Keep isolation from taking a toll on your marriage with these tips
The country's divorce lawyers offer their best relationship advice to keep your union from hitting the rocks during these "extraordinary" times
In recent weeks, some strange reports have been doing the rounds. The fallouts of Covid-19 have been many, and experts have weighed in on the potential impact of the pandemic on everything from the economy to mental health. Now, observers are also warning that the increased amount of time that couples are having to spend together is likely to cause divorce rates to spike - hard.
Whether there's substantial truth to those predictions remains to be seen, but in the spirit of preemptive measures, WKND spoke to divorce lawyers around town to get their take on how couples can keep their marriage from hitting the rocks. Relationship advice from unlikely quarters? For sure. But, as experts in family law, there may well be no one better to tell you how not to end up in a divorce lawyer's office.
IT'S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT THE LAST WORD
One way to try to make life easier is to minimise conflict and festering resentment by addressing any issues that arise when they arise - but without making accusations, says Joanna Farrands, Partner - Family, Barlow Robbins Solicitors. "It is not essential to win every argument. Try to remember that everything is subjective and everyone has his or her own relative viewpoint."
Joanna believes focusing language on how your partner's actions affect you (as opposed to making outright accusations) is an effective way to manage disagreement. "Doing this can help to avoid an escalation in many arguments, as it encourages the other person to look at how something makes their spouse or partner feel. For example, focus on saying, 'When you do that, it makes me feel anxious' rather than saying, 'You always do that!'. Stepping back from pinch points is essential to sustaining a happier marriage."
STRUCTURE YOUR TIME
With couples spending more time together at home than usual, a rough schedule - and some boundaries - can go a long way to maintaining harmony, says Nita Maru, solicitor and managing partner at TWS Legal Consultants. "Structured time helps you coordinate with your partner in deciding the time you will spend together - whether it's sharing a meal or enjoying a movie night - and the time you get to spend alone. This way, your time together becomes actual quality time as a couple. This kind of structured time is a great way to help bind couples closer together and nurture their relationship."
At the same time, she adds, your alone- or me-time will be crucial to recharge, relax, indulge in a favourite activity, or just breathe. "Being apart for some time actually helps avoid unnecessary drama and conflict with your partner," says Nita. "Being thoughtful and tolerant of each other while in self-isolation for an extended period of time is bound not to last, so to keep your marriage intact, be mindful of your time together and alone on a daily basis. It will be crucial to sustain a happy marriage during these extraordinary times."
WORK HARD ON BEHAVING WELL
As a divorce lawyer, Alexandra Tribe believes making an effort with your spouse - even when you don't feel like it - is key to the health of the union. "Marriage is something you need to constantly work on," says the managing partner of Expatriate Law. "When we are young, we do not realise this. We think that true love means a lifetime of happiness. But as we get older, we realise that the couples who are happiest are often those who work really hard to behave well."
Alexandra tells of a client who she eventually saw through two divorces. "He told me the second time round that he wished he had stayed with the first and tried harder in that marriage. In a marriage, we can often take each other for granted, and use a spouse as someone to vent our frustrations on. Look out for the qualities in your spouse that you love and respect instead; if you think carefully, there may be more attributes than you had imagined. And concentrating on those positives will make their deficiencies seem less important."
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T ACT ON IMPULSE
Dee Popat, senior legal consultant and head of family department, James Berry Associates, has been in her line of work for a "very long" time. I hear how people talk, she says, and it's very 'spur of the moment'. "Things are said and done, and you can't take them back. But then when people address their issues, once they have that calmer approach, I see them realise that they should've looked at the whole situation before comments were made."
It's too much of a burden to ask anyone to think of everything before blurting it out, she agrees. "But I've known cases where couples get divorced because of what's happening at the time - and even one that got divorced after 25 years, only to remarry 10 years later because they realised their decision to split was a drastic move." We may not be able to control everything we say, says Dee, but it is essential to try to take a calm approach.
CONSIDER THE TWO-WAY NATURE OF THE STREET
If you think of divorce as a quick fix, Andrew Workman, of counsel at Hamdan AlShamsi Lawyers & Legal Consultants, will tell you: it most certainly is not. Separation breaks the family dynamic with long-standing repercussions - and you can be sure that life will never be the same again, he explains.
His advice? "Cause and reason is invariably a two-way street. Always consider the effect of both your contributions - not just your spouse's - to the overall situation." When you evaluate the level of animosity displayed, together with any external issues you may both be bringing to the situation, it will give you a clearer picture of things and a better chance of moving forward.
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