This article was written by Hance Law Group principal Larry Hance.
After thirty some odd years as primarily a divorce attorney, enough clients have come through my door on the way to divorce for the emergence of a collective story. “I knew as I was walking down the aisle,” or some version of this lamentation is all too common. According to Jennifer Gauvain, LPC and author of, HOW NOT TO MARRY THE WRONG GUY, a staggering thirty percent of divorced women knew they were marrying the “wrong guy” on their wedding day. From angst at being alone to worry over wounding a fiancé, these women felt weighty concern—not just wedding day jitters—yet went through with it despite serious misgivings. Yes, men do this too, though their reasons are somewhat different: often a sense of duty or obligation. Either way, men and women essentially “talk themselves into” walking the walk, hoping they will land on their feet, or that marriage will “right” itself after the wedding day. That strategy proves, at best, unreliable.
So what about the other seventy percent, the ones who believed they married well and expected if not quite bliss, at least not abject misery? Not chiefly money or affairs, as many people guess, though clearly, both problems occur. It turns out marriage—true commitment to one person for the long haul—is just plain difficult, made more so with the addition of children. Researchers have found, in fact, when comparing couples with children and those without, the rate of decline in happiness for those with kids is near twice as steep. (The rewards of parenthood, it would seem, outweigh the inherent stress.) But kids are not the main snags, either. Not money, sex, or the added chaos of children? What then?
Research suggests that communication, or lack thereof—garden variety remember to talk to each other occasionally and meaningfully—is the culprit. Which makes sense when given thought: for human beings to thrive, they have to continue to grow. But growth comes at a cost, often ironically found on the other side of pain, sacrifice, and hard work. When couples do not grow together, take interest in each other’s evolution, or communicate, relationships wither. At least half of our communication is non-verbal. Hurt feelings or feeling misunderstood can lead to irrational behavior which leads to mistrust which puts the negative cycle on spin headed for trouble.
Sadly, many people have no idea that communication is a skill, and skills can be taught. Often, though, when one person feels ready to dig down and work on marriage communication (in or even out of therapy), the other spouse is already done. Good communication and a “good” marriage do not come naturally. The movie is a movie for a reason. Here in real life, we have to work for our marriage for our marriages to work. Learning our communication style, how that style affects our spouse and vice versa, and putting in reasonable effort pays dividends. The trick is that the reward is like a savings account of goodwill—accrued little by little over time, used when necessary. Of course, leaving the marriage can work in the short term, but odds are if miscommunication isn’t dealt with directly, it’s likely to appear again disguised as another spouse the next time around.