As another ‘celebrity’ marriage bites the dust the couple involved insist that they remain, ‘very close and the greatest of friends’. I sincerely hope this to be true, divorce can be a brutal process that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. And if from the wreckage of broken promises and dreams a genuine friendship can be salvaged then that is to be respected, applauded even.
So why all the cynicism?
I count myself among those whose first reaction to those words was something along the lines of, ‘yeah, right, course you are’. And after pause for reflection I felt a little crappy at taking such a dim and condescending view of the statement. I do believe that people can remain friends after divorce and there are plenty of examples to attest to this. So why the cynicism?
Well, I’m not there. And for most of the 17 months since separation I have been a very long way from ‘the greatest of friends’
Will I ever get there? Honestly, I don’t know.
On first separating it is difficult to conceive of the possibility that the person you have shared so much with for so long will fade out of your life, or worse, become an enemy. Of course you are aware of what divorce can do to people, how appallingly people that once swore to love, honour and cherish each other until death do they part can treat each other.
But that won’t happen to you will it? You’re above that, and nothing can take away all that you have shared. And anyway, you know each other, really know each other; whatever happens you will be dignified, you will be civil. You’re good people.
I thought so too. As hard as it was to hear I could accept the reasons for our separation and, with time, come to terms with the fact that the rest of our lives were to be spent apart from each other. And I could come to truly believe that in the long run I would find greater happiness than any I had known before. Yes, the dust would settle, we’d adapt to our new circumstances and build lives of our own. We would share 100% commitment to doing what was best for our children and, in time, we would be friends.
Well let me tell you, it ain’t easy….
A few weeks after the revelation of the final demise of our marriage, and in the early stages of recovery from that savage blow to the guts, I told those around me that I held no grudges, that we would divorce amicably and yes, in time we would be friends. Sadly in today’s society divorce has touched many families and I came to face many knowing looks and sympathetic, but not utterly convincing, nods of heads.
“If I had a pound for every time I’d heard that…”
I took advantage of the free legal advice that I was entitled to – discovering that it was free for a reason – before selecting a solicitor to act on my behalf in the divorce, which I was keen to finalise as soon as I could. For right or wrong I’m not comfortable with the anticipation of known troubles ahead, my attitude to dealing with such situations is pretty much akin to pulling off a plaster – do it quickly and get the pain out of the way. But really it doesn’t work like that. For me being divorced was important symbolically in helping me to move on and accept that the marriage was over, but the feelings that surround it don’t follow any externally imposed timetable. And in dealing with the powerful and painful emotions and rituals of divorce, the idea of a present or future friendship slipped further and further away.
It is odd to enlist a professional stranger to act on your behalf ‘against’ the person that you thought you would be spending the rest of your life with. But there is no getting away from the fact that divorce is an adversarial process and throughout it our thoughts turn from ‘we’ to ‘me’. What is best for me and for my future?
Recognising this attitude in your ex is painful and difficult not to take personally, proof as it is that you no longer matter in the way that you once did, that their plans for the future no longer concern you and what is best for your future. Because now that is solely your responsibility. And in the case of a mother or father that responsibility is not just to you but to your children too. In the confused, unfamiliar emotional terrain of marital breakdown, professional legal support - detached, practical and logical support – can be essential.
As divorces go I would say mine was one of the ‘better’ ones, not exactly a ‘conscious uncoupling’ (ughhh) but no ‘War Of The Roses’ either. The major issues that can make divorce so painful and that can set out the stall for years of battles and recriminations – child custody and money – were settled quickly and with little conflict. Even in adversity, I’m a lucky man.
But friendship was, and is, elusive.
Why is this? And does it point to some flaw in me? I’d like to think I’m a good person and can honestly say that I wouldn’t do anything to deliberately hurt anybody. That’s not to say that my actions haven’t caused hurt to others, but I do my best to treat others how I would hope that they would treat me. And as such I would have thought that future friendship would be possible for me.
But in the end there is no rulebook in the complex and often messy world of human relationships. Some people grow closer after divorce, others develop a lifelong bitterness and enmity. I’ve never wanted to live with anger and bitterness, recognising how they could consequently poison other significant relationships in my life and damage my happiness and health in the process. But in contemplating and dealing with what you have lost it is perhaps inevitable for most that anger and bitterness will have to be faced and tackled. I carried that anger and bitterness and at times it got the better of me, but now it has passed.
Still, the seeds of friendship have yet to sprout.
When a marriage ends it is rarely a truly mutual decision. Even if both parties can recognise the need to go their separate ways it will usually be one person that has instigated the start of that journey. It is unlikely that the decision will have been taken quickly. As such one party will have a head start in the processing of the emotions of divorce, and in anticipating and preparing mentally for a different future to the one that was for so long taken for granted. Being at such different stages of the grieving process can make it difficult for each to comprehend the behaviours of the other, and as you begin to become strangers friendship can become a distant goal.
I have found that in becoming strangers and in establishing separate lives we are given the space to heal, to move on and to live confidently in a different present. And in doing so, over time maybe the door to some sort of future friendship can open. But divorce leaves a scar and I’m not sure that it ever fully heals. I guess the ability to live with that scar, to wear it as a sign of the adversity that we have faced and overcome rather than as an ugly sign of failure, is part of what will determine whether friendship is possible.
But for now that friendship isn’t something I really think about. For now I am living for me and for my children. And, hopefully, the lessons that I have learned will help to build a strong foundation for a future relationship that will last the course; a relationship where we will grow closer together with the passing of the years rather than grow apart.
I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. But tonight I can look myself in the mirror and be comfortable with who I am and how I have dealt with my divorce. I can look my children in the eyes and tell them that I did my best and I never compromised my values.
And nothing is more important than that
Written by Matthew William
Matthew is the creator and author of the blog "A Decent Guy Does Divorce and Dating"