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In recent years, some of America’s most popular television programs and movies have depicted lawyers winning in the courtroom but losing in love. Either this image is a distortion of reality, or lawyers really do have problems building and sustaining relationships. Regrettably, the latter proposition is correct. It’s not that lawyers lack relationship-building skills. But, overworked and squeezed for time, lawyers exhibit communication and intimacy breakdowns peculiar to their education, professional training and work environment. The same traits that bring lawyers success in the workplace can interfere with their achieving meaningful, intimate relationships in the home. The profession works a special hardship on women lawyers. According to a 1999 study by the American Bar Association, a third of all women lawyers have never married, as compared to 8% of male lawyers, and nearly half of the women lawyers reported being unmarried, compared to 15% of the men. Compared to female physicians and college professors, women lawyers are less likely to marry, have children or remarry after divorce and are significantly more likely to become divorced. I’ve counseled lawyers and their families for more than 20 years, and have spoken with many lawyers across the country. From what I’ve seen, lawyer marriages are in trouble-perhaps even more so than those of couples in other professions. There is no single explanation, but when one combines the typical lawyer personality with the lessons learned in law school, the combination that makes for great courtroom drama is counterproductive in an intimate interaction with a spouse. Lawyers are not without feelings, but in the day-to-day reality of legal practice, emotions are usually relegated to a lower priority than one’s ability to maintain a rational, logically processing mind. Lawyers also have a need to be right, and the price they pay for that need in personal relationships is a heavy one: That need can destroy the potential for intimate connection. Statistics bear out these observations. Individual lawyers may not have all the characteristics of the so-called lawyer personality, but, when they are honest, they will likely recognize that they possess a few marriage-straining attributes, such as ambition, narcissism, skepticism, defensiveness, perfectionism and the need to be in control. Furthermore, on personality tests, most lawyers score high on the “thinking” scales and low on the “feeling” scales. It’s not something that arises just during practice-it goes all the way back to law school, where one learns to argue, cross-examine, stonewall and avoid showing weakness. Susan Daicoff, in “Lawyer, Know Thyself: A Review of Empirical Research on Attorney Attributes Bearing on Professionalism” ( American University Law Review, June 1997), wrote: “Some of the traits comprising the lawyer personality appear long before law school, suggesting that those who are suited to practice law self-select into the profession.” That is, a disproportionate number of people who are less emotionally astute gravitate into the legal profession. Ironically, it is this personality type that creates great lawyers. Good lawyers, bad spouses While these are qualities that may persuade juries and win cases, they can also work like acid on marital relations. For example, a prosecutor or defense attorney might come home on Friday nights all hyped up and argumentative, as if they were still on trial. Or a corporate or real estate lawyer engaged in intense negotiations might find it hard to switch to a different mindset at the end of the workweek. Regardless of the environment in which lawyers work, the demands on their time can put even the strongest marriage to the test. Nonlawyer spouses have their tasks, too. They must learn to deal with the sacrifices of time and intimacy that the spouse’s law practice demands. Such sacrifices may include canceled or postponed vacations, time spent with the children and involvement in child-rearing decisions, minimal emotional support, lack of deep conversations about feelings and little patience for working through emotional problems. Of course, another major threat to lawyer marriages is alcoholism, and many an attorney’s marital difficulties begin with after-hours drinking with colleagues. It’s a lawyer’s way of dealing with the high stress, but the practice also creates more stress for spouses. Lawyers who choose not to become aware of how their work interferes with having a healthy intimate relationship at home are at a higher risk for becoming a divorce statistic. So how can lawyers be better spouses? It would be helpful to acknowledge that certain lawyerly goals and techniques are at cross-purposes with the behaviors that foster good marriages. For example, win (v. compromise), doubt (v. trust), cross-examine (v. discuss), argue (v. admit error), attack (v. accept fallibility in self and others), avoid vulnerability (v. concede), think for others (v. respect partner’s opinions and ideas), deny weakness (v. allow for vulnerability), hinder and delay (v. cooperate). Practice taking a deep breath at the midway point between home and office, and as you exhale, let go of that lawyer style until you inhale it back again tomorrow on your way back to work. You are good at practicing law; now try practicing love. Fiona Travis ([email protected]), a psychologist, is married to a judge. She is the author of Should You Marry a Lawyer: A Couple’s Guide to Balancing Work, Love and Ambition (DecisionBooks 2004).

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