If you want to know why marriages break apart, and what it looks like when they do, talk to a divorce lawyer. Better yet, read a book by a divorce lawyer about why people divorce.
Luckily for you, that book exists, and I decided to interview the author.
James J. Sexton has spent nearly 20 years handling custody disputes, child care payments, prenups and postnups, and basically every conceivable divorce scenario. His new book, If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late, is a distillation of the lessons he’s gleaned along the way.
Over the course of our conversation, I asked Sexton why people end up in his office, what advice he has for people struggling in their marriages, why he calls Facebook an “infidelity-generating machine,” and why he’s still a romantic after all these years.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
What are the most common reasons people end up in your office?
James J. Sexton
They come in for big reasons like infidelity or financial improprieties. But from my perspective, these big reasons have their origins in a succession of smaller choices that people make that take them further and further away from each other, to the point where those small things no longer feel quite so small. Everyone, when they get married, starts off with the same destination in mind. We want to live happily ever after. No one ever gets married with the intention of getting divorced.
In Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities one of the characters is talking about how he went financially bankrupt and one of the other characters says, “Tim, how did you go bankrupt?” He said, “Well, I went bankrupt the way that everyone does, very slowly and then all at once.” I think that’s how marriages end. Very slowly and then all at once. There are lots of little things that happen and then the flood comes, then the big things happen. The question is, can we stop the little things that take us further away from each other before it’s too late?
What’s your advice to people who are thinking about getting married?
James J. Sexton
Take it seriously. The simplest advice that I give to people is to look at it like the purchase of a car, because I think, sometimes, people give more thought to the purchase of a car than they do to the decision to get married.
If I said to the average person, “What car do you want? If you could have any car in the world, what car do you want?” Most people would say, “I want a Lamborghini. I want a Ferrari.” But if I said to them, “Well, this car that you choose is going to be the only car you can have for the rest of your life,” you have to change the analysis, right? Because the car you want in your 20s and the car you want in your 30s when you’ve got a couple of kids is very different.
So you’d have to take something that fits every part of your life. You’d have to pick something that was kind of fun and sexy enough to see you through your 20s but practical enough to handle when you have kids. I think it’s the same when choosing a spouse. Continue reading here