I'm currently engrossed in the third season of Divorce on HBO, a series created by Sharon Horgan which tells the story of Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker AKA Sex and the City) and Robert. They have raised 2 children together and have shared 10 years of marriage, and it has taken its toll on Frances, who suddenly starts to re-evaluate her life and her strained relationship with Robert.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated in 2012 that 42% of marriages in the UK would end in divorce.
What I've learned in the therapy room from my clients from listening to stories about divorce (both from the perspective of the adult and the child) is that there is no 'one size fits all' approach to divorce - It's as unique as a finger print.
I was a child in the 80's of an acrimonious divorce, and the tsunami of destruction it unleashed for years to follow. So I know first hand just how devastating it can be on the emotional fabric of a family unit, and how it affects people in different ways.
I was 9 years old when my parents divorced, and I can still vividly remember the events leading up to it, and the events for years after, because childhood trauma like that is in effect etched into your mind.
We had to move away from our family home and the life we had. Start new schools, make new friends. Live with a man we had never met before. We were thrown into a blended family. I experienced family courts, social workers and family therapy. Whilst I adapted and settled in to this new life, I watched my sisters denial and non-acceptance of our new life grow deeper each and every day, until one point they left our new life and went to live with my dad.
Our family as we knew it was broken. Broken beyond repair. I learned about loss at a young age.
Whilst mine was a pretty traumatic experience, I have processed it, and I have attached a balanced meaning to that chapter in my life. I don't blame anyone. I recognise the difficult circumstances both my parents were in, and that decisions were made from the options available at that time. All I wanted for my parents (and still do) is for them to be happy. Because they are individual human beings as well as parents, and they deserve to be happy.
I've learned that couples who stay together, in an unhappy marriage 'for the sake of the children' can have equally traumatic consequences. I've worked with adults who were children of those marriages, who grew up never seeing intimacy, love or affection in a relationship. They were subjected to stonewalling, to violence, to anger, to deceit, to sadness, and to the volatility of relationships where love no longer resides. The after shocks of this can live way beyond childhood - shaping our view of ourselves and the world in which we live.
What I’ve learned about divorce is that some are acrimonious, others are amicable.
Some involve children, others not. Some are joint decisions, others are one sided. Some offer a sense of relief, others cause heartbreak.
Some cause you to carry guilt, others to feel anger and resentment.
Whatever the circumstances and however you get here, you have arrived at destination 'new life'. You have an opportunity to start a whole new chapter in your life, on your terms and start living a life you have either been yearning for or have been dreading the sheer prospect of.
Where do you start and how do you move on?.
First and foremost you have got to allow yourself to deal with the emotions you are feeling. Regardless of who left who, or whether this was something you wanted or not, you need to allow yourself permission to deal with the emotions you are feeling post divorce.
You will feel a sense of loss (even if it's something you wanted). That loss may be losing your home, not seeing your children every day or losing your extended family, and friends. There are inevitable financial losses, loneliness, a change of lifestyle, the emotional pain of seeing your ex remarry and start a family with someone else, imagined losses of what might have been, and of memories of what once was.
You may perhaps feel like a failure for your marriage not working out and a huge amount of guilt where children are involved. You may feel sheer relief to be out of your marriage and 'free', which might also make you feel guilty for not feeling heartbroken. Because you are dealing with emotions of grief and loss you need to allow yourself to grieve.
You will go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance post divorce.
There is no magic formula on how you move through these stages, or how long these stages last.
But unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realise that what you once had is over, you cannot move forward.
Letting go doesn't mean forgetting, it just means you are starting a different chapter.
And if children are involved, remember that children are more resilient than you think. The most important thing that children need is to feel loved and wanted and secure.
They need to know it's not their fault. They need to remain at the centre of your world, albeit it a different looking world, not a by product of your broken marriage. They don't need to hear about the details surrounding your marital breakdown, or hear about blame, or be asked to take sides.
Whilst my experience was a traumatic one, it shaped me, and laid the foundations that has made me the resilient and adaptable woman I am today.
Catherine Asta Labbett, is an award winning Female Focused Psychotherapist. She works with women all over the world offering skype and in person therapy from her Yorkshire clinic base, and in 2019 was awarded a Fellow from the National Council Psychotherapists for her outstanding contribution to her profession.
Catherine works with women at all stages of their life and has also has a growing celebrity client base. The resident expert on the BBC Radio Leeds award winning Stephanie Hirst show and a regular contributor in the media - as heard and seen on BBC Radio 5 LIVE, Grazia, Marie Claire, Women's Health Magazine, Boots, Virgin and more.
Catherine was the winner of the Northern Blog Awards 2018 'One to Watch' and a finalist in the UK Blog Awards 2019. She is a finalist for 'Mentor of the Year' 2019 with Forward Ladies and was voted in the Top 10 extraordinary women in the 2019 Knomo London Awards.
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