Cover image for Reconcilable differences : 7 essential tips to remaining together from a top matrimonial lawyer
Reconcilable differences : 7 essential tips to remaining together from a top matrimonial lawyer
Cohen, Robert Stephan.
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Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Pocket Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiv, 223 pages ; 25 cm
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What does a divorce lawyer know about successful marriages? Maybe everything. Reconcilable Differences shows how to pinpoint the seven most common relationship problems and nip them in the bud before it's too late.

Author Notes

Robert Stephan Cohen is chairman of Morrison Cohen Singer & Weinstein, LLP, and a matrimonial lawyer in the Firm's Family Law practice. He lives in New York City.



Introduction What Divorce Has Taught Me About Marriage During my 30 years of practicing matrimonial law, I have come to understand that at the heart of every divorce lies one of seven basic marital differences. One or more of these differences affects almost every marriage. But make no mistake, these differences are not irreconcilable. Part of what contributes to the ever-rising divorce rate are our expectations: More and more people are getting married with the expectation that they will either divorce at some point in their lives or else live happily ever after. Both expectations are formulas for failure, fostered by media images and quick-fix ideas of love and life. Millions of us enter into marriage with self-defeating and unrealistic expectations, and when a marital crisis strikes, as it inevitably does during the course of every marriage, we run to the nearest divorce lawyer for help. That's where I come in. I can't tell you how many people come into my office with problems that can, with time and effort, be easily remedied. Sadly, many of my clients panic at the first sign of trouble. My experience has taught me to distinguish between panic and legitimate complaints. There have been many times when I have cordially escorted a client out of my office with instructions to wait a few months before taking further action. Happily, the majority of these panic-stricken clients do not come back. Contrary to popular belief, I'm no stranger to giving the kind of counsel that keep marriages together. Although this means less business for me, I am comforted by the knowledge that I have guided a couple in the right direction. No matter how many cases I've won or how many settlements I've negotiated, nothing is as satisfying to me as effecting a reconciliation between two people whose union is still fundamentally sound. In this book you will find tales of many married couples I have observed over the years, some rich and famous and others not. The stories and names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. I can remember every one of my clients' trials and errors to the very last detail. Cases from ten years ago are as fresh in my mind today as if they happened yesterday. The book is broken up into seven chapters, each of which details seven reconcilable differences. Each chapter is subdivided into three sections: "Warning Signs" (what to look out for), "Marital Crimes and Misdemeanors" (what not to do), and "Reconciliations" (how to fix it). Each section comes with questions and exercises that will help you get a better idea of how the differences affect your marriage and how to troubleshoot when the going gets tough. Do these quizzes and answer these questions in your mind as you read the book or jot them down in a notebook or a computer file. These seven basic differences can all be resolved in a positive manner, provided you follow the formula that I have outlined and do the work, both internally and with your spouse. When reading the "Warning Signs" section, keep in mind that in and of themselves, these signs are not cause for alarm. However, if left unaddressed these behaviors can lead to bigger problems, which can be found in each chapter's "Marital Crimes and Misdemeanors" section. This section outlines some of the more serious pitfalls your marriage can fall into. If you find yourself or your spouse committing any of the crimes and misdemeanors outlined, it is very important, perhaps even crucial, that you follow the suggested guidelines in the "Reconciliations" section. How I've Learned What I've Learned If someone had told me twenty years ago that I would someday write a book about relationships, I would have laughed. After all, what could a divorce lawyer possibly know about keeping couples together? But over the past thirty years, I have managed to learn a great deal about what draws people together and what pulls them apart. I have seen people at their absolute worst. When they come through my doors, they can't eat, they can't sleep...or they can't do anything but. Life as they know it has come to an end. They will have to acquire a new set of habits and get used to coming home to an empty house. After years of watching my clients pass in and out of my office, their tales of woe ringing in my ears, I did the unthinkable. I, a lawyer, began to feel responsible for their welfare. My role began to change. No longer was I merely obliged to get my clients the best possible conclusion to their failed marriage, I became a one-stop emotional support system: confidante, psychiatrist, and clergyman all wrapped up into one. The way my clients see it, if they can trust me with their finances and their marital problems, why not with the most intimate details of their private lives? You see, no one wants to admit defeat. People have a way of putting up a brave front to the world, only revealing their greatest fears, grievances, and disappointments to their best friends or psychoanalysts. But even then, they hold something back. In my line of work, that one crucial detail can mean a great deal of money down the drain. You'd be surprised how quickly people reveal their most secret thoughts and experiences when half their net worth is at stake. I have litigated thousands of cases and represented everyone from teachers to supermodels to real estate moguls. Over the years, one thing has become abundantly clear: Knowing the don'ts is sometimes even more important than knowing the do's. I can't tell you how many times I've sat and listened to clients go on and on about what they could do to make a relationship work. There are times, however, when it's not what you do, but what you don't do that can make