ERP 343: How To Protect Your Marriage From Divorce — An Interview With David Erdman

By Posted in - Podcast October 25th, 2022 0 Comments

Marriage is one of the most significant decisions one has to make. It is designed to foster a partnership, a lifelong commitment, and a sense of shared success and happiness between two people. Nobody enters into a marriage expecting it to end in divorce, but as couples spend more time together and get to know one another better, conflicts may arise, responsibilities and priorities may change, and if couples can’t work it out, it may result in divorce.

There are marriage and couple’s therapists who can assist couples in working through conflicts, but if the relationship is beyond saving, you might want to speak with a divorce lawyer who can guide you through the legal process.

Have you heard of a divorce attorney that helps couples stay in their marriage? That sounds ironic.

While most divorce lawyers focus on getting the best settlement offer their clients can get, even if that means adding fuel to the fire, David Erdman approaches his cases differently.

David has been happily married for 38 years and has practiced divorce law for over 40 years. He is a graduate of Duke University and the Georgetown University Law Center. David is an advocate and ally for clients who are working to save their marriages with a focus on children. He is also a veteran of over 5,000 marriage-related legal consultations, which inspired him to write the book, The Ten Commandments of Marriage: Secrets of a Divorce Lawyer. 

In this episode, David discusses his unique approach to handling divorce cases. We’ll discover how he is shifting the emphasis from the impending separation to making your marriage the way you want it to be by asking the right questions. Furthermore, he outlines what is in his book while focusing on the most important rules and delivering some insightful advice.

In this Episode

4:54 David’s motivation for writing The Ten Commandments of Marriage: A compilation of what he discovered from more than 5000 other marriages over the course of 40 years.

13:28 Asking clients probing questions to help them prepare for negotiations.

19:12 What is unforgivable?

25:29 Thou shalt learn to resolve differences.

28:34 What happens in a relationship when there is equality.

35:35 Top reasons for divorce: the percentage of women who are more likely to initiate divorce.

38:36 How to make sex satisfying for both you and your partner.

42:49 Spouses’ superpowers that you should not neglect.

44:47 Thou shall NOT allow children to obstruct your marriage

49:04 Golden nuggets of advice

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Respect each other at all times and treat each other equally.
  • If you can, apologize and extend forgiveness.
  • Learn to resolve differences.
  • Avoid reacting too quickly; instead, take your time, listen, and try to understand.
  • Learn from other people’s errors.
  • Show your spouse how much you appreciate them.
  • Share the responsibility of raising your kids with your spouse, and love them together.

Mentioned

The Ten Commandments of Marriage: Secrets of a Divorce Lawyer (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Connect with David Erdman

Website: tencommandmentsofmarriage.com

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

David, thank you for joining us today.

It’s my pleasure and privilege to be with you and your audience.

Yeah, likewise, and I am excited to have people on the show that come from different disciplines. I think it gives us a much richer, more diverse conversation. And you’re coming from a background of law and working with couples negotiating or trying to navigate divorce, and we’re privileged to get your insight from a long career in this industry. I’m curious if you want to share anything about what got you interested in writing the book that you wrote.

Thank you for asking Dr. Jessica. And again, it’s a privilege and a pleasure to be with you and your audience today. I’ve been a lawyer for more than 40 years. And over those years, my practice gravitated toward divorce work. I started out as a general trial lawyer, but I found that I got a lot of referrals. I wasn’t quite sure why I got a lot of referrals as a marital lawyer. 

I represented lawyers. I’ve represented a few people who would be considered celebrities locally. I’ve represented many, many everyday couples. And, of course, you can’t represent both sides in any legal matter. I’ve represented many people from many, what I would call everyday couples. I didn’t want the lessons I had learned to go for not. I wanted to put down what I call The 10 Commandments of Marriage in writing. 

Maybe it only helps my two married daughters and their sons-in-law, or maybe it helps some of my clients. I hope that it will help people across this country because I’ve had the privilege, and you have, too, in your work of looking into so many marriages. The actual number exceeds 5000 for me. I have spoken with and met with more than 5000 individuals. Not all of those became big fights. Not all of those people even separated, but they wanted the advice of a lawyer at least once to know what their rights were. 

