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The Characteristics of a Healthy, Happy Relationship, and What That Means for Divorce

February 22, 2016 Lynn Wilson McNally

I came across this article online just the other day, regarding the characteristics of healthy and happy relationships. The information in the article rings true to me when I consider all that I have observed and have learned from people during the past 12+ years of practicing as a family law attorney. It comes down to this:  successful, happy couples are kind to each other, generous about the other’s intentions and actively, constructively share joy together, while those couples who do not make it, or continue in their relationships but are miserable, exhibit contempt toward each other.

That sounds simple enough. Kindness is self-explanatory, and this article would suggest that kindness should be viewed as a muscle to be exercised and not simply a trait that one innately possesses. Generosity about the other’s intentions presumes that one is not always thinking the worst about their partner’s intentions. In other words, not taking it as a personal attack when your partner leaves dishes in the sink, and instead consider that there are reasons more innocuous than that behind the act (i.e. he had to leave the house quickly after breakfast to take the dog to the vet). Additionally, the constructive, active, sharing of joy brings a couple together, allowing for an opportunity to bond.

On the other hand, contempt is a relationship killer. It is destructive. Merriam-Webster defines contempt as “a feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval.” You know acts of contempt when you see them:  eye rolling and sarcasm are two of the most prevalent. If couples exhibit contempt for each other with their actions or words, their relationship is likely headed nowhere good.

Unfortunately, what all of this means is that of the vast majority of married couples who do not make it, the downfall of their marriages may have a lot to do with a lack of kindness and attentiveness and an abundance of contempt. This does not bode well for the separation and divorce process, as one might imagine, as contempt can tend to escalate acrimony and mistrust, and therefore, increase legal fees.

Is it possible to shift the dynamic in divorce?  Are there ways that two people whose marriage has been mired with contempt can practice kindness and be generous about the other’s intentions upon a separation? Probably not. While it may not be possible to transform contempt into kindness and trust, perhaps the contempt itself can be turned off or dampened. Maybe simply just being mindful of the kinds of actions that exhibit contempt and try to avoid those actions is the key to untangling a bad marriage in the most productive and least destructive way possible. Engaging a good therapist can help one navigate that path. Also, retaining legal counsel whose goals include approaching the separation and divorce in a way that leads to a constructive and efficient resolution can be greatly beneficial.

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