relationship. It facilitates a discussion that can remind partners of the positive reasons they first came together.”
[couples counsellor David James Lees in www.telegraph.co.uk/family/relationships/really-happens-divorce-counselling-does-really-work
Lesson 2 – Self-fulfillment
Many of us enter into a marriage with romantic preconceptions. ‘He/She will complete me’ and ‘We will share everything’. But in reality, nothing is shared down the middle; professional, family and romantic life is a balancing act, and we often neglect our own needs. Depending on your spouse for fulfillment is not sustainable: we need to instead look to them for support.
Through couples counseling, Michelle Obama writes,
“What I learned about myself was that my happiness was up to me and I started working out more, I started asking for help, not just from him but from other people,” Obama said. “I stopped feeling guilty.”
[Bustle.com November 13, 2018 www.bustle.com/p/michelle-obama-opened-up-about-going-to-marriage-counseling-heres-why-thats-so-important-13126845]
Lesson 3 – Maintain strong relationships with family and friends
Indeed, marriage should be your primary relationship, but not your only one. [Dr Coontz in ‘For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage www.foryourmarriage.org/blogs/for-better-how-the-surprising-science-of-happy-couples-can-help-your-marriage-succeed
Scientific studies have proven that having strong relationships outside the marriage increases the chances that the marriage will last. Simply put, making fewer emotional demands of a spouse strengthen a marriage. The happiest couples have interests and support ‘beyond the twosome’.
Having an extended circle of help in family life is invaluable when it comes to bringing up kids. Michelle Obama speaks of her realisation that she was not going to have a conventional marriage, and that her husband would be away much of the time. Combining forces with her mother for school pickups, and creating close ties to community and workplace parents they ‘banded into a kind of intergenerational urban kibbutz, a collective that shared meals and carpools and weekend activities.’ [‘The Obamas’ Marriage by Jodi Kantor in The New York Times, October 16 2009 https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/magazine/01Obama-t.html]
‘I needed the support’ she writes, but it didn’t necessarily need to be from her husband. In negotiating the spaces of personal ambition and family life, relationships outside of the marriage are a structural force helping to hold the central partnership together.
Lesson 4 – Have fun together
It’s easy to take each other for granted once the honeymoon stage is over. But a relationship built upon the foundations of a good friendship can withstand the test of time,
‘In our house we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and laughter is the best form of unity, I think, in a marriage’ [Time, January 19 2017, http://time.com/4639410/michelle-obama-best-quotes/]
In essence then the Obamas try not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ – giving each other a ‘hall pass’ for small indiscretions such as leaving laundry on the floor or occasionally being late for dinner. Instead they schedule time as a couple to have a good laugh. Despite scheduling challenges they took up a new hobby whilst at the White House – playing tennis together – and often joked at their mutual lack of skill. These kinds of activities can be an effective outlet for couples: you’re on opposing sides, but ultimately you have the same aim. Just like any other friendship, obstacles will beset a marriage, and finding the right outlet can give you a both a fresh perspective.
Lesson 5 – Take the long lens view
At different stages of a marriage we are faced with hard decisions in prioritising whose needs come first. This is often the case when one of the party to the marriages faces a cross roads, such as taking a career break, or pressing pause on career progression, eg to bring up small children.
When relationships fall apart we have often come to a sense that we have embarked on separate journeys, where our personal needs and goals are no longer linked to the goals that we once shared. Although the balance often shifts, Michelle Obama reminds us that
‘The equality of any partnership “is measured over the scope of the marriage. It’s not just four years or eight years or two,” the first lady said. “We’re going to be married for a very long time.” [‘The Obamas’ Marriage by Jodi Kantor in The New York Times, October 16 2009 https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/magazine/01Obama-t.html]
There are currently an estimated 3 million people in the UK whose marriages are struggling. What lessons resonate with you if you’re facing a crisis in your marriage?
FM Family Law (with thanks to Michelle Obama for her inspirational and aspirational approach to marriage)
27 November 2018