If you want insight on how to make love last, you might ask friends, family, a therapist, or a pastor for advice. You probably wouldn’t think to turn to a divorce lawyer. But my guest, James Sexton, who does that very job in New York City, says there may be few people who have a better perspective on how to hold a marriage together, than the guy who’s got a front row seat to how they fall apart.
James is the author of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together, and today on the show he shares what he’s learned from overseeing over a thousand divorces that you can use to reverse engineer a relationship that lasts. We discuss the five types of infidelity James sees in his practice and the approach to marriage that will prevent affairs. We then get into common sources of conflict in a marriage, including sex, finances, and kids, and how to address these issues so you never end up in James’, or any other divorce lawyer’s, office.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- AoM Podcast #550: How to Strengthen Your Marriage Against Divorce
- AoM Article: Why the Secret of a Happy, Successful Marriage Is Treating It Like a Bank Account
- AoM Podcast #850: The Infidelity Formula
- AoM Article: A Resolution for Romance — The 52 Love Notes Challenge
- AoM Article: How and Why to Hold a Weekly Marriage Meeting
- C.S. Lewis quote on the “dance” in relationships from That Hideous Strength
Connect With James Sexton
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. If you want insight on how to make love last, you might ask friends, family, a therapist or a pastor for advice. You probably wouldn’t think to turn to a divorce lawyer. But my guest James Sexton, who does that very job in New York City, says there may be few people who have a better perspective on how to hold a marriage together than the guy who’s got a front-row seat to how they fall apart. James is the author of, If You’re in My Office it’s Already Too Late, A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together. And today on the show, he shares what he’s learned from overseeing over a thousand divorces that you can use to reverse engineer a relationship that lasts. We discussed the five types of infidelity James sees in his practice, and the approach to marriage that will prevent affairs. We then get into common sources of conflict in the marriage, including sex, finances, and kids and how to address these issues. You never end up in James’ or any other divorce lawyer’s office. After the show’s over. Check at our show notes at aom.is/staytogether.
All right James Sexton, welcome to the show.
James Sexton: Thanks, Brett. It’s great to be here. I appreciate you having me.
Brett McKay: So you are a divorce attorney and you have overseen over 1000 divorces in your career. That’s a lot. And I thought it was interesting in your book you talked about how you wanted to be a divorce attorney even when you’re in law school. You talk about like, yeah most people, I went to law school, and most people don’t go to law school wanting to be family law or divorce attorneys. Something you just kind of end up doing because something else didn’t shake out. Why did you wanna be a divorce attorney?
James Sexton: Yeah. It’s funny. When I went to college I wanted to be a therapist. I was very interested in being a therapist and I thought that would be my calling. I wanted to help people. I wanted to… I was very interested. I was a psychology major and undergraduate a minor of substance abuse counseling and East Asian Studies is what it was called at the time. But I was focusing on Buddhism and Japan and I was always very interested in that from my background in the martial arts. So I really had no aspiration becoming a lawyer. When I was a kid, I wanted to become a lawyer. I remember I watched LA Law, it was one of the few adult shows my parents would let me watch. And I really wanted to be Victor Fuentes. That was Jimmy Smith’s character ’cause he was like the cool lawyer [0:02:27.0] ____ an earring and a ponytail. Which is kind of funny ’cause I ended up more like Arne Becker, who was kind of the heel and the divorce lawyer. But when I was a little kid being a lawyer sounded exciting to me. Then I wanted to be a therapist. And then when I got through undergraduate and went to graduate school I studied sociology, communication and persuasion specifically. And as I was doing my doctoral work, when I’d finished my master’s working my PhD, I decided to take the LSAT. It was largely because I was teaching test prep for a company and I was teaching SAT test prep and I could make more money if I was teaching Law School Admission Test, LSAT prep.
And so I ended up taking the LSAT so I could get a high enough score to be able to teach test prep for the LSAT. And I did so well that I ended up getting offered scholarships to law school and then I ended up going to Fordham Law School. And yeah, the only law that interested me really was divorce law, because it was the only one that really felt like it was as human as I wanted my career path to be. And there was something that to me felt like it was the skills of persuasion and all of the things that I liked about the idea of being a therapist. But at a time in someone’s life where they’re just incredibly open to change, because either they are creating change by deciding to get divorced or they’re having change thrust upon them by their spouse saying, “Okay our marriage is ending.” But it’s a time of just massive change and reorganization of a person’s life.
And that struck me as a really, really amazing opportunity to be part of people’s reimagining of themselves. So it hit all the boxes that I liked about being a therapist but with the ability to use my powers of persuasion and speech and my sort of chess player mentality and bring that to the benefit of my clients. So yeah, it’s very rare in law school, I was the only person I met in law school who wanted to be a divorce lawyer. And I say in my book as you note that, “People tend to when you talk to divorce lawyers they say well, I ended up in divorce law because of this or I ended up doing… ” And end up is the term you use all the time. And I think that’s very funny because you very rarely use that term for something you meant to do. Like you don’t say well I ended up in Milwaukee, it’s like, Oh, yeah. I was trying to get to this place and I ended up there. It’s always that you landed someplace you didn’t mean to be. And I was very deliberately a matrimonial lawyer.
Brett McKay: So what’s the state of divorce in America today? Like what’s the divorce rate?
James Sexton: Divorce rate changes every year but the latest statistics put it somewhere in the area of 56%. That’s up a little bit from the year prior. But the question of course is, what was the impact of COVID and the slowdown and shutdown of the court system in varying degrees across the United States? The statistics for first marriages is what we’re really interested in, because second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages, but third marriages and beyond have abysmally high divorce rates. Like you’re in the 76% when you get to like a third marriage. But yeah, I mean the state of divorce is that it continues to be above 50%. It is still more likely than not that you will get divorced when you get married, which arguably if we’re using legal standards and I know you have legal education so you understand the concept of negligence or recklessness, one could pretty saliently argue that getting married is a reckless activity or at a minimum a negligent activity, because the probability of harm is quite high. If you get married, the likelihood of harm is quite high and the severity of the harm is quite high. So what we use call the BPL analysis the, what is negligence per se. Theoretically, marriage is still an inherently negligent activity, similar to owning a lion as a pet or having a trampoline next to a radioactive waste pile.
Brett McKay: So yeah, that divorce rate it’s, you gotta break it down since you mentioned if you’re on your second or third marriage the rate goes up. What’s the rate look like for first-time marriages?
James Sexton: First marriages is somewhere over 46% as of 2022. That’s the 2022 statistics. And yeah so it’s still quite high. The reason why, when you say it’s 56% is the divorce rate, you’re talking about everything.
Brett McKay: Everybody right.
James Sexton: So they’re all in. But basically, the stats which are pretty publicly available. I know Forbes puts them out every year but they’re always compiled by the Bureau of Vital Statistics. What’s interesting to me about that is those are the people that file for and ultimately receive a judgment of divorce. But that does not include people who are unhappily married. Who stay married but aren’t enjoying the marriage. They stay together for the kids or for religious reasons or because they don’t wanna deal with the financial repercussions of divorce. It also doesn’t calculate in people who just, are not together anymore but don’t file for divorce. I mean we used to call that jokingly the Irish divorce. You go out for milk and never come back. But that percentage that already quite high percentage, doesn’t include people who just physically separated from each other and act as if they were divorced even though they didn’t legally divorce. Those are just people who legally went through the paperwork of getting divorced.