And so, I’ve had that privilege. And so, no one else gets those opportunities. And so, if I don’t share what I’ve learned from 5000 other people’s marriages, and the one of mine, which is still going on after 38 years, then we’ve lost some of our heritage here of information. So, I wrote this book, The 10 Commandments of marriage, subtitled Secrets of a Divorce Lawyer.

I appreciate you saying that because I was just feeling as you were describing why we feel as though we need to reinvent the wheel or that we feel so alone in the territory of negotiating these challenges and knowing our rights or how to again, negotiate and navigate and you’re providing information, insight, understanding, and you’re almost the history if you will, that we can learn from

If I may sum it up another way, my book is not a book about law. It is literally a book about how to avoid ever needing to come to visit a divorce lawyer like me. Because if people have happy marriages all across the world, and I wish that for every person I ever meet, including those who contact me in distress.

And the name of the title has a ring of also including a spiritual or religious perspective. Is that part of the book?

Well, it is true. By calling them commandments, I have arrogated, to a certain extent, the analogy to the ten commandments. Interesting point. Of the ten commandments, seven of them are thou shalt not. And only three of them are in the positive. 

All ten commandments, or nine out of 10 of them, are in the positive, because I think most of the people I meet, they know where they’ve gone wrong. They know what they shouldn’t be doing. What they need is positive precepts of what they ought to be doing. And so, I’ve given them ten commandments, only one of which is phrased in the “thou shalt not,” all the others are “thou shalt.”

And do you have a spiritual or religious angle that you’re bringing in and integrating into your work as an attorney?

No. Fair question. Fair question. I am a religious person. I’m conscious of people’s faith, and they sometimes share with me their sense that God is telling them to do this or that, and I listen more than I preach. But faith is certainly part of who we are as humans for most people. And so, but they draw on their faith, I draw on mine.

I am in a similar perspective, and that I like to hold space and invite people to use that as a resource, as I would say, What is it 80+ percent of people have a belief in something higher, and just to be able to kind of give honor to that and credence to that. It sounds as though the title is just emphasizing the importance of these things rather than really weaving in as a spiritual, religious kind of thing.

Thank you for correctly interpreting it. I do, in the preface, talk a little bit about why commandments, and I am very clear that I don’t believe that I’m speaking for God or that I am God. But I do believe that our marriages are so much the core of our success and happiness in life if we’re lucky enough to have a good marriage, and when people have made the investment of their hearts, and their souls, and their time, and their hopes, and they’ve put them together in a marriage, that’s such a gigantic investment that I don’t want them to see it lost without them doing all that they can to see if they can save their marriage. 

And so, I went to a wedding this very past weekend. I was tempted to give the young couple a copy of my book, but I decided it was better just to give them the gift of their registry. Because maybe they would take it wrong. They didn’t know me well enough to know that I should be advising them. But in my heart, I wanted them to read the book because the first commandment, by the way, is thou shalt be equals. 

Free stock photo of adult, couple, flower Stock Photo

“Thou shalt be equals.”

Maintaining equality through a marriage pretty much takes care of the other nine issues because people will then listen to each other’s opinions. So be governed by what the two of them together believe and think and not just what one of them wants, even in sex. If they’re equals, then they’re going to find a way to make sure that it’s fulfilling for both of them. So if they can master the first commandment of equality, they’re on their way. 

I’ll give you another example. I’ll give you another example. Just yesterday, I was speaking with someone in my law office where I’m sitting. I was saying the biggest problem that young people have in their marriages is that almost from the beginning, in many marriages, they set up an inequality. I saw it at the law school. I saw, and this applies whether it’s a law school or any other pursuit, saw couples in which, be there the male or be there the female, who’s in law school with me. Their spouse was a three-year indentured servant while the law student, understandably, for the good of the couple, was getting an education to make them all successful financially. That’s not the way it works. 

You set up your spouse for three years as a servant, and you’ll never get out of that relationship. From then on, it’s the lawyer, it’s the young doctor, it can even be anybody going to school for any purpose. If they’ve got a spouse, who’s getting all the laundry and getting the gas-filled in the car and paying all the bills and making sure the meals are put together, whether they’re male or female, then they’re setting up a master-servant relationship. That’s not equality. 

And so, it can be done. But it’s got to be approached with an understanding that we’re not going to be unequal. And even if I’m a law student, I’m doing everything in my power to make my spouse know that she’s my equal. But I saw lots of marriages fail after law school because these unequal relationships had been set up. I was not married. I was single. I didn’t ask for it that way.

