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Healing and Acceptance

Healing and Acceptance
Written by
Linda Franklin

What other people want most from you after you divorce is to get over it. As quickly as possible. And talk about something else. And not make untoward demands for too long. Do 'normal' things such as get dating again or being your reliable old self.

But it isn't quite like that in the real world: it can take a long, long time to get over a divorce. When I was interviewing divorced people for my book How to Be Happy After Divorce (available on www.lindafranklin.co.uk) that was the one thing they all said they were surprised about: how long it takes to get over the whole thing.

It is like a bereavement. In fact, I think it can be worse: if your spouse died, that's terrible, but you can think there was no choice in it, that it was nothing to do with you. But when you divorce, you know it did have something to do with you: you either made the decision to do it, or you were the one your 'other half' decided wasn't 'good enough' to stay with. So you either have to deal with guilt and wondering - sometimes at least - if you did the right thing, or you have to wonder, in your saddest moments, if you were in some way the co-author of your own situation.

Some people so can't stand how long it takes to heal and how awful that process is that they do anything to stop that feeling: they marry unsuitable people on the rebound or get very busy and over committed so they haven't got time to even think about it. But that doesn't work because it always catches up: you just then find yourself having to go through the healing while coping with the realisation you've just taken into your life someone who isn't right and you've made another mistake - and that is surprisingly common with men who remarry quickly. Or - if you've over-committed as so many women do - you have deal with tough feelings when you're over tired and unable to cope. Sometimes you can stay in denial and put it off for years: but the guilt and wondering and bad feelings are still there waiting for you if not dealt with at some point: a man I know in his late seventies is now having a terrible time feeling upset about having left his two daughters to go and set up another family some thirty years ago! All his children are now grown up and they're fine, so is his ex-wife who worked out her loss at the time - but he hasn't yet got over the divorce he instigated and the upset it caused because he didn't do the healing work at the time.

One of the reasons it can be so hard to heal is that the scab is so often picked off by what others say. I for one can do without David Cameron and his crew going on about how wonderful marriage is and how it's the best way for children to be brought up and so on - and the corollary to that is those kids not brought up in this idyll are somehow sub-standard. I can't see what business it is of his to decide what's best for all children - it is not a government issue - and to tell people like we'd never thought about that before is just naive on his part and patronising and insulting to us.

Hearing glib and certain tones in an interview recently on Woman's Hour I found myself getting quite angry: it's okay for him if he has a happy marriage - but what if he hadn't? He was so insufferably sure of himself and his rightness. But the fact is he doesn't know: statistics can tell you all sorts of things and he doesn't actually know if my children have suffered or not for being brought up by me alone because he doesn't know them.

And he can't really know that marriage is the best way because you can't do a control test on how any set of children would turn out having had the opposite of what happened to them - ie if their parents didn't split up but stayed together for the kids' sake or if they split up and stayed together. And I always think when surveys come out saying that children from 'broken' homes do worse than others isn't because there aren't two parents together: it's that there aren't enough resources for one parent - usually the one left looking after the children. Support her (it's usually her) financially and with helpful support workers in the picture and the kids would be fine.

But I did hear recently that - given the marriage is unhappy - it's far better for the children for the parents to be apart, so they're not be caught in the toxic atmosphere of a couple staying together 'for the sake of the children'. I've always thought this and therapists have told me that, even if the parents don't row in front of the children, they still pick up the bad vibes anyway.

And for those of us who were left and are now single parents through no choice of our own because a husband had an affair and remarried and took on someone else's children, it can be pretty galling to see the social view now coming into fashion that he's such a great family man doing the right thing he should be financially rewarded.

Such insults to the sensibilities can still rub salt into wounds you think have healed - and reveal the scar tissue is thinner than you thought. So I had a good think about this. My eldest was 21 yesterday and he's been brought up by me alone as his father went abroad and there was no family around. And - do you know what? - he's great. He was very dyslexic and not reading at eight and the school didn't know what to do with him so I put everything into him - and it was the same with the other one.

Now I couldn't have done that if I'd been looking after my husband and his business as I had before he went: he took up all my available time and energy. His move away left me free to give my sons the help they needed - and I gave it in bucketfuls. And it paid off: my eldest is now studying philosophy at London Uni and is as confident and happy as Larry.

So David Cameron and the rest of government don't know about him. Or his brother. Or all the other children with dedicated single parents that I know and who are insulted by his assumptions and irritated by his delving into our personal lives.

And the whole process of thinking this through made me realise that my husband going was what allowed me to really help my sons have their best chance in this world and to grow up happy in a peaceful and loving atmosphere. And that thought - that they benefited from the family breaking up and it was for the best and perhaps even meant to be - was very healing. So don't wait until your seventies to heal: it's a good idea to do the work now.

(c) copyright Linda Franklin 2010

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