Working as a family attorney for decades, Gwendolyn Sterk has heard countless stories of relationship troubles that built up and eventually culminated in divorce.
Along the way, Sterk has gained knowledge about the pitfalls within marriage and the potential for spouses to resolve differences before they become irreconcilable.
When two people cannot find common ground, and divorce becomes the only viable path forward, Sterk also knows they can work together positively to advance their mutual and individual goals.
With this bank of knowledge, Sterk offers five tips to couples who are mired in the difficulty of considering divorce.
Tip #1: Get help from an outside source
Many couples encounter major disagreements at some point during their marriage, and not all have the communication skills to resolve them alone. Seeking help from a counselor allows both parties to share their feelings in a safe environment, while gaining a greater perspective of their situation.
For marriage counseling to work, both people must commit to the process, taking it seriously and working to advance the conversation. Be prepared to give the process time to develop and produce results. Especially for serious marital issues, counseling won’t resolve problems in only a few sessions.
“Counseling is going to take time to work, and couples owe it to each other to try to resolve their issues,” Sterk says.
In the event that the parties decide not to continue their marriage, ongoing counseling can evolve into a means of communication throughout divorce proceedings, for the sake of their children and peace in their own lives.
Tip #2: Identify true sources of conflict
Deep disagreements in a marriage often manifest as more surface-level complaints, Sterk says. Couples can get caught up in frivolous or trivial arguments, but there’s almost always a more deep-seated emotion motivating them.
“Petty fights are often the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but that’s not the real problem,” Sterk says. “They have to dig deep to find out how and why their relationship went south.”
Whether it’s a hurt that never fully healed, a betrayal never owned up to, or values that no longer align, the couple must cut to the core of the conflict if they hope to move on.
Even if divorce is on the horizon, recognizing the true issues and causes for disconnect helps both people find closure.
Tip #3: Be open and honest about everything
Within a marriage, it’s not uncommon for spouses to take on responsibility for certain roles. One person might manage the household financials and pay the bills, while the other primarily attends to the children, coordinating their health and education.
While this system can help a couple balance life’s many demands, each must commit to openness about their individual dealings. Hiding information or making major decisions without consulting the other person violates the trust agreement of marriage.
If a marriage conflict arises, this further amplifies this need for transparency, Sterk said.
“For a resolution to occur, there has to be open communication about data, employment, financials, children — everything,” Sterk says. “Full disclosure is important for both people to appreciate what the other one has been doing.”
This honesty should not cease if the marriage comes to an end. Rather, be honest and open during divorce proceedings.
“Hiding isn’t going to do anyone any good,” Sterk says. “It’s just going to prolong things and make it necessary to spend more time and money on an attorney.”
Tip #4: Balance power within the relationship
When one spouse’s personality dominates a marriage, the other person often feels ignored and pushed aside. This power imbalance damages a relationship because it ignores the essence of what it means to enter into a partnership.
Often the partner with the more assertive nature makes decisions and takes the lead in handling family business. Lack of input or even knowledge of important decisions puts the other partner at a great disadvantage.
“Find ways to make the power in the relationship equal,” Sterk said. “Maybe that just means you have access to information you need to make decisions.”
One spouse handling an item of family business does not allow them total control over that area. Just because the husband handles the household bills, for example, does not provide him with the right to control financial matters to the exclusion of his wife.
Especially in the case of divorce, both partners must have complete knowledge and access to the most important aspects of their life such as their children, property interests, and financials.
Tip #5: Reveal infidelity and other necessary history
Part of saving a marriage — or letting it end more easily — is to reveal indiscretions of an emotional or physical nature. While painful, these admissions are necessary for things to move forward, and each spouse deserves full knowledge of what transpired that affected the marriage’s trajectory.
“Be honest with each other if there’s been infidelity,” Sterk says. “Nobody’s perfect in a marriage. You have to talk about the elephants in the room; you can’t hide underneath them.”
Similarly, spouses can make an effort to reveal other information or “baggage” that could be weighing down the marriage. Understanding events from childhood or previous marriages could help connect the motivations for current problems.
Seek help from a counselor or spiritual leader who can act as a sympathetic, helpful third party to make the process more manageable.
Regardless of whether two people decide to continue living together, practicing honesty and fairness in their relationship will help produce more positive results.
We are here to assist you
We are aware that everyone has been affected by the recent response to COVID-19 but we hope that you find some comfort in knowing that we are still operational and here to assist you. If you are a victim of domestic violence, we can assist you with obtaining an Order of Protection.
To the extent possible, we will offer remote consultations and provide services from a distance.
This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.