Long read: How to weather the storms of divorce




How can you get through a divorce? Charles Reid has some first-hand experience of the process and some considered suggestions if you, or a close friend, are in the throes of this difficult and emotionally wrenching undertaking.

In 2021, there were 113,505 divorces granted in England and Wales, according to the Office of National Statistics. That’s 227,010 adults who have struggled through to the point of having a decree absolute granted by the courts. That doesn’t include the children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, grandparents, friends, and colleagues who are impacted when a married couple terminate the relationship and start on separate paths. Do not be fooled by the simplistic way divorce is portrayed in the media; this is not likely to be an easy smooth process, and it will test every element of your character.

During the summer of 2015 I started out on this painful, difficult and expensive route. As with nearly two-thirds of male-female married couples, it was my wife who decided to instigate the divorce. We had struggled along together for some years going to repeated counselling sessions, and trying hard to do the best we could. However, we both brought historical baggage into our marriage, and it seemed that we were never going to get to a great place, and so she made the decision to end the relationship.

Although I knew our marriage was not a great place to be in for either of us, it still came as a horrible shock when she informed me that we were going no further together. Over the course of the following few years (this is rarely a speedy process), I learned a lot about myself, my friends and family, and my relationship with God. I’d like to share a few things which may help anyone going through a similar situation – just practical observations.

Take it slow

Patience is the most important quality you will need. The legal process runs slowly, especially while the courts are trying to regain their pre-pandemic equilibrium, but even in ‘normal’ times things seldom happen quickly. If you are the sort of person who cannot cope with delayed gratification and needs everything now, you may find that you regret decisions, things said or done, and the final agreement reached, for years to come. At every stage, in your head ask yourself, “Will I care about the outcome of this part in five years’ time?” If the answer is yes, then stand firm on that point. Otherwise, be prepared to give a little. Pick your battles – you can’t and won’t win all of them.

Get legal counsel

Make sure you get good legal advice, and do it as early in the process as you can. Don’t hire a combative solicitor – they may cost you dearly in financial terms as well as in time and eventual outcome. Look for someone who understands that the desired end of a divorce negotiation is a ‘fair and equitable’ settlement which allows former husband and wife to live a reasonable life, and that the now individual adults should be self-supporting within a viable timescale. The days of being taken for every penny you have are, thankfully, past, in favour of a more balanced approach. The solicitor I chose, having been recommended by friends, told me at our first meeting what the he expected the financial outcome would be. Two years later, he was almost entirely accurate in his prediction. This is the sort of person you need representing you.

Pick your friends

Next, carefully select some really good friends. I cannot stress this enough. Do not trust anyone who may be reporting back to your former spouse. I was fortunate here: I enlisted three very long-standing friends, two of whom had known me in the years before my marriage. All three had proven that they were honest with me: I knew this by the fact that they had sometimes told me things I may not have wanted to hear, but nonetheless were accurate and true. I asked my three friends to become my ‘Council of Reference’, and they were absolutely invaluable in helping me walk through the divorce process. We set up a WhatsApp group where messages could be posted at all times of the day or night and responded to as time allowed.

I had realised very quickly that the emotional burden was going to be enormous and challenging, and there was a high risk that, due to anger or sadness or some other strong mental demand, I would make poor decisions. My Council of Reference were my wise counsel, people physically removed from most of the emotion, who could feed back jointly or together a considered response to my questions around, “This has happened, and I want to do this, but should I?” To try and ensure a balanced view, one of the three was single, one married, and one divorced. Two were male and one female, again to try and balance the advice offered. In almost every situation I used the counsel offered by these friends, and I am enormously grateful to them for making themselves available for a couple of years of their lives to support a struggling man.

Avoid the twits

Speaking of emotional burdens, social media is not your friend during a divorce. Seriously consider deleting your social media accounts. At the time, I was on Facebook and Twitter, and my ex-wife weaponised it, trying to turn friends, colleagues, and family against me. I told friends and family that I literally didn’t want to know or hear anything about what was posted, and it genuinely helped me to cope with the pressure of making good decisions. I deleted my profiles and didn’t rejoin for some years.

