Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our weekly spot where we talk about some of the things that between us are affecting life in some way. As always, we don’t have magic wands, and not everything we say will be relevant to every person who reads. But hopefully, we can come up with a few tips, or get a few conversations started, and that in itself may be useful.
This week, we’re handing Geeks Vs Loneliness over to Servalan. She approached us, wanting to talk about the issue of divorce, and specifically what comes next. Without further ado…
I got married in my mid-20s, to my best friend at work. But coming from a family where we didn’t really talk about our feelings but tended to bury problems, and being married to someone equally reserved, things soon deteriorated. Anger tended to simmer for days rather than being released and dealt with. There was a distinct lack of communication on all levels.
We both felt isolated from one another, with an unplanned pregnancy creating conflict and money worries, rather than bringing us closer together. As he retreated into writing late at night as an escape, I am afraid I turned to other relationships for consolation, having two affairs within a space of three years. While he managed to forgive the first, the second was the final nail in the coffin of our marriage.
With amazing generosity of spirit, he decided not to divorce me there and then for adultery, as he was entitled to do, but to have a two year separation, and to handle things amicably.
After talking to Citizen’s Advice I did all the divorce paperwork myself which it is perfectly possible to do if you are amicable and financial affairs are not too complex. I feel keeping lawyers out of the situation was right for us but it may not be right for everyone. In our case, there were no flaming rows or arguments – as T S Eliot said: ‘this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper’.
Once separated, I am very grateful to say our friendship was revived. I genuinely count my ex-husband as one of my best friends and a great father to our 16-year old son.
However, even the most amicable divorce can be devastating, and I hope you don’t mind if I share a few of the lessons I have learned along the way.
Divorce is a form of bereavement with a grieving process of its own
There is no point wondering whether losing a partner through death or divorce is worse – as far as I’m concerned they are both terrible. What often happens though is that whereas a widow or widower will receive sympathy and understanding from family and friends, the divorce/ee is expected to act as if nothing has happened. ‘You wanted this, didn’t you? Why are you so upset?’
Unless you are a Vulcan, you will experience a rollercoaster of powerful emotions, from sadness to anger, guilt to depression, and this is totally normal. Giving yourself permission to feel all these things will help, and it is wise to give vent to those feelings via writing a journal or talking to someone like a professional counsellor, rather than trying to suppress them with dangerous stuff like alcohol, drugs or a rebound relationship.
The latter, in particular, was my drug of choice. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes which actually reinforced the feelings of rejection and painfulness inherent in the divorce. I’m not saying ‘don’t try dating again’ – just it’s a good idea to make sure you’re in a good place mentally before you start, as dating will inevitably challenge your peace of mind. Let no one tell you that this ‘love’ thing gets easier as you get older – you can still feel as mixed up as a teenager at any age!
Children will also need to grieve
Where children are involved in divorce there is a whole extra dimension of grief both for the two parties, and for the children themselves.
My son was two when we separated, and I naively hoped this meant he would accept the divorce without questions or any negative emotion – ‘he will be too young to know any different’ was my reasoning.
Obviously, at the time he took it in his stride – but the questions and the anger certainly still came. Over the years I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve been castigated for ‘ruining his life’ with the divorce.
This was painful, upsetting, but, not actually true.
He has every right to feel angry that his world has been changed without his consent. When he calmed down, I was able to remind him of the many good things in his life. At least he still has contact with his father, seeing him every other weekend at the start, then two weekends in three when I moved away from the area – he can also phone his Dad whenever he likes. Not all children are that lucky. He is loved – and knows he is loved – by both parents.
(If I could give one gift to every parent it would be to realise that when your children tell you they hate you because they are feeling angry – they don’t actually hate you! At the time, it breaks your heart. But it’s actually a good thing – it means they feel secure enough to express their anger. The opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference.)
Now he is 16 we are lucky to have a very close, open and honest relationship. I’ve learnt from the mistakes of my marriage regarding communication and I’ve encouraged my son to express his feelings, even the negative ones, rather than keep things bottled up and ‘simmer’ in silence. I hope in this way he will learn not to replicate my mistakes – and will no doubt make a whole new bunch of his own!
Children need to love and feel loved by both parents
This may seem the most trite thing to say, but I feel it is one of the biggest problems in divorce where children are part of the picture. Having to listen to one or other parent vent their anger at the other parent (either to their face or behind their back) makes children feel like they are being torn in two. They cannot choose but to love both parents, and it is unnatural and cruel to try to ask them to choose sides, or to use them as a pawn in a power-play between the adults.
One of the kindest things you can do as a parent is try to reassure them that the divorce has not affected the way they are loved, and that they are still absolutely precious and valued to both of you.
Children of all ages, including teenagers, are apt to see divorce as their fault – that they did something wrong which caused this; and that one or other parent is rejecting them. We absolutely must not add fuel to the fire by saying anything which implies they are to blame or that the other parent doesn’t love them anymore. I am fortunate that this has not been a huge issue in my own case but I have seen this happen with other people, with immensely destructive results for the children even once they have grown up.
One of the things I have had to learn as my son gets older is that I can’t be involved in his relationship with his Dad – it is their relationship, not mine, and all I can do is listen. If he wants things to be a different way, he needs to talk to his Dad. I cannot intervene as it’s actually none of my business. This has been a hard one to take on board as my gut instinct is to protect my son – but I can’t fight his battles for him!
Of course, starting a new relationship and the prospect of step-parents will add a whole extra layer of complexity to your child’s life – in an ideal world it is a good idea to wait till you are sure about a relationship before introducing that person to your child, to avoid confusion. My sisters have both divorced and remarried, and have ‘blended’ families, so I am in awe of their ability to achieve this. No small feat!
There is life after divorce
After divorce or bereavement the world suddenly seems full of happy couples and families, laughing and holding hands in their perfect little world. I used to feel very sorry for myself and somewhat bitter about my exclusion from this ‘loved-up’ world until a close friend who had appeared to be happily married was ‘dumped’ by her husband of over 15 years. She confessed that under the surface all had not been right for a long time in her seemingly ‘perfect’ world.
I have come to realise that it is perilous to assume you know the truth about anyone else’s relationship and even those whose lives seem the most ‘sunshine-y’ have their rainclouds and storms.
In addition, there are lots of other people who have experienced the emotional thunderstorm of divorce and I’ve chatted to a few of you here on Den Of Geek already. It is always a comfort to know you’re not alone and it is possible to grow and learn from one another.
A couple of years after my divorce I attended a ‘Divorce Recovery Workshop’ which I found really helpful. I started the weekend in tears, feeling like a complete failure; I ended it with laughter and feeling optimistic for the future.
See http://drw.org.uk for details of workshops all over the UK.
Single parents might also find it helpful to contact Gingerbread – a national charity sent up to give advice and support: http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/
Relate offer counselling, guidance and information for all different types of relationship, including before, during and after divorce – www.relate.org.uk
Thanks for reading and good luck, whatever your situation.