Strengthen Your Estate Plan by Strengthening Your Marriage
Strengthen your estate plan by strengthening your marriage. Rarely would one go into marriage planning to get a divorce, however right now that’s how almost half of all marriages end. It doesn’t matter if one or both parties are starving students or one or both receive extensive support from their respective wealthy family offices, the big “D” word wreaks havoc on every aspect of family life; assets are divided up, the primary residence sold, retirement accounts can accrue early withdrawal penalties, and trusts may even have to be dissolved. For couples who are unsure of what the future may hold for them, the good news is that most divorces can be prevented by keeping your marriage strong and healthy. The following four tips can help create a strong bond in the marriage relationship.
Strengthen Your Marriage, Never Go to Bed Angry At Each Other
If fixing a relationship was as simple as taking a car to the body shop to have some paint scratches removed, the world as a whole would be a much better place. Unlike a car though, one cannot always see the problems within a relationship, let alone take it into a shop to get fixed. As time goes on, these initially small issues grow and become worse if left unattended. Samuel Whitman tells a thought- provoking story wherein this is beautifully illustrated.
The ice storm [that winter] wasn’t generally destructive. True, a few wires came down, and there was a sudden jump in accidents along the highway. … Normally, the big walnut tree could easily have borne the weight that formed on its spreading limbs. It was the iron wedge in its heart that caused the damage.
The story of the iron wedge began years ago when the white-haired farmer [who now inhabited the property on which it stood] was a lad on his father’s homestead. The sawmill had then only recently been moved from the valley, and the settlers were still finding tools and odd pieces of equipment scattered about. …
On this particular day, it was a faller’s wedge—wide, flat, and heavy, a foot or more long, and splayed from mighty poundings [—which the lad found] … in the south pasture. [A faller’s wedge, used to help fell a tree, is inserted in a cut made by a saw and then struck with a sledge hammer to widen the cut.] … Because he was already late for dinner, the lad laid the wedge … between the limbs of the young walnut tree his father had planted near the front gate. He would take the wedge to the shed right after dinner, or sometime when he was going that way.
He truly meant to, but he never did. [The wedge] was there between the limbs, a little tight, when he attained his manhood. It was there, now firmly gripped, when he married and took over his father’s farm. It was half grown over on the day the threshing crew ate dinner under the tree. … Grown in and healed over, the wedge was still in the tree the winter the ice storm came.
In the chill silence of that wintry night … one of the three major limbs split away from the trunk and crashed to the ground. This so unbalanced the remainder of the top that it, too, split apart and went down. When the storm was over, not a twig of the once-proud tree remained.
Early the next morning, the farmer went out to mourn his loss. …
Then, his eyes caught sight of something in the splintered ruin. ‘The wedge,’ he muttered reproachfully. ‘The wedge I found in the south pasture.’ A glance told him why the tree had fallen. Growing, edge-up in the trunk, the wedge had prevented the limb fibers from knitting together as they should.
Erroneously, some believe that time can mend any disagreement. However, like the saw in the tree limb, even small issues that go unresolved can tear a relationship apart if allowed to grow between partners. Arguments and grievances between couples should be examined and discussed regularly and sincere apology and forgiveness given, to promote change and healing. Going to bed angry with each other merely allows bad feelings to remain and fester, making the problems worse. There are times when it may become necessary to call a recess with the promise of working on it again the next day, but only after both parties have addressed the worst of their anger before going to sleep. Most anger in any issue dissolves when both partners feel loved and heard.
Strengthen Your Estate Plan, Admit You Were Wrong and Begin To Believe It
Marriages thrive when both spouses respect and listen to each other, rather than only thinking of their own needs and opinions. When fights occur, take a step back and try to see your partner’s perspective; most times both parties have some responsibility in the argument. It may take two to fight, but it only requires one to stop. While it is invariably difficult and even painful to admit, accepting blame for their own part in the argument is one of the best things anyone can do. Your spouse may or may not do the same, but in the heat of an argument, usually diffuses the situation, and helps foster understanding and compassion.
Strengthen Your Marriage, Don’t Talk Behind Their Back
Too often social outings with friends and co-workers eventually lead to complaints and criticisms of spouses. There is always that one person who sits silently and refuses to join in on the negativity. This does not mean their spouse is perfect, because no-one is, but it does say a lot about how much that person values their marriage and their understanding of how to preserve trust in their relationship. A lack of trust between spouses is a major factor in the breakup of relationships, and one of those wedges that can start small, only to cause an irreparable split over time.
Strengthen Your Estate Plan, Make it a point to spend time together
A number of years ago, Kim Clark, a former Dean of the Harvard School of Business, invited a member of our firm over for an enjoyable dinner of Navajo tacos with him and his wife, Sue. During the after-dinner conversation someone posed this question to Kim: “How had he been able to manage balancing a demanding work schedule while keeping his family intact?” His response was simple and surprising: “I always made sure I was home for dinner.”
Being present at home with one’s family, especially at mealtime, is a tremendous support to spouse and children. Regardless of any other demanding priorities, be sure they know they are number one. When spending time with one’s family, be present physically and mentally. Checking phones and allowing thoughts of work distracts from the quality of time spent with the most important people in life.
Applying these four principles can help strengthen any marriage and thwart many pitfalls that often lead to divorce. And will also lead to peace of mind in terms of estate planning and keeping valuable assets intact.
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