Tag Archives: Breakups and Divorce

The Heart in Transition

Recently, I’ve been discussing transition with a number of clients – the space between one relationship and another, when feelings for your previous partner haven’t completely gone, but feelings for someone else have started.

A number of people feel uncomfortable about this, even guilty. The thing is that the heart doesn’t work in a linear way. Its more than capable of holding feelings for more than one person. I think that people can struggle to accept their heart’s capacity for non-monogamous, non-linear emotion because our culture values the tidiness of commitment-to-one over the fluidity of more-than-one.

But the heart doesn’t understand tidiness. Emotions are mucky – that’s their glory.

The key to this transition space is to be easy about the messiness. Don’t overthink it, and don’t impose a timeline on your heart. Let it have its own timeline. And one day, of its own accord, the transition will be complete.


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The post-Christmas Divorce Urge

Christmas 2004 – it was the last Christmas I spent as a married woman. I remember it distinctly. I was deeply unhappy and in my heart I knew that I no longer wanted to be in this marriage, but in my head I hadn’t made that decision. It felt overwhelming to even think about it as a real possibility.
Statistically, January is the time when most couples split up. But leaping into action is probably not the best solution. Our human nature is uncomfortable with discomfort. So we look for a solution, rushing into action.
Based on my own experience, there are a number of things you can usefully do before rushing to see a solicitor.

1. Take time for yourself. Conventional advice is more along the lines of ‘keep communicating with your partner.’ No. The point is that there has been a lot of communicating – or perhaps miscommunicating – over Christmas. Carve out time in your schedule to be in your own company. This way you’ll hear your own voice.

2. Respect your own privacy. Discuss your dilemma with as few people as possible, and choose those few well.

3. Get support from a neutral source – a professional, if appropriate. There is a difference between discussing your process with a friend and getting support from someone neutral.

In December of 2004 I discussed my dilemna with three people who love me deeply and whose integrity I trust. At the start of January 2005 it was clear to me that I needed to speak with someone external to the situation. Over the next two months I spoke with two professionals – a coach and a counsellor. This was invaluable in making my choice clear, and my course of action as frictionless as possible.



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From Uncertainty to Fun: Navigating The Three Stages of Divorce

When working with clients who are separating or divorcing, I find it helpful to approach it as a three stage process.

1. Uncertainty and making the decision about whether to continue the marriage or to end it.

2. The transition period between feeling married and feeling single.

3. Beginning the new phase in your life.

Here is my key piece of advice for each of these stages.

Stage 1. Stay in the uncertainty for as long as you need. Only make the choice when it feels obvious. I’m often asked what to do when your heart says one thing, but your head says another. My advice is to wait until your heart and head are in agreement.

Stage 2. When it comes to friends and family, be self centred. You don’t need to explain your decision or keep other people happy. Its highly likely that friends and family will have emotionally charged responses. Keep conversations brief if you need to. If someone is asking more questions than you want to answer, don’t be afraid to say, ‘ I’m not going to discuss that.’  Don’t expect those close to you to respond in a way that suits you; they’ll be going through their own process just as much as you are. Have no expectations of them; but treat yourself well.

Find conversations with people who are in a position to be supportive. These may be people who you don’t know so well. It may sound counter-intuitive but because they are less emotionally invested in you, they’ll find it easier to support you.

Stage 3. Don’t delay having fun. Many people feel either bitterness (if they’ve been left) or guilt (if they’ve done the leaving). Both these emotions are corrosive. They shrivel a person, and are the building blocks of misery. The trouble is that divorcees often think they need to wait till they get over the divorce before they start to really live again. The heart does not work in that linear way. It doesn’t line up emotions and move through them in a tidy sequence. The heart is messy, convoluted and non-logical. Deal with it. Start having fun now. Its in the having fun that the grief will dissipate.

Finally – and this applies to the whole process – don’t worry about what other people think.


Posted by on 02/06/2011 in Breakups and Divorce


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Banned emotions: The trouble with feeling good during divorce

Recently I was working with a client whose husband had left their marriage for another partner.

Initially, she worked through her shock, and worked with her ex to agree a sensible plan for splitting their resources. Then she created time to look after herself, made some changes at work, and took a lover or two. When she was ready, she started to plan a new future for herself.

In this last session, she was speaking animatedly about these plans. She suddenly stopped, sat back in dismay and said, ‘Oh! Am I allowed to be this excited about the future?’ ‘Yes,’ I smiled, ‘You are.’

She explained what was behind the question. She was getting a divorce; wasn’t she supposed to be ‘in mourning or something?’

