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What do you say to a friend whose marriage is ending?

Sometimes, when people admit that their marriage is unsustainable, for whatever reason, the reaction of family, friends, even strangers on the internet can be judgmental or pitying. However, what someone in this situation needs are words and actions of support and comfort, as well as professional and legal guidance.

We are joined on the blog by Divorce Coach Rebecca Spittles, who explores her own experience of the initial stages of separation, and what to say to a friend whose marriage is ending.

‘“It’s a shame you couldn’t have just tried a bit harder…”

Nothing hits harder when you have made the decision to leave. When will people understand that getting divorced is an absolute last resort?

Contrary to popular belief, and in my experience both personally and professionally, no one actually wants to get divorced. Reaching the point of separation, especially when there are children in the mix, is the most gut wrenching, stomach turning, vomit-inducing feeling you could ever imagine if you’ve not been there.

I don’t wish divorce on anyone. When I took my vows I took them for life, like my parents, my grandparents and all that surrounded me. I wanted that security and comfort that everyone seeks from marriage. Even simple things I was excited about, for example to have the same surname as my husband and then of my child. It was so, so important.

Just imagine how it felt when I knew that no matter how hard I tried, the union I was in was not meant to be?

My parents were amazing. On several occasions I came close to uttering the words separation and every time they would come up with some kind words and injected a bit more strength into me to keep going. Marriage isn’t easy.

My sister was the best. Constantly encouraging me, being a sounding board but never once suggesting being apart was an option.

The toughest part of my situation was that, in order for our relationship to be harmonious, one or both of us had to completely stifle their key personality traits. Not sustainable.

Our opinions on every single little thing were different and it ended with one or both of us feeling sad or resentful or angry as there wasn’t space for compromise.

Compromise. The word bandied around all the time when it comes to being in a relationship. What if compromise actually meant giving in? Taking on the view of the other person so that life could just about be normal? What if compromise was only one sided and the only way for the other person to ever be happy was to always do what they wanted?

I made several huge changes. Gave up my brilliant job so I could be at home. Gave up financial independence and poured every penny into the joint account. I started asking to do things and to buy things and slowly I disappeared. But still there was no happiness.

After 2 long years following the birth of our daughter I asked for a separation. The answer was ‘No’. Clearly, I ‘didn’t care about my marriage’. I did. I wanted it more than I have ever wanted anything in my life to work but I was empty. Nothing left.

In the end, two days after New Years Eve, I left after a huge row (something I learned is never the best way to leave).

I picked up our daughter and stepped out of the front door and I will always remember the feeling of this being ‘it’. We were completely over. I drove to my parents with a sleeping toddler, arrived and cried. I cried and cried.

Eventually he moved out to his Mum’s temporarily so that I could come home with our daughter and work, and she could have contact with her Dad.

I am writing this so that next time someone utters the words ‘I want to leave my husband/wife’ just listen. Ask why, not so you can tell her why they should stay but so that you can understand quite how far they have come to be able to say this out loud.

If you’ve been through it, please, please offer comfort, what they don’t need is the gore of your breakup or divorce. There is plenty of time for that later!

Share your emotion and empathise because you more than many truly know where they are at.

Finally, for all of us sat with the friend who says their relationship is over, just help. They will be a wreck for a while to come, from being so strong to being a crying mess on the floor. An angry confused teenager-esque stage will rear its ugly head at some point along with bitterness and probably a fair bit of drunkenness.

Just be there for them. They will come out the other side. They will never be the same again, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.’

Rebecca Spittles is a Divorce Coach providing personalised emotional and practical support and coaching to help individuals navigate their divorce or separation.

 You can find out more about Rebecca on her website or via her LinkedIn

Useful links

My partner’s a good person but I’m not happy

When ‘I do’ becomes ‘I don’t’: Navigating the path to divorce and what to do next

What to do if you think your marriage is over

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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