What have I learnt from my divorce?
My world fell apart one morning in early summer 2002 when the husband of the lady my husband was having an affair with rang me up from Israel to tell me. When I checked this out with my husband he said ‘yes, it was true’ and that he was leaving me. He left within two weeks, living around the corner for maybe a year and then moving to Wales without discussing it with me. We had been married 17 years. There could be no sharing of child care when he lived in Wales.
I had three children between 11 and 15. From the moment he left he rarely communicated with me. I recently saw him at a family wedding for the first time in about 13 years! The children all had mobile phones and he made contact directly through them. For about 12 months he paid maintenance, then because I worked full time, our financial agreement was that I kept the equity in the house and our endowment policies in exchange for a clean break.
A boyfriend helped me draw up an excel spreadsheet to prove my financial case – a tactic I have shared with others.
It was a sound move on my part in view of how house prices have increased, but at the time it was not easy managing financially. I did two jobs and took in lodgers working on the basis that it was better for me to work flat out while I still had my health in my 40s and was not in any state to enjoy free time anyway. I also didn’t want the spectre of losing my home to be looming over me when the youngest child was 18 and the property would be sold. I think my former husband regrets this deal now, but at the time he was just keen to break all ties with me so it was an attractive option. I think the children may have benefited from more disposable income in their teens.
My youngest child is 25 now. What do I think I did well and what with the hindsight of nearly 15 years do I wish I had done differently?
I am so glad I kept the house. I was blessed to be earning, though not a huge salary, and just about scraped by. There were a number of months I was reduced to buying the weekly shop on a credit card and I was made redundant at least 3 times over that period, but I have always been a focused planner and walked straight into another job the next week. They were not always jobs I started out loving, but I got by.
Another reason I am glad I kept the house was that it gave the children continuity and they have kept all their friendship networks.
I also seriously love the house. When I suffered from panic attacks in those first months it was my safe haven.
I kept boundaries with the children. There were a number of times I had to assert with my eldest son that I was the alpha male in the household and his focus was to be a child. There were times when the children showed disrespect to me – my value being seriously downgraded with my husband’s discarding of me.
I did not become a martyr. I kept my horse although he lived like a refugee on the yard where he was stabled. He carried me round the Hertfordshire countryside sobbing my heart out for years.
We still had holidays although I stopped ‘family’ holidays at 17 and did one year of car insurance. My husband had not seen holidays as essentials in our budget calculations. That has caused me pain to see my friends in marriages take their children on holidays with them into their early 20s, but I am not sure mine would have wanted to go!
I have had a lot of counselling over the years. I went to Relate at the beginning, but found them really unhelpful. Their focus was always on the children. The woman kept saying ‘if you are OK, the children will be OK’, but I wasn’t OK. My husband left in June and my Mum died in the September. The two people I thought had loved me most in the world had gone. She said something really wise though. She said, ‘some people let it out a little bit at a time, because if they let it all out they would go under’. I am a letting it out a bit at a time merchant.
I went back to counselling a couple of years later which I got through work. She did not like my husband and spent a lot of time getting me to believe how mean he was. She also challenged my horror that my children’s ‘perfect’ life had been tarnished. She said children grow from setbacks. I think this has been true for one son.
I finally went back again for a year recently. I don’t really know what that lady did in that room, but she made me feel really good about myself.
I have never stopped growing and challenging myself. When the youngest son went to university near his Dad I went and volunteered in Cameroon for a year. A few years later I went to Sri Lanka for 6 months. Those experiences both enriched me and changed me for ever. A friend once said to me, ‘Hazel, you have been so much more interesting since you have been single’. I am not sure I have. The last counsellor said to me, ‘do you ever get depressed?’ By that I guess she means stay in bed unable to function depressed.
I did start drinking and smoking almost immediately after my husband left. I know it was a ridiculous thing to do, but I didn’t care about my health, I am not sure I really wanted to wake up every day. I would stand by the back door and shake. It took me years to stop smoking and I have a wine habit I still haven’t broken. It also gave my husband an excuse to criticise my profligacy.
I endlessly dated unsuitable men. I spoke to my eldest son recently who is now nearly 30. He will say, ‘Mum you did great, maybe not the boyfriends, but I understand now why you did it.’
I took the most unsuitable Iranian man on holiday with us weeks after the children’s father had left. I have dated multiple nationalities, faiths, body size, brain size, wallet size …. I have lost count. Why did I do it? I wish I could have been stronger, but I wasn’t. The perpetual, if often seriously misguided hope I have had in all those dates and two longer relationships kept me together. It was a distraction from what was boring, routine and often hard work. I had some emotional rush moments, moments of loss and pity, moments of ‘phew! That was a lucky escape!’ I regret the messiness of it all, but in truth I rarely embroiled the children in it after that first holiday. I did have some free time. I always encouraged the children to visit their Dad!
I am approaching 60 now. I still love men. I guess I can just appreciate their vulnerabilities and how women can be on the receiving end of that.
Do you know what I really wish I had done? I think this will surprise you. I wish I had found a good church sooner. My friends have been OK, but in the immediate aftermath were not desperately proactive in supporting me. It’s a good job I have a wide circle of friends I have kept for years so any burden has been shared. I don’t think church is necessarily a place where you go to find a best mate, but it has rooted me. I went to church when I was little and I prayed all through the bad times for strength and not to be bitter. That prayer was answered. In the end it was a question of faith.