The punishment – be it censorious comments, cutting off all communication, spreading vicious rumours or even outright rejection – meted out to those of us who have no option but to start divorce proceedings can make an already awful choice even more traumatic.
When I got married, nearly nineteen years ago, in my mind it was for life (not being the kind of person to wander, or to want more than one man at a time – and being keen on both commitment and security for our then-unborn child). Besides, having gone into marriage late, and loving the man I married, an ending was not something I gave any serious thought to.
But endings happen.
When I realised, nine years ago, that there were significant problems in the relationship, divorce was still the very last thought on my mind. All marriages go through difficult patches, I told myself. No couples live in heavenly perfection all day every day. My husband had had traumas in his early life which aroused my maternal sympathy. I made excuses for the way he sometimes behaved as a result. Besides, my long-established habit of shouldering the blame for everything prevented me from seeing the bigger picture.
In a word, I procrastinated. Even when I knew, post counselling (back in May 2014), that the marriage was not just dead, but, in decomposing, releasing harmful gases, I refused to let go – because I did not want to hurt our son; because one wife had already left this man and I had always vowed I would not do the same; because I did not want to sell our house; because I kept hoping for a Lazarus-type miracle; because I was terrified of the response from family and friends (few of whom knew the full story: People who have been in a partnership which has behavioural issues will understand the difficulty those affected have when it comes to confiding in others, even close family); because I was scared of starting afresh in my late fifties.
The truth: There is no perfect time to divorce, or leave, someone. I waited, hoping to see Son’s education ending before I made my move. Events prevented this. Yet, some people have condemned me, have asked if I thought about the Lad before starting the divorce process. The temptation to get sarcastic and say, ‘No, of course not! I decided on a whim, apropos of nothing, and have never considered anyone else’s needs in my life!’ is, at times, overwhelming. It shocks me to think that those self-righteous individuals, apprised of my reasons for instituting divorce proceedings, cannot see that the scenarios described would, inevitably, have had an impact upon offspring involved too; it wounds me to think that there are those who are unable to see that ending a bad marriage benefits everyone and that, as someone criticised in the past for being over-protective as a mother, I was highly unlikely to take any step in life without fully considering its likely consequences for Son.
Part of the reason I gave up teaching was because our son was not getting enough stress-free mother time; because I was spending every evening, and most weekends, marking books, was constantly fraught and unhappy, he and I passed like ships in the night. One of the many benefits of retiring early has been the blossoming of the early bond between me and the lad. I now have the time, and the emotional space, to talk with him, listen to him, go places, have fun, laugh, discuss important matters such as the divorce, help him with this next phase of his life, guide him in matters both moral and of the heart.
Those who condemned me for financial reasons failed to see that money is not the only thing in life and that, sometimes, children need proper parental engagement and emotional security far more than the luxuries a decent salary brings. What use was it earning the money I did each month when quality of life was so poor? When time with my child was so brief and impoverished?
The same goes for the divorce itself. It took me years to pluck up the courage – and, had I seen any alternative, I would have pursued that with the determination I gave to counselling.
People WILL take sides. That is, unfortunately, human nature. And, sadly, those of us who do have to go down the divorce road are likely to find that we also end up estranged from some, if not all, of the members of our ex-partner’s birth family. Why? Because blood loyalty is a hard thing to break – and often it is easier to believe the stories of a relative than to look at evidence and hard, cold reality. Sad to relate, a small collection of people (both family and friends) have chosen to believe the fiction that I am either clinically insane or in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. The logic appears to go that I must be to get divorced!
Some people WILL try to put pressure on the one who has instigated the divorce. This is a particularly unpleasant part of the whole thing which I had not fully prepared myself for. This pressure, in one case, crossed the line into outright bullying and was both shocking and deeply distressing.
