Sunday 21 January 2018

How to minimise the hurt after a bad break-up

Separation and divorce are a painful business, but there are ways to minimise the hurt, writes Mary O'Conor

Nobody gets married with the intention of subsequently getting divorced.
Nobody gets married with the intention of subsequently getting divorced.

Mary O'Conor

Nobody gets married with the intention of subsequently getting divorced. People make the solemn commitment to marry hoping that it will be for life. But as we all know life takes many twists and turns, and sometimes what started out so well can descend into a living hell, where the only option is to separate and, ultimately, divorce.

I was on holidays in 1986 when I heard that the Irish people had strongly rejected the divorce referendum, and I remember thinking that we as a nation were not moving forward. It was still a pretty close call - a .5pc majority -when we eventually voted in favour of divorce. I felt a great feeling of relief - not for myself but for all those people who were already separated and who wanted to move on with their lives with a new partner but until then had been denied that right.

Anybody who has been through a divorce will say that they would not wish it on their worst enemy. It is almost always an acrimonious time, financially costly and sometimes the court hearings take a very long time before an eventual settlement. It is also a time of great sadness as very often one person does not want the divorce, and there is a huge sense of failure and loss. It is not something to be entered into lightly and every other avenue should be explored before proceedings are initiated.

So, here are some dos and don'ts for those contemplating or going through a separation and, ultimately, a divorce.

n When the relationship troubles begin, seek help before things get totally out of hand. For anybody thinking about separating, I would very strongly suggest to try counselling, to see if the relationship can be salvaged. Many years ago, an American friend of mine told me how she and her husband had divorced. They were only married a couple of years, had a young son and were experiencing difficulties. She confided in her mother (herself thrice divorced), and her mother's words were "well then, darling, you divorce". At the time there was no divorce in Ireland and my friend said that she felt divorce was too readily available in the US. She maintained that if she and her husband had worked at the marriage and had some counselling, they could have worked through their problems and possibly have remained together.

  • Give it your all in the counselling process. Don't just sit back and say that it just isn't going to work. If you have a fully accredited counsellor they will know what they are doing and will guide you through the process, and a good counsellor will acknowledge that separation is the only way forward when the time comes if that is right for the couple. Indeed, I would see this as a successful outcome in some circumstances.


  • When there are problems in a relationship and the couple have children then it has to be borne in mind the effect these problems are having on the children. If the children witness constant rows and undermining of one partner by the other then this is what is being modelled for the children as an acceptable way of life and of good parenting. So often in the counselling room it becomes apparent that what is going on for a couple is simply a replay of what they saw growing up - they know no other way, even though they were unhappy at what they witnessed. I believe that if counselling has not worked out - but at least the couple have tried - then it is preferable to separate rather than subject the children to further unhappiness. Relationships Ireland run a wonderful programme for children of separating or separated parents called Teen Between


  • Don't try to get the children to take sides, no matter what age they are. This is between the two of you, even though the children will ultimately be affected by your decision.


  • Make sure the children do not think it is their fault. Young children especially tend to think that if only they had been better behaved, had better results at school, hadn't been in fights with their siblings etc. that their parents would not have separated.


  • The person who leaves the family home - and it is very often the man - should, at the earliest opportunity, bring the children to see the place where they are now living. Otherwise children tend to fantasise that it is either a hovel or a mansion.


  • Very often the tendency is to use the eldest child as a confidante and, therefore, a replacement for the spouse. This is expecting too much from them and puts them into the adult category way too soon.


  • Try not to badmouth your ex to family, friends and children. If you do, it makes it incredibly difficult for them to remain friends with both of you because what you are trying to do is to make them take sides. n You should be sensitive about introducing new partners to the children and also to family members. The children need to first get used to the idea that their parents are no longer together before they can accept any new situation. Family members have to grieve the loss of your previous partner whom they may have loved dearly. Of course, they may still stay in touch with them but it will never be the same as it was when you were together.


  • Mediation is a great help once the decision has been made to separate. Both parties have to agree that they are going to separate before being accepted for mediation. Then the couple sit down with the mediator and work out who gets what and the difficult issue of money. Children's wishes are also included. When an agreement has been reached the mediator draws up a document. This can then be brought to the lawyers to bring to court, and it saves an awful lot of time and money. n Don't be difficult when it comes to visiting rights. People have shared some very nasty experiences with me, such as the children being told by one parent that the other parent was picking them up at a certain time but then the parent did not show. There was no such plan, but the aim was to blacken the parent in the eyes of the children. Ultimately, in cases like this it is the children who suffer, and they don't deserve this.


  • Bear in mind when divorcing that if you have children then your paths will cross at graduations, weddings, christenings and other major life events. Try to maintain at least a civil relationship so that others are not affected by what could become a very bitter situation.


  • In any relationship, even good ones, no husband or wife is perfect. It is very important that you have a very good understanding as to what went wrong in the marriage and the part you played in it. Otherwise you will do the same thing in any subsequent relationship and find yourself back where you started.

Sunday Independent

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