How to Breakup Amicably...If you, like me, have been divorced you might’ve felt little fingers of guilt tickling your conscience on seeing that Lenny Henry and Dawn French have maintained a friendship throughout their divorce. Your heart undoubtedly ached as you wondered, "How could they look so happy in each other's company?" knowing that was not quite your experience of divorce.
Despite my very best efforts to keep things amicable, my first husband resisted the divorce and made things difficult. I married at a young age and it was after eight years of marriage I realised there was no hope for our relationship, having tried marriage guidance and every other possible method to save it. By that time the only happiness to come out of these difficult years was our two wonderful children.
Whereas I was, thankfully aware of, and desperately wished to keep things calm, that’s not always the case. A client, Allison (*), 42, came to realise she was as much responsible for her acrimonious divorce as her ex-husband, and sought closure in our sessions. A bright and attractive GP, she'd been devastated by her husband's infidelity. Allison found it impossible to forgive, eventually seeking divorce.
Throughout the divorce her rage coloured everything. Only with that lovely cut-crystal clarity that hindsight offers, did she realize how traumatised her children were by both their parents’ behaviour. With time, love and family counselling they’ve all begun to heal.
It may seem astonishing that some couples find a way through the challenging and usually heartbreaking divorce process. But thankfully they do. A great friend, Jessica (*), 49, and her husband Alistair(*), 51, managed to agree their divorce terms amicably with their children's needs firmly in mind.
This process undoubtedly helped by the fact they'd grown apart, rather than powerful issues like infidelity or jealousy being at the heart of their breakup. I'm mindful that the reasons underlying divorce profoundly affect its course. Still it was a very difficult road to travel where they questioned whether they were making the right decision. Yet during all their soul-searching they managed to put their children first.
I'd make an educated guess that Dawn and Lenny didn't become a 'happily divorcing couple' overnight. It’s undoubtedly been a long road as no one divorces lightly, particularly after 25 years. But through strength and insight they’ve managed their differences and found a hard-earned equilibrium, clearly with the welfare of their beloved daughter Billie firmly at the top of their priorities.
We can all learn from such stories and here are helpful points to consider:
ü Always keep in mind your children are ‘emotional sponges’. They’ll absorb any acrimony between you.
ü Do you let them know what’s happening particularly with practical matters like one parent (usually the father) moving out. Emphasise the good that can come from new arrangements like having ‘special time’ with each parent.
ü Give them age-appropriate information. You know them best and can judge what they can cope with knowing. Never give details of personal difficulties between you two. Instead keep it general that "mummy and daddy don't get along anymore." Impress upon them that their well-being’s most important to you both.
ü Resist any urge to criticise your ex-partner in front of your children. This is particularly hurtful to them.
ü Definitely seek out mediation services like National Family Mediation (01392-271-610). These can offer a safe place to negotiate your differences.
ü During and after the breakup agree contact with each other: the form it takes - by phone and/or in person - and how often it occurs. Agreeing such ground rules gives clarity when you both feel upset.
ü Be clear when one of you oversteps the mark. Don't let your boundaries slip in the volatile post-breakup months as they’ll be more difficult to reinstate.
ü Treat your partner’s feelings considerately without giving false hope of a possible reunion. This is a delicate balancing act with an ex-partner who didn't want the breakup.
ü Do lean on friends/family for support as you recover from the breakup. Hiding your heartbreak can only make it worse.
ü Face each day as it comes - some days you'll be upbeat, thinking you're over the worst, only to be hit by a bad day. Don't let it shake your confidence!
ü Focus on the ‘new life’ that’s yours to have - you can do things your Ex didn't want to, and there’s no longer friction/upset in your life.
ü When ready, enjoy some dating but look for fun and friendship rather than plunging into a rebound relationship. Research shows 90% of these come unstuck.
ü Finally, with the best will in the world if you’re at odds with a very angry partner it may be hard to have anything but an acrimonious divorce. The best you can do is keep trying to do the best you can do!
*Personal details changed
For more advice visit www.kidsinthemiddle.org.uk
A similar article was published in the Express newspaper