I ended my relationship after 19 years. A hard decision. Really hard. Agonising in fact. Mainly because we have children and I was most concerned about the impact that it would have on them.
The process went on for a few years, mostly internally. Am I happy ? Am I not ? what is happy ? what is good enough ? do I deserve to be happy ? and what if I’m happy at someone else’s expense, is that ok ?
I should also say here that the first person I spoke to out loud was the person I was in the relationship with. I carried on that conversation for a number of years but it seemed and was made clear that the only person responsible for changing anything was going to be me.
Through the course of the relationship I’d had various attempts at becoming happier and more settled, some involved therapy, some involved having those difficult conversations, some involved changing other things – job, house, friendships. In the end, after all the changes, it became clear that the one thing I hadn’t changed was the thing that I actually needed to change. My relationship.
The first thing I did, aside from the endless internal rumination, was to talk to a couple of trusted friends. This was a big step as I kind of knew that once I started talking about what was happening, that it would become more difficult to just carry on in the same way. I sought advice and guidance, wisdom from others and eventually went on a weekend long retreat to work my thoughts and plans through and, in essence, to stress test my decision.
The weekend was a bucket full of tears. Actually, a vat full. A bath. I worked through every fear and rumination and worse possible case scenario before I allowed a tiny glimmer of light in with respect to what the future could look like.
Upon returning home, it didn’t take too long before I made the decision and a few months later I found myself living alone for part of each week and taking stock of the situation. Following the initial adrenaline that enabled me to work the ending of the relationship through, deal with Christmas, tell kids, family and friends, find somewhere to live, initiate divorce proceedings all while carrying on working and keeping things level for the kids, a wise friend and colleague of mine counselled to say that eventually you will crash. Maybe not now, maybe not in 6 months, but eventually you will crash.
The first 6 months were strange. I hadn’t lived alone, ever, so had to used to explaining the strange noises in the night to myself. I had to get used to spending some of week alone, buying and eating meals alone, being alone and working out what this new status was all about.
Instead of leaning into some of the discomfort and exploring of that, I worked, when I didn’t have the children. I worked day and I worked night. I filled up my consultancy diary so that I had enough money to pay all the new bills I had to pay ! but also so that I didn’t have much time to think.
Maybe predictably but rather sadly, many friends just dropped off the radar completely. The couple and family friends that is. I don’t think they were making a choice between us, more that they weren’t quite sure how this newly single person fitted in to their world. It was fine, I was having exactly the same conversations with myself. Could I invite couples for dinner ? would that be weird ? were we still a family ? what does being a single parent actually mean ? More fundamentally though what the hell does being early 40’s and single mean ?
It had been 20 years since I had been single and I was in my early 20’s. The world, or my corner of the world, was alive with possibilities. After 20 years in a relationship, and now with children, the world seemed like a different place. One that I wasn’t sure how I fitted in exactly.
One of the first things I did was go and choose a new bed. I went in and out of the shop 3 times, completely overwhelmed with the decision that I had to make by myself. The fact that no one was there to talk to, and there was so much choice. I didn’t know what I needed and how to choose it.
I took the children out, days out, weekends away, holidays. I felt as though I had a massive clanging bell above my head and a t-shirt saying SINGLE PARENT. I can’t remember why I felt so visible but I did, I really did. I remember one of the first times when we pulled up at a big holiday place and as we were checking in the woman asked the children “where is Daddy ? is he at work ?”. We didn’t answer and she got the message. I think.
Slowly, over the years that followed I worked it all through. I spoke to my more helpful friends, processed what had happened and eventually established another relationship. A relationship that may as well been formed on Mars for any relation it bears to any previous experience. In a good way that is……
So what, in the 5 years that have passed, have I learnt and why am I talking about it now ? Well, its mainly because my work brings me into contact with people who are mainly at the start of this journey. Having made a decision to leave the relationship, or the relationship having made the decision to leave them, they are at the start of a process. I hope that something of my experience will either help them or help the people that love them and are trying to help them.
So what do I know ?
- The best people I had around me when I was going through the situation were those that said, tell me as much or as little as you need and want. I will be led by what you need.
- The worst people I had around me were those that wanted every gory, gossipy detail. This was for them I assume, as it certainly wasn’t about me.
- The helpful people around me helped to pack things, shift things, dust things and move things when I needed them to. They sent cards, brought vans, packing crates, newspaper, good humour, screwdrivers, hugs and food. Wine too.
- I created a vision board and written picture of how I wanted life to be, what I was traveling towards. I kept it and referred back to it along the way. Excitedly.
- My solicitor helped me navigate the type of divorce I wanted. Amicable. I helped myself by keeping my ego outside the room and keeping the long view.
- I tried to get used to being alone, I helped myself by trying to work out what I enjoyed doing now that I had some free time to explore what floated my 40 something boat. I tried yoga, writing, ballet, opera, singing, painting, roller skating and paddle boarding. Some of these things were more successful than others. Some caused less bruises too.
- I appreciated the friends that invited me anyway, even if they weren’t quite sure where to put me at the table, they invited me anyway.
- I talked and still do talk to the children, as much or as little as they need. Not about me and what I thought, but answering their questions, age appropriately as and when they surface. I also talk to their teachers and when necessary, have sought other help as its been needed.
- I worked my way through the guilt and let go of it, remembering that it takes two people to make a relationship work and two people to break it. I realised that a happy single parent is much better for kids than a miserable couple of parents. And no, I couldn’t have waited until they were 18.
- And yes, just like my wise friend, colleague said, I did crash in the end. Around 18 months into the process. It took a week before I was back on my feet. A week where I binge watched Cold Feet, let my best friend buy me tissues and chocolate, cover me with a blanket and leave me on the sofa until I felt better.
- I let my ex’s family go. With some sadness, but I respected their way of dealing with things, which was mainly to let me go too. Like a hot potato. Over time, I re-established some semblance of relationship with my ex mother in law, one of sending Christmas cards, pictures of the kids and birthday greetings. The annual cards now include my partner which feels like a circle completing of sorts.
- I navigated and navigate a healthy and respectful relationship with my ex husband. Not always easy, I’m sure for either of us as lets face it, the things that help you along the road to splitting are pretty likely to be the things that raise their heads along the amicable divorce road. Again, keeping my eye on the long view and my ego in check, but much more critical – always starting from the perspective of what do the kids need ? what would be best for them.
- Eventually, some years later, I created a home. A nest from which we can all travel from into the world. A most beautiful nest, full of all the love, laughter, flowers, happy chaos and joy that I ever hoped for. And I remind myself as I create a happy mess in the kitchen, plant more flowers in the garden and look at the kids hanging around the neck of my partner that I did it for me, firstly for me, but mostly I did it for them.
If you want to talk about how coaching can help you navigate your relationship ending then I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch at www.wildflowerfire.co.uk.