Take a moment to imagine the scene. Your former best friend, your once closest intimate, the man you pledged to spend the rest of your life with, is just across the table avoiding your eyes as you coldly go through your property and assets. Although you are both on your best behavior, the biting formalities and the stinging practicalities are knives to the heart. You would cry if you weren’t so numb.
If you’re like most people, this vision is enough to shake you to your core. It’s our biggest relationship fear. No one wants the life they’ve started with another to shatter into smithereens.
Over the years, Manhattan-based divorce attorney Kari Lichtenstein, partner at Stutman Stutman & Lichtenstein, has witnessed a lot of broken hearts and bitter realizations. Not just despite her job title but because of it, she has found herself offering tips to young professional women on ways to avoid having a divorce. And it all starts by making sure that your partner is compatible with you before you say “I do.”
Here’s her advice:
01. When you see a red flag, address it—don’t push it underneath the rug.
“If there are red flags, you will see them if you want to see them. And, if you don’t want to see them, you won’t,” Lichtenstein says. She tells us that in retrospect, many of her clients tell her that the warning signs were there—but they just refused to acknowledge them in hopes that they would disappear over time. They pushed their premeditations under the rug, believing and hoping that time mixed with their love for each other would be enough for them to transcend these kinds of fundamental problems. “As they say, when people tell you who they are, believe them,” she says. “It’s no different for a potential spouse.” If your values don’t align, or your personalities just don’t jibe no matter the “chemistry” you may have, realize that you’re actually signing up for an uneasy future.
02. Romanticizing weddings is fun, but don’t get caught up in the idea of getting married—no matter your age.
Women in particular can feel a lot of pressure to be married by a certain age and thus sometimes find themselves caught up in the romance, making compromises in places where compromises shouldn’t be made. “A lot of my clients tell me that they got married because their friends were getting married, or they felt they were at the age that they should be getting married,” Lichtenstein says. “The problem is that although the timing seemed right, the person that they were marrying was not.” After years in and out of the dating scene, it can be achingly hard to end a relationship that you’ve invested so much into, but remember that if you’re both not on the same page for what you want out of marriage, all the beautiful Pinterest boards in the world aren’t going to change that.
03. Slow down and listen to your instincts.
If he’s making your stomach turn, or your anxiety worsen, chances are your body is trying to tell you something that your mind has forced itself to ignore. “So many clients have told me that they knew they should not have married their spouse, but they were afraid to admit it or to back out,” Lichtenstein says. While there are some people who are legitimately afraid of commitment—even with the right person—take some time to explore whether the hesitation is healthy or not. It certainly takes a lot of gumption to break off an engagement, but as Lichtenstein remarks, “It is a lot easier than down the line going through a potentially bitter divorce that may involve children.”
04. Problems will not get better after you are married.
Of course you’re going to have conflict! Conflict doesn’t mean doom and gloom. But if fights are already taking an extraneous kind of effort, and it is beginning to define your existence as a couple, remember that dating—while it has its trials—is supposed to be the fun, easy part. As Lichtenstein explains, “If you are not getting along before you are married, there is very little chance that things will improve once you are married.” Remember, marriage with the right person can be amazing—but even then, it isn’t without its stressors: be it money, in-laws, children, and both physical and mental stress. “If you don’t have a solid foundation when you get married, it will likely be much harder to face those inevitable life issues as a married couple,” Lichtenstein says. So ask yourself a tough question: Does your relationship make living your life easier or far harder?
05. Be honest about what you want out of life and from a partner.
Romance is wonderful, but it’s not the magical cure for unreconcilable differences—in fact, it’s typically the first thing to go when a couple comes up against differences they can’t easily solve. “Some of my clients have told me that they never took an honest look at their potential spouse,” Lichtenstein reveals. “[They] did not address the fact that they did not have the same ideas about how to live their life or raise their children.” You’re going to want to have a practical conversation or two before you agree to spend your life together. For ambitious women in particular, she frequently sees how they may be frustrated with a husband who is less ambitious. As for people who value financial security, they often find themselves frustrated by the partner’s spending habits. So although you may love someone, if you have completely different ideas about the kind of life you want to lead or the kids you want to raise, it’s important to acknowledge that these differences can be unsolvable, leading to painful resentment if not addressed appropriately.
Before you think that all marriages are scary, consider this. Marriage is, in a way, like scuba diving. It can be thrilling, breathtaking—taking you to incredible depths and beautiful places—but without the right preparation, it can be a horrible, risky adventure. Committing to some kind of skills-based training together is critical to marital happiness. But the most important part of readiness for marriage is finding the right partner. If your guy isn’t someone you feel totally comfortable diving in with, it may be best to stay in the boat and wait for a better fit.