Poppy and her husband had been married for 27 years and had two adult children at the time of their divorce. It took just over a year from her first meeting to the conclusion of her divorce.
Reaching the decision to divorce:
The decision to divorce was easy – I found evidence of multiple infidelities stretching back years. I’d had enough. I found FLiP via a friend’s recommendation and instigated proceedings pretty quickly. On Dan’s advice, I divorced for adultery (with the final woman he was ‘in a relationship with’) rather than unreasonable behaviour, as the quicker and cheaper option. I didn’t name her as co-respondent, and I’ve gone through periods of regret about that. It felt like I was letting her off the hook, though now, with a bit of distance, I’m slightly more karmic about it. As long as I’ve behaved well (or as well as I could), that’s what counts. And at the time I wanted to keep her as far from my family as possible.
We went through mediation to sort our finances – that was stressful! It happened at a time I was very vulnerable, and sitting opposite him, even in that neutral context, I found hard. In honesty, diazepam was what got me through it. (Don’t be afraid to ask for help like that. I completely stopped sleeping and was getting anxiety attacks, and often, just knowing I had something to take was enough. I used it far less than I thought I would.)
What I wish I had known:
Having older kids didn’t necessarily make this ‘easier’, although obviously they could sort out their own contact with their dad. The thing I wish I’d learned earlier was to be more boundaried with them. They are intelligent and engaged young adults, but I know sometimes I was too open. (One’s judgement is not always top notch in these circumstances; I have also learned to cut myself some slack if I’m not a perfect mum.) We all know the theory about not slagging off our partners in front of the kids but in reality it was sometimes tricky, especially when they could see I was very upset. They only know broad brushstrokes of why we were getting divorced, not all the detail – except they know who our co-respondent is, as she was ‘a family friend’ (hollow laugh) and I felt they should make an informed choice about seeing her. I have never asked them to ‘take sides’ as that clearly isn’t appropriate, although I really wanted to, at times. My line to them has always been: this is painful, because there is so much love. If there was no love, there would be no pain, and I will always be glad there is love.
Sometimes I found it very hard to keep my counsel, publicly. So I came off all social media for a while, to avoid massive rants or tweets flung out in fury and upset. And I tried not to look at his social media. (Not always successfully. That’s a work in progress.)
Practical, useful bits:
I read loads of books, fiction and non-fiction, and listened to lots of podcasts about divorce, on the many long walks I took. Esther Perel is a favourite of mine. It felt useful to be surrounded by other people’s experience. Made me feel less lonely. Loneliness can be a bit of a struggle. There were times I felt I’d exhausted all my friends (‘haven’t we gone over this point already?’), and that’s when I started therapy. It felt like a safe space where I could explore all my feelings over and over again and never worry that I was boring someone. I recommend it!
A friend told me something I always try and keep in mind: only warriors go through this. Lots of people stay in marriages and tolerate things they should not, because getting divorced is emotionally very, very difficult. I found it so. Partly because of the love, even now. I knew divorce was the right thing to do but I’ve still wanted to backtrack, or run away, or ‘make it alright’ or pretend it wasn’t happening or … rebel, somehow. Having ‘I’m a warrior’ as a little personal mantra when I was feeling very much not warrior-like was great.
Getting the final papers was weird. It came in an email first, which feels strangely non-eventful. I thought I was completely ready and would be fine. I was not fine. I felt very upset, to nobody’s surprise! There was a little flurry of congratulations from friends, but I was clear I didn’t feel like it was something to celebrate. It felt very sad, to me. But acknowledging that sadness is important. It’s not all prosecco and divorce parties and glee. It also doesn’t really, in truth, feel like the end. Just the legal end. That’s caught me out a bit. It is only just a year, out of many, for me, after all. I still forget and refer to my ex as ‘my husband’, and then have to correct myself. That’s habit. I’ll get used to it.
Have I made the right decision?
Something I’m just coming to terms with which I absolutely could not visualise at the beginning: you can thrive! I’m sure people told me I would, but I just had no concept that was possible for me. But it’s true – I’m starting to thrive. (I know, because my youngest child saw it in me, and told me. I hadn’t really noticed, but she had. That was a good feeling. They are possible!)
Finally, I’m really grateful for such good legal representation. It made a qualitative difference to my whole experience. (I know, I sound like an advert!) Maybe I was naïve (I’d never got divorced before) but I don’t think I factored that in at the start – I knew I wanted someone ‘good’, but I wasn’t really clear what that meant. Ruthless? Blankly procedural, who could make it feel like a tick-box exercise? Someone to feel sad with? Actually what I needed was rigour, experience, and thoughtful guidance, someone committed to getting the best and doing the best for me. And that’s what I got. Thanks, Dan.