The end of my marriage is still my biggest regret . . .
As Vicky Pryce admits to a 'horrible' divorce from Chris Huhne, Jane Gordon responds to her daughter Bryony's article about their family break-up
Published 14/02/2013 | 06:00
The curious thing about the human memory is the way it can blank out what it doesn't want to see. Last week, when I read my daughter Bryony's sensitive and moving account in this newspaper of the way her then 20-year-old self reacted to her father's revelation that I was "having a relationship with another man", it was almost as if I was looking into someone else's life, someone else's marriage breakdown, not my own.
How had I forgotten the terrible events of that Sunday when – in an instant – I was transformed in my daughter's eyes from an occasionally irritating but otherwise devoted mother into the "guilty party" in the subsequent break-up of her parents' marriage?
I don't remember the exact words that Bryony used to express her shock and distress that day but I think they were probably very similar to those that Peter Huhne fired at his father in the heartbreaking emails that have become a horribly public part of the story of his parents' acrimonious divorce.
That's because my actions – in falling in love with another man while I was still married to my husband of over 20 years – were then, and are now, indefensible. I was, as Peter Huhne put it to his father, "a piece of s***", and any attempts I may have made to impress on Bryony that I loved her would have deserved the riposte he gave his father: "Well I hate you, f*** off."
Indeed, even though in the following 12 years our dysfunctional family life has regained a modicum of stability, and the man I was "having a relationship with" would, after the divorce became final in 2003, become my long-term partner, the failure of my marriage remains my greatest regret. But the one thing I am proud of is that we tried to think of the children.
I ventured as blindly into divorce as a lot of people do into marriage, going along with the argument that my ex-husband and I would be "better apart than we were together".
I believed what other divorced friends would tell me – doubtless as in denial of the effect of their actions on their family as I was on mine – and imagined that gaining my decree nisi would offer me a fresh start.
Indeed, in many ways I count myself even more the "guilty party" than Chris Huhne. My relationship with another man was not exposed in a tabloid newspaper. It was revealed to Bryony by her father in the kitchen of the home that had been her bedrock. My divorce was not an attempt at damage limitation; it was a decision I took of my own free will.
I could defend my actions by pointing out that far from being a "scarlet woman", I have only ever had two proper boyfriends – my ex-husband was my first, and my partner of the last nine or so years, my second. I could also point out that in the few years before our parting I was not only the main earner but, as my husband became more distant, effectively a single parent to our three children – Bryony, Naomi and Rufus.
But such justifications are not the whole truth.
They do not acknowledge the positive attributes of my ex-husband – his extraordinary generosity, his intelligence, his comic genius (inherited by Bryony and her siblings) and – apart from the casual way in which he told my daughter of my infidelity – his failure to display vengeful behaviour.
For whatever our relative faults as parents, both my husband and I resisted drawing our children into our conflict. We didn't, as so many estranged couples do, try to score points by attempting to make our children take sides.
It was, as far as possible, a civilised divorce, and a dozen years on we are, I hope, a functional-dysfunctional family. We return to our old unit of five to celebrate Christmas each year. Sometimes these occasions are a little tense, but in the main they are punctuated more by laughter than resentment.
There is a deeper poignancy to the fact that – unlike the Huhnes – we have achieved an "amicable" divorce. Because it further supports my belief that had we both tried a little harder we would not have divorced in the first place.
Twelve years on, I still feel grief for my lost marriage and a lingering regret for my failure to give my children the security that my late parents – married for 60 years – gave me. I am not naturally envious, but I often find myself glancing at the glorious success of my brother's marriage and the haven that he and my loving sister-in-law have created for their children in the family home they have always known.
Because however happy I am for Bryony and her lovely fiancé, and however much I long to hold their baby in my arms in just a couple of months' time, the family home she grew up in is gone, and in divorcing I have denied her the privilege I enjoyed: having two united parents to lean on for support.
Perhaps the best thing that will come out of the bitter public division of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce will be the spotlight it has shone on the fact that – whatever their age – divorce is profoundly damaging to children.
Marriage, I now sincerely believe, should be for life. And not, as it now is for my ex-husband, children and me, just for Christmas.