What I’ve learned about relationships – by a real life divorce lawyer

What can you learn about happy relationships from working on the front line of break-ups? Marisa Bate investigates

Picking your way through other people’s marriages is all in a day’s work for Georgina Hamblin. As director of divorce and family law at Vardags, Hamblin is widely regarded as one of the best divorce lawyers in the country. ‘Growing up, I was always the mediator in my family, brokering deals across the kitchen table when I was eight. Now I do that for a living,’ she says. As BBC drama The Split – an exploration of modern marriage through the lens of a family of female divorce lawyers – arrives on BBC One, we asked Hamblin for her own love lessons and secrets to a successful marriage.

Make time for your dreams

‘One of my key love lessons it to do things independently that keep you satisfied in a healthy, productive way – that could be a hobby or something creative. When I was on maternity leave, I started feeling like the walls were closing in on me. Clearly, I needed to go back to work and find my own passions. We can’t expect our partners to cater to all of our needs. The couples that make it work are the ones who both have a life outside the home.’

Marry someone who supports your ambitions

‘Increasingly, more women are becoming the breadwinner in relationships. I had one client who couldn’t deal with his wife’s rocketing career – I call this the “superwoman spouse”. He said, “She can go off and do all the things that she wants to do”, and he interpreted this as somehow selfish. Make sure that the person you’re with understands your career aspirations and you understand theirs. Have honest conversations from the very start about how you see the relationship working around your career ambitions.’

Have faith in yourself

‘Getting a divorce is not an easy decision to make, but taking control of your own life is empowering. One client came to me terrified about her future without her powerful and successful husband. But since her divorce, she’s bought her own house, she has her own source of income and has managed to map out a new life for herself. It’s really exciting to see women start their lives over, particularly when the client has been in an abusive relationship.’

‘Time and time again, I see women who know their husbands are having affairs, but they brush it under the carpet.’

Invest in your relationship

‘One case I worked on echoed my own relationship and reminded me of my own love lessons – the wife was a breadwinner, working 12-hour days while her partner ran a small business. It’s good to remember that you shouldn’t make your partner feel unappreciated, no matter how vital you consider your job to be. I often think of that client and try to work on that in my own marriage. The bottom line is: your problems are not more important than theirs. Think about what’s on their mind too.’

Fix the roof while the sun shines

‘When I’m angry about something my husband has done, I say it immediately to knock it on the head. Having awkward conversations while you’re still in love is one of my key love lessons. There also needs to be a willingness to move past a mistake and not use it as a weapon in later arguments. Having said that, time and time again, I see women who know their husbands are having affairs, but they brush it under the carpet. Then it happens again, and the husband promises not to do it any more, but the crunch point comes when she discovers he is expecting a child with somebody else. Face the situation early before things spiral out of control.’

‘When a split occurs, spouses often cut off credit cards or empty the shared bank account. We see this happening to women more.’

Make difficult decisions carefully

‘It’s easy to go nuclear when emotions run high, but the happiest people are those who live up to their own high standards. One client chose to accept less – both in terms of child maintenance and housing needs – so she could feel confident that she had done the right thing by herself and her children. She had real integrity. Equally, I have had husbands who felt so much guilt about their decision to leave their spouse (or from having an affair) that, to compensate, they gave away more than they wanted to. You need to think of the consequence of every decision.’

Keep your finances in order

‘Some people think prenuptial agreements are unromantic, but if you do the financial planning while you’re in a happy, loving place, it will be easier to draw up a fair agreement. When a split occurs, spouses often cut off credit cards or empty the shared bank account. We see this happening to women more. Marriage is one of the most important contracts you’ll ever enter, so don’t go into it blindly. Have a ‘run fund’ tucked away just in case things don’t go to plan. It creates a much healthier power balance in the relationship.’

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