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Divorce Lawyer Shares How to Safeguard Your Marriage

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After watching many marriages come to an unfortunate end, this divorce lawyer says protecting your marriage starts with one simple thing.


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In an episode of This American Life called “Break Up,” Barry Burkman, a divorce lawyer, talks about something you might not expect a divorce lawyer to talk about.

Early into his career, Burkman realized that the usual method of obtaining a divorce in court was not good for most of his clients. Custody fights, family conflicts, money arguments and the like often left both sides embittered and devastated.

Your point of view doesn’t necessarily invalidate your spouse’s point of view.

So Burkman decided to start doing divorce differently. Rather than helping one spouse build a retributive case against the other, he started doing something called collaborative divorce.

In a collaborative divorce, the couple signs an agreement which actually prevents them from taking their case to court. Instead, each spouse finds a lawyer who acts as a mediator on his or her behalf and helps to find an agreeable compromise for the dividing of assets, family decisions and everything else.

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Burkman started doing collaborative divorce to help couples remain civil with each other throughout the divorce process. But as he watched case after case he learned a profound, yet simple, insight about how to safeguard a marriage.

What he realized is that the number one thing that led to conflict between many of these couples was actually something very simple.

“I think often what happens is couples in conflict lose the ability to listen to each other.”

And that’s exactly what collaborative divorce requires couples to do. You sit down together in a room with a mediator and have a real conversation, possibly for the first time in a long time. And for many couples, this proves to be therapeutic.

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In fact, one couple who worked with Burkman actually got back together.

“Part of it was they couldn’t find the time to talk to each other,” he explained. But as they listened to one another, they slowly came to see the other person’s perspective. And they realized that they didn’t want to live without each other.

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Burkman makes it clear that listening to your spouse doesn’t mean you always agree with them. But it does mean you put yourself in their shoes and try to see where they’re coming from.

He encourages couples to “recognize that your point of view doesn’t necessarily invalidate your spouse’s point of view.”

Yeah, but how?

We can all agree that there is power in learning to listen to our spouses better. But sometimes it’s not that we don’t want to listen. It’s just that we’ve forgotten how to.

When you get home from work this evening you’re probably going to ask your spouse the same question you ask every day.

“How was your day?”

And your spouse will respond with, “Good. How was yours?”

And after about 90 seconds of trying and failing to think of something of substance to say, you’ll default to, “Good.”

For some of us, it’s not that we don’t want to listen to each other. It’s just that sometimes life gets crazy and one day you realize that you haven’t had a real conversation in months. Life gives us plenty of excuses and distractions that can keep us from listening to each other.

Listening to your spouse doesn’t mean you always agree with them. But it does mean you put yourself in their shoes and try to see where they’re coming from.

So you have to figure out what will help put you and your spouse in the right frame of mind to be able to have a real conversation.

I recently heard a preacher say that every evening he and his wife do “highs and lows.” Each person asks the other, “What was your highest and lowest point of the day?” That works great for them. And you may find it to be helpful as well.

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For me, my wife has a hard time opening up when she’s home. She looks around and just sees all the things that need to get done. So sitting down to talk is the last thing on her mind. But when we go on a walk or take a road trip, she’ll open up immediately. And that’s when I get to see inside my wife’s heart and find out how she’s really doing.

What about you? What scenario helps you and your spouse get into each other’s heart?