Brett McKay: Are there any demos of people more likely to divorce?
James Sexton: Yeah, I mean there’s a huge amount of statistics out there about what leads to it. And again I mean I’m not a huge fan of statistics because I think that correlation and causation sometimes get mixed up. But yeah, I mean the couples who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce. So they have a higher divorce rate if they live together. Having friends who are divorced increases your risk of divorce. 60% of divorce couples cite infidelity is the reason for their divorce. 58% of couples report that arguing was present, 45% indicate they married too young. 38% say that financial problems were a root cause.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Another statistics I’ve seen if you’re not college educated more likely to divorce that’s another one I’ve seen.
James Sexton: Yeah. And then the outcomes also which is people who are divorced die more prematurely than people who are married.
Brett McKay: Yeah. It’s bad for men. Men really get in a funk when they get divorced. Yeah.
James Sexton: Yeah. And I think that’s an interesting misconception that like men fare better after a divorce because of the old sense that, men age like wine and women age like avocados. This idea that a man who divorces in his 40s in his 50s that he still has the ability to have 20 and 30-year-old romantic partners. But the statistics really actually bear out that men fare a lot worse after a divorce in terms of their emotional outcomes. When a person with a hammer everything looks like a nail. And I think there is a lot of misandry out there now and there’s obviously a lot of people that are looking to, they’ve decided that men have it better and then they wanna find statistics to back that up. But I don’t find that to be the case in my own professional practice of representing men and women.
I think that men do have a very hard time with divorce. And again some of that may be a function of men having less of an emotional vocabulary or being encouraged to have less of a more emotional vocabulary from a younger age. I think divorce is, by all accounts a failure. I don’t think anybody ever means to get divorced or when they get married they certainly didn’t mean to get divorced. So men don’t generally as a… At the risk of oversimplification, I mean we have challenges with failure. It’s hard to admit that you failed. It’s hard to lose. And divorce is a loss, even if you “win” in the divorce. If you have a better outcome financially or you do well in terms of the obligations you have or the amount of time you get spend with your children, it’s still a loss. It’s still a tremendous loss. You can have the friendliest divorce in the world and you’re still losing effectively half the time you’ve had with your children. So that’s a big hit for people.
Brett McKay: Who’s more likely to initiate divorce in your experience? Men or women? Or is it about the same?
James Sexton: Statistically, women are more likely to initiate divorce than men, but in my experience, it’s roughly the same. It’s also a question of who initiates the divorce. Meaning who files a divorce action? That’s not usually the person necessarily. It doesn’t automatically mean that’s the person who took the steps to say, “Okay, this is over.” Divorce is really the process of burying what’s dead, but who killed it? And who’s the first person to acknowledge that it’s dead? That’s a very individual thing and I don’t really think there’s a clear gender line on that, but filing-wise more women are likely to file for divorce than men. But it begs the question, is that because women have come to the conclusion the marriage is over before men did or is it that women are more inclined to want to protect their rights or understand their obligations when they’re in a situation where their marriage is ending?
Brett McKay: Yeah, this is completely anecdotal but like my social circle of couples I know that got in divorce, I would say like half of them the man initiated the divorce but it was because he found out that his wife was cheating. Which is interesting because, we’ll talk about this later on but what causes divorce? Because we typically think of the philandering husband as the stereotype but.
James Sexton: Well, ’cause that’s a really popular stereotype. I mean it makes for great stories. I think that sort of the zeitgeist is masculinity and misandry and all of that is really, if a man cheat he’s a scumbag, he’s a scumbag, he’s a bad guy, he’s a philander, he’s low morals. He doesn’t care about his family, doesn’t care about his wife. If a man cheats, he is the bad guy. If his wife cheats he is still the bad guy. He wasn’t taking care of her. He was neglecting her needs. She was driven into the arms of another person. It really is a situation where if a woman is cheated on, she’s the victim, this poor woman here she is and her husband’s running around on her and if a woman cheats it’s like, Oh, my gosh. You poor thing. How could you have been forced into that situation? Your needs weren’t being met. It’s a voyage of self-discovery. Or you needed to explore who you really are and your husband wasn’t meeting your needs.
So I do think culturally and right now, we’ve created an environment where yeah, the men are generally easier to paint as the villains. I kind of wish life was that simple. It’s like Solnit said, “I wish there were just good and bad people and they were just running around doing bad things or good things.” But the truth is the line of good and evil runs through the human heart. I’ve had female clients that just pursued relationships ’cause they felt like it. And I’ve had people whose needs were being terribly not met and they moved on and found someone else that reminded them of the fact that they could feel love and romance and excitement. And that was the thing that pushed them over the precipice.
I’ve had men who had that exact same experience. I talk a lot about infidelity in my book, because there’s just a tremendous amount of infidelity in divorce work. You talk to the cheater, you talk to the cheated on, and you start to figure out that it’s just not as simple as people would love it to be, where it’s one good guy or good girl and one bad guy or one bad girl. And it’s just, or a femme fatal who sweeps the other person away. It’s just that’s such an oversimplification, makes for great movies but it’s just not… It’s not real.
Brett McKay: Men and women, they can both be awful, ’cause we’re both human beings.
James Sexton: Well, they can both be vulnerable. They both are susceptible to the same temptation as anything. I mean we all are susceptible to temptation. I’m not a religious person but I tend to think it’s humorous that if you believe in any of the Abrahamic religions and you believe that God gave us 10 rules, whether he spoke to Moses through a burning bush or on a mountain, but I think we’d all agree that the 10 commandments themselves have some validity. Whether they were divinely inspired or whether they’re just an invention of the authors, I don’t know. But they’re 10 rules that have been handed down 1000s of years ago, and “Don’t have sex with someone who you’re not married to.” is 2/10. It’s the only one that gets repeated.
Like “Thou shalt not kill” is one time. “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not steal.” That’s one time. But “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Those are two commandments. You only get to make 10 rules and two of them, God theoretically as the author is saying, “Hey seriously, like don’t sleep with people other than your spouse. No no, but like for real don’t sleep with people other than your spouse.” If that doesn’t give you some indication. This problem has been around for a while, and has been something humans are dealing with for a real long time. I don’t think there’s a better example or proof of that, than the fact that 2/10 commandments are addressing this specific issue.
Brett McKay: Okay. So despite the fact that you’re a divorce attorney, that’s how you make your living, helping people in their marriages. And despite the fact that you said that, “If you look at the statistics, marriage looks like a big giant risk. It’d be negligent to get married.” You’re a romantic and you actually you’ve written a book, it’s a marriage advice book. And you talk about how what people can do to strengthen their marriage and hopefully create a marriage where they don’t have to end up seeing you. I’m curious what insights does a divorce attorney have about creating a marriage that lasts that, why would you think you need to write a marriage advice book?
