When marriage doesn’t work, be authentic

Have you noticed how almost everything written about divorce, either in print or online, is illustrated with that generic photo of a wedding cake split down the middle, the miniature bride and groom cleaved apart, toppling towards a chasm of iced sponge? Of course you’ve noticed. It’s as lazy and ubiquitous as white jeans in a tampon advert.

People who seek divorce — ordinary people, I mean, not speeded up celebs who marry for weeks rather than years — should be applauded, supported, respected. It shows more guts and emotional intelligence to hold your hand up and acknowledge that something has run its course / is no longer working / is causing unhappiness, than the alternative of waiting until death to finally extricate yourself from something terminally dysfunctional. Why would anyone alive want to remain in a dead relationship?

Why waste precious time?

Oh, but the children. Seriously? Let’s ask an imaginary kid which they would prefer – (a) parents tearing verbal / emotional chunks out of each other on a regular basis (b) parents pretending to like each other, fizzing with an undercurrent of tangible resentment or (c) children being authentically co-parented by two separated parents who are no longer keeping up a charade that even pre-verbal children can sense as vividly as heat or cold?

My money is on (c). By sticking in a bad marriage / relationship, what does that show children? That it’s okay for grown ups to live like this, bitter and miserable?

What a relief then that Irish couples who need to divorce, either with or without kids, are no longer being strangled by outdated legislation. Unlike getting married, nobody rushes into divorce – it takes courage and determination and the belief that you deserve to seek something better, rather than putting up and shutting up until you die.

That you can start again, that you and your former partner can have the opportunity to become friends and co-parents, rather than stuck in a toxic quicksand of mutual antipathy.

Because, apart from the stupid wedding cake illustration, the term ‘failed marriage’ makes me want to punch throats. No relationship is ever a failure (unless it’s abusive, in which case it’s the abuser who is the failure, not the relationship). Everytime we connect with someone, we learn more about ourselves, about humanity. We learn more about communication and compatibility. We learn more about love.

That emotional intelligence isn’t mandatory in schools makes my eyes water. Why aren’t we teaching kids the truth – — that long term monogamy works for some, but definitely not all; that splitting up well is far more important than staying together badly; that emotional intelligence is a learned skill as important as intellectual intelligence.

When long-term monogamy works — around 20% of my own friends are together more than 20 years — it’s a beautiful thing. Love, hard work and compatibility in equal measure. When it doesn’t work, be true to yourself. Be authentic. Be a great co-parent who rears emotionally literate humans. Be free.

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