This weekend, NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” interviewed James Sexton, the author of a new book of relationship advice called If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late. Sexton, by the way, is a divorce lawyer who has witnessed the demise of thousands of marriages and refers to himself as “Margaret Mead of divorce.” There’s no question he’s learned a thing or two about relationships by helping people get out of them — but why would he share his wisdom with the world, instead of continuing to reap the benefits of other people’s misery? The conflict of interests is obvious, so I decided to put on my advice-cap and examine his tips on how to stay together.
Is this just a shameless plug for “Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything”, the bear trap-centric advice column written by unqualified strangers on the internet? Maybe! But not exclusively. [Seriously though, we drop hot advice weekly — write us at [email protected] and ask! We even have a non-divorce lawyer on staff!]
So what are some of Sexton’s key points on making marriage last?
Never Hire Hot Babysitters
According to Sexton, the babysitter thing is legit. Both husbands AND wives have been known to run away with the nanny, and he posits that part of the fascination may be that the nanny has a life outside of the family they work for — so to the couple that’s hired them, they seem exotic. Instead, the spouses could learn to develop their own lives outside of the home and take some time for themselves.
“When people get divorced, one of the things that happens right away, if they have children, is they have time with their children that’s very defined, and they have time without their children that’s very defined. And I have to tell ya, I don’t know why divorced people should have all the fun!”
His point seems to be that instead of waiting to reinvent yourself when you’re divorced, start to do it in a healthy way alongside your partner while you’re still together.
My Verdict? Or just don’t have kids! Then there’s no need for a nanny. Seems simple. Because the problem is, if you have kids AND you’re committed to developing outside interests, you’ll probably need a babysitter to help facilitate that anyway.
Or, alternatively, don’t bang the babysitter. Why is this so hard for people? Though I’ll agree with him on the reinvent yourself before divorce angle, because if you’re the sort of person that’s craving the sexy newness of a nanny in your life, you probably oughta reinvent yourself into someone who’s less of a piece of shit as soon as possible.
“Facebook Invites Infidelity”
There’s a whole tangent about how everyone curates the best version of themselves on social media, and because we have endless excuses to be on Facebook it means there’s endless excuses to check out bikini shots of your ex-girlfriend. “Anywhere you are, whatever you’re doing, you can be cruising for new romantic connections if you want.”
My Verdict? Duh, yes, Facebook is fucking garbage. But like, there’s a big leap from internet stalking your ex to cheating. There are many reasons to ditch Facebook, but if your reason is “It’s distracting me from my spouse by showing me attractive people” then maybe you need to address the source of your distraction, rather than the tool of your distraction. After all, if you’re gonna decide to avoid pictures of hot people then you’ll need to cancel your cable package and not watch movies too. And maybe sew your eyelids shut, because what if the cashier at the drug store is attractive?!?!?!
Stay Connected… By Talking
“Communicate with your spouse, remember that you fell in love with a person who had unique traits, and there were little things you just did for each other. You were cheerleaders for each other at some point. But when you’re married it’s very very easy to just not even see the person anymore, much less cheer for them.”
My Verdict? Hard agree. Talking honestly, openly, and sometimes painfully is super important. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re suddenly the same damn person. To stay connected, make the effort to share what’s going on in your mind.
But perhaps even more important than talking is listening. Even when it’s hard. Even when you’re hearing something you don’t want to hear. Being a receptive listener, who can put aside personal reactions and think about your partner first, isn’t easy — but it’s so important. Because if you don’t know how to listen, then your spouse won’t know how to talk to you.
“It’s really hard to stay together, and it’s really hard to split up.”
What I think Sexton is saying is that there is no easy option when you’re in the thick of it, so try and remember why you got married in the first place. What were you looking for, and why did you find it in this person. And no matter what, don’t be a dick. Ok, I’m paraphrasing. What he actually says is:
“And my advice to everyone is, stay out of my office if you can, but if you need to come to my office, I hope I see the most compassionate, thoughtful version of you, I hope I see a version of you that focuses on your kids, and that focuses on ending your relationship with dignity.”
My Verdict? If marriage is so hard, and divorce is so hard, then just don’t get married! But that’s me being overly simplistic. Sure, the legal hurdles of exiting a marriage, including the hiring of divorce lawyers, are not insignificant. But the fact is that maintaining any serious relationship takes work, and ending a long-term one is often painful. People change, so falling in love isn’t a one-time event that happens to you. If you’re lucky, it’s something that you are actively engaged in, something you’re choosing to do, over and over again as you both evolve together. Marriage tricks you into thinking you make one commitment on one day and poof — you’re married. But really, every day you’re committing yourself to your partner — giving who you are in that moment to who they are in that moment, and knowing that it might not be the same love it was yesterday or will be tomorrow and that’s OK.
Knowing each other, and growing together, requires communication and honesty and supporting individual growth and all that stuff. And that’s important to any relationship.
Other Hot Pajiba Relationship Tips:
- Carbo-load together. If you haven’t eaten two pizzas straight to the face while sitting next to your partner on the couch, then can you even call it “love”?
- Respect the sanctity of television. If you have a show that you watch together, then wait to watch it together! Or watch it solo and then lie and pretend you haven’t and rewatch it with your partner. Just be sure you’re a solid liar.
- Seriously, hobbies and outside interests — get some! Keep growing individually, and support your partner in their efforts to do the same.
- Don’t hold onto resentment. If something is bothering you, bring it up. Don’t let that shit pile up in the back of your head until it all comes out in an angry deluge, because that’s NOT HELPFUL. It means you’ll overreact to whatever triggered your final straw, and it means months went by where your partner could have addressed your complaints if they’d known.
- Remember, they can’t leave you if they’re stuck in a bear trap.
And finally, here is some wisdom from the esteemed Dr. Cox: