Denver Bar Association
March 2005
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Why the Heck Did I Marry This Shrub?

by Lenny Frieling

Secrets to Staying Married to an Attorney
Editor's Note: This concludes out series on lawyers and love.

Dear Bob: I’m certain that you remember walking down the Boulder Mall with Debi and me on a delightful spring day almost two decades ago. You were busy explaining to Debi (my then new wife) why "no one can stay married to a criminal defense attorney." Thanks, Bob! Rather than scaring her away, I think you just ticked her off, and sparked a streak of stubbornness that has lasted 19 years so far. Personally, I thought that your statement was rather strong.

What you might have said is, "It can be darn near impossible to stay married to a defense attorney, or to any other attorney!" If I am able to follow my own common sense, Debi and I will be fine for many more years. I’m not sure if this is helpful, but I think I know at least part of what I do right in marriage (though I still don’t get it right very often). I suspect that in marriage, happily, a little bit goes a long way. Because of your personal history of being a monk, then a criminal defense attorney, and now a priest, I thought you might find my observations interesting and useful in your current line of work.

1. Some say that marriage consists of feeling very lucky about 30 percent of the time. Fifty percent of the time you’re too busy surviving to worry about things like your marriage. For 10
percent you’re angry, and think "why the heck did I marry this shrub?" No source I’ve consulted, including Google, claims to know what the remaining 10 percent is, but I suspect that it is eating.

2. I think the least useful, yet most important quality in marriage is loyalty. A subheading of that is the presumption of correctness. Assume that your spouse is right. It is, after all, a rebutable presumption. To balance that, of course, is the hard-learned art of being forgiving.

3. Spouses need a life beyond law. The key is that the spouse of the lawyer must have a way of experiencing recognition that is separate from the recognition that flows directly from being married to someone as kind, caring, smart and loving as a lawyer. (This same principle applies when both spouses are successfully engaged in the practice of law.)

4. Flowers and dates. You never need a reason to bring home flowers. Spouses love receiving flowers, and love eating dates, especially when they are stuffed with cream cheese. Other dates include things like birthdays and anniversaries. Enter all the important dates in your pocket brain, select, and set the date to repeat each year on the same date. I know this works, because my friend David Mitchel has a birthday, according to my pocket brain, about five times in March.

For advanced married folks, a better method is to enter a warning several days ahead of, say, the anniversary of your first date. Then, you can buy the flowers on the way home, and not have to make a separate trip out later, after you are reminded. As my friend M. Sutton says, "If the old lady has to ask you to buy her flowers, it doesn’t count."

5. Listen, and don’t listen. Face it. We work 24/7. But not really. Try to say "Give me 10 minutes to finish this paragraph so that I can listen." Or, "give me an hour to get this brilliant article on paper, so that I can really listen to you." Never act like you’re listening when you aren’t. You WILL be busted every time.

6. Fight fairly. This is Most Difficult for lawyers. Remember, fair fighting in a marriage is NOT the same as ethical fighting and zealous representation. The forum is quite different. How do you know if you are not fighting fairly? If you’re cross-examining (or effectively doing a direct examination), you’re not fighting fairly. If there’s much noise happening, especially if accompanied by a lot of drama, you’re probably not fighting fairly, (and should also exit the premises expeditiously).

If you are heatedly discussing something, and you find that you have "played a card twice," you’re not fighting fairly. This is a wonderful way to avoid escalation. Talk about what has to be spoken about, finish it, and move on. So the next time you remind your spouse that your birthday was forgotten, and that additionally, your anniversary also was forgotten, be prepared to happily accept it when your spouse says, "Dear, you already played the anniversary card." It’s a lot like double jeopardy used to be.

In a nutshell, there are many different ways spouses can give each other the recognition that is essential to a happy relationship. A little goes a long way, whether it is healthy recognition, or insults, ignoring, and the like. Keep it happy. Keep it fair. Keep it forever.

Your friend,


Lenny Frieling has practiced law in Colorado since 1976. He does criminal defense, is current chair of the Executive Council of the CBA’s Criminal Law Section, and is under the illusion that he also has a life. This article is the basis of a chapter in the book he is co-authoring with his late father, Edward Frieling. Contact or visit

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