Kate Gunn and her husband were determined that their break-up would be amicable, especially for the sake of their three children.
Her book, Untying the Knot, is a how-to guide, she tells.
Gwyneth Paltrow was on honeymoon last week, with her second husband, Brad Falchuck.
Actress Paltrow turned heads at the luxury resort in the Maldives because she was with her new husband, and with her ex-husband, Chris Martin.
Personally, I can think of nothing more awkward than a honeymoon sandwich with a husband and an ex-husband, but Paltrow has pushed the boundaries of what a marriage break-up should look like.
Five years ago, Kate Gunn knew her life was about to take a dramatic turn.
She and her husband, Kristian, had struggled in their marriage for a number of years, and had invested all of themselves in attempting to repair the cracks.
They attending counselling and even moved country to see if a fresh start would help.
But on that January morning five years ago, it was clear that the best thing for their family was to separate.
With three children and a dream house in negative equity, the couple knew that there were tougher times ahead.
“In those early days, the guilt was, at times, overwhelming,” says Kate. “What have we done? Would my children be damaged for life, by coming from a broken home?”
Kate and Kristian were united in making the transition as trauma-free as possible for their children, Kaya, Marley and Baxter, then 9, 8 and 5.
There was only so much the children could absorb, so the parents checked in regularly with each of them.
Their youngest son, Baxter, was five when his parents separated, and had a limited understanding of what was going on, says Kate.
A whole two years after the split, we were chatting and I said, ‘You know that mummy and daddy both still love you very much, even though we’re not together anymore?’ His head shot around, ‘You’re not together anymore?’
"I was floored. ‘What did you think?’ I asked him. He didn’t really have an answer. He knew, but he didn’t know.
"The big penny had finally dropped and it was a hard lesson to learn.”
Kate has distilled her experiences into Untying the Knot: How to Consciously Uncouple in the Real World.
It’s an honest, kind, and realistic guidebook for those of us navigating relationship dissolution.
From how to tell your children to communicating in a peaceful way, Kate has consulted experts like Stella O’Malley, author of Bullyproof Kids, and barrister, solicitor, and family law mediator, Deirdre Burke.
She has also included excerpts from her now ex-husband, Kristian, all with a view to helping families to separate in a manner that will cause the least amount of pain and emotional damage.
“The early stages are so difficult, because you are dealing with your own raw emotion and pain, as well as trying to guide your children through their own turmoil and confusion,” she says.
“You also have all the day-to-day tasks of family life to get through, like dinners and school runs, as well as the massive decisions and logistics of what happens next.
"There is a huge amount of fear and uncertainty at this time.”
Kate says that it is essential to lean on friends and family during the early days.
“Take all the help you can get with those daily life tasks,” she says.
“Ask friends to collect children, get family to cook dinners, book in a cleaner, if you can afford one. Use whatever available assistance you can.”
She cautions against listening to negativity about your ex-spouse.
“Your own friends and family will, of course, be on ‘your side’ and will want to show you support, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of your ex-partner.
"Try to listen to your gut, rather than others who may be angry for you. Remember that your ex-partner will be going through their own painful journey at this time, too.”
Kate refers to the first year after the separation as her year of living selfishly.
“Obviously, you do need to put the children first, but you also need to be strong enough yourself in order to fully do that,” she says.
In the very early stages, I was there for the children physically — I cooked and cleaned for them, I listened to their problems, I stroked their heads and held their hands — but it was very hard to be there emotionally for them. I needed to build up my own strength for that, to get myself to a better place.
By carving out some time for herself in her new family schedule, Kate found a new way of living.
“I am a better mother because of it. I was extremely lucky, in that I had supportive friends and family around that helped me, but even if you just manage 20 minutes away to get your nails done, or get a coffee and a walk on the beach, it all helps put fuel in the tank.”
An amicable end to a relationship is only possible if you are both on board with the idea, says Kate, so be practical and honest about your situation.
“You can be the most reasonable person in the whole world, but if you’re not being met somewhere close to the middle, then it’s very hard to do separate amicably,” she says.
“Communication, co-operation, and a ton of good luck are all involved, so all you can really do is try your best with the cards you are dealt.”
Untying the Knot: How to Consciously Uncouple in the Real World is available on Amazon, from Orpen Press, and all good bookstores.