Her question points to a damaging- but commonly held – expectation that the experience of divorce permits only negative emotion.

But there is no obligation to feel a certain way during a divorce. Its your heart – feel what you like.

What’s more, the idea that a divorcee ought to feel bad and sad for an appropriate (though undefined) length of time, simply misses the heart’s complexity. The heart is not linear – it doesn’t line emotions up one after another and work through them.

Linearity is important for the practical changes required by a divorce – the sensible plan for splitting resources, for example. But the heart doesn’t care for logistics or propriety. Excitement about the future and grief over the past can easily inhabit the same heartbeat.

I wonder what would happen to our cultural expectations of divorce if we gave the heart permission to have its full and tumbling array of emotions.


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In Praise of Marriage and Divorce


We tend to think of marriage and divorce as being each other’s opposites. At first glance it would appear that this is purely a logical and neutral observation. Logical perhaps, but not neutral. The opposition holds a raft of qualifiers that look something like this:

marriage good, divorce bad

marriage success, divorce failure

marriage love, divorce lack of love


The list could go on.


(It is like a score card so I suggest reading it to yourself in the intonation used by the guy who reads out the league table results on a sunday afternoon)


It seems to me that the relationships of the 21st century call for a different way of thinking of marriage and divorce. We’ve outgrown the fairy tale of ‘happily ever after’. The thing is that the fairy tale always relied on a cunning sleight of hand: notice how the ‘happily ever after’ was always pronounced at the moment of wedding (preferably after the hero has saved the damsel in distress). This ruse effectively freeze frames the rest of the couple’s lives in the moment of their wedding – a continuous present moment that forbids the story from moving on. The curtain comes down and as children we were neatly fooled. But fairy tales are not just children’s stories. They plant, replant and nurture collective seeds of expectation of reality. Somewhere, long after we’ve stopped reading the Brothers Grimm, ‘happily ever after’ calls to us. 


I definitely think we need new fairy tales (I’m working on it) but for now I’ll spin a different sort of yarn.


Part of the problem of operating as we do under a tyranny of coupledom is that a marriage or marriage-style partnership is held up as the ultimate success. If you are single, you must be waiting to get into a relationship. Once you start a relationship there is the idea that it progresses in a linear way – getting more serious over time. The ultimate goal is to enter a marriage or marriage style partnership – characterised by certain features such as living together, sharing life goals, etc. This type of partnership is the real life representation of the fairy tale’s ‘happily ever after’. If the marriage or partnership ends before one of the partners dies the relationship falls short of ‘happily ever after’ and stumbles ignominiously into the ‘bad/ failure/ lack of love’ category. I remember when I got my divorce someone saying sympathetically, ‘Well at least you’re young.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – the subtext was ‘you’ve got plenty of time to find another husband’. What?? I was flabbergasted. Does that mean that people over a certain age – whatever that might be – ought not to get divorced because they have less chance of finding another partner? The assumptions that underpinned that remark are shocking but are pretty firmly embedded in our collective psyche along with the fairy tale. They are assumptions about love, sex and romance being the terrain of youth. They are assumptions about the extent to which ‘older people’ have a full right to happy, fulfilling lives. They are assumptions about the claim that ‘young people’ have on freedom and rebellion – because divorce is still a rebellion. All of this in the frieze framed moment of ‘happily ever after.’ Fortunately is seems that current trends are defying the agism of these assumptions, with divorces among people of post retirement age on the increase. 


Ironically, the happily ever after approach does not mitigate against divorce and it sabotages marriage. It sabotages marriage in the sense that it only offers one option for success: till death do you part. And its an option that people increasingly opt out of – or want to opt out of, but fail to – for fear of failure. I consider my five year marriage to be a great success –  partly because I allowed myself to get a divorce. As adults, if we really have outgrown fairy tales, surely we can consciously choose other options for successful relating. And people are increasingly doing just that – many couples do not live together full time, for example.  


If we reframe divorce and marriage as different possible stages that a partnership might go through, something very different occurs in the field of possibility. Of course they retain a logical relationship with each other given that divorce is the dissolving of the marital state. However, taking the failure out of divorce means that romantic partnership is no longer a competitive match wherein there is one winning option and one losing one. It means that a love match is about the happiness and lives of people, and that each one will be unique – with its own needs and its own path. It also means that we can celebrate marriages irrespective of their longevity and the manner of their completion. And so, a toast to divorce and to marriage. Long may they be happy bedfellows!



Posted by on 05/10/2009 in Breakups and Divorce


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