Well, there’s something to be said. I was talking to a client. I remember a statistic when I was in my Ph.D. program and had a Master’s at that point. And there was a statistic about relationships. I think it was in the upwards of 70% will not make it through that process because of the rigor because of the demand. And also, one person is growing exponentially. It’s just difficult to also carry that along. 

I want to say a couple of things about what you’re saying. I love that you mentioned a wedding because as you were talking, I was like, wow, as an attorney, you’re probably seeing people at a juncture where they’re in fear, they’re reacting, they’re probably not operating from their most resource to play. So in some sense, they’re not at their lowest, but they’re doing things and saying things that they’re probably not proud of, likely not everyone. 

And so, that’s very different than what one is feeling at a wedding, right, the aspirational vows and that there’s something really important that you’re bringing to the table to help people round out when we don’t get conscious of these negotiations. We don’t look at how the arrangement works for both people. 

We can enter into a place that isn’t working or is unequal, and then we are human beings, and we have a nervous system, and we will react when things are not going well. And that this is highly important to us. So we’re going to be that much more invested. The stakes are that much higher. So we’re going to feel fear that much more. I wonder what you would say.

Well, first, on the happy side, when people get married, they do say all the right words. When they come into my office, well, that’s three ways people come into my office. Think about this. By the way, I have certainly dealt with many same-sex marriages. But the majority of my clients are in marriages, which are heterosexual. And so, there’s a male and a female. 

The three circumstances are either he wants out, and she doesn’t, and vice versa, or they both want out. That’s not very common. It’s usually one or the other. So when I was sizing up, when I first met with somebody, I listened an awful lot. I’ve listened. I mean, we have a back-and-forth equal conversation. 

I’d follow what I call an 85:15 rule. I’m going to listen 85% of the time and speak 15% of the time when listening to clients because I want to make sure that they know they’re being heard. I want to be able to respond to what they have if I accept. But the first issue is, are they somebody who wants out of this marriage? Are they that person? Or are they the ones who’s found out the bad news that their spouse wants out of the marriage? Every once in a while, they say, “We both want out in the marriage.” But even that, I’m a little skeptical of. It’s going to be one or the other who’s the motive force behind it. 

So what’s our meeting with them? Okay, now, the ones who are being left behind in this equation are strategizing with them about how they can try to save their marriage. I’m saying, you know, you’re here in a lawyer’s office. And I’ll paint the picture for you of how that can go, how painful it can be, how costly it can be, how it can scorch the earth between the two of you, how it can make your children’s lives more difficult. But I always tell clients, and I mean this, I am not, and I have never been in the business of breaking up marriages. 

I fear that there are some lawyers who are. I’m not going to speak against any of them. I don’t know the effect, but I fear it based on what I experienced. But I’m not in the business of breaking up marriages, and that comforts people because even if they want out of a marriage, they’d like to meet a lawyer who isn’t egging them on to make it bigger. 

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“I’m not in the business of breaking up marriages. The number one way is to change the focus from each other to what they have in common, which is their children. If we can get them both thinking about their children, then maybe they’ll look again.”

The point of this is if they want to save their marriage, I tell them, forthrightly, to look to that side of the screen. I’m looking at the seat where the client is typically sitting. And I tell them, “I’ll do anything I can help you save your marriage.” And by the way, I’ll give you a secret. The number one way is to change the focus from each other to what they have in common, which is their children. If we can get them both thinking about their children, then maybe they’ll look again. 

Now, that was just talking about the person who’s being left by somebody. The other person, the one who wants out of the marriage, even then, I’m going to say, you know, I’m not in the business of breaking up marriages. Is there something your spouse could do that would save this marriage? And then they go into things like, “Well, my spouse is a hopeless alcoholic.” Or “My spouse has psychiatric-level trauma.”

But I say, “Do you love them? Do you love that person?” And often, they say they do. And I say, “Well, you know, that’s a lot to work with if you still love this person.” Or they say, “No, I’ve fallen in love with somebody else.” And I say, “Well, look, let’s not make this any harder than it has to be. I’m going to tell you what the law says. It’s a fair settlement. I hope that we can reach a fair settlement. But once your spouse gets a lawyer, you’ve got two enemies.” So it’s hard to keep it amicable even if in my David Erdman spirit and my clients, my advice to them spirit, we’re trying to keep amicable. We can’t guarantee that. 