Divorce is expensive, both financially and emotionally. It takes its toll, to say the least. I have wept oceans over the past ten months – and, for all the huge relief and liberation I experienced when the marriage was, finally, dissolved, I cried long and hard too because it has been a harrowing year; because I have lost people in the process; because I tried as hard as I could to prevent this outcome; because I did love my ex once; because I was, and am, emotionally exhausted and battered by it all; because those who have taken my ex’s side refuse to see that only true desperation, and an unworkable relationship, would drive anyone into the miseries of divorce; because some people still seem to think that I have rushed into this for no reason at all; because, perhaps above all, some relatives, despite knowing the deep love I feel for my son, have still asked me, overtly or covertly, whether I considered his welfare at all.
To put it bluntly, behaviours which lead to a divorce decision typically have a deleterious effect on the young people/children as well. That some relatives/friends could possibly believe that I would deliberately harm the lad, and bail out of a marriage for my own selfish (or mad) pleasure, has hurt almost more than the long nightmare of divorce itself.
I was thirty-nine when I got married. I was brought up to believe that marriage was a sacred state, a binding commitment, and, as previously stated, for life. For me to go against these early teachings indicated the scale of the problem with which I was confronted. I loved my husband, as previously stated – or I would never have married him in the first place.
Those who started the madness rumours have no medical or psychiatric training. They are not qualified to make such a judgement, implied or otherwise. None of those who have agreed with the whisperers concerning my alleged mental state have any training in this area either! My doctor – who is trained and whom I asked, very bluntly, a few months ago – can see NO signs of insanity in me, merely situational anxiety.
Eccentric? Yes, probably! Mad? No! Alzheimer’s Disease? Who knows what ills our old age will bring (if we are lucky to survive that long)? But, at present, any small incidents of memory loss are the result of severe and continuous stress over the past ten months and more. This judgement comes from medics and not ill-informed, prejudiced members of the general public!
Divorce WILL bring out the ugliness in other people’s natures. It WILL involve mud-slinging and character assassination. It WILL allow those with an axe to grind (through unexpressed jealousy, sheer dislike or a personal agenda involving one’s ex) to get grinding away. It is unlikely to be an easy ride at any level – and, anyone who goes into it thinking it will be is going to get a huge shock very quickly.
But sometimes it is necessary – and procrastinating, no matter how well-meant, can make things worse.
Divorce will also reveal those who are loyal, loving, supportive and true. I have been blessed because, starting with sheer statistics, my well-wishers have far outnumbered my detractors. I have also been blessed because the quality of the support and love I have received (especially from my very close circle) has been both outstandingly high and wonderfully constant.
Our son has been at the centre of all my thoughts, plans and decisions from the start. Of course he has. What loving mother would dismiss a young person’s needs and wishes at any time, let alone a time of crisis? What loving mother would ever deviate from the path of doing the absolute best for the fruit of her womb?
He will survive this, as will I, as will my ex – and I firmly believe that a life in which we are not married(to one another) is to everyone’s benefit in the long term. I firmly believe that a life in which Son is sharing time with independently-living parents – and without all the unpleasantness and fear which so marked life until very recently – can only be an improvement.
Sometimes in life, we all have to make unpopular and difficult decisions – but such times can be made infinitely worse by the snide comments and outright condemnation of a small minority of others!
I am now divorced – and, for all the pain of the long labour and birth, I do not regret it, anymore than I could EVER regret the lovely boy who arrived in my thirty-nine-year-old life after such a long physical labour and miraculously wonderful birth nearly nineteen years ago.
Do I regret the marriage itself? Yes – and, no! But I do wish I had been more pro-active and ended it earlier, as soon as I realised that there was no solution to the problem.
It is one of the most difficult, traumatic things one can face in this life, and not to be taken lightly. I read of those celebrities who notch up divorces as if it were some kind of ghastly game – and I think, ‘Once was quite bad enough. How can anyone put him/herself through that multiple times?’
I have done it. I am battered and bruised emotionally, but I have kept my sanity, my sense of humour, my humanity, my love for significant others and my basic optimism regarding a post-divorce future. I never deserved punishment for my decision. Doing the deed was sufficiently punitive in and of itself!