James Sexton: Yeah. Well first of all, I do think I am a romantic at heart, in terms of my temperament but I also see the value in marriage. I mean, look we talked about the statistics of divorce and how frequent it is but here’s the statistic that a lot of people don’t talk about. 86% of people who get divorced are remarried within five years of their divorce. Now what does that tell you? That tells you that there is some need for this particular form of pair bonding. That there is something here that even when it’s failed, even when you’ve been through the trauma and difficulty of a divorce 86% of people go at it again. They go let’s try it. Why? If it didn’t have value to us, I don’t believe I can learn everything about myself from myself.
I think I need other people to help me find my blind spots and intimacy. If you look up the word intimacy, it doesn’t have anything to do with sex. Intimacy is the ability to be completely yourself with another person. And in its best form that’s what marriage is, it’s the ability to be yourself with another person who loves you, who’s cheering for you, who sees your blind spots that you can’t see, and you see theirs and you love them anyway. And try to help them grow and develop into the fullness of who they are. And look to me just because something is unlikely to be successful doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. I tell people jokingly that marriage is like the lottery. You are probably not going to win, but if you win what you win is so good and so valuable that I think it’s worth it to buy a ticket.
I think it’s worth it to try to be married. And so the second question you asked which is, what is a divorced divorce lawyer of all people, going to be able to tell you about how to keep your marriage strong and vibrant? And I actually think I have a very unique perspective, not only lived experience but that could be very uniquely mine and therefore not applicable to many people. But as a divorce lawyer, I have had a ringside seat to men, women, every permutation older, younger, different religions, lived together, didn’t live together. Long-term marriages, short-term marriages, marriages with kids, without, high net worth, lower net worth. I’ve seen every permutation of how love falls apart. Well, who’s gonna tell you how to keep your car together better than a mechanic, who all they do is watch how cars break down and watch what parts of the car are the first to break down and look at, hey, if you’d come in…
My sister, for example, my sister’s a dentist and she often will say to me that if you have a toothache it’s too late. There’s a very limited set of things she can do for you if you have a tooth ache, by the time your tooth hurts, there’s too much going on now to fix it, but if you’d seen her before, you had a toothache, there’s a whole bunch of things she could do to prevent you from ever having a toothache, and to prevent you from ever being in that situation. So I really looked at it as my job puts me in this very unique role where people are very candidly with attorney-client privilege, telling me the honest truth about their marriage, their finances, their parenting, their relationship with their spouse, and they have no reason to lie to me because they’re protected by attorney-client privilege, and your doctor and your lawyer, are the only two people you should never lie to because our only job is to protect you.
And I get to watch how all these couples fall apart, and I started to see patterns of how people got into my office, and that’s how the title of the book, If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late, that it really was about… What got these people here?
Because I genuinely believe Tom Wolfe on in The Bonfire of the Vanities, one of the characters is talking about his financial woes, and the character says to him, how did you go bankrupt? And he says, the same way, everybody does very slowly and then all at once, and I think that’s what happens with marriages is they fall apart very slowly and then all at once, and so I wanted to write a book about what is the very slowly.
What we fall in love super fast. We just feel this spark, this connection, this passion, but we fall out of love more slowly, and I wanted to think about and talk about how could we keep those little connections so we never have those big marriage killers, like infidelity or other major things come into play.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about what causes divorce, and I think the big one we’ve been talking about is infidelity. And you talk about there are five types of infidelity that you’ve seen, what are those five types of infidelity?
James Sexton: I think we all like to think of our lives are so unique, but having now, I’m the guy who has to read the text messages between the mistress and the guy, or the paramour and the woman, and so I got a real ringside seat, and again, I represent the cheater and the cheated on so I don’t have a dog in the fight. But yeah, I think I try to break it down into five types and they’re very general, of course, but the first one is what I call the freshly discovered soulmate, which is where you just decide, I’ve met this person and they are my soulmate. You’re raptured by this person, and I think we’re particularly susceptible to this right now because the concept of a soulmate has just been jammed down our throats culturally, even though I think it’s a terribly toxic way, ’cause really, what does it mean like your soulmate is your perfect friend, perfect romantic partner. Perfect sexual partner. Perfect roommate, Perfect co-parent, perfect travel companion. What are the odds of one person being all of those things, that’s crazy, that’s just a ridiculous list of demands for a person.
And the truth is, you don’t need to have all of those with your spouse, you and your spouse don’t have to like exactly the same music, exactly the same food. There are certain things you want, like if you’re a slob and your spouse is a neat freak, that’s an incompatibility. But you don’t have to be perfect. Like perfect is the enemy of good. Perfect is the enemy of… And comparison is the thief of joy. But we live in a society now where we’re looking at this curated greatest hits from everyone on social media while we’re living our gag reel, and we’re looking at our marriage and comparing it to the performative status of people’s marriages who by the way, are doing #besthusbandever #blessed while they were just in my office doing a consult, so they’re not being honest.
I crack up when I look at the social media of people who I represent, because a month before they came in and filed for a divorce, they’re posting about how wonderful their life is and all their pictures of how great everything is and in their vacation and how wonderful it is. And they’re full of it but People are comparing themselves, so it’s just like face filters, you’re comparing yourself to something that’s not real, so soulmates, the discovered soulmate is what I call the first type of infidelity, which is you find someone who you’ve decided, This is my person, I made a horrible mistake being with this other person, and by the way, it rarely plays out that way. There’s a joke in my line of work that a man who leaves his wife for his mistress just creates a job opening. And I think there are statistics to some degree to bear that out.
The second type of infidelity, I call it the wake-up call, and the wake-up call for many people, I think is, it’s really like the nail in the coffin they’ve been unhappy, they didn’t realize how unhappy they were, and when they meet this new person or they reconnect with a person who they used to be with and they feel that spark of connection and passion, it shows them how far they are from their spouse, and this happens a lot with women. I find a lot of women who’ve engaged in infidelity, it’s sort of the soft place to land, it’s the thing that made them go, Yeah, I didn’t realize how bad it was. And I think this is something we can all relate to in the sense that until you get over being sick, you don’t realize how sick you were. You go like, Oh man, I was really sick.
If you’re tired and cranky. And then you go to sleep when you wake up from that nap, you go like, Oh my god, I was so tired. I didn’t realize how tired I was. And So I think it’s a matter of sometimes people don’t see… And so I call it the wake-up call.
The third kind is to me very tragic, and that is what I call the big mistake, which is I do think sometimes people just… People are just stupid, they just have an impulse control issue and they’re drunk, or they have an opportunity, and they give in to an impulse, to a sexual impulse, and they make a mistake. And look, I’m not suggesting an, Oops, you just made a mistake, no big deal. I understand it’s a big deal, but look, we all do things that we know are bad for us, that weren’t a good thing for us, that don’t align with our morals or our goals, discipline is… Jocko Willink, he says is trading what you want… Now, for what you want most. And I think the reality is, is we all know, Hey, I’m trying to honor my diet and my body and be really healthy, but then someone walks by with cupcakes and you’re like, Oh, come on. I’m just gonna have one, and then you have one, and now you’re like, Oh, I just blew the diet, I can’t believe it.