So, four personalities, once everybody’s got a lawyer. Two clients and two lawyers. It only takes one of those four personalities to be aggressive and antagonistic to make the whole process painful and more expensive. I’m always glad when the opposing party names a lawyer that I know feels as I do that we ought to do as little harm as possible. 

In fact, you’re not a medical doctor. I have all the respect for your Ph.D. My father was a medical doctor. And so, I learned that one phrase for physicians, “First, do no harm.” And that’s where I have tried to practice law. I’m sure there are people on the other side who would think I did some harm, but I was representing my client to the best of my ability. I have no gratuitous. Don’t believe in.

How special and beautiful, if I might even say, that you’re in such advocacy for the civility of these negotiations and these attempts to repair and understand and really preserve, if you will, you’re having a voice for. Is there any room here? Is there any opportunity to preserve because you know what the landscape is? You’re able to paint that picture very, very clearly. And it is a road of, most of the time, no return, even though some of them do. But most of the time, that’s those bridges and what gets burned is, like you said, torched. And so, I love that you’re able to hold that space, even in your role. And it also is able to speak to the values and the tenants and the commandments that you’re bringing and the importance of that.

One, when somebody is wrong, that spouse, or they deem themselves to be the wrong spouse. One of the questions I address in my book, The 10 Commandments of Marriage: Secrets of A Divorce Lawyer, the question is, what is unforgivable? Question mark. And the answer is, it’s not up to me ever to say what is unforgivable. And it’s not up to their mother, their best friend, their sister or brother, or even their counselor,

Or any other attorney, right?

Or any other attorney. That’s right. It’s ultimately, what is unforgivable is what the person sitting in that chair says, I can’t take this any longer. Because one of the games that these lawyers, I suspect, play because why do I know what other lawyers because clients come and tell me they’ve changed lawyers to come to me. Okay. Sometimes they leave me, I suppose. Maybe I’ll never know. When they come in, they often describe that the other lawyer will tell them, “Oh, that is just unforgivable.” They fire him up for the fight. 

Provocative.

Provocative is a good word. One of my commandments is thou shalt forgive if you can, but you have to apologize. I call it a transaction. The transaction calls for apology and forgiveness, not unilateral forgiveness. But it’s also not fulfilling the relationship. If someone does apologize, the other side just is uninterested. They’re not participating in working for the future. So, I’m big on equality and all that comes with it.

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“Thou shalt forgive if you can, but you have to apologize. I call it a transaction. The transaction calls for apology and forgiveness, not unilateral forgiveness.”

And oftentimes, from my vantage point and what I’m working with, there’s usually a dynamic and evolution around the patterns in the relationship that often lead towards some injury grievance issue that is sometimes such a betrayal that we question if it’s forgivable or not. And so, that can be helpful to also look out. And you’re just helping people bring some pause. Again, if somebody is really activated and reacting, they might not even be thinking all the way clearly. And it sounds like you’re holding space for some pause to really get clear. Is there room here?

I don’t do this. I recall that I’ve done this for a couple of years. I used to ask people when they said their marriage was over. And by the way, people have different amounts of money, but for most people, $10 million is a lot of money. Okay? I say, “Well, for $10 million, would you stay in this marriage?” If they say no to that question, then I don’t believe there’s any other argument that I have available. But if they say, “Yeah, for $10 million, I’d stay in this relationship.” And so then we get into a negotiation. 

Well, would you stay for five million? Because that tells that this marriage is not completely dead. If there was a way they won’t do it for 10 million, again, that’s a lot of money for most people; then it’s probably irretrievable for that person, sadly. 

It’s like a Litmus test. 

I like it as a litmus test. By the way, all of my ideas are my own. There are no footnotes in my book, really, except my own footnotes. However, I confess that I got some of my observations about life from listening to 60s rock and roll music because that’s my era. I learned a little bit from some movies and from TV, but I had to test it out in real life.

Yes. Well, David, I would love to hear, so we have the commandment of equality. And you’re speaking about forgiveness. Is there anything else you want to say about forgiveness before we move on to another?

My ninth commandment is thou shalt learn to resolve differences. Again, placed in the positive. And if that works, then the 10th commandment is thou shalt apologize and forgive. We’ve probably covered that.

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“Thou shalt learn to resolve differences.”

