Vivienne and her husband had been married for almost thirty years and had two adult children at the time of their divorce. Vivienne’s husband had a high profile job and she also worked during the marriage. They had tried couple counselling in the past. They used the collaborative process to agree the terms of their divorce settlement. 

Reaching the decision to divorce:

I will begin at the start of my journey as I do think many important decisions are taken at this stage.

Our history was a long marriage of over 25 years. My husband had a high profile job and was then made redundant which triggered some bizarre behaviour. Throughout the marriage there had been various emotional low points when both of us attended couple counselling, yet sadly no real progress was made in these sessions for reasons that I didn’t fully understand at the time. We had two children between us, both very precious. We were both raised by single mothers and neither of us had very much experience of ‘a complete family lifestyle’.

Although there had been underlying issues for some time, I knew I had to explore separation/divorce when I was confronted with black and white evidence of betrayal and emotional abuse. I was shocked, hurt and embarrassed. I felt helpless yet I had to react and do something. I was certainly bewildered.

What I wish I had known:

If I had this time again maybe it would have been better NOT to react but to stop and question slowly and logically what was happening but I do believe ‘fight and survive’ feelings get in the way. The problem at this stage was that I really had little knowledge of how to go about getting the right help.

So many emotions get in the way of being objective, yet my advice in the early stages would be to take stock and really try and work out the reasons for having to separate and consider divorce, especially when there are children between you. Although I had left the family home and made a mark to separate, I did return to try and reconcile. I found this tricky at times. Our children who were grown up (early 20’s) were confused and our daughter was nothing but furious. They had both been asked to keep a secret for many years that their Dad was having an affair. Coupled with this he had an addiction of which they were both aware. I rather naively had not totally appreciated the scale of things largely because he was travelling so frequently with his job and always so preoccupied with his work. There were also other things that preoccupied me – working, a dying mother and, although both children were at university, they still needed attention.

The low point:

I think this was possibly my lowest point – fear of the future, what will happen, how will I cope, the enormity of so much loss etc. At this stage it felt like all the pieces of a jigsaw were out on the table but we had to put it together again to make sense of the picture. As the pieces were gradually put together one could see the agonising truth.

When I returned home to try to reconcile our marriage, further evidence of lies emerged. I felt worn down and very sad that the relationship was breaking down, if not broken at this stage. The main problem however was that the trust in the relationship had dissolved.

Now my head had returned into action mode and I began to put in place all I could to protect myself and our children. I wanted for us as a couple to remain as amicable as possible. The children had already witnessed a poor marriage so at least they could learn about a ‘good enough ending’. At the end of the day if there are children between you they always will be.

Which process to choose:

Initially we had worked in mediation and then decided to try and work on the marriage. It was much later when I pushed and chose to work collaboratively because I felt it was the fairest way forward together. In my heart I did not want the marriage to end but I knew that we were not happy and maybe never would be. We worked well together as a team in some ways but there was no intimacy or affection. I had already suffered from bouts of depression and my husband was beginning to show signs of anxiety.

Have I made the right decision?

Clearly we were not functioning well as a couple. Both of us had changed and grown into different places, wanting different aspirations. For me it took a lot of courage to leave and make a statement. I still feel blamed for all the issues that happened. I just wish we could have got closer before it all went disastrously wrong yet it was not through lack of trying. It was so scary and uncomfortable, partly facing one’s own frailties and managing hurt and feelings of rejection. I do not think that I could/can easily say that yes I have made the right decision. I believe we ‘forget’ strong pain quite easily a bit like childbirth. The only difference is until I was out of the situation I could not see how unhappy I was.

My life is much calmer now, I have learnt a different pace of life that is more manageable and less frenetic. Most of all I have found a confidence which I never believed I had. I have managed to look after my own finances (something I always shared), buy a home and I am now in the process of helping my children out with their own futures. I found a job and am now living in a new area. I try hard to believe in myself. I no longer have extravagant holidays, or have lots of trappings of wealth yet I live a life now that is more true to my own morals and values.

I miss ‘the family unit’ – this was so important to me (my own parent’s marriage broke up when I was very young). I have a good relationship with both my daughter and son yet I miss not celebrating events together with my ex husband. Now they are grown up and live independent lives they still come home for visits, birthdays and other such occasions. But we have lost the chance to celebrate events as a complete family and grow together with the next generation, reminiscing about past family stories. Having said all of this there is enough research to suggest that it is more detrimental for children to be around dysfunctional parents. I have tried to have conversations with my children. My son is very capable of keeping all the emotions ‘boxed up’ he does not take sides although admits that he totally understands why I left the marriage. My daughter is still very angry with her father, he has let her down on several occasions but at the end of the day he is still her father and she wants a relationship with him. I think both of them are somewhat confused at times. In many ways I still feel I have failed. Some days can feel fragile, others surreal, thinking “these things don’t happen to me!!!”. Well these things have happened to me possibly because I was not vigilant enough, too trusting and too subservient. Whatever I did right or wrong it has happened.

What I would do differently:

There is no easy advice. Each of us are individuals and work differently but all I would say is think carefully, try and evaluate why you want to separate/divorce. Give yourselves time to make the right decision. A broken marriage is not the end but it does fracture lives and the truth is it takes time to heal and relearn new ways and follow different paths. There is a lot of pressure on folk to ‘perform’. We somehow need to find ways to slow down and manage our own selves gracefully.