The High Cost of Choosing the Wrong Mate

As a business person whose business is relationships, I see what our “love lives” could stand to learn from our professional lives.

Emotions, whether we like it or not, affect our business. This is also true of the long-term decisions we make in our personal lives. We’ve all heard the statistics: arguably, about half of all first marriages end in divorce.

The good news is this number may be dropping, as women are choosing to delay marriage until careers have been established, and with this people find themselves getting married at a more mature age. By this stage in life, personalities have been formed and the future is clearer to see.

But the story is different for many professionally successful individuals with well-established careers who married before this trend. Because they married young, without knowing themselves very well, they were wrapped up in the beauty, the promise and the romance of it all. They didn’t realize the financial stakes ahead, or that most women have a professional shift in their 40s that can change the nature of their relationships.

The Financial Impact of Impulsive Love

I work primarily in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where both men and women make a lot of money in technology and entertainment. My clients are highly successful men who want to be married, but whose demanding schedules prevent them from meeting someone new through the hit-or-miss nature of random dating.

More than 50% of my male clients come to me post-divorce. They arrive in my Santa Monica office with all the emotions that come with such a difficult and challenging time.

They married in their 20s and early 30s and didn’t imagine how their partner might change or grow over the years. At that time, it was about settling down and starting a family. Now, a decade or two later, the kids are grown, careers have been shaped and with that, some marriages have failed.

Divorce is expensive. Especially for successful entrepreneurs and well-known entertainers, who find themselves dividing assets that include business equity, shareholder voting rights, portfolios, future residuals from past projects, and other earnings — even with pre- and post-nup contracts in place. The impact on one’s net worth is very real and palpable.

It’s not just men who suffer financially if they choose the wrong mate or marry before they are ready. Women who choose men in their 20s, before their own career has taken shape, are choosing based on whom they think he will become. The cute, athletic guy can become like just another kid hanging around the house, if he doesn’t have the same ambition she does. I know many extremely successful women who are paying 30% of their income to an ex.

The emotional impact is a given — as real for men as for women. According to a paper published in the Journal Of Men’s Health in September 2013, divorce can take a significant mental and physical toll on men.

When a divorced man comes into my office to begin working with me, no matter how successful, he has lost confidence, he’s more protective of his finances, and has a different attitude about men and women. Depending on the length of time since his divorce, he could be at any varying stage of emotional readiness for his next relationship. Readiness is largely dependent on factors related to the dissolution of his marriage, and quite often that includes the financial hardship resulting from divorce.

It’s hard for me to witness.

I bring this up because I continue to see both men and women suffer personally and professionally, all because of making the wrong choices in a mate. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way.

What We Can Learn About Partnership From Our Business Lives

Our culture encourages us to view love and marriage as a beautiful cinematic montage, where everything is a whirlwind and people are swept off their feet. Romantic excitement is certainly a part of falling in love, the breathless anticipation and chemistry are exhilarating. But there has to be more, much more, if the merger is to be enduring.

Would you approach a business partnership so impulsively? Surely a lifelong commitment is deserving of the same rigorous attention that an even short-term business partnership is given.

Often, when getting to know a new client, I delve into those questions people rarely ask each other when they fall head over heels and decide to marry. My questions are about deeply-held core values, how one might celebrate life, handle money matters, relate to family, meet individual needs, and achieve personal goals. With these questions the pool of potential matches becomes smaller ― but much more viable.

It’s risky to marry someone who hasn’t established themselves yet. If partners can be on similar footing when it comes to knowing who they are and what they want out of life, the risk is minimized by that knowledge and the partnership can be more meaningful and rewarding because future stumbling blocks are avoided.

For example: when a man is supporting children from a previous marriage, and marrying a woman who wants to start a new family, honest financial discussions must be had. What are his financial plans for providing for his existing children? Does that include college? Trust funds? Legacies for grandchildren? What will be provided for any new children? You can see how these issues could come up later and derail a marriage.

Love & Conscious Coupling

I can’t help but wonder if everyone learned to self-reflect and ask themselves the important questions long before they ever meet someone and fall in love, would we have a lower divorce rate?

I recently looked at the marriages I’ve created in the past 18 years and can happily say, I have a 1% divorce rate. Were my matches just that spectacular and perfect? No. We simply did the work to prepare the individuals for love and lifelong partnership. It doesn’t take away from the union, in fact, people thank me! It makes marriage all the more joyous and rewarding ― and lasting.

Choosing a mate is a business decision, but not in the obvious way. Don’t rely on magic, however tempting to be carried away and jump in with both feet.

I encourage you to do the work in advance that helps ensure you find the mate that is going to grow in harmony with you. It’s vital to the longevity of your future marriage, and the health of your future financial picture, to take a long and in-depth look at your inner self, as well as the character of the person you’re choosing.

It is possible to do this, and it can be deeply gratifying. Whether with a qualified matchmaker, a therapist, or simply a lot of time spent listening to your own thoughts and asking yourself (and eventually your future partner) the hard questions. You deserve to know, and you’ll both be happier for it.

Anything less is too costly.