Divorce is down as one of the most stressful life events you can experience, but today’s contributor wants to reassure people that although it can be a heartbreaking and traumatic event, there are positives in divorce, and you will find happiness again. If you’ve been through a divorce I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
“Getting divorced is absolute agony,” I was once advised by a friend, (who had the audacity to be in the middle of divorcing an actual vicar), “but the alternative is far worse. It’s like living with an gangrenous leg that you know you have to have chopped off: sometimes it feels that it might be easier to die slowly from the inevitable poisoning, but the brave accept that it needs hacking off so you can thrive again.”
Two decades later, I often thought of her advice when I was in the middle of my own, painful hacking off. The first nights when my children were at their father’s house I would have to close their bedroom doors because their flat, empty beds hurt so much. I shut the doors, boxing in that part of my life so I didn’t have to feel their absence. I felt full of doom when I told some of my older friends that my husband and I were separating, and they looked grave and said things like: “But what about your lovely children?” I felt that I was doing something awful, something unforgivable, hurling us all into a dark future.
Since then I’ve seen friends go through the same process. It’s so painful watching them go through their own personal severing, knowing I can’t do much to help other than to listen, to not judge, and to buy wine, fairy lights and other pretty things to adorn their new, fierce tiger-mother lairs.
But it’s not all agony. After everything is put asunder, there are some truly great up-sides to getting divorced:
1. You no longer have any obligation to the person you are divorcing.
Of course if you have children you will have to ball up your inner heart of raging hatred in order to politely co-parent civilly for a decade or so – which is quite hard at times – but the bigger obligations are gone. You can find out what you want, rather than working around what he doesn’t like, and even for the strongest of women, socialised as we are to please and to compromise, it might take some time before you understand what you really like.
You won’t have to meet his needs or answer his questions any more. What he thinks is irrelevant to you. You don’t even have to find it remotely interesting, or give the smallest of fucks. It’s over.
I felt like a blank slate when I left my husband – having spent 20 years listening to his music, decorating to his taste, and cooking manly meat-and-two-veg every night, I had no idea what I liked any more. The first thing I bought when I finally had control of my own money and choices was a box of my favourite french wine that for years my ex had deemed too extravagant. It tasted of my twenties in Paris, ripe apples and middle-aged hope.
“What will your home be like, now you’re on your own and can do whatever you like?” one of my best friends asked me in the early days of my separation, chivvying me out of a bout of pessimism. “It will be white!” I said, (a colour my ex thought too institutional), “with pops of colour!” I started hoarding joyful cushions, planning my future in a palette that made me happy.
Your only obligation is now only to yourself and your babies. Curate your own ideas boards for the future.
2. Time without children is magnificent.
I know that some people don’t have a choice about this, because their ex does no co-parenting, and my heart goes out to you. But for those of us who do not have their children all the time, there is a joyous silver lining to child-free time. The first day I drove back to work after having my first child, I realised I was relaxing for the first time since I’d given birth. I felt as though I was driving away from all the stress of parenting.
On separating from my partner, I wasn’t worried about missing my children. I was mainly excited because I hadn’t slept through the night for ten years. Separation meant I was going to have uninterrupted sleep for several nights, at least a decade before I had anticipated something so delicious. When your children are not at your home, you can sleep. You can tidy a room and when you go back to it it is still tidy (sometimes this made me cry with pleasure).
You can produce quality, uninterrupted work for a full working day, (although you may always feel anxious at 3.15pm if you aren’t actually in a playground). You can watch entire films without having to answer annoying questions. You can listen to Radio 4. You can read books. You can wander around the supermarket humming to yourself and taking your time. And all while knowing that your children are being looked after by at least the second best person in the world to be looking after them (n.b. this may be the world’s actual worst husband, but that is a different thing.)
You can recharge, and find yourself. And then when they return, you can start afresh, give them a big squeeze and a sniff, and be a better, recharged mummy, with a fridge full of provisions and clean bathroom taps.
3. You will be happy again.
Let’s face it, if you were at the point of separation, things were awful. You were in a bad place emotionally, spiritually and physically, sharing a space with the person who had probably become the worst person in the world for you to be spending time with, which was undoubtedly corroding your self-esteem and happiness.
Separation means you chose not to live like this forever.
Basically, once the leg is sawn off, you can get on with your life again. You might get a new, different leg – perhaps one who cooks your favourite dinner and listens to you at the end of a day and holds out a towel when you get out of the bath. You might become a one-legged Olympian and forge a happy, brilliant life on your own with some generous, thoughtful cats and a library of single-malt whiskies.
I promise you: you will be happy again.
You will grieve, you will rage, but this too shall pass. There will be happy summer evenings with friends, drinking wine while the sun goes down and you will barely remember the bad times. You will have little, trivial worries again about cleaning your grouting or when to feed your tomato plants. You will have done the brave thing, and you have the whole of your life ahead of you to mould and fashion, the way you want it.
I’d recommend white, with pops of colour.