Look, I think that people make mistakes sometimes, and I’ve had people who come in and they go, Look, I don’t… I love my spouse. I screwed up. I love my spouse. And thankfully, a lot of those people work through the infidelity. They work through that situation, it’s very, very sad when someone as a result of just a mistake, a poor impulse control, an urge that they follow through on that they shouldn’t have and they know they shouldn’t have and they regret terribly when that leads to a divorce, that’s a very tragic thing. It’s the least often that I see in my office, usually people come in with the their freshly discovered soulmate, and they come in and say, Oh, I’ve met someone and I love them. And this is the person for me.
The fourth kind I call the push out of the closet, and that’s a unique set of circumstances, but I’m seeing it less often these days, thankfully. Early in my career, in the last 10, 20 years, there’ve been major strides in LGBTQ+ legal rights and obligations when it comes to marriage, and so there was certainly a time where I think the level of homophobia and heteronormativity in our culture was such that there were a lot of closeted gay men, closeted lesbian women who were kind of living double lives and then they would have same sex affairs, and if they get caught, that’s sort of the push out of the closet. And I had in my career, a number of people who just got caught with a same-sex partner, they had been living their lives purportedly as heterosexuals, while they were secretly having either same-sex attraction or they were in fact having same-sex relationships, so that’s a very common form of infidelity, that’s the fourth kind.
And the last kind is what I call the revenge, which is simple to understand, which is your partner cheated, so now you’re gonna cheat, you’re gonna teach them, you’re gonna teach them a lesson. Oh yeah, it’s okay for you to sleep with your secretary well I’m gonna go sleep with my personal trainer. And that’s an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. I don’t think anybody feels any better at the conclusion of that, but it’s a real real common thing to do.
Brett McKay: So you said the most common one is the the soulmate thing?
James Sexton: The most common one that ends up in my office. Again, I have a unique perspective, I’m a divorce lawyer so I’m sure if you asked Esther Perel who I’ve been on some panels with and who works with couples who are navigating their way through infidelity and trying to stay married, she would probably have a different experience of it than me.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about that wake-up call one, because that seems like something you can… There’s things you can do in your marriage to prevent that from happening, right?
James Sexton: 100%.
Brett McKay: And it’s typically not a big thing that happens that causes you to go oh this relationship is over, and I might as well go find someone else, what are the little things that lead up to someone, man or woman, cheating on their spouse because they found that the relationship they have right now isn’t meeting some need?
James Sexton: Yeah, I think the unfortunate answer is it’s a lot of very small things, and anyone who’s married knows this, like if you’re sitting around having breakfast with your spouse and you’re having a discussion about the best way to cook bacon and 10 minutes later it’s like, you know, I never liked your mother. And it’s like, wait How did we get here? What happened, this was a discussion about the best route to take to get to the mall on whether the freeway or the back roads, and suddenly it’s the you never listen to me and you don’t care about my opinion and you never liked my sister. Like, what is this stuff you’re carrying around. So I generally think that disconnection is the answer that that’s what happens, people slowly disconnect in these little tiny ways, so what I encourage people to do is to just vigilantly maintain connection. We should always be working on our marriage… We should always be trying to look at it with new eyes. We should always be… As Jimmy Iovine said, he was one of the most successful marriages in Hollywood and in the recording industry is, he said, I’m always trying to close my wife, he said, I’m always trying to act like I’m trying to impress her and woo her.
And what’s amazing in my experience as a heterosexual man is how unbelievably easy that can be, if you make a concerted effort at it, the test I tell to most of my male friends is leave a note, I just… I cannot emphasize this enough, if you don’t believe me, if you don’t believe in anything that I say, that’s okay, people are entitled to their opinions, and my beliefs don’t require that you believe them, but if you wanna try something, just leave your wife a note every morning for a couple of weeks, just leave her a note, just a little, Hey, Babe, just thanks for last night on the couch watching TV. It was so nice, like the smell of you, is just it just makes me so happy I fell asleep with it on me or you looked so pretty when I woke up this morning and I’m so glad to have such a wonderful woman in my life, I love you, and that takes you 30 seconds, and I’m telling you that little tiny investment of time and effort will pay dividends like you wouldn’t believe, there are these small things, and when you get to have the view that I have where people are talking to me about these painful ends to their relationship.
I talk about in the book, one of the chapters, I talk about a young woman, I was divorcing who had two children, and we’ve been a lot of miles, and I said to her, was there a moment where you knew that your marriage was over, and she told me well… It was very heartfelt to me and very powerful to me. Which is she said that there was a granola that she liked to eat that she used to put in her yogurt and her husband used to always notice when she was running low on it, and he would always get a new bag of it for her. I guess it was only sold at a particular health food store or something, and she’s like, I never told him that that meant so much to me, but it was just such a sweet thing that he would just notice that I was running out of my granola, he didn’t need it, but it was like he would notice I was running out of my granola, and there’d just be this new bag and he didn’t come to me and say like, Oh look, I got you a granola for you. He didn’t want credit for it, it’s just something he did. It was this small gesture that I’m paying attention, that I see this detail and that I love you, and I want to just extend this kindness, this courtesy to you.
And she said that one day, she ran out of granola and she thought, Oh well, maybe he’s busy and he didn’t notice or whatever, so she left the empty bag in there, and after a week or two, he still hadn’t replaced it, and she thought, Okay, this is over. And she said it became apparent in the weeks that followed that this distance was coming between the two of them, and I thought to myself, what if that is it. If it’s just granola, it’s just these little tiny gestures of, Oh, they use this milk, so let me put it on the table, or Oh, they don’t like the sound of the garbage disposal, it jars them when it’s loud, so I go, Hey, babe I’m gonna turn on the garbage disposal, real quick. Don’t be afraid when I turn it on. Like the small considerations. You know them about your wife, I don’t. Your wife knows them about you, I don’t. And those, to me, those intimacies, those little things, the things you love, the things you’re afraid of, the things that get on your nerves, your partner theoretically has the ringside seat to those, and they can leverage them in the most beautiful ways.
I see it when they weaponize them, so by the time you get to my office, you go, Okay, I’m angry at this person, and here’s where their soft spots are. So here’s what we can stab them. But I really think that if you can identify those things while you’re happily married, you can use them without a massive amount of effort, just small little efforts to just build this abundance of happiness and good will between the two of you and maintain it.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.
And now back to the show. Okay, so maintain connection. And I think it’s about continuing to do the kind of little niceties, the polite stuff, the sharing of gratitude, the affectionate stuff that you did when you were first together and not letting that stuff drop off. And you also talk about how important open communication is in keeping the connection.
James Sexton: I have a chapter called Hit Send Now, where I talk about just regularly checking in with your partner, I suggest it be done by email, because there’s something about writing that I think helps you organize your thoughts and also it’s non-confrontational, like if you try to talk to someone verbally. You’re sort of saying, Okay, we’re gonna talk about this right now. Here we go, and then it brings out something defensive in people, whereas when you read something, you sometimes have time to reflect on it and think about it before you formulate your response, but I’ve had couples who have contacted me after they read the book and said, Yeah, we do a walk and talk now once a week, and we just walk around, we just talk about what did you do well this week in the marriage and what could we work on, and just maintaining that level of vigilance, I’m sure if you thought about your marriage and yourself as a husband, you could tell me something you did this week that you’re proud of for your wife or in your relation to your wife, and you can probably find something that you’re not proud of that you could have done better.