Well, in my work again, part of where people get really stuck is negotiating differences in a conflict where they feel threatened. And a lot of us have never really developed those skills around how to stay regulated, how to really slow down to have a deeper understanding and get to win-win. 

I had an attorney, and I think he was a judge at one point. He specialized in conflict resolution, I think his name was Kenneth Cloak, and he wrote a few books. It was just so beautiful for what he was able to distill about. Because I’m thinking of him as an attorney and speaking to you as an attorney, but this is such an important piece in a relationship, and most of us avoid it because it is so uncomfortable and painful.

By the way, I’m very interested in your use of the word reactive because, that is right, it’s hard to keep a level keel when one’s being buffeted with emotional stressors. But having those conversations within the marriage is easy if that equality exists. 

By the way, I have no patience for physical violence within a marriage. No matter how much I want somebody to help save their marriage, I don’t want to send them back into a situation where they will be in physical danger at all. And so that’s mandatory for me to help them protect themselves. But if we need a court order to protect them, we’ve got a court order. But what I always mentioned to them to do is to go meet the police sergeant at the station near their home so that if there ever is a call, they will believe there’s a problem and they know this person. 

And furthermore, I encourage people to call the 911 emergency number the first time they’re ever assaulted within a marriage because I have learned this: If they report it the first time, it almost, we all know about a couple of exceptions, famous exceptions, but it almost never happens again. If they don’t report it the first time, then that means they’re afraid to report it for their own reasons. 

The other side clearly got the upper hand over. They’re potentially in danger. I believe in calling on the police to level the playing field if there’s been any domestic violence, but then I’m okay. I’ll forgive if they can keep their hands off each other and not throw lamps.

I’m just out internally excited to be having this conversation with you and the way that you’re thinking, and I just feel such intention and priority around both parties and their positions and really supporting that. What gets to happen from that equity and that equality? And even as you’re talking about the power differential, and I’m just thinking of the legal scale, right, and just being able to hold the balance there. And that this fits so beautifully into the we can negotiate so much more smoothly when we both value the position of both. We have credence and reference for each person’s position. And then, we can look at what each person wants. We can have those negotiations so much more easily when we’re not in an equitable place.

By the way, I’m privileged to have been married one time. We’re now coming up in 39 years. And for me, strange as it sounds, it feels like the honeymoon is still on because I still highly regard that woman to whom I’m married. And she tells me she highly regards me. So, I don’t want to offend her. I don’t want to hurt her, and I do want to listen to her. 

I also feel good when she listens to me. I’m willing to use as much temerity as it takes to express an opinion if I have to express it. It might not be what she wants to hear at that time. And she’s at liberty to do the same to me. But somehow, we are valuing each other. And we’re definitely valuing the fact that we are married, and we want to keep it that way. So, the honeymoon goes on. 

So, this young couple got married this past weekend. I’m sure that they’ll start off beautifully. But issues will come up. Somebody’s job will take them somewhere. Your audience won’t be able to see this, but I frequently think about two tracks advancing as close together as they can. I don’t know if you have heard of Zig Ziglar. Zig Ziglar was a famous motivational speaker. 

He said something along the line of the only way you ever get even with a person is when you bring them up to be equal with you. I do cite Zig Ziglar and that thought in the marriage. And so, I do believe that equality has the person who’s feeling treated less than equally needs to have this book saying, I have a right to say to you, my husband, or to say to you, my wife, that you are commanded to treat me as an equal. I reciprocally am commanded to treat you as an equal, and we’ll go do that. You’re not allowed to look down on me and talk down to me. I’m a big believer that if they get it started right, they can keep it right because it becomes more and more important to keep it right.

Well, and you’re speaking about the testament and the practice of this in your own personal life and marriage that it keeps giving. It’s sustainable. And what keeps developing and evolving and how precious that is, it’s reinforcing that you would want to continue to do that. 

I’m also very struck by your ability to be so clear and aligned with this. I’m just curious. Did you just innately, or just is this part of you? Or did you consciously choose at any point to have this approach because I do believe in the larger culture? 

There are so many influences that promote more competition or self-reliance that we got to look out for number one, and not that we’re attempting to approach our romantic relationships from that place, but it’s so well-wired in us that when we do feel threatened, or we do feel the unease that that’s an easy go-to of feeling armored up and having to, like, be competitive to get what we need. I’m curious if you know. 

