Why “Contribution” is So Important to a Marriage

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Marriage

Recently, I was asked to present an evening workshop by an association of professional women on “How to Negotiate with your Spouse”. I was pleased and surprised that they invited a divorce lawyer to present on this topic (which I call, “How to Get Along with Your Spouse”), but it actually makes great sense. Who but a divorce lawyer is in a great position to see what happens when a couple cannot get along.

The association probably found me on the web through my work in Mediation to Stay Married (also known as marital mediation). This is an emerging field of mediations. As a divorce lawyer, I can see how a couples’ interactions are leading them to divorce. I can alert them to the problems, how they lead to divorce, and help them do something about it through mediation.

When we work on divorces with our clients, our clients tell us what went wrong with the marriage. The other spouse generally has another “take” on what went wrong. When you put the two versions together (reminds me of the 1952 classic Japanese film “Rashomon”) you can get a composite view of what went wrong. From this composite view you can “reverse engineer it”, to find out what needs to go “right” in the marriage in order for marriage to succeed.

At the beginning of my presentation to the professional women, I asked them to (anonymously) each write on a 3 x 5 card, a problem in their marriage or relationship, and something they find very annoying about the significant other. The women wrote assiduously with almost 100% participation. I think no one had ever asked them these questions, and they really wanted to unburden.

I used the answers as jumping off points in my presentation. I was not at all surprised that the great proportion of the responses dealt with their feelings of lack of contribution by their spouses or significant others. The notice of “contribution” is a legal term, and is greatly relevant in divorces. Sometimes lack of contribution is reality; sometimes it a perceived lack of contribution, and is not real.

“Contribution to the marriage” is an area where most married couples and committed couples find significant discomfort. It needs to be talked about by the spouses or partners, directly, often, gently, and with humor. The discussion will reveals a treasure trove of history, gender perceptions, culture, religion and family history that will be explored as the couple talks about the issue. The hope is that this discussion will lead to greater clarity, empathy, or appreciation, and maybe some practical changes in the balancing of work needed to make a household run happily and smoothly.

© 2009 Laurie Israel.  All rights reserved.    michael and ricky

 

Laurie Israel,  founder of the firm Israel, Van Kooy & Days, LLC  has a tax background and an interest in what makes marriages break down. She is on the board of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, and is a board member and is active in the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council.  She writes and presents on prenuptial agreements, mediation, marriage, and collaborative law.

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