Here’s Why All Your Marriages Are Doomed

A top divorce lawyer on how to protect your ass(ets)

August 23, 2017 9:00 am

What’s worse — or at least more perilous — than sexual infidelity? 

What’s one way to spot a couple in decline? 

What’s the problem with high school reunions?

Divorce is a tricky thing, and most of the time, we figure out what led to it too late.

So we recently sat down with top Silicon Valley divorce attorney Anne Cochran Freeman, partner and certified family law specialist at Sideman & Bancroft LLP, to talk about the state of divorce in America: why it happens, how to avoid it and when it’s time to pull the plug.

If you’re partnered up — and want to stay that way — here’s the information here you need to read. 

IH: In your normal, day-to-day life, how can you tell when a couple is starting to go off the rails? 

The biggest “tell” is when you see two people start to live different, and separate, lives. For instance, if one spouse becomes very involved in a group or new activity, so that the spouses lose shared interests. They start to become more like roommates, ships passing in the night. We might see each spouse showing up to the children’s school or sporting events alone consistently, not together. 

IH: What reasons for divorce are more common than they were 10 years ago?

A vast many couples today met through professional settings. Many met in law school or business school, for instance, or through friends with whom they went to school or worked. Two distinct patterns present themselves.

The more common one [is that] the couple are both in similar, challenging, and lucrative professional positions when they married, then the wife stops working to have and “raise” the children. What the couple used to have in common they no longer do. The husband is often resentful at the amount of stress he carries for being the sole earner; he agreed to her taking maybe a year off, but not her becoming one of the “Ladies Who Lunch” — [an] overspending, tennis-obsessed, gossiping helicopter mom. The wife, however, is torn between going back to work and staying at home with the kids. She resents her husband for not working as hard to progress in his career as he could have. Had she remained working, and not been the one to bear and take care of the children, she would be more successful than he by now.

Silent resentment — and then silent, seething resentment — feeds this chasm, unfortunately. Then comes the loss of respect for one another. It is difficult to come back from that. 

IH: And how about a situation that has become less common?

Again, a couple meets because they run in the same larger, professional circles. Maybe they are each in the first third of his or her career. They marry, have one child or more. The wife’s career skyrockets — she puts in the time, networks, markets, politics, travels. After seven years of marriage, she is earning three times as much as he is and is still on an upward trajectory.

She starts to resent it; she doesn’t find it attractive that he earns so much less than she does when they started at the same place. More importantly, she loses respect for him because he doesn’t seem to care. Then she gets mad: “Why is he spending so much money? He’s not going out of his way to earn any. I’d love to not work so much, and be with the kids more.”

Often the husband is painfully aware of his having failed expectations of him. He can feel emasculated. Sometimes a substance abuse issue is triggered: alcohol, Adderall. Feeling rejected, an affair can strike up. Or encounters with escorts, massage parlors. 

IH: What do men frequently not do — that they should — to protect both their assets and their emotional integrity?

ACF: 1: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Regarding finances, assets, debts. Discuss your ideas about money, philosophies about spending versus saving. Understand each other’s relationship to money. If you truly understand this, you can anticipate 70 to 80 percent of all of the issues in your relationship. 

2: Division of labor kills marriages. Share the work. Do not take over the finances so your spouse doesn’t have to be bothered; your spouse needs to have ownership, and at least an opportunity for understanding. It should never be able to be said that you kept them in the dark, and you didn’t want them to know about the finances.

Do not encourage your spouse to stop working. In fact, just the opposite: encourage your spouse to always work outside the home, in a progressive capacity, to maintain his or her independent source of earnings, earning capacity, adult contact and self-confidence or esteem. 

If you have children, share the work. Both of you should do the doctor’s visits, parent-teacher conferences, getting up in the middle of the night with the sick child. Don’t allow yourself to be marginalized, and don’t marginalize yourself.

IH: Which gender, anecdotally, is in your opinoin more frequently accused of, or in your opinion involved in, infidelity? 

ACF: I presume this question refers to sexual infidelity — that’s what people seem to be the most judgmental about. But there are all kinds of infidelity: financial infidelity is actually a much bigger and deeper cause of the break up of a marriage. There is romantic infidelity versus sexual infidelity. Actually, some infidelity consists of emotional intimacy, and never results in a sexual act. However, the other spouse may feel so betrayed anyway that there’s no going back. We see this arise often around a high school reunion: rekindling a fantasy of what could’ve been. 

To overgeneralize, men seem to get caught for sexual infidelities more often than women. Women seem to engage in emotional affairs. Both genders engage in financial infidelity — rampantly, in different ways. 

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