And by the way, as painful and hard as it is to do. I bet you could point out something your wife did for you this week that made you feel loved by or close to her, and maybe something that she said or did that made you feel less loved and less close to her, or an opportunity that she missed that she could have done. And why not say it? Like why not say it? Wouldn’t she want to hear that? Wouldn’t your wife want to hear like, Man, when you said that last night. That was so nice. It just made me feel so loved when you said that or when I told you about what happened at work and you said, Oh, I disagree with this or that, Man, I just felt so kinda criticized and I felt like you kinda didn’t meet me where I needed you. And again not saying it from a place of so you suck and I’m leaving, you’re saying it from a place of, I know you have such power over me, you have such an ability to make me happy, we’ve got a culture that just encourages us to just criticize our spouse, and at best it’s constructive criticism, but constructive criticism, is still criticism, and no one likes to be constructively criticized either.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to steer your partner into directions that will make them happy and you happy, but doing it in a way that makes them feel loved, supported. One of the things we love about our partners is that they’re cheering for us, there’s 7.3 billion people in the world, and you picked your wife. Like 7.3 billion people, and you said you’re the one. You’re the one I wanna take this ride with, I wanna have kids with, I wanna solve problems with. I wanna get old with you’re the person. That’s huge, it’s a huge, huge task that you’ve given that person and why wouldn’t you communicate really actively. People are always asking me what is the thing that we can do to stay together, and it’s kind of like saying to me like, What is intelligence? I don’t know what intelligence is, but I can spot stupid a mile away, so I don’t know what makes marriages work, but I think what makes marriages work is just doing the opposite of the thing that makes them fall apart. So what makes them fall apart is when you stop caring about what’s going on in your spouse’s mind and in their heart, when you stop trying to let them know how much you love them, when you stop feeling loved by them and seen by them and appreciated and valued by them, so anything we can do to lean into that that’s valuable as far as I’m concerned.
Brett McKay: Alright So that can prevent the wake-up infidelity, because if you’re paying attention to the small things, someone’s not gonna go to someone else to get those things. Yeah, ’cause I think a lot of times… We’re gonna talk about this, but I think sometimes a lot of people tend to think that infidelity is about sex, and it can be for some people, that could be a thing, but oftentimes it’s just about my wife my husband, they just stopped caring about me, and I found someone who gave me that attention that I had when I was first dating my wife or my husband.
James Sexton: Of course and by the way, sex isn’t just about sex. Sex isn’t just about sex. Sex is friction. Sure. Sex is a biological act. Sex is a drive and an impulse. But sex is also about feeling handsome or beautiful, feeling desirable and desired, feeling physically capable. And I mean, sex is loaded with all kinds of things.
Brett McKay: So, pay attention to the small things to maintain that connection.
James Sexton: Absolutely.
Brett McKay: Well, but let’s just talk about sex. Sex is one of the reasons that people get married. And…
James Sexton: I’d like to think it’s one of the only reasons people get married. I mean, otherwise it’s a roommate. Because I have to tell you, if sex is no longer part of your marriage, I’m not quite sure why you’re married. I mean, look, if both of you were just, okay, yeah, cool, sex isn’t part of it anymore, but then you’re just roommates, or you’re two people running a daycare facility together. Sex is the thing that makes you a couple. It’s the thing that makes you a romantic coupling, is that sexual connection. So, why would you wanna give that up if you don’t have to? Why would you wanna compromise on that if you don’t have to? Especially if you knew that it ultimately became something that was a huge marriage killer when people’s needs were not being met. When you talk to someone whose needs are being met in their relationship, particularly their sexual needs, if they’re being very well met, that person is usually gonna have a very high level of satisfaction.
Brett McKay: But it can be a source of marital conflict. What are…
James Sexton: Tremendous.
Brett McKay: What are the biggest issues you’ve seen in couples that are divorcing when it comes to sex?
James Sexton: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s different for men and women. I know it’s not popular to gender things, but I feel that one of the things I like about your podcast is, I can speak in the terms of the masculine and the feminine. And I appreciate that. I really do believe, and of course, nothing’s true for everyone, but I genuinely believe that a lot of men complain about the frequency of sex, that they’re not having as much sex as they’d like. And a lot of women complain about the lack of love and intimacy and connection that leaves them feeling less interested in having a desirable sexual connection to their partner.
Brett McKay: So what do you do if there is a mismatch in your sexual relationship? Like maybe it’s over the frequency of sex, but it could be over something like, the husband likes one thing, or wants to experiment with something but the wife doesn’t, or vice versa. And maybe you try to have a conversation about it, but there’s still a mismatch. Is it just a matter of figuring out a compromise?
James Sexton: Yeah. I mean, there’s a chapter in my book called Go Without or Go Elsewhere. And I think you have to decide for yourself which of those two you’re gonna do. I think if you’ve communicated your need to your partner and it’s an important thing to you, then you either are gonna have to go without or go elsewhere. And the question you have to ask that only you can answer is, which of those two are you comfortable with? I mean, look, the example I give in the book is feet. I’m not into feet. I don’t understand the sexual appeal of feet, but there’s a lot of people into feet, and it’s like a thing. And I’ve done a lot of divorces where I’ve had to read people’s emails about feet with the people they were cheating with. It’s like a whole vocabulary for it.
If you ever go down that rabbit hole online, it’s really quite a lot. And I’m not kinkshaming anybody. Listen, there’s so many varieties of the human sexual experience, God bless, consenting adults have a good time. But the truth is, if my partner was super into feet and said to me, Listen, this is such an important piece to me. Okay, well, my partner now has a choice. ‘Cause I’m not in into feet. They either gotta go without or they’re gonna go someplace else to get that need met. Now, I don’t want them to go to somebody else to get that need met. Okay? So listen, can I fake it? Can I say, all right, listen, I’m not super into that, but if it’s something that is gonna scratch your reach, like I can pretend I’m into it. I mean, listen, how many people don’t like some member of their spouse’s family, but they act like they like them when they have to go to a barbecue with them?
And do you go, oh, that’s so dishonest. I can’t believe you acted like you like Cousin Greg when you don’t. Oh, no, you’re being a considerate partner. And maybe you get in the car and you say to your spouse, like, oh, I can’t stand him. But I think I did a good job of seeing them. Like, oh yeah, yeah, no, and I appreciate it. You keep things calm in the family. Yeah, no, no, it’s cool. We make compromises all the time. Listen, if you’re, maybe you don’t love every single thing that they love, but you sit through it or you go, Okay, I’m gonna throw this into the repertoire so they don’t have to go elsewhere or even have any temptation to go elsewhere if it’s something important to them. Or it might just be something passing and small to you where you think you’d like this thing.
I mean, how many things sexually? Ask yourself the question. Honestly, if you’ve had a good sexual relationship with a partner where you’ve been able to experiment, and if you’re a man like I am who was raised on pornography and has seen all kinds of things, and you go, Oh, boy. That would be fun to do. And you got a partner who goes, all right, yeah, let’s do it sometime. And then you do it and you go, that was like weird. I don’t know, it looked really good. Shower, best example, ever shower sex. Shower sex looks awesome. You watch any movie, people have sex in the shower. It looks so passionate. Anyone who’s ever had sex in the shower is gonna say it’s the worst possible place to have sex. You’re washed off every natural lubrication either person has, it’s the worst.