I’m an adequately competitive person. If I say so myself, I’m a very capable trial lawyer. That takes adequate competitiveness. I’m also a big believer that one doesn’t draw that sword unless it has to be drawn. I’m personally blessed, I guess, is the word to say that I feel strong enough to be gentle. I don’t have to prove how strong I am every minute of every day or in every case. I don’t know how to get started that way, but I believe it comes partly from first do no harm because you don’t have to look for a lawyer or therapist. It doesn’t have to look into very many marriages to begin to understand how painful it is for these people. And yet to see what they’re giving up by losing a good relationship if one can be made. 

Other than I believe I was just born this way. I haven’t had any real coaching to be as I am. I do believe that this precept and that is, we all should learn from the mistakes of others. And so, if you’re sitting in a law office with over a cumulative number of years, 5000 people who’ve made at least enough a mistake to come to see a lawyer about their marriage. My job is personally in my personal life is to learn from the mistakes of others. 

That’s really part of the book of don’t make these mistakes. Be a team is one of my commandments. Stay close to your spouse. That’s important. Appreciate your spouse. You appreciated him when you married him. The same qualities that drew you to this person in the first place are probably still present. 

I can’t analyze this mathematically, but in my mind, it’s usually only about 5% of the person’s behavior, which is the real problem for the other person. Now, that 5% can be something pretty darn serious, like a betrayal, as you mentioned, sexual betrayal is so, so painful. But sometimes, it’s not that serious. It’s just annoying. I want these people out of my office. I don’t want them to get a divorce. I don’t want to go get some other lawyer who tells them it’s unforgivable that he won’t pick up his socks.

I have heard, but I don’t know if this is still true, that women are now the bigger initiators of divorce. One of the bigger reasons is the emotional disconnect or the lack of emotional intimacy. That kind of speaks to what you’re saying now. I just want to go back and just reflect that I really appreciate even if you haven’t experienced a lot of trauma, and you’ve had resources and then been in a position to develop yourself that, you’ve been awake and that you’ve been fine-tuning, and really honing this in to be able to really test it, not just have a principle and believe it intellectually, as you’ve really done the work to live it and be on the other side of that. That’s so needed as models, so I really want to honor that.

Well, thank you. Thank you very much. That’s right. I’m not testing scientific theories on my clients. Because Dr. Jessica, I really do listen to what the people are saying. I want to meet them where they are. And some, I get to use the full panoply of my vocabulary because they’re smarter than I am. And others, I’m not going to talk with them that way. I’m going to talk with them their way and try to use examples they would understand. 

Everybody, why do I feel this way? You and I would both agree that every human being is unique. And thereby, it is eminently and even mathematically demonstrable that every marriage is unique because you’re two unique people in the whole world, and put these two together, every marriage is unique. They can still benefit from viewing each other as equals and sustaining that belief. 

Sometimes, people come to me, and they have customs that did strike me as unequal. He gets to the side, every this for them, for example. Well, it’s not for me to judge that that is wrong. My judgment is, does she agree? If she agrees that he gets to make all these decisions, then that’s fine because they’re still treating each other as equals. They simply delegated a category of their relationship to the so-called management of one or the other. 

I guess you could picture that a lot of child-rearing responsibilities get delegated toward the female. I’m not a champion of that. I think both parents should be involved. Absolutely. And they should be equally involved. And their kids of either gender should see their parents be equally involved. But sometimes circumstances, employment, or whatever, dictate that it’s largely delegated. Well, again, as long as both agree to it, then they’re where they ought to be. And so, that covers a lot of behaviors. 

Let’s get into sex. What people do in their marriage, sexually, is their business 100%. It becomes my business at all when one of them is not happy with that, with what’s going on. But as long as they both agree on what they’re doing, then they’re equals, and they both should have the right to say, I no longer want to do that. Or I’d like to do something different. 

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“Thou you shall communicate your needs to make sex fulfilling for both of you.”

By the way, let’s talk about sex one more time because, number one, if they’re still listening to this podcast, they need to know. I’m very clear in my fifth commandment. Have a look and see what number it was. Commandment five. And remember, all these are in the positive. Thou, meaning you, the reader, shall communicate your needs to make sex fulfilling for both of you. In other words, the individual responsible for, and I’ll use myself as an example, only to the limited extent of the words. The person responsible for my sexual satisfaction is me. I mean, I need a new wife. She’s responsible for her sexual satisfaction, but her job is to tell me what she needs. And my job is to communicate with her what I need. 

