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An Experienced Divorce Lawyer Shares the 5 Most Common Reasons That Marriages Fail

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Marriage is hard, and guess what? If you’ve never signed that piece of paper, even if you’ve lived with another person for years, you don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know why, but the legality matters in our mentality.

There are a 100 ways to fail (and probably far more ways to succeed), but one of the best ways to navigate a path that comes out successful is to learn from the mistakes of others. Be proactive. Get ahead of any potential issues.

All reasons that what divorce lawyer James Sexton has to say in his book, How to Stay in Love: Practical Wisdom from an Unexpected Source, is great material.

Here are 5 reasons he says he sees people get divorced all the time.

5. Not treating small issues like big issues.

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Things like someone drinking too much, arguing that never seems to stop, someone spending money without asking – those can all seem like small things, nothing that can’t be solved. Except, when you let them stick around, they pile up. And one day they’ll cave the roof in.

“The question you have to ask is, ‘What are the conditions in your marriage in terms of being able to talk honestly? What’s your reaction when your spouse says to you, ‘Hey, we’re having money problems’? I think a marriage is a living organism, and we all have varying degrees of culpability in creating those conditions in the marriage.”

4. They stop paying attention to the little things.

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In a life where two people live together, day in and day out, small gestures, attention to detail, can really show the other person that we care. Then one day, we don’t do those things, and it can be a fairly quick downhill slide from there.

“These ways of expressing love and affection and attention to another person then slowly slip away because of the understandable things that happen in day-to-day life. The demands of work and children and stress and everything else. Those actions are the glue to a marriage. And when that slips, then the whole machine falls apart.”

3. Expecting your partner to read your mind.

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According to Sexton, even huge things like infidelity can be attributed to not communicating well enough with your partner about your needs and wants ahead of time. The phrase ‘communication is key’ might be well-worn and trite, but it seems like it’s that way for a reason.

“Pay attention to your needs, pay attention to your spouse’s needs. And then actively communicate both. Communicate what you need and want and where your spouse is hitting the mark and not hitting the mark.”

2. They make some topics off-limits.

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Similarly, Sexton has seen many clients divorce because there’s something they feel as if they aren’t getting or can’t get from their spouse, and instead of talking to them about it, they go outside the marriage to get it from another source.

He points out in the book that if people are willing to commit to being the only outlet for another person, all of the cards need to be on the table. You have to at least give your spouse a chance to accept you and your needs before assuming they won’t, and leaving them out of the conversation.

“I’m forced by virtue of my profession to spend time with the cheater on the cheated up and really hear both of their stories in great depth. And when you spend time with someone who’s cheated and talk to them long enough, you start to say, ‘okay, I get it.’ You know, you were lonely, you were isolated, you weren’t getting your needs met. Maybe that’s your own fault because you didn’t express your needs and so your spouse couldn’t even hope to meet them.”

1. You forget that you can’t change people – and that once upon a time, you loved this person just the way they are.

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Constructive criticism might be great for managing a workplace, but at home, no one likes to be constantly told what they’re doing wrong and how you could do it better. Constant criticism wears everyone down eventually, but most importantly, it can make your partner feel as if you don’t love them anymore – because it seems like all you want them to do is change.

“You didn’t marry someone because they were good at criticizing you. You marry someone because they’re a cheerleader. They make you feel good. The world is antagonistic and chaotic and it’s really nice to have someone cheering for you.”

I definitely plan to file these away for my own marriage – even the ones I’ve heard before because we can all use a reminder now and then.

Good luck out there in the marriage trenches, y’all. If you’re safe, you can do this – but only if you really want to.