Not all marriages are built to last. But how do you know when to call it quits? After all, every relationship comes with its own set of growing pains and challenges; it's discerning the insurmountable ones that can sometimes require the eyes of a pro. Lucky for us, Mary Gurganus, managing partner at Triangle Divorce Lawyers and a committed "marriage saver," is here to help. She walks us through some of the patterns she's picked up on in relationships that end in divorce—and how to work through the rough patches.
INDY: What are the big warning signs couples need to look out for?
Mary Gurganus: There are a few things we always hear. One, withdrawing: if they're disinterested in going to the annual vacation, or withdrawal from attending family parties, that's a big warning sign. Two, separating bank accounts [and] cell phones. Three, a sudden lack of intimacy. Four, more criticism. Five, texting late at night [or] checking social media late at night. Six, losing common interests. Seven, overconsumption of alcohol or pain medications.
Have you found any generational trends that you've picked up on or noticed any conflicts that seem to be coming up more now?
We actually try to save marriages in our firm. We try to get them in marriage counseling; we have some great counselors we refer to. The number of years matters. The one-to-two-year mark is tough for everybody, because they're trying to set their boundaries and really getting to know each other. And then the five-to-seven-year mark is tough, and then the fourteen-year mark is tough, the twenty-year mark, because usually kids are leaving. And that big change causes some kind of loss that gets people looking and evaluating their own lives. We really do see a pattern with things. Not for everybody, but there definitely are some tougher years that pretty much most marriages go through. And unless there's domestic violence or substance abuse, most of the other marriages can get through their strife if they have the right support system in place.
In our experience, most marriages that involve affairs stay together. They can survive. Which surprises people. It can be harder to give up alcohol than an affair. You don't get addicted to another person, you get addicted to alcohol.
What are the things you see that people are least likely to bounce back from in a marriage?
Untreated mental health is a big hurdle. Because the other spouse doesn't have any recourse. You can't force somebody to take their medication. And criminal activity. You have to choose sometimes between your spouse and your children if there's criminal activity. And pretty much everyone chooses their children. And also safety things. Any kind of abuse—emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and physical abuse.
Are there any cases that you've worked on that stick out in your mind or have inspired you (for better or for worse)?
Well, my own parents' divorce. It affected me. If both parents are fit, I really am a proponent of fifty-fifty custody and splitting those assets equally. I've been married since 1989, and I know from personal experiences ups and downs from those years, too. And I've seen them every day at work. Being a divorce lawyer really makes you appreciate your spouse.
Are there any qualities you've noticed that often seem to help people get through a divorce in a healthy way?
I ask them to separate the money issues from the emotional issues. That's a big thing. Looking at it, taking a step back from the emotion and looking and seeing, what do you need to live on? What are the assets? And then getting through it is having a good support structure and your counselor and a lawyer that you like. Just having a solid support structure, somebody that you can talk to about your finances and what you need, like a financial planner.
Every marriage is going to go through bad spots. You can't go through a marriage with nothing happening. Somebody is going to get sick, somebody is going to lose a job, somebody is going to cheat, somebody is going to drink too much. So it's trying to work through those things that keeps marriages together. Sometimes you can't because it's a safety issue. But for the most part, it really is just work. And it's perseverance, but it's worth it.
That's why we try to save marriages. Are you married? Am I bumming you out?
No! I'm not married.
Well, you go through things and you come out, if you can make it through them and both people are committed to making it through, you become so much stronger. Because you went through it together. So if you can persevere and get what you need to make sure you can get through the ebbs and flows, the more difficult times, then the happy times come after that. That's how marriage is. It's not a flat line.
I hope I made you happy! Remember, you can save most marriages!
This article appeared in print with the headline "Exit Plans."