On divorce


[Aside: I have been running an internal debate about whether to write on this subject. It’s not like I’m the first person to get divorced: it happens all the time. So why should my words be of any interest? Also, is my personal life relevant to my professional life? I think it is. In writing this, I’m not looking for absolution. I’m not trying to prove a point or make excuses. And I’m aware that any thoughts here are from my perspective, which is unique to me and is not the whole truth. But I feel I need to say something.]

Yesterday I heard that my divorce had been finalized. Some 16 months after I moved out of home, the legal process that signals the end of a marriage has been completed. It’s not something I’ve mentioned publicly before, and I do so now with great caution. This is very personal territory. Nonetheless, it is something I want to share, albeit briefly and without too many details. Now that it’s final, it seems an appropriate time to disclose this news.

Fiona and I were wed on May 8th, 1993. It was a joyful occasion, full of friends and hope. We remained married for just under 23 years (legally, for just over 24). That’s a big slice of life.

We got together when we were both very young. If I met the ‘me’ of 1993 now, it would be a strange experience: me, but not me. I was raw and quite naïve, and very idealistic. I didn’t believe in divorce and thought that marriage was forever. I meant my marriage vows.

Even now, coming out of a marriage that has – on paper – failed, I still believe in the institution of marriage and I dislike divorce intensely. It is brutal and cruel. In terms of the separation it causes, it has some of the aspects of a bereavement, except that the closure is perhaps harder because your partner is still there, but you are separate from them.

Divorce causes a lot of pain. I didn’t realize quite how much, until it was too late. I had an inkling that this wouldn’t be an easy path, but it was only when I moved out of home that the full implications dawned on me. It is not an easy fix for a problem.

Still, even despite this, I think that it was the right path to take. Today I met with Fiona to talk over some issues to do with our boys, now 19 and 20. Time is a great healer, and we are now able to talk as friends, with respect for each other. We both wish each other well. We have both moved on. But there is no denying that there is still pain, sitting somewhere under the surface. So we tread carefully and as kindly as we can.

How do you process the end of a 23 year marriage? It isn’t easy.

There is a wounding, but there can also be a healing. It’s important to take the position that nothing is wasted, holding onto the many good times with a sense of gratitude. I think both of us realize that we were not terribly well suited to each other, but at the same time a marriage is something that you build rather than discover as something already complete. It is something that grows, built on an initial foundation, and hopefully with a commitment to build well. It is not something that starts out finished and untarnished, and then gradually with time loses its lustre. I also think that, when approached the right way, the inevitable pain, conflicts and challenges that exist in any union between two humans can be turned round and used as building material.

That our building eventually failed is probably in part due to the incredible stresses we were put under over the last 16 years. Our family life has been challenging. After five years of trying and a range of tests, it seemed we couldn’t have our own children. There was no obvious reason; it just didn’t happen. So after a lengthy approval process, we adopted two boys. They were brothers, and they’d had a terrible start, and they came to us aged 2.5 and 3.5 years old, back in 2000. From the beginning, we realized that we were in for a challenging time. It wasn’t a simple matter of pouring love in where there had been a deficit – sadly, it doesn’t work this simply. Things got gradually more challenging and difficult, beyond anything we could have imagined and certainly beyond the level that anyone should have to tolerate. But we stuck at it, through the most trying times. [I should add: I do not blame my boys. They are talented and have lots of qualities. They have had to overcome a lot, and I’m proud of them. But we had a very tough journey.]

Without this intense, unending pressure, with no respite, things might have turned out differently. Who knows? But nothing is wasted. Even what looks like a failure, has within it seeds that given the right conditions, can grow.

I read that the average divorce costs £44 000. Ours cost a more modest £1346, which is about as cheaply as you can do it, I think. We did our financial sums over a drink in the pub, and then got a solicitor to help with framing the agreement and dealing with the family court. I have unending respect for Fiona for dealing with things this way. We both genuinely want the best for each other, even though the dying days of the marriage were horribly painful.

Perhaps the best advice we received as we talked over things with professionals and close friends was this: it hurts, and there is pain, just as when you have a physical wound there is pain. But don’t keep taking the dressing off and poking the wound, to see how much it hurts. Acknowledge that there is pain, but don’t dwell there. Don’t keep going back to it, taking a look, picking off the scab.

And in this process, many of the horrible aspects are out of our control. While we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can decide on how we respond. We do not have to be a victim. We don’t have to respond in the stereotyped, movie-script sort of way. We get to choose.

Since January last year, I have been travelling a lot. When I am in the country, I have been living at my sister’s place. I have to think about what comes next. It’s great to get a second chance, but there are many potential pitfalls. I’m not going to play it safe, though. Second chances don’t come around all that often.

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