Tell the boss

It’s vitally important to let your employer know what’s going on in your life. Make no mistake, divorce is going to impact you in ways you didn’t expect, and it may affect your work. I was lucky enough to have a sympathetic boss, and so when I privately told them that I was starting to work through a divorce they helped me to ensure that any work being issued to clients was correct, sanity-checked some of my emails, and even offered me some time off when I really needed it. Trying to hide a life event as all-encompassing as the separation of a long-term relationship is extremely difficult, and adds stress to an already stressful situation. Don’t do it. If your boss is wholly unsympathetic, it may be worth considering changing jobs, but in general my advice would be not to make any huge life changes at this point if you don’t absolutely have to.

Find a home

One life change you will have to face is finding somewhere to live. Renting property is a nightmare in the UK right now, with high demand and low supply making rents and deposits scarily high. Unless you’re seriously wealthy you’re unlikely to be able to buy a property, as your former wife (and any children still at home) can choose to stay in the family home until an agreed date. This means that you’re still on the hook for the mortgage, which may affect your personal ability to borrow to buy another property.

With all that in mind, wherever you end up living will be your refuge, your place to curl up and mourn the loss of your marriage, but also where the roots of your next life chapter will be born. Don’t be too proud to look at places you would never have previously considered. I ended up living above a shop in a small two-bed flat in the middle of a council estate, having borrowed money to get the deposit together. It was (just) affordable, and money was incredibly tight for a few months, but having space of my own, and somewhere for my children to be able to visit, was a literal Godsend.

Feel the emotion

You won’t come out of this process emotionally unscathed. Everything you thought was your future has just come crashing down in pieces, possibly never to be resurrected. If you have children, they are going to be hurt, upset, puzzled, and all sorts of other things, and it’s partly your fault. Acknowledge that guilt. Mourn the death of your relationship. Worth through it. Get counselling Cry to God for help and healing. This is where some of the Psalms of David start to chime. Life is not good. God’s gracious help, love warmth and forgiveness is there for the asking. Don’t repress your emotions in that way that we Brits are so renowned for. Get it out, get it dealt with, and then move on with a lighter step.

Let it go

There will be plenty to forgive too. First, yourself. You are very likely to shoulder blame, some of which will be warranted and some not. Either way, God forgives when you ask Him, and so you need to forgive yourself too. You will also need to forgive your ex-partner. Easy? Ha! No, but as has been widely quoted in the past, holding a grudge against someone is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person will die. Her life is no longer your responsibility. Her decisions are now hers alone.

Photo credit: Luigi Estuye via Unsplash

Taste the joys

Search for, and enjoy, the unexpected freedom. One of the finest feelings I can recall during that period was realising that I could buy orange juice with bits. Daft, right? In our house we only ever had smooth orange juice, and I quite liked the bits. So go round the supermarket and buy the things you enjoy but which were previously restricted. Hang pictures which you love. Read books, watch your favourite TV, listen to the music which makes you smile. There’s a lot of touch stuff in a divorce, but there are little glimpses of sunshine through all the dark clouds.

Look to the future

Remember, none of this is permanent. After your financial settlement is agreed, the decree absolute has been issued, and all that legal stuff is out of the way, you are free to move forward on your own, following God and your heart, and find out what is in store. I have a (worryingly large) number of friends who have gone through divorce, and it’s true that in the years after the process they have discovered positives in life, and are often happier than they were immediately pre-divorce. To state the (hopefully) obvious, I’m absolutely not recommending this journey, but God can truly use all things for his ultimate glory.

So, continue to be patient with yourself, with your family, with your children, and with your ex-spouse (no matter how difficult that is). Patience and wisdom, good friends, and, over all, clinging to God, will get you through intact. I wish you well if you’re battling through this part of life. One verse that constantly helped me was Jeremiah 29 verse 11, and I commend it to you.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

May you look forward to that bright future.

Main photo credit: Invading Kingdom via Unsplash

Guest Writer

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