My marriage ended 5 1/2 years ago when my husband announced, via email, that he ‘couldn’t do this anymore’. At the time I truly had not seen it coming. Looking back I can see that the marriage was doomed. Ah the wisdom of hindsight.
Since then I have been through the ups and downs and ins and outs of divorce. While I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and while my first question to anyone I meet who tells me that they are thinking of leaving their partner is “Is there any way you can fix this?” there are a few things I have learned along the way that might help someone else going through separation and divorce, particularly if there are children involved. I am not an expert, these are my personal experiences and learnings, but they seem, from discussion with friends, to be universal.
1. The grief process following divorce is the same as the grief process following death of a loved one. I truly didn’t understand this until I read a blurb in the back of a vampire fantasy novel by Laurell K. Hamilton (I was hiding in bad literature at the time) where the author talked about thinking that nothing would be worse than losing her mother as a child until she got divorced. That statement shocked me but also resonated with me. The death of a marriage is more than just walking away from someone you have loved. It is the death of your dreams, of your idea of who the other person is, of the idea of who you are, of how you fit into your community and family, and of your belief in your future.
Once I understood this I realised why I had been angry, sad, wanting him back, etc. It helped me to heal and bounce back much more quickly when I realised that my reactions were ‘normal’.
2. Putting your children first in every decision you make about how to react to your separation helps. When I remembered to look at my decisions through the lens of ‘how will this affect the children’ my decisions were much better than when I had knee jerk reactions of ‘I don’t want this to happen’, ‘Hell no way am I agreeing with you’, or ‘You need to suffer too’. (All of which are completely normal but not completely pleasant reactions.)
3. Something that was a problem during your marriage will continue to be a problem after your marriage. I know – really obvious huh?! For example it took me a long time to realise that the issues that we had about money during our marriage were exactly the same issues we were having about money after our marriage. In fact it has taken me 5 years to realise that there is no point engaging in those discussions as nothing changes. The sooner you learn to change your response, the sooner the situation will change. By not engaging in these pointless conversations I am more able to gain perspective, less frustrated and more able to just ‘let it go.’
4. Biting your tongue lets your children develop their own relationships and form their own views on their parents. Look. I am no saint, and I make mistakes like everyone else. However I have tried really hard not to tell the children every thought, feeling, frustration or anger I have towards their father. They need to be able to work out his role in their life themselves, untainted by my history and views. I try to just give them simple facts, or direct them to him for their answers. When it is really hard I simply say ‘I don’t really understand why he did that either. Maybe you should talk to him about that so that he can help you to understand.’ What I mutter under my breath, in my mind or to my friends when the kids aren’t around is something quite different!
5. There is no perfect way for children to share their time between their parents. No matter what people tell you there is no perfect solution. Week about, every second weekend, every Friday night, half of each week, just on school holidays, and all the other weird and wonderful arrangements that we can dream up will never give our kids the ideal balance or life. They will always feel a little displaced, out of sync, and disrupted. There will always be the drama of telling a teacher ‘sorry I left that at Dad’s house’, or ‘Mum won’t sign the form because that is on Dad’s week’ or any of the hundred ways that they are forced to publicly share that they come from a broken home. All we can do is support them, listen to them, give them a voice (but not control when they are too young), and let them know that we understand.
Life is complex. Learning more about how to lead better lives helps to deal with that complexity. Do I sound sage or just weary? Either way – time for a cup of tea while I contemplate the latest development in the household.
Be kind to yourself today.