How to Stay Married to an Attorney

Two Parts:Working Through IssuesSurviving a "Lawyer Mode" Argument

Marrying an attorney seemed like a good idea in the beginning but as the years increased, you began to understand the high divorce rate for attorneys. Law is one of the most high-stress professions out there, but some attorneys learn to minimize the effect that has on their domestic life. If your spouse can't leave the debating at the office, it may be time for professional counseling, or for a change to a less stressful branch of law.

Part 1
Working Through Issues

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    Ask your spouse to turn off lawyer mode. A good attorney is trained to hide emotions, never admit she's wrong, and attack any hole in the opposing argument. If any of this sounds like what your spouse does during a domestic argument or a dinner conversation, she's having trouble leaving that training at work or law school. Pick a moment when both of you are calm, and talk to her about this. Here are some polite ways to bring up issues:
    • "When you're stressed at work, you come back in 'lawyer mode.' If you can just be part of the family while you're at home, we would both have an easier time."
    • "When we fight, you sometimes argue like you're in a courtroom. Remember that at home, the goal is often to compromise or to find out what's really bothering us, not to win the fight."
    • "Sometimes I'm emotionally vulnerable, and I need my spouse to understand that and support me. Using another person's emotions as leverage might be a good attorney tactic, but I know you don't want to fall into that pattern at home."
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    Talk about the issue in more depth. If your spouse doesn't accept that he's in lawyer mode – or worse, tries to cross-examine you on why you think that – back up and explain what you're looking for in a spouse and conversation partner. If you knew your spouse before he started practicing law or working in a stressful environment, remind him of early moments that demonstrate the behavior you're looking for. Here are a few reminders that people in "lawyer mode" often need to hear:
    • It's okay to doubt your position or your decision, and to tell each other about these doubts to get advice and support.
    • People in a relationship should trust each other to protect and comfort each other, not be on guard or suspicious of each other. A relationship is about cooperation, not competition.[1]
    • You don't need to examine conversations or events from a serious, logical perspective. A complaint about your spouse's day is really looking for affirmation and support, not a method for solving the problem or a logical reason why there's no reason to be upset.
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    Brainstorm ways to reduce pressure. Law students and lawyers at big firms often work insanely long hours, many of which may not even be billable. This high stress, competitive, often hostile environment takes its total on emotional well-being, and requires effort from both you and your spouse to mitigate this.[2] Have a conversation about changes you can make that can help your spouse cope, and prevent it affecting your relationship. Consider the following options:
    • Give your spouse time alone to unwind after she gets back from work, or at least have a policy of "no work talk in the first hour at home" – which includes your work as well.
    • If domestic chores are an issue and you can afford it, hire someone to help out around the house and/or garden.[3]
    • Ask your spouse to let you know when she expects a tough time at work, such as when she's litigating a big case or falling short of her billable hours goal. Agree to go easy on her during these times. (And have her reciprocate when you have your own stressful days.)
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    Suggest coping strategies. Attorneys are short on time, but putting work ahead of marriage, family, and personal time can lead to more stress and unhappiness. Here are a few items your spouse should consider to restore this balance:[4]
    • Learn to prioritize your relationship and emotional health over non-time-sensitive work, and over less important activities.
    • Recognize that mistakes are part of life and opportunities for learning, not disasters.
    • Practice setting realistic and obtainable goals, based on how you've previously handled similar situations. Don't jump at a larger workload without first considering the effect on your life.
    • Schedule time to relieve stress and treat it as just as important as your scheduled work time. Depending on what works for you, this could be exercising, socializing, picking up a fun hobby, or spending time with your spouse.
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    Recommend professional counselling. Law practice has one of the worst rates of depression and anxiety disorders among all professions, but lawyers often have trouble admitting to these issues or connecting them to their work.[5][6] A personal therapist or a marriage counsellor could help identify whether your spouse is depressed, and suggest ways and methods for overcoming the problem. While counselling is highly individual, there are some issues that are more highly correlated with lawyers than the general population, which are worth discussing with a professional:[7]
    • A pessimistic or fatalistic attitude
    • Not enough ability to make decisions or control one's life
    • Guilt over not spending time with the family (especially among female lawyers)[8]
    • Excessive use of alcohol or illegal drugs
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    Talk about moving to less stressful law work. If your marriage is falling apart, and marriage counselling doesn't give you the tools to strengthen it, you and your spouse face a difficult decision. If the attorney's work is a major source of stress and disagreement, have an honest talk about the following options:[9]
    • Some areas of law are less stressful and competitive than others. Could your spouse consider specializing in intellectual property, internet, estate planning, employment law, environmental law, immigration, health care, bankruptcy, or in representing educational institutions, students, or the elderly?
    • Small firms and government firms tend to be less stressful than large private ones, while solo practice is even better. Solo practices are easiest to establish in rural areas, and/or if you rent a desk or office from an existing law firm, accounting firm, or insurance brokerage.
    • Non-attorney workers that will still make good use of law education include magistrates, court commissioners, agents for artists and athletes, alternative dispute resolution mediators, PR representatives, legal instructors, law librarians, and many others.

Part 2
Surviving a "Lawyer Mode" Argument

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    Expect questioning. Attorneys are trained to question, question, question, until they pinpoint a hole in the argument and tear it all apart. Even when he's not actively aiming to do this, the questioning habit taught in law school dies hard.[10] Try not to take it personally when this happens, but you can point out to your spouse that he's "lawyering" again if he's previously agreed to avoid it.
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    Don't question back during an argument. Your attorney spouse has a black-belt in handling incoming questions. She will often be six steps ahead of your own line of questioning, and figure out exactly how to turn it back on you while dodging anything uncomfortable.[11]
    • If you need to ask a question while the two of you are angry at each other, rephrase it as a statement. Instead of asking "Do you want to come to Beth's dinner party?" say "I'm going to Beth's dinner party. You can come if you want to."
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    Don’t over explain. Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” and keep your statements simple. A long or complicated justification for your reasoning can be torn apart more easily. If you are being badgered over the same point repeatedly, just continue to say "yes" or "no." This "broken record" approach often promoted by cognitive behavioral therapists may sound repetitive (because it is) but it will clarify that you mean what you're saying and that you're not straying from it for any reason.
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    Keep your emotions out of the conversation. Someone in "lawyer mode" will do the same, and may even hurt you by treating your emotional reactions as vulnerabilities. Of course, this is easier said than done for the person without professional training, but that's what the next step is for.
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    Walk away from the argument. At the end of the day, you're trying to argue with someone who spent years training in how to win arguments, and who may even be paid to construct arguments in her professional life. Does that sound like a productive move? Say "I'm walking away and we can talk once we've calmed down" and take a few hours apart from each other.


  • A common sentiment among lawyers is that non-lawyers don't understand the incredibly taxing levels of daily stress.[12] Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but when a spouse who doesn't normally complain says he had a "stressful day," mentally amp that up to "code red nightmare scenario" and give sympathy in accordance.

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