And you said we’re all looking out for number one. Sex is the one place where since no one can feel physically what the other person feels, and if you think about it, we can’t even necessarily feel what the other gender feels. You have different parts. And so, we have to listen. And that person has to communicate. If that person will communicate, and if I on my side will communicate, we’re going to do a whole lot better. I know you, as a therapist, help people do that. That’s none of my business as a lawyer, except that I hear the complaints and I can ask the question. Well, does he or she know that this is so troubling to you? And usually, they’ll say, yes, I’ve told him. Well, have you told him this year? I mean, did you just tell him last year? You got to communicate this.

People think that they’re telling, but they’re protesting, or they’re blaming, or they’re criticizing. They’re not actually sharing the deep inside vulnerability. And as it relates to sex, that is often a much more vulnerable topic. And I, again, appreciate the word you keep emphasizing is listening, not only in your assistance and facilitating but also in the encouragement through your book and your teaching, that as we have two positions that are in a relationship, we require each one to have some stability in themselves or footing or having balance know to be able to speak to the other and to co-create together that it’s really difficult for one to be responsible for the whole relationship. So there’s just such equity there, and also the promoting of the relational ways of being together and relating, but that requires having some sense of one’s position.

Right. And by the way, I’m so enthralled by the vocabulary of your profession that you’ve used here in this conversation because, yes, you’re talking about, I don’t know if you’ve said the word empowerment, but you’re empowering people and helping them as you say, to sort of define who they are. People need help with that. 

I say that spouses have a superpower. In my book, I talk about the superpower of your spouse. It’s very, very simple. Your spouse and I don’t mean to be lecturing you. I’m talking to your audience. Your spouse can see you as other people see you, and you cannot see yourself as other people see you. And so, your spouse has a superpower that if you listen, that spouse can help you, whoever you are, to come across better to other people, as well as come across better to your spouse, herself, or himself. 

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“Your spouse has a superpower that can help you come across better to other people. If you overlook your spouse’s perspective about yourself, then you’re missing out on the best non-professional advice that you can get because they know you. It’s a criticism we don’t like, but it’s also feedback from the person who knows you best, sees you best, and sees you as other people see you. Feedback is invaluable.”

If you overlook your spouse’s perspective about yourself, then you’re missing out on the best advice, non-professional advice, that you can get because they know you. They know you. If they say, you should not have said that or you should not have been so boisterous, or you shouldn’t have been so drunk, whatever they want to say. Every bit of that is criticism. I got it. It’s a criticism we don’t like. But it’s also feedback from the person who knows you best, sees you best, and sees you as other people see you. Feedback is invaluable.

I agree. Another way of articulating that would be our partner is witnessed to us in a way that no one else is, and perhaps can hold a mirror, hopefully, a loving mirror.

I believe in compliments. 

But a loving mirror that can maybe reflect accurately, but also the delivery can be again diplomatic or a way that’s it’s received. 

It has been said that tone of voice has a lot to do with how a message is received. And that does take a measure of restraint sometimes. By the way, I want to tell you what the only thou shalt not is. 

Okay, let’s do that. 

People are picturing okay marriage and all this. What the heck is this guy against? But I’ll tell you, thou shalt not allow children to obstruct your marriage. What am I talking about? When an infant is born, the woman who’s carried the infant has lived with this phenomenon intimately for nine months. I’m a man. I’m not female. I don’t know. But I recognize that it’s beyond my imagination almost to think what an experience that is. 

And so naturally, when that baby is born, there’s an attachment already between the mom and the child. But here’s where the obstruction comes in. If the mom doesn’t, from the very beginning, involve the daddy, have him changing diapers, have him fixing bottles, having him holding the baby, having him giving the baths. 

If she doesn’t trust him and train him to be a good, involved father, then that child is going to become not their joint project but Mama’s project, and Daddy’s going to resent it many times because that baby means that Mama’s not available for Daddy as often. 

The cries come in the middle of the night. Daddy wasn’t counting on that. It was so quiet before this baby was born. Mom has been dealing with it at night, but not the day till the baby’s born. So thou shalt not allow children to obstruct your marriage. I love the children, but I want them to love the children together. I want those daddies to be involved.

