How To Keep Your Relationship Healthy, According To Divorce Lawyers
When it comes to relationships, some are healthier than others when it comes to how both people relate to one another. Of course, good communication between you and your partner is critical. Without it, unexpected conflicts and miscommunication are more likely to occur. However, there are many additional components that can help keep you and your significant other together, too. With a little know-how, there are several ways to keep your relationship healthy. And who better to hear it from than those who've seen firsthand what breaks couples up and what can save a relationship. Divorce lawyers, of course.
“In a world full of constant distractions, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of your relationship with your significant other,” Kelly Kotliar, matrimonial attorney at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP in Manhattan, tells Bustle. “We find ourselves prioritizing work, friends, and hobbies over the one person that we share our lives with. In order to maintain a healthy and happy relationship, there must be times where your relationship takes priority over all else.”
For instance, when you’re spending time with your significant other, do you constantly look at your phone? “These days, people are expected to be constantly connected to everyone and everything, which makes them distracted during small, but very important, moments that should be free of interruption,” Kotliar says. “While with your partner, try putting down the phone during a movie, or return that call after dinner, unless it absolutely can’t wait.”
All that said, below, divorce lawyers share tips on how to keep your relationship healthy. After all, the more constructive advice the better, right?
While you probably know that communication is key in a relationship, romantic and otherwise, do you communicate as often as possible when conflicts come up with your partner? Marcia Mavrides, divorce attorney and owner of Mavrides Law, says it’s essential. “Communication, always, communication,” she tells Bustle. “When a couple is unable to discuss certain issues in their relationship without a major fight, the relationship begins to break down, and there is a lack of trust.”
She stresses that communication can mean many things — showing appreciation, apologizing when necessary, really listening to your partner, and making sure your partner is listening to you. “Couples therapy is also a very useful tool if you feel that you and your partner are struggling to communicate,” she says. “I have seen many people on the brink of divorce, and couples therapy was very beneficial and may have saved their relationship.”
Michele Hart, Esq. of M. Hart Divorce & Family Law in Morristown, New Jersey, also believes listening is a key component when it comes to having a healthy relationship. “Listening is at the heart of close relationships with others — listen to understand where the other person is really coming from,” she tells Bustle. “Instead of thinking of your own response, put aside for the moment your own judgments, opinions, thoughts, and expectations and ask yourself: ‘How does the other person view the situation?’”
Hart also suggests taking your cues from the emotions you hear behind your partner’s words. “A particularly effective technique is called ‘affect labeling,’ introduced by Doug Noll, attorney and mediator in Clovis, California,” she says. “When one person is speaking, the other disregards the words and just listens for the emotion behind the words and repeats back the emotion that was heard.” Hart says this can be an extremely effective way to build trust and reach agreements much more quickly and successfully.
3Never Stop Dating
The longer you are with your partner, the more you may get into a routine of doing things, and dating may fall to the wayside. However, Kotliar believes dating is key to keeping your relationship healthy. “As a divorce attorney, my role often doubles as part-time therapist,” she tells Bustle. “Clients want to tell me their stories, and at the forefront of that story is what ultimately caused the demise of their marriage.” She says that it’s almost never as explosive as one might expect; there were no affairs, no one gambled away all the family money, and no one developed a drug habit.
“Instead, most divorcing couples complain of losing their ‘partner’ or feeling neglected and forgotten,” she says. “Simple acts that show you still love and appreciate your spouse the way you did when you first fell in love, even after the monotony of everyday life sets in, go a long way.”
A few ideas she suggests include putting a Post-it Note on the fridge to say “I love you,” sending a text to say “I’m thinking of you,” dressing up and going on a date, flowers for no reason, and cooking dinner together. “It is these little things that add up to big things and keep a relationship alive.”
4Never Stop Making Out
Similar to making sure you and your significant other still make time to date, you should also still make time to make out, Sarah A. Intelligator, Esq., Law Offices of Sarah A. Intelligator, tells Bustle. “On dates two and three, you’re slobbering all over each other in the throes of passion,” she says. “But years two and three, it’s a small peck on the cheek or lips (if you’re lucky). People stop making out, stop showing each other desire and, in turn, stop feeling desirable. Can you imagine if you and your partner are sitting on the couch, wearing sweats, watching a movie, about two feet away from each other and, suddenly, you just turn to each other and start making out — like, I mean, really going at it? Cue the Barry White.”
5Be Open About Finances
Talking about money is difficult, and that includes with your partner. However, it’s necessary for a healthy relationship. “Be open with each other on finances and expectations,” Shaolaine Loving, Loving Law Ltd., tells Bustle. “Financial troubles seem to be a top reason for people to split, particularly when each person has a different idea of how to save or spend.”
When it comes to marriage, Loving says that a prenuptial or post-marital agreement can help couples be open about what assets or liabilities they brought into the marriage. “They can also establish boundaries on what each spouse considers their own to use as they see fit,” she says.
6Don’t Take Your Partner For Granted
While you may feel extremely comfortable with your significant other, that doesn’t mean you should take them for granted. Erin Levine, divorce and family law, Devine Family Law Group, and founder of Hello Divorce, agrees.