You’re slipping or you can’t get traction. But it looks nice. Now, again, are there people who probably enjoy it? Good. God bless. But the truth is, is what you think it’s gonna be for you and what it is. But the only way you’re gonna figure that out is to do it. And then you go, oh yeah, that wasn’t as amazing as I thought it was. And it saves you the trouble of saying, you know what? What if? What if the grass on the other side of the sexual fence was greener? It’s not. It’s just more grass. It’s just a different grass. And so help your partner and help yourself identify what really is compelling and what’s really meaningful.
Brett McKay: This reminds me, CS Lewis in a book he wrote, I forgot which one it was, but he has this idea, he talks about submission in a marriage and he says it’s actually a mutual submission. It’s like a dance. The husband and wife had to take turns submitting to each other. And this is not just about sex, it’s other things too, but it’s the same sort of idea. You have to look at your spouse and say like, what do they want? What do they need? And how can I give them that? And then in a, hopefully in a healthy relationship, a healthy marriage, your spouse is doing the same thing. What do they want? How can I give them that thing that they need or want? And you take turns doing that.
James Sexton: Yeah, I think sometimes you gotta be Beyonce and sometimes you get to be Destiny’s Child. Sometimes you get to be the Commodore, sometimes you get to be Lionel Richie. And in the right dance of a marriage, you’re following and leading in different ways. You have different… And again, that’s a dynamic that two people should not be afraid to work on together, honestly. I think we’re creating a culture where men are ashamed to admit that they like to be dominant and they’re ashamed to admit that they like to sometimes be submissive in things. And when I say submissive, I mean that they like to defer decision making. Like there are aspects of my life. I am submissive and I’m a very dominant person, but I don’t care what couch we have. I’ve had the same couch probably for 10 years.
If you asked me what color it is, I couldn’t possibly tell you. My partner picked it out. I didn’t pick it out. I have no idea. I don’t pay attention to those things. So if you say to me, if you’re my partner and you say to me, Hey, what do you think of this couch? I’m humoring you when I go, I don’t know. What do you think of it? Well, I really like it. Yeah, no, I like it too. I’m being submissive in that aspect of our relationship ’cause I just don’t care. But there are other aspects where I’m very much a very take charge, very dominant type of a person. And so I think we should all be able to do that dance together. What is that about? Submission is about trust.
I mean, we have all this talk about alpha males and Chads and all this stuff that’s sort of in the manosphere. And what’s humorous to me about it is a lot of it’s about trust. And trust is about being worthy of trust. Being the kind of man who a woman can lean into and submit to. How do you expect a woman to feel comfortable deferring to your view on something or trusting your judgment if, if you, that’s not worthy. I have always found as a man that I like to pick the restaurant, but I like to pick the restaurant that she’s gonna wanna go to. And actually, my favorite thing is to pick the restaurant that she’s gonna wanna go to that she doesn’t know she’s gonna wanna go to. That she doesn’t know how much she’s gonna love it until we get there. ‘Cause I know her so well that I know that she just went, oh yeah, no, I don’t think I’ll like that. But I secretly, I know she’s gonna like it. She just needs that little push. And what is that? That’s being trustworthy, that’s having this person’s best interests in mind. And I want a partner who has that view of me, and I wanna have that view of my partner always.
Brett McKay: Okay. So we’ve talked about sex. Let’s talk about another source of marital conflict. And that’s money. How have you seen money cause marital conflict in your work?
James Sexton: Yeah, money again is about trust and about communication. I think it’s like infidelity in the sense that it’s about trusting someone and then being betrayed in that trust. But again, it’s not a simple good guys and bad guys situation because very often people will say, well, he was lying about the finances and he should have just told me the truth. And he say, really? Would you have been receptive to that? Like if he’d said, Hey, look, you’re spending more than I can make, or I’m chewing my best to make as much as I can, but my business has changed. Would you have met that with a like, oh, of course babe. And I’m still gonna be as excited and happy in our marriage as I was before. So I think it’s the same kind of thing. It’s very easy after someone has been caught cheating, saying, well, if you just told me that you wanted different things in our sexual relationship, I would’ve been there for you.
Oh sure. You would’ve been. No, you wouldn’t. If you would’ve judged me, you would’ve denied me of it. You wouldn’t have done that. You’re only saying that now ’cause it’s easy to say it in retrospect. Same thing with finances. Finances very hard to be honest about finances, about the workload, about who manages the finances and the trust that comes with that. If you share a household and you share finances, that’s a tremendous intimacy. It’s a tremendous loss of privacy in terms of, if you have purely joint finances, I actually encourage people, in my book, there’s a chapter called The You The Me and The We, where I encourage people to maintain separate accounts as well as joint accounts. Because I think it’s important to have a certain amount of autonomy in a relationship where if I buy you a birthday present, you don’t get to see how much I spent on your birthday present necessarily, or exactly where I bought it, if we’re using the same credit card.
So I think there is some value to having some privacy, even when you’re in a marriage and agreeing that, look, here’s what the money that’s coming in, here’s how much stays in my account. Here’s how much goes in your account, and here’s how much goes into our joint account, and here are the bills we pay out of the joint account and here’s the money that we spend at our individual accounts. And you can use that for manicures, you can use that for spa days. You can use that for classes that you wanna take. And I’m gonna use this for my golf, or I’m gonna use it to sports gamble, or I’m gonna use it for gaming or whatever it is that I might want. And that way everybody has a certain level of autonomy. So I think finances, it’s one of those things that we don’t have a lot of formal education in it.
There’s a lot of deception. There’s a performative society where everybody’s, on the Instagram page with their luxury cars flying private, and meanwhile that’s not real. It’s false a lot of the time. Or it’s based on a debt structure that you’re never gonna see until it’s too late and they’re already bankrupt, or it’s based on a Ponzi scheme. So I think it’s the same kind of thing, it’s the same as sex. It’s something we don’t like to talk about. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, which is why we should talk about it more.
Brett McKay: So, my wife and I, we have joint accounts and we haven’t explicitly put like a money limit, but for the most part, both my wife and I have just autonomy on buying stuff from the joint account.
James Sexton: Sure.
Brett McKay: But there’s like a thing that’s like expensive or like, oh boy, this is gonna be a big thing. Then we have the conversations like, well, I’d like to buy this thing, but here’s the price tag. We do it. And that…
James Sexton: I mean, you run it like a business. Which is if you’ve got an expense account, at your business, or you got a company card and you’re charging Dunkin’ donuts to bring to a client’s, okay, well then you don’t have to… But if I’m buying a $500 bottle of wine for a client, I need prior authorization from the office. And I think that’s pretty reasonable is to say, Hey, what’s the limit? And by the way, you can increase that limit as your income goes up. There’s a time early on where it’s like, Hey, 50 bucks, if it’s more than that, we gotta talk about it. And maybe you get to a place where you go, yeah, if it’s more than 10,000, we should have a conversation. But if it’s less than that, don’t worry about it. And I think that that’s important. It’s all about communication.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So keep an open communication. And then also one thing that happens in marriages is you get comfortable with roles, right? So…
James Sexton: Sure.