Inclusive. It’s not excluding. It’s inclusive, and there’s some bonding and being able to participate in a way that does bring in the fold of that.

Yes. And a lot of males need to be trained to hold a baby. Some of us were lucky enough to babysit a little bit in our younger lives, but many males have not really ever held a child. And so, that’s they got to be trained. Mamas sometimes get a sense of, I’ve seen this, a sense of superiority. I know how to do all this, and Daddy, you don’t. 

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“Thou shalt not allow children to obstruct your marriage. It’s so important that children do not become an obstacle but become a joint project, just like it was when they conceived this child. What they were thinking of and hoping for when they got started. They got to go through all the stages of raising children together.”

Well, the solution to that is not telling him what he should know. It’s to get Daddy up to speed. So I want daddy involved. And again, it’s so important that the child and children do not become an obstacle but become a joint project, just like it was when they conceived this child; what they were thinking of and hoping for when they got started. They got to go through all the stages of raising children together. 

So beautiful. I couldn’t agree with you more. And just for the life of the family and the bonding of the couple, it’s so critical to not take that for granted or miss the opportunity of having that inclusion and that connectedness with the whole family. It’s critical.

The child’s going to turn out great if both parents are involved, and when I see famous athletes on TV, male athletes or female athletes, I see their daddy, not just their mom. Chances are they’ve got a better shot in life. And that daddy, whose son or daughter is now famous, and he’s out of the picture because he left early, he lost out. It’s so sad for everybody involved.

Everyone involved. Yes. Well, David, it occurs to me, and I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this term, but I almost feel like you’re a relational attorney, or you’re practicing relational law, or you really are attending to the relationship and the individuals involved. I am so honored to have this conversation with you and to share you with the audience here on the Empowered Relationship Podcast. Is there anything else that you want to share with us before we transition to letting people know about where they can get your book and what you would like to direct people to?

I’m complimented, and remember, I value feedback. And you’ve told me in your feedback, even from me, privileged as I am to speak with you, that I’m a relational lawyer. I may tell somebody that I am now since I’ve been professionally diagnosed. So, thank you for that. 

But no, our conversation has been a pleasure and a joy for me. I hope that someone who listens to our voices will understand how you can help them or understand how my book can help them or understand how they can find some lawyer who looks at their marriage and their lives in a way to try to help them, not as some sort of war we’re trying to win unless we’re forced to do that, which is the last resort,

Tell us more about your book. You’ve given us several of the commandments. How do people get it? Is there anything else you’d like to say about your book?

My book is called The 10 Commandments of Marriage: Secrets of a Divorce Lawyer, and it’s available on all the national book sale websites. They’ll come up with one and send you one. It doesn’t cost very much, $19.95. I wish that young people, before they would even get married, would read it. I also wish that young couples, before they have gotten themselves into some problem that later can lead them to a lawyer’s office if they don’t work on it, would read it. 

It’s called The 10 Commandments of Marriage. There are, by the way, and I didn’t even notice when I wrote my book a couple of years ago. There are two or three other books by the same name, The 10 Commandments of Marriage, but only mine says Secrets of A Divorce Lawyer. I don’t use a lot of psychoanalysis. Perhaps that’s necessary in therapy. I really talk about everyday examples and facts. 

I have a website, but I’m not a big website promoter. But if somebody needed to find my picture or the name of my book, my website is simply called www.TenCommandmentsofMarriage.com. I did have an experience recently. A young man from another state contacted me based on having heard me on a podcast. He said, “I think you can help me.” I said, “Well, I’d be delighted.” No charge for that. I can’t practice law outside of North Carolina, so he was completely safe. He complimented me by saying he wanted to hear what I thought about a particular problem. And I gave him some thoughts about that. I’d like them to look at that book because most of my thoughts are in the book.

Oh, that’s wonderful. I love that people are resonating with what you have to share. I will make sure to have the link to your book on today’s show notes. That will be available for easy access. Is there anything else you want to invite people to or comment down before we end?

I simply wish them well. If that person who’s listening wants to save the marriage that person is in or make sure that the next marriage they get into gets off on a good foot, I support them because they’re thinking about it, maybe thinking about it more than they did when they initially got into it. It is a relation. It’s a relationship. Ideally, it’s a lifelong relationship. Ideally, it’s the best relationship life has to offer. So, I wish everyone the best.

Thank you. And thank you for joining us today. 

Thank you. 

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching