As a divorce lawyer, I often talk about a healthy divorce, because that’s what I know. But I don’t often talk about a healthy marriage, even though, it’s also what I know.

Having been married 21 years, a divorce lawyer for almost 25 years and a conflict resolution expert for the majority of those years, I have some stories and lessons to share.

A healthy marriage is not the story of Cinderella and the Prince, it’s not the Netflix rom-com. People are living longer than the lawmakers who came up with the legal notion of divorce, actually ever anticipated. So, the lifelong commitment wasn’t actually meant to go for that long. Now, we need to reconsider how to stay in a healthy marriage long after the length it was designed for.

Love is the outcome of a healthy marriage.

But, a healthy marriage is achieved by a constant realignment of values, readjustment of expectations and compromise. Most of all, it requires a healthy sense of self awareness and self respect, without judgement, blame or resentment.

Recently, I went on an annual marriage retreat. This has been an annual thing of ours for around 5 or so years (interrupted only by covid). It is the secret to my happy marriage and I want to share it.

What is an annual marriage retreat? It is time out, no kids, no responsibilities, no rules, just fun. But, despite that there are no rules, I always go with an agenda.

This is because, in my experience of divorce, it’s those big things that most couples ignore which inevitably, are the things that end up tearing them apart.

My agenda generally looks like this, in no particular order:

  1. Relationship analysis. What is working and what isn’t anymore. Things you love about the relationship and each other and things you don’t. What do you wish it looked like and how can we work together to make that happen?
  2. Personal development feedback. What are ways each of us could learn something about ourselves that could improve the way we operate as a couple. What could I do better, understand more deeply, recognise about myself? This year we talked about the gaps we felt personally and what we needed filled by the other. This was a hugely meaningful conversation that opened up a lot of discussion.
  3. Goals alignment. Are we on track to our personal goals and are we working toward aligned goals? Do we need to readjust where we are heading? Are we where we want to be in life generally, socially, in our careers, living purposeful lives and so on.
  4. Fun scale. Are we having enough fun? Do we do enough to fill our cups? Is our balance in check? What else could we do or map out in our diaries to make sure we keep up our fun, make more time for it?
  5. Parenting reflection. How do we each think we are doing at the parenting thing? Could we support each other more in particular areas? Are we in alignment about what our kids need from us right now? What about our discipline management, any areas either of us could do to improve our relationship with our kids, and be more aligned as parents? What do our kids need from us now?
  6. Friendships/Relationships. Are we getting what we want from our friendships. Should we prioritise friends, more or less? Who do we have the most fun with, get the most love of life from? Who is good/bad for us?
  7. Families/Parents. What do they need from us? What could we do better as sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. How could we help each other do that better?
  8. Financial assessment. Are our goals on track? Do we need to make new financial goals to meet over the next 12 months?

After exploring the agenda, we have come back refreshed, on the same page, reset and fully aligned.

So, a healthy marriage? Who wants one?

Rose Cocchiaro, Founder Resolve Divorce.