How many separations and divorces are driven to the point of madness by despair and the desire for revenge? Working as a mediator in this field, I watch couples fight about everything from how much equity they ‘deserve’ from the matrimonial home, to who will take the fridge, to the bitterly contested 30 minutes of child-contact; it’s sometimes like watching the dying wasps of autumn hitting themselves against the windowpane…

The Children

I have found that many couples focus on disputes over contact with their children as a large part of the struggle. The turmoil of emotions stirred up by the separation and divorce often centres on this battle. Fighting over what’s in the children’s ‘best interests’ will fill up many of the lawyers’ lever-arch files. How much time with mum; how much with dad? And then resentments can result in one parent criticising the other in front of the children; one parent alienates the other, using the children as allies. Even worse, children of parents who no longer communicate with each other can be put in the psychologically damaging position of being messengers between mum and dad. This is obviously destructive; children love both parents and feel loyal to each. They find themselves walking on eggshells in this war of words.

The Dreams Die

People go into marriage or relationship-partnership with high hopes; they dream of making their nests and having children together – the relationship dream is attractive and seductive. When reality sets in the picture can be somewhat different. Babies wake at night, each parent draws on their own early experiences to parent and parenting styles differ; sleep deprivation leads to rows. Also, mortgages need to be paid; someone has to do the shopping and the cooking. Again, resentment is a driver in this toxic mix; who is doing more childcare, housework or cooking? Who is spending more money with credit cards, on cigarettes or just on themselves? Then there is that new and attractive man at work who pays the wife/female partner attention and is a wonderful diversion, so the relationship at home starts to flounder. So what to do; stay and work on your relationship or walk away?

Here are 5 questions to help you decide whether you should stay or go:

  1. Would ending this relationship feel like a disaster or a liberation ?
  2. Are you truly in love with your current partner or are you in love with the idea of the relationship, or in love with what it used to be?
  3. Are you staying in this relationship because you feel it’s ‘cold out there’?
  4. Do you stay because you think ‘the devil you know’ is better?
  5. Have you given the relationship your best shot; do you think that a few sessions of relationship counselling might help?

And 5 tips to help you separate peacefully if that’s your choice:

  1. Discuss separation openly, calmly and clearly. Agree that you’ll do it in a reasonable and composed manner, this will save you pots of money and you will preserve your on-going relationship.
  2. Get yourselves to a mediator asap who will help you discuss the issues and support you through the process. You may only need a few mediation sessions.
  3. If you have children, agree your separation going forward, from a child-friendly perspective. Put yourselves in your children’s positions; how would you have liked it to be done if you were a child of separating parents?
  4. Devise and agree a co-parenting plan. If the children are young then do it for the first year of your separation to start with. Children need to feel safe, secure and know that solid arrangements are being made for them.
  5. Choose collaboratively trained solicitors, if you can afford them, for a more ‘user-friendly’ divorce experience.

Remember you loved each other once, at the beginning, before it all went wrong, and your children didn’t ask to be born. As parents you chose to bring the children into your lives and you’re duty-bound to do your very best for them. Tell them (together) that you still love them as much as ever, and even if daddy and mummy can’t live together, they will be central in the two separate lives you are building.

Never, ever, stop communicating as parents; your children will thank you if you can have some kind of on-going connection. There will be the school play, lost teeth, illnesses, holidays, school transfers, university, marriages and children of their own. Look to the future in your separation and divorce and ensure you can see an open pathway together.