Getting to Wedded Bliss Is a Labor of Love

Black Love: The Root talks to Divorce Court's Judge Lynn Toler about how to make marriage work.

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Social media is seductive in its relative ease and its seeming innocence. You're not really cheating. You're typing a couple of words; you're not touching anybody. You can do it from home. You're not going anywhere. But what happens is people find themselves on the wrong end of disrespectful.

People always ask me, "If you're flirting online, is it cheating?" I don't think that's the question. The question is, "Is what you're doing online disrespecting your spouse?" Where you draw the line is if it would hurt your spouse to know what you were doing.

TR: You don't grant a divorce to every couple that comes before you seeking one. You're quick to suggest counseling, which seems like the obvious first step. So why do so many black couples avoid it?

JL: We tend to go to church more, which is good in one respect. The spiritual side? Sure, keep that. But there's a practical side that you can deal with. Talking to a professional, a person who has a degree and training specifically in marital issues, has a value that can teach you how to have a productive conversation. And that would be something we could use more of.

TR: When it comes to marriage, do you think people are too quick to throw in the towel?

JL: Absolutely. I find most people are trying really hard, but they're only doing the same thing more and more. They've yelled their position louder. They've gotten angrier quicker and done what they thought they were supposed to do more and more.

On Divorce Court, I try to give people a different perspective so they can take a step back and see what the problem truly is, change how they approach it and deal that way.

TR: Are there justifiable reasons to get divorced?

JL: Yes, when you are in a perpetually lopsided relationship. I get a lot of requests for advice from women who say, "I never get my way. I never get what I want. I give and give and give and get nothing in return." If you feel like there's no room for you in your own marriage, that's a legitimate reason to go. Also, if anything physical happens, it's time to go. I don't believe in working through that. I've seen too many domestic violence cases.

Beyond that, I don't think there is a magic point. At almost any stage in a marriage, you can get back to where you need to be. You can get back to where it's acceptable, and once you're at acceptable you can get to better; from better you can get to good. There's hope as long as both parties are still engaged. If somebody's checked out, then there's nothing you can do with that.