Brett McKay: Typically, often what I’ve seen a lot of marriages be like, well, the husband doesn’t wanna think about the finances. I’ll just put the paycheck in the thing and the wife just worries about things. Or it’s like the husband takes care of all the investments and the wife’s like, I don’t like to do that stuff. And that can cause problems because you don’t have eyes on each other.
James Sexton: Sure.
Brett McKay: And then when you finally discover, oh my gosh, you’ve been investing in this crazy Ponzi scheme and I haven’t known about it, then that’s when the it blows up. So you point out an important thing to do, if you do set up roles where one person’s taking care of finances and the other person’s not worrying about it, still make time where you get together regularly and say, Hey, here’s what’s going on with the investment portfolio or retirement accounts, or here’s what’s going on with the daily expenses for the kids. Just so you know, and that’s important to do.
James Sexton: 100%. I mean, I think anything other than that’s irresponsible. A simpler and less threatening analogy is if you’re married to someone and they love to cook and they just enjoy it. They learn to cook from their family, they enjoy cooking, they find it satisfying, they love to watch you eat the food that they cooked. That’s amazing. What a gift. Wonderful thing to be married to someone who’s a good cook. But you still gotta know how to cook for yourself. There’s gonna be times where your partner’s not there and able to cook for you. They’re gonna be away, they’re gonna be doing something else. You need to know how to cook. And maybe you don’t need to know how to be a gourmet cook, but you at least know, how do I scramble an egg? How do I make some spaghetti?
You gotta know enough. So yeah, maybe they don’t know how you have your investments hedged and what index funds you’re in versus what bond portfolio you have laddered. But they certainly need to go, okay, here’s where our accounts are and here’s roughly how much is in them. Here’s what debts we have. If nothing else, you know, God forbid something happens to you, they need to have access to that information, that basic information, because they’re on that boat with you. They’re invested in this with you. So it’s up to them to know it as well too. I am shocked at how many people come into my office and they go, yeah, my partner handed handled all the expenses. I don’t know anything. I don’t know where our money is. I don’t know what we spend on what I don’t know. And sometimes I have to tell them that, yeah, you look rich and you’re poor.
You got white teeth and rotting gums. You, yeah, you got a beautiful car that is owned by a leasing company and you’ve got a great house that the bank, it’s 90% of it is leveraged debt to equity. Like this is the reality of your finances. It is very dangerous to just hand everything over to another person. I understand, again, the temptation to do it, but long term, don’t you wanna have some sense of what’s going on with your partner and their stresses as well? Don’t you wanna understand? Because I do think sometimes the stress that we carry about finances, it can translate to other disconnections within a marriage. It can translate to other problems. So it’s important to stay connected on all spheres of your partner, their health, their economic health, their sexual health, where they’re at, because you’re with them on this thing.
Brett McKay: Any other sources of marital conflict you’ve seen? I think one you mentioned is in-laws can be a source or even friends.
James Sexton: Yeah. I don’t think you’re ever married to one person. I think you marry a family, you marry… Even if the family’s not around, you’re marrying a family history. You’re marrying the conflict resolution techniques that they watched their parents do successfully or unsuccessfully. The holiday traditions that they did. The baggage or the trauma. If you’re married to an adult child of an alcoholic, you’re marrying the control issues, you’re marrying all those other things. I mean, the history of addiction that a family might have and that then might be carried through with the people that are there, the role modeling they’ve seen of how couples should relate to each other, how people should argue and fight. So I think it’s very important to remember that you’re marrying a person who is part of a tapestry. And it’s important to sort of know what that tapestry is and understand the dynamics of it.
And of course, if family members and friend systems are still part of this person’s life, you’re gonna have to deal with those people. You’re gonna have to deal with exes. People who marry someone who’s divorced and has children, they have a co-parent you’re gonna have to deal with. People do not… Are not an island. You’re marrying into a system and having honest conversations about the challenges and opportunities created by that, is a good thing. Listen, it’s not all burden having a mother-in-law. A mother-in-law can provide free babysitting. A mother-in-law can be a tremendous ally in your relationship if you have a good relationship with her. But it can also be a tremendous hindrance. It could be someone who always takes your spouse’s side or who’s very critical of you or who you find it difficult get along with. None of these things are in and of themselves, good or bad, but they’re factors. And I think just looking honestly at those factors, rather than just focusing on what cake we’re gonna have for the wedding, is what’s important. And I think we should be mindful in our marriage, in our selection of a marriage partner and in maintaining the health of our marriage.
Brett McKay: And this is where that [0:55:29.9] ____ mentality can come in handy. So let’s say you’re newly married and then you notice your mother-in-law, she’s kind of a busy body and she wants to inject herself into your marriage instead of not saying anything and being resentful about it. Like, tell your wife like, you know what, your mom’s great. I love how she does this and does this. But when she injects herself all the time into decisions we’re making about like what house we should buy, I’m not comfortable. That makes me feel upset. You have to get it out there in the open.
James Sexton: A 100%. And I think that… But doing it in a way that doesn’t put your partner on the defensive or that they’ve done something wrong, I think is important. Because again, constructive criticism is still criticism. I think you, as a happily married man, you showed a good little technique there, which is, You started by saying, Listen, I love your mom. So you started with that. I love your mom, not saying, I don’t love your mom, no one’s perfect, I’m not perfect, she’s not perfect, but… And then you use a lot of I statements. I felt very put off when she was saying A, B and C, So you’re not saying, you know she sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong. What you’re saying is, Listen, I felt this way, because who’s gonna argue with your feelings. Like you feel the way you feel, you can apologize for feeling the way you feel, but you feel the way you feel. And maybe your a partner will say to you, No, no, you shouldn’t feel that way, because this is how she relates to everyone, or Here’s some examples of, you know she loves my dad, but here’s how she talked to him about the house, or this is just a house thing.
Oh, this comes from the fact that my dad never let her pick the house, so now she’s kinda working that out with us in our house, and sometimes understanding the context, when it’s explained to me that my family member went through The Depression, and that’s why this person keeps the tin foil, I was like, Alright, I’m not gonna make fun of that anymore because I understand the context of it, or oh yeah, this person, their father died at the kitchen table when they were seven years old of a massive heart attack, so that’s why they’re very sensitive to loud noises. Okay, man, I know that context now, I’m gonna interpret that very differently, I’m not gonna look at it like, Oh, your mom thinks I’m an idiot, I can’t pick a house. No, my mom is working her stuff out and the stuff in her marriage to my dad, and then you kinda look at that with compassion and with empathy and with love, and that might help you navigate it, but you gotta give your partner the opportunity to explain it to you, rather than what do most people do.
Brett McKay: They don’t talk about it. Yeah, right.
James Sexton: Just suck it up. Hold it in, get pissed, and when six months later, you get an argument about the best way to get to the mall from your house, it turns into, You and your mother, you sound just like her, and you just know everything, just like your mom does when it comes to houses and you’re like, Whoa, how long you been carrying that around? Why didn’t we talk about it when it happened? And why didn’t we talk about it in a way that wasn’t this fight, this attack on each other. Why didn’t we talk about it in a way where we’re supporting each other and saying like, Hey, look, man, that hurt. That hurt when your mom said that, or Man, it hurt when you take your mom’s side on that, I feel like I expect you to take my side and maybe that’s wrong of me, but man, it hurt. I wanna know, I wanna know if I hurt my partner. I know I didn’t mean to. I know I didn’t mean to. I know that that’s not my goal. I know that the people I love, I know I love them, and I know I don’t want to hurt them.