the difference. In all honesty, I, too, have made my share of mistakes. I, too, have committed most of the "don'ts" that I will describe in this book. I, too, have been divorced. It was the most harrowing and painful event of my life. Yet, I credit my divorce with giving me the compassion and insight that I need to help my clients. Who better to help them stand up, brush themselves off, and go on with their lives than someone who's been there and learned from that? Through my clients' experiences, I have discovered the art of damage control. Whenever I am confronted by a new client with a new set of problems, I ask myself what contributed to their divorce and how other couples can avoid ending up in a similar situation. And that's exactly what you have to ask yourself: What do you have to do, or rather not do, to keep me out of your personal life? How do you avert the relationship detours that lead directly to my doorstep? Well, that's precisely what I am about to tell you. And if that means fewer new clients for me and my colleagues, then that is a chance I'll gladly take. If I learned anything in my many years in matrimonial law, it's that divorce is rarely a solution: Divorce is a life-altering and devastating process that should be avoided at all costs. Take my word for it, because I know what I know. The State of Our Unions As a young kid living in blue-collar Brooklyn, New York, the concept of divorce was completely foreign to me. Couples took their vows and never looked back. For better or worse actually meant just that. Only one family in my neighborhood was rumored to be separated, and talking about them was strictly off limits. It was in the most hushed of tones that anybody talked about "divorce." Of course, marriage was no easier then than it is today. But the trying times of the Depression and World War II made the perils of matrimony seem like heaven on earth. In the war against penury, families worked as tight-knit teams. For instance, I remember how difficult it was to make a decent living back in the day. Instead of breaking up homes, financial problems brought us closer together. Sharing a room or a small meal gave people a sense of community. All was for one, and one was for all, indeed. But just as people banded together in times of trouble, it seems that the reverse came to be true in times of plenty. In today's consumer culture, everything and everyone has become disposable, from diapers and milk bottles to friends and spouses. Even instant gratification is outmoded in an age when we want everything yesterday. When I first began litigating, matrimonial law was in its infancy. Not only was divorce still a taboo subject, it also carried none of the financial incentives that it does today. But "breakup benefits" are nothing compared to the overwhelming pain of dissolving a marriage. The stress can result in depression, loneliness, and despair, not to mention physical problems such as high blood pressure and a compromised immune system. All told, divorce is hazardous to your health and well-being, and no amount of property that may be divided is worth the side effects. I don't have to tell you that the divorce rate is higher than it's ever been. With so many breakups and failed marriages, why are so many people still remarrying, attending relationship seminars, and reading self-help books? In my opinion, it's because more and more people are returning to the basic formula for happiness: committed relationships. No one wants to live alone for the rest of their lives, and those who say they do are lying. You may balk at the thought of a divorce lawyer preaching the virtues of marriage, but you'd be surprised at just how many of my peers are right now enjoying the fruits of their labor with a partner they love. Just like the general population's search for the perfect mate is undeterred by a high divorce rate, divorce lawyers, too, maintain an optimism that some may say goes against everything we do and see each day. Therein lies the paradox of this book. In spite, or maybe because of, all the lives I've seen torn apart by divorce, I continue to search for answers that will make me a better lawyer, a better person, and, most important, a better husband. Whether it's incompatible communication styles, money matters, or the seven-year itch, you will undoubtedly recognize yourself in the stories that follow. Just by reading this book, however, you have already distinguished yourself from most of the people who have had the misfortune to come through my office. You have taken the first active step toward improving your marriage and ensuring that our paths never have reason to cross. You'll also find out: why separation never brings people closer together why showing interest in your spouse's job can save your marriage how too much love in the beginning can cause disaster down the line why silence at the dinner table is never golden how honesty can sabotage your marriage why giraffes never marry elephants why certain subjects should forever remain taboo how total self-disclosure can ruin your sex life why excessive budgeting can be dangerous whether two wrongs can sometimes make a right why implicit trust and unconditional devotion can spell trouble why too much trust can spell trouble how to embrace each other's midlife crises how family and in-laws can actually help your marriage Copyright © 2002 by Robert Stephan Cohen Excerpted from Reconcilable Differences: 7 Keys to Remaining Together from a Top Matrimonial Lawyer by Robert Stephan Cohen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction: What Divorce Has Taught Me About Marriage
Reconcilable Difference
1 Parallel Lives Warning SignsCrimes and MisdemeanorsEffecting a ReconciliationClosing ArgumentReconcilable Difference
2 Communication Warning SignsCrimes and MisdemeanorsEffecting a ReconciliationClosing ArgumentReconcilable Difference
3 Sexual Compatibility Warning SignsCrimes and MisdemeanorsEffecting a ReconciliationClosing ArgumentReconcilable Difference
4 Money Warning SignsCrimes and MisdemeanorsEffecting a ReconciliationClosing ArgumentReconcilable Difference
5 Infidelity Warning SignsCrimes and MisdemeanorsEffecting a ReconciliationClosing ArgumentReconcilable Difference
6 Transitions Warning SignsCrimes and MisdemeanorsEffecting a ReconciliationClosing ArgumentReconcilable Difference
7 In-Laws and Family Warning SignsCrimes and MisdemeanorsEffecting a ReconciliationClosing ArgumentEpilogue: A Final Closing Statement

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