Divorce is never easy. Even if the legal process was as simple as closing a credit card account, and wife and husband could not wait for the end, the emotional disengagement from a long-term committed adult relationship is confusing and challenging, at a minimum. Typically, one can add in continuing love by one party, the feelings of and for the children, a house and mortgage, pensions or their absence, the attitudes and behaviour of relatives and friends, possessions and their meaning, patterns of social interaction and future decline in financial standard of living. Oh, and often an affair or two. No, divorce is never easy. Neither is the aftermath.
The last thing the people affected need is a legal process which encourages conflict and which is rooted in an almost complete lack of understanding of the causes of success and failure in marriage. Alas, that is what we have. The Family Law Act Part II would have changed this but its implementation has been postponed.
Divorce is painful, often undesirable and will continue. So a ‘good divorce process’ is needed. Much of this is not about legislation, but about bringing a new reality to marriage and divorce.
Divorce is often seen as the answer to personal unhappiness within a relationship. In practice, the new set of problems – for example the sense of loss in relation to the children, or fresh tensions in a step family – may be more difficult than those prompting the divorce.
A divorce may indicate insufficient skills to maintain a long-term relationship – for example in constructively handling a conflict, or in too much unsourced emotional angst from one’s own childhood. A future unsatisfying relationship is on the cards.
A marriage is no longer an economic or social necessity to be endured, but a union with high expectations. These can be met, but not from the mindset of meeting Mr and Mrs Right, a fantasy wedding, fluffy children and little or no emotional awareness. Romance and passion are great, but a dose of reality will produce more joy in the long run.
An affair or some other cause of relationship breakdown may have promted a blame, pride and nailing up the shutters response. A Thai friend says her 20 year old son had not suffered enough to navigate and enjoy the world. Besides being a comfort to every parent (!), these words support the view that from adversity can flow satisfaction. This may cast a different light on relationship adversity.
Post-divorce, the old relationships continue. But too often, children are used as messengers, emotional spin abounds, grandparents get cut off and so on. The central relationship between the couple has changed but all the other relationship continue, or should, and should be vital points of support and stability. The irony is that divorce is perceived as the end of a relationship. Far from it, most of the relationships can and will continue and like all relationships can be handled well or badly.
Relate’s objective in its programmes – ‘New Life, New Challenge’ for the newly separated and Relate teen for children experiencing divorce – is to make the best of an unfortunate set of circumstances, through participants understanding the emotional journey they are on, limiting guilt and blame, and developing new skills and awareness for existing and future relationships. Divorce is never easy, but it does not have to be this bad.
Vive magazine, 2000