I’m sure I do hurt them from time to time, but I’m really grateful when they have the courage to tell me that I hurt them because I know I didn’t mean to, and I know I wouldn’t wanna do it again and again and again. So I’m really grateful when they tell me how I might have missed the target.
Brett McKay: So people often get married to raise a family, have kids, but kids can change your marriage, and instead of thinking of your spouse just as a sexual partner, a person who is there to help you be the best you can be, right? You see them as, Okay. They’re a mother as well. And that changes the dynamic. How have you seen kids unintentionally harm a marriage and what can you do to avoid that?
James Sexton: Yeah, that’s a great question. Kids are, I think, antagonistic to a marriage in many ways. I mean of course, there’s certain aspects of being a parent that I think very much can deepen a relationship and a bond and a love between people. So I’m certainly not saying don’t have children, but I do think that look, people, A, are sleep-deprived when they first have children, their bodies, particular woman her body changes tremendously and feels out of control in many ways after she’s had a baby, it changes people’s sexual habits, I mean it’s all kinds of things that come from that. But also, I just think it’s easy to become two people running a day care facility together just focused on the kids needs above anything else forgetting that sexual chemistry and romantic connection between the two of you is the thing that created this child’s existence. It was born of your romantic and sexual connection. I mean children are born of a sexual romantic connection, and so I think it’s important not to lose that. I think people who are divorced in a friendly fashion are on to something that I don’t think you have to get divorced to enjoy.
And that is, and I say this as a man who my kids were five and seven when I got divorced, and it was a friendly divorce, I lived down the street from my ex-wife, and we had a very friendly relationship and the kids were able to go back and forth very comfortably. And I had time where I had my kids and I gave them my full focus, and then I had time where I did not have to think about my kids, they were with the other person who loves them as much as I do, and I could really just focus on career or life or other relationships, and that was a phenomenal, phenomenal thing. And I don’t think you have to be divorced to do that. I think that you and your spouse, it’s really important when you have kids, to say, there’s time as a family and there’s time as individuals, and I want you to have some time where I’m gonna mind these kids and you go be you, whether it’s go to Starbucks and read a magazine or go to a yoga class, or go to the gym, or just go enjoy yourself, go out with your friends, like remember the you you were when I fell in love with you, that then led to these kids being born. And I think that’s a really important thing.
Brett McKay: I like that. So you stay married, but you’re gonna do a split custody.
James Sexton: Exactly, right. Do joint custody and really lean into that and get a sense of what it’s like to be in the fullness of yourself, and also give your kids a taste of what it’s like to have you alone, one parent alone. Anybody who has more than one child will tell you when you go out with one child as opposed to both or multiple children, you get a different kid, ’cause a different side of them comes out, they’re not competing for each other’s attention.
Brett McKay: Something my wife and I do, we do a weekly marriage meeting, and we’ve written up article about this and we’ve done a podcast about it, we’ll put a link to in the show notes, but the weekly marriage meetings on Sunday, it takes about 15 minutes, it’s not very long. It starts off with appreciation, so we just tell each other like, Hey, this is what I appreciated this week that you did. Thank you for doing this. I love that. And then we talk about to-dos which is basically household stuff, this is like the business part of the marriage. Things that need to get done around the house, bills that need to be paid, stuff that needs be half with the kids, but then we do this plan for good times and it’s plan for good times as a family, but then also plan for good times as an individual.
James Sexton: I love that.
Brett McKay: So it’s like, Hey, it’s a chance to be like, hey, I wanna do this thing with my friends, or I wanna go to this event by myself or whatever. Can we make that happen this week or in the next couple of weeks.
James Sexton: I love that.
Brett McKay: You do the same thing for your spouse, like give them a chance. What do you wanna do this week on your own?
James Sexton: But what you’re doing there, Brett, you’re really doing the you, the me, and the we. You’re saying, What do you need to be the fullness of you and what can I do to support that? What do I need to be the fullness of me and what can you do to support that? And then what can we do together? And we’re making time to identify what we’re doing right and what we could do better, and giving each other that kind of fearless communication, that kind of sort of, that commitment to us as individuals and us as a unit is really, I think the key, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that will keep you out of my office, which is great.
Brett McKay: So another reason that can cause marital conflict or can lead people to your office is they just kind of become indifferent. It’s really sad. They just become indifferent to the marriage and indifferent to their spouse. But I think we’ve kind of been talking about, it’s little things that lead to that indifference. It’s just not paying attention, and here a lot of people talk about marriage, it’s like, man, marriage is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s really, really hard, man. And you argue that marriage is actually pretty dang easy ’cause it just comes down to you just gotta care. You just gotta pay attention. That’s it.
James Sexton: Yeah. Yeah. I just think that if you’re finding marriage very, very difficult, I don’t think you’re doing it right, I really just don’t think you’re doing it right, because the people that I know that have very satisfying, happy marriages, yes, they work at it. I work at my job, but I love my job, I enjoy my work, I find it overall very satisfying. Yeah, there’s effort involved, it’s challenging at times, but it’s not drudgery. And I think if your marriage is drudgery, if your marriage is more often than not, an unpleasant thing you have to attend to rather than something that’s adding value to your life, I think you have to ask some hard questions at that point ’cause you’re either doing it wrong or you’re married to the wrong person.
Brett McKay: So, yeah. Do the note thing.
James Sexton: Yeah, note thing is a good call. And those kinds of check-in meetings, I think that you’re on to something with that. And it’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about in the book when I talk about Hitting Send Now, or having walk and talks.
Brett McKay: Well, James, this has been a great conversation where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
James Sexton: Yeah, the books available everywhere books are available. If you wanna listen to me talk for eight and a half hours, you can go to Audible and download it, the audio book sells really well, I don’t know if that… I don’t think it has anything to do with my voice, I think it just has to do with the way people consume media. You can find a little bit about me on Instagram, which is NYCDivorceLawyer. I don’t post there often, I avoid social media like the plague to some degree, but certainly there’s information about my firm and my work, and when I do media appearances, television and things like that, we post it on the firm’s website, which is NYC, like New York City NYC Divorces, plural divorces.com, so nycdivorces.com, or jjsesq.com. That’s James Joseph Sexton, jjsesq.com. But any of those place is a good place to find out what I’m up to.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, James Sexton, thanks for the time. It’s been a pleasure.
James Sexton: Thanks for having me, Brett. Appreciate it.
Brett McKay: My guess here is James Sexton, he’s the author of the book, If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late. A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide To Staying Together. It’s available on amazon.com. You can find more information about his work at his website, nycdivorces.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/staytogether where you find links to resources we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM podcast, make sure to check out our website artofmanliness.com where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to leave us a review in Apple podcast or Spotify, it helps that a lot. And you’ve done that already. Thank you, please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member, who you think would get something out of it. As always thank you for the continued support. Until next time it’s Brett McKay reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, put what you’ve heard into action.