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I survived a marriage breakup

The worst thing is the silence. The person who used to be there, the natural reactions, invisible communications, shared language, intimacies and histories: all gone.

If you've been left in the marital home it's the silence of the departed. I wasn't left to cry at the empty chair. I left, so I had a horrible, new emptiness. A new bed to get used to, a new sofa to make my own.

Nothing felt like my own. I just wanted to be back there. With him. Doing all the things we used to do. I even missed the rows.

Nothing but death is worse than leaving someone you planned on growing old with. Separations might be the new summer virus, but each one has different circumstances. The pressures that make a marriage end are common enough -- too much work, too little time, too many expectations. Wedding vows are hard things to keep.

Each couple's reaction to their split is different. Some end with a bang, some with a whimper and some, like mine, with a desire to remain in each others' lives.

If the last option sounds impossible, read this. If you're planning to leave, or discussing it, then read this. Break-ups are horrendous, chaotic, disorganised and frenetic. They speed up the metabolism faster than cocaine, turning you into an insomniac stretcher case. Separating couples have more accidents. A friend told me when I was leaving: "Drive more slowly and work less hard."

She was right. But I had to work twice as hard to make a new life for myself. It took my mind off what was happening, to have it task filled. But I did crash a 'parked' car -- handbrakes and separation don't mix.

I was so desperate to finance the purchase of my own home that I took on a commission to write extolling the virtues of one supermarket sausage. I was a vegetarian. A colleague called across the room to me: "Where are you with that Suzanne?"

"In a parallel universe," was my reply. It felt like my brain was being turned into a barbecue bumper pack. It was the summer and I had no one to love.

Bloody hell. I thought it would never end. I thought that I could lie down happily and go to sleep. Because I wasn't doing any of that at night.

"Let's get you out there again," said one friend, dragging me out, wearing her high heels.

Socialising

Socialising as a single woman only confirmed how much a cocoon marriage is. When I got hitched Kajagoogoo still had a career. When I split, the music had changed, the men had changed and my ability to fight for bar space had dematerialised. I sat it out on Saturday nights, organised for my benefit and ended up having long chats about life with bouncers and barmen. I knew, absolutely knew, this was not the way to meet someone new.

If you're not ready, God could ask you on a date and you'd still find him wanting. Don't go out until you can cope with someone else holding your hand and kissing your lips. A skinful of drink and roll in the sack with someone else is not the answer. Rebound one-nighters are for separating kangaroos.

Also in your bewildered state you will be stalked by some unsavouries. I knew I was in trouble when I was asked out by a chain-smoking, gambling baldy with a bottle-of-scotch-a-day drinking habit. I like men with hair who play fair. But I was attracting basket cases. Because I was one.

Who could I talk to? Him. The man who knew me best. He was fantastic.

"How are you with this?" I asked him.

"Dreadful. And yourself?"

"Rabid. Is it the right thing?"

"It's the right thing."

We called each other most days and met regularly, over a six-month period. Then we didn't need to anymore. I wouldn't have got there without him. Just because you're not going to live together anymore doesn't mean you have to lose all the history.

Enmeshed

As we spoke, we realised that our marriage was over well before it had actually ended. I had known him for almost half my life and lived with him for a third.

I had stood on every continent with him and shared some spectacular times. There was no way, because we no longer could be what the other needed, that we could lose each other entirely. Our families, our photo albums, our finances were enmeshed. I took the advice of an older woman: "Release him slowly." Between the day I decided to go and the day I went, there were months of talking.

The best person to help you through a break-up is the person you're breaking up with. Only they know what it's like to have your heart ripped out and put on the top of a pole for public vetting. I felt like a Damien Hirst exhibit. So did he. Everyone had an opinion.

The way you handle the end is a strong indication of how you'll handle the future. If you decide to slink off and have an affair, you're asking for higher acrimony and higher alimony.

It's important to end things well, so that a couple of years down the road, when you're looking for your lost family heirloom, that you left in the attic of your former marital home, you can make a phone call and not hear: "That's gone in the bin, with your CDs and childhood teddy."

My ex and I were accused of being in a French film, but we weren't. We were realistic about how much more horrible it would be if we argued through friends, family, solicitors and celebrations we were invited to as single people. Our friends were all relieved they didn't have to choose between us. But that didn't stop some being very angry. If you're splitting, how other people react is an indication of how they feel about themselves. One told me I needed electric shock treatment. She was married to someone she shouldn't have been.

Partings

We realised quickly, don't tell everyone your business. Pick one or two and divulge. Separation is not a spectator sport. Ask Andrea and PJ, Ronan and Yvonne, Mark and Vivienne, Grainne and Stephen, Alan and Ruth; even the late Gerry Ryan had to go through one when he and his wife Morah split up.

Such spotlight partings are an even worse stink than painful break-ups in private.

Nobody has the right to judge. You find out who your friends are and you find who you are. When you go through a separation, and you wait long enough to make a new match, you'll find you have figured out what you really want and why you really want it.

Mistakes make the next time better. I knew I had the right man when my ex, told me: "He's perfect for you."

Clearing out a cupboard yesterday I found a picture of my ex and his wife holding my newborn twins. They were my first visitors. I had the happy realisation long before this, that she was perfect for him.

All that history. The best thing about it is, we're part of each other's present and future.


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