While it may seem counter-intuitive, divorce attorneys have an endless tap of relationship advice as they frequently see what causes couples to end it all. Vikki Ziegler — divorce attorney, relationship expert, author, and former star of Bravo's Untying the Knot — offers insight on how to keep your relationship thriving and healthy.
I've spent a lot of time in front of couples on the brink of separation, and as a divorce attorney for 20 years, I've pretty much seen it all. When you've had a front-row seat to thousands of couples enduring marital strife, you learn a few things about what makes a relationship last and what brings it to a screeching halt. In addition, I've been through a marriage of my own that did not work out and come out on the other side stronger than ever, now happily coupled with the love of my life. In any marriage, there are going to be difficult times that will test the strength and fortitude of your relationship. But through my years in the courtroom and mediating couples living in the underbelly of the divorce system, I've identified a few key things that will assist couples in keeping their union alive and thriving. Remember, you can always learn from other people's mistakes, helping improve your own life and actually be lucky in love. But if you want to have a loving, long-term courtship, it's going to take some work. Read on for what this "Divorce Diva" wants you to know.
1. Engage in hobbies together.
You have no idea how often I see couples come into my office and say they have nothing in common anymore. They usually reflect on the early stages of their relationship, reminiscing on when they used to go to concerts or go hiking together, but now their interests have changed and the lack of spare time proves difficult to do activities that both parties enjoy. If your date night has turned into you both wordlessly watching television together, it's time to mix it up with a new hobby. Talk to your partner about things you've always wanted to do, and find something that works for both of you. Sign up for a cooking course, take a ballroom dance class, join the same CrossFit gym, do something that you both can get excited about! You'll have a crop of new things to talk about and a new community to be a part of, and getting excited about something with your partner will keep the spark alive and burning bright. Besides, what's sexier than seeing someone passionate about a hobby you can partake in together?
Stop measuring the success of your marriage against other people you know or it will steal the joy and wonder of your own relationship.
2. Stop comparing your marriage to others.
We've all heard the adage "comparison is the thief of joy," and in the age of social media, it's never been easier to compare ourselves and our marriages to other people's. However, what we see on the surface is not always an accurate depiction of what's going on inside the relationship. We know that (most) people don't post their failures on social media, but consider that the woman in your Pilates class who always talks about her husband's high-paying job might be leaving out that they've been in couples therapy for the past year and a half. I know this better than anyone because I see it every day — people lie about their marriages and gloss over messy details. Stop measuring the success of your marriage against other people you know or it will steal the joy and wonder of your own relationship.
3. Actively and unconditionally trust each other.
Trust is obviously a very important part of any healthy marriage. After all, it's what the foundation of your marriage is built on. When it comes to a solid relationship, actively trusting your partner is vital. What I mean by this is, if your partner says they are going to pick up milk, you have to trust that they are going to pick up milk. If your first inclination is to distrust or wonder whether or not he or she is lying, sit with that feeling for a minute or two. Do you actually not trust them, or are you getting worked up for the sake of getting worked up? Are you ruminating on a past discretion that you haven't resolved yet? Has nothing happened, but insecurity is taking a hold of your rational brain? If the issue lies with a past discretion, bring it up to your partner and consider seeing a mediator or couples therapist. If the issue lies with your insecurities, address this independently with either a mental health professional or a life coach.
Don't forget that you are a person outside of this relationship with unique needs and desires that need to be fulfilled in order to keep you happy.
4. Don't be stingy on self-care.
So frequently when I see couples in my office, they muse on how they have no time to do the things they like to do anymore. Like I said before, finding hobbies that interest both of you is important and will help keep the spark alive. However, I see way too often people, specifically women, who say they don't feel like they have time for themselves anymore and their whole life is spent working, inside the relationship, or taking care of the family if there are kids in the picture. Don't forget that you are a person outside of this relationship with unique needs and desires that need to be fulfilled in order to keep you happy. Indulge in your own form of self-care to rectify this! Buy some candles, do a face mask, go to that yoga class — make time for the things you say you don't have time for. Don't make anyone else responsible for your individual happiness. After all, you can't stay happy with someone else if you're not happy on your own.
5. Say what you want (seriously).
This is one I want to scream from the rooftops. If you're not happy or getting what you want out of your relationship, say it. Out loud. To your partner. In mediation sessions, I hear people say things like, "You've done xyz for this long and it's always really upset me." Then the other person looks baffled and proclaims, "Why didn't you say something earlier?" Seriously, no matter how long you've been in a relationship, no one can actually read your mind. If you have any source of contention, voice it to your partner (not just your BFFs). Communication about all matters of the heart is massively crucial to your overall happiness.
If you're not happy or getting what you want out of your relationship, say it. Out loud. To your partner.
Get naked about your finances. I know this is not a sexy topic, but being honest about your finances is really so important in maintaining a healthy relationship. I've said this before and I'll say it again. No one wants to get engaged and find out their new fiancé has been hiding $25K in student loan debt. If you both have decided to legally join your lives in the eyes of the state, remaining transparent about your income, debts, and all financial matters is the least you can do. After all, when you get married, you share everything, from the bedroom duvet all the way to your debt. That is, unless you have a prenup . . . more on that later. Being upfront may be awkward in the moment, but it will save you a lot of strife later.
6. Stop thinking prenups are only for the rich and fabulous.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm not only the "Divorce Diva," I'm also the "Prenup Princess." I am on a mission to change the stigma around prenups and a firm believer that every relationship should include a prenup. I am so passionate about this topic, I even wrote a book about it — The Pre-Marital Planner: Your Complete Legal Guide to a Perfect Marriage. People get nervous because relationships are emotional, and prenups are very much the opposite. However, if you own a business or real estate, are planning on receiving a large inheritance, have children from another relationship, etc., it may be within your best interest to have a prenup. Things do happen, and protecting yourself financially is something that I want all couples to consider. It's the 21st century; it's time to do some negotiating and take control of your financial future.
Even though I have been referred to as the "Divorce Diva," I really am rooting for love, and witnessing so many unsuccessful marriages has helped me to create a road map for navigating a successful relationship. At the end of the day, the most important things in any union are trust, honest communication, and making time for each other and yourself. However, I'd urge anyone who is struggling in their relationship to voice their concerns and consider seeing a professional who can help you sort out both of your feelings in a safe environment. Hopefully that should keep relationships moving toward the altar and marriages finding their way out of the courtroom.