I am writing this article from a professional, not a personal one, as I have been involved with people trying to make sense and survive a broken relationship for more than forty years. From a personal perspective my wife and I have been married for 46 years and that has included a lot of knocks and confusion along the way. Maybe we have been lucky or my wife is extremely forgiving or probably both.
However from this article I want to leave the readers with a message of hope but I will start with the down side. For eight years I worked in the divorce court as a welfare officer trying to help people sort out the future whilst going through a fractured relationship and leaving them with the sense of having fractured lives. The problem with divorce or separation hearings in court is that the court makes a judgement as to who is to blame. The concept of matrimonial offence still exists although a divorce or separation order can be granted by mutual consent on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown. However even then there has to be a Petitioner and a Respondent – a good guy and a bad guy. I have never felt that to be a helpful concept as it can let one of the party take the moral high ground or take on the role of being the victim in a failed relationship. The danger of the court process is that it can polarise the couple and leads to assumption as to who is right and who is wrong; if only life was so simple. The team in which I worked tried to help parents (we were only involved when children were involved) to make long term plans for their children; just because they were separating and would no longer be husband and wife their relationship with each other still continues as they are still parents and it is vital that they try and get that relationship right for the sake of the children. The question we had to put to the parents was just because you found him/her to be a lousy partner did that automatically mean that they were lousy parents.
Rather than colluding with the blame game of who to blame for the breakdown of a relationship it is a much more helpful approach to say that the relationship has run out of steam. From this approach no one is left with being totally the good guy or totally a bad guy; I accept there are exceptions to this maxim. Both people in this failed relationship then are asked to act as adult caring parents and to put the needs of the children first rather than being warring people who just continue to hurt each other, and if there are children, to make matters worse for them. Ultimately parents must parent for after all you are the experts of your children, not welfare officers or judges. So the first point I want to stress is if you are a parent who is going through the breakup of a relationship so are the children and both need to put aside their own acrimony for the sake of the children.
But what of those who have not had children? The next two points apply to all who are experiencing/experienced a breakdown of a relationship. The first point is to ask the question ‘Are you bigger than your divorce/separation, are you only defined by it?’ To give an illustration, 27 years ago my wife had to have a mastectomy but that was all put into context by our GP who said to my wife ‘you have two teenage children, you have a job and you help your husband in his ministry; your cancer will have to live around you and not you around your cancer. Don’t let the cancer write the agenda for you and your family’s life’. That was very profound and wise advice and I hope you can see the parallel. The anxiety and confusion of my wife’s cancer did not take over our life; she was and is bigger than her cancer. Make sure you are always bigger than your failed relationship. We all have various relationships in our lives apart from those that were defined by that we had shared with our partners. We continue to be parents, we continue, most of us, to have jobs and careers, we continue to be children and grandchildren, we continue to have colleagues, we continue to have friends perhaps going back years. We perhaps still are successful artists, gardeners, flower arrangements, sportspeople – the list goes on and on. I am in no way demeaning the pain and the confusion that a breakdown causes but please gradually let yourself have a wider perspective on yourself – you are still you and just because one part of your life has not worked out the rest of your life probably still is. So the second point I want to stress is be bigger than your breakdown with your partner.
My last point I want to make is that most people start again, the human species is optimistic about the future and most of us form new relationships. Yet may I suggest you to use the breakdown as a time of reflection and see what you have learnt and how you have grown as a person through that experience. Through that traumatic experience are you going to become bitter or better? So my last point is learn and grow through your experiences, let them be a springboard for the future and not a millstone.’
SBH – June 2017
Note from Editor:
Since the birth of Beacon we have been championing companies and services who provide support and help for individuals and families navigating divorce. One of our favourite apps/services is ‘amicable’ from Pip Wilson & Kate Daly – check out the app here: amicable.io