“Your partner is not perfect and neither are you, and that’s OK,” she tells Bustle. “We’ve seen countless couples reconcile mid-way into a divorce and the relationships that seem to last — after such a difficult ordeal — are the ones where there was truly respect and admiration for each other. Once these couples realized that they could lose their partner, they became committed to the hard work, because they knew it’s worth it; life without the other just wasn’t as sweet.”
7Lay Out Ground Rules
Without boundaries, relationships can unravel. “Couples should be forthright on what is acceptable or not, such as drinking or adultery,” Loving says. “It forces both people to think about potentially major issues in advance, thus setting the stage for how each person expects to act or for their spouse to act during the relationship. Thus, there is less ambiguity in terms of major issues, like finances.”
She suggests signing an agreement — i.e., a prenuptial or post-marital one — that can hash out issues out in advance. That way, a partner knows that engaging in expressly prohibited behavior will not be tolerated by the other person. “Then, they may be less likely to engage in such behavior, or at least should expect less leniency if it happens,” Loving says.
8Make Sure Your Values Align
Perhaps you’re a Democrat and your partner is a Republican, or maybe one of you is religious and the other is not. While you may be able to agree to disagree, it may not be doable for other couples. “One of the biggest breakdown in the relationships we see is a fundamental difference in moral values,” Levine says. “Common beliefs bind people together and keep priorities (like family and money) aligned. It feels good to be part of a ‘team’ and work together towards a common goal.” She says that when it comes to her clients, apparently, core values don’t waiver. “When our clients have felt ‘compelled’ to change, they’ve ended up resentful and lonely,” she says.
9Always Be Honest
While you may mean to be honest with your partner, are you? “This seems to go without saying, but it is astounding how many people are dishonest with their partners or omit information,” Intelligator says. “Omissions have the same impact as lies. If you feel you cannot tell your partner something, that is a problem because it suggests there is a lack of trust.”
She says even if you are afraid your partner may not favorably receive the information, being honest is necessary. “Your relationship cannot truly be healthy without trusting that you may openly communicate and share everything with your partner,” Intelligator says.
Loving agrees that honesty is essential. “Be honest from the start,” she says. “I have dealt with couples who were not forthcoming and completely honest about major issues or preferences before getting married; for instance, on whether one actually wanted children, or how many. That person may not have been completely honest for fear of the relationship ending, but major opinions and preferences like that can creep up later and eat away at the relationship.”
As time’s gone by with your partner, what you do together has probably changed. However, do you still make time to have fun together? Playing together is important, Intelligator says. “It is no question that, in today’s world, we are overworked, underpaid, and overly stressed,” she says. “Anxiety is rampant, and jobs are competitive and can be all-consuming. Children and financial responsibilities may only exacerbate all of this.”
Intelligator adds that couples may lose sight of what it is that first attracted them to one another, and the play that was present during the courtship period becomes overshadowed by life. “It is so essential that couples carve out a time for play, whether it’s a dinner away from children, a spontaneous weekend getaway, or even a silly activity,” she says. “Make time to be playful with one another — to remind each other why you wanted to be together in the first place.”
If your significant other is not supportive, especially when you need it most, who will be? “I often see relationships fail because one party is jealous of the other’s success,” Intelligator says. “They feel as though, if their partner succeeds, their partner will leave the relationship. In turn, the jealous partner may sabotage the other’s efforts.” She says that this likely points to underlying personal issues. “For whatever reason, you may not support your partner, and your lack of support may lead to resentment and apathy. Successful relationships are ones in which two partners work together — one in which the couple plays for the same team in furtherance of a shared goal.”
12Accept Responsibility And Be Accountable
While it may be difficult to apologize when you’re wrong, it will only benefit your relationship. “Make sure you accept responsibility,” Intelligator says. “Without psychoanalyzing what prompts people to blame their partner for things going wrong in the relationship, it is something that is far too prevalent." It's important to see it from both sides.
"Acknowledging your role in the problem allows you and your partner to work together toward its resolution, rather than driving you further apart by finger-pointing," Intelligator says.
Kotliar stresses that being present is also key to maintaining a healthy relationship. “If you walk away from the dinner table to immediately respond to a work call or email or look at your social media feeds while watching a movie with your significant other, your absence is noticed during these moments,” she says. “Too many of those distractions can leave a spouse or significant other feeling neglected or unimportant. Being present is one of the best things you can do for your relationships, and if you aren’t feeling that your significant other is making you a priority, be sure to communicate that before it’s too late.”
As you can see, there are many ways you can keep your relationship healthy, as long as you take the necessary, actionable steps to do so. However, sometimes you may need to end the relationship if all else fails. “If things seem irreparable, like if one person is clearly abusive or no longer invested in the relationship, then it’s best to just end things,” Loving says. “Some spouses in this situation stay together for years or even decades, but eventually end a marriage anyway and feel like they had wasted all that time by not divorcing earlier — particularly when the other spouse suddenly becomes extremely contentious at the idea of a divorce and wants to drag out the process on purpose or without actual grounds.”
In any case, only you can determine what works best for you in your relationship, and the tips above are great reminders of how to keep your relationship healthy.