“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”
― Katharine Hepburn
My wife and I have been married for almost twenty years, bringing three children into the world. Before this, we were a couple for five years. Last week, after over twenty years living together, we separated.
I wanted to write about why this happened and how I'm feeling. I think doing so will help with the emotional processing and may even be useful in future to look back upon and to remember.
Despite the separation, we remain friends – in fact very little has changed since. This is because we've been living separate lives for many years and sleeping in separate bedrooms for the past twelve months.
Like many couples, we've had difficulties in our marriage – so called ups and downs. However, somehow, we've always managed to find a way to carry on. Falling out, not speaking for anything from a few hours to several days, then eventually talking and finally resolving to stop whatever it was that triggered this particular breakdown and in the end promise just to work harder.
Yet, after a few weeks or sometimes a few months, both of us would steadily return to the patterns of behaviour from before, and we are right back to where we started. I've lost count of the number of times this cycle has been repeated. But, each time it did, the process left behind a small dent in the once shiny armour of our marriage.
By the end, by the time we sat opposite one another bringing the curtain down on our marriage, the armour was battered and dented beyond all recognition. There was nothing left but a hollow, rusty husk whose surface resembled the surface of the moon.
The process a marriage goes through as it moves toward its eventual breakdown is depressingly familiar to millions of people all over the world.
I'm not sure I know exactly what is happening, but I think couples fail to recognise the signs of the breakdown, despite it being bloody obvious to most others, often leaving things much too late for them to do anything about it.
Honestly, my wife and I ought really to have split years ago. I suspect it was only because of the children that we did not. There's been no spark in our relationship for years, and this has left us both lonely and miserable.
As the children have grown, becoming less reliant upon us and spending more of time in the bedroom or out with friends, we've become increasing distant, growing to become strangers.
Aside from the necessary business-like chit-chat associated with being home-owning, full-time working, parents, there's been very little else. And now looking back, we have both missed this more than we realised.
By the end we both knew. There wasn't any tears or drama. It was something we both understood was necessary. The marriage had been over for sometime and we were finally ready to acknowledge that fact. The conversation was civil.
The discussion was sad but practical. The relief was palpable. The end wasn't at all what I had imagined. Two adults having a conversation and agreeing. I don't know if we are unusual in this respect, but I don't think so. I suspect marriages end like this often, nowadays.
I don't know what will happen next. We remain living in the same house, sharing meals, raising children, just getting on with things. Since separating, we've been getting on remarkably well.
It's as if a weight has been removed from around the neck of our relationship, neither having to pretend anymore. There will be changes of the coming weeks. Things will happen. Things always happen. Yet, there is a sense of optimism about the house.
The ill-feeling has gone, replaced with an understanding and acceptance. It is a nice, if unfamiliar feeling.
We own a home, bought just three years ago, a great big affair, that we searched long for and had to fight to get, and afford. It's the ideal family home, I suppose; close to the school, nice gardens, five, large bedroom, two bathrooms and three (yes, three!) toilets.
Owing to its location, the price of the house was at the higher end of our budget and much against my preferences at the time we stretched ourselves in order to afford it.
We had equity from the sale of the house before – a smaller three bedroom semi-detached just over a mile away – but the mortgage on the new place is hefty, and will remain thus for many more years to come. This makes selling problematic.
However, the real problem with the home is the children. They love the house, and they especially love their bedrooms. The previous house was much smaller, the girls had to share and the boy had a tiny box like room that constantly smelled of damp. I think to those days and shudder.
In comparison their rooms are spacious, allowing each of the children to have a double bedroom, their own wardrobe, entertainment systems, televisions and much (much!) more besides.
Given this, both of us know that it would break their hearts to have to go back to anything remotely similar to the situation previously.
This is a problem and the main reason why, although now separated, we haven't made any real attempts to change very much.
Aside from friends, we haven't told anyone. We both agree that telling the kids is important, but that there's no rush and we ought to wait a while until they've each settled back into the new school term.
Unsurprisingly, neither of us are looking forward to this part of the process. We can expect tears (probably), but we both worry that there'll be other less outward reactions. Instead, more subtle one's – especially with the boy. I hope not...
But, we do worry that it could affect their behaviours both at home and at school. It's something that on which we may have to take some professional advice.
It's one thing speaking to friends, it's another thing entirely speaking with your children...
Again, we have't made any decisions as yet, the joint bank account remains our primary account. As with the sleeping arrangements, we'll need to take measures to separate the accounts and to agree how to establish budgets for upkeep of the house and the not inconsiderable costs of raising the children.
I think that establishing the situation with money is an important step as it re-introduces a degree of independence thus cementing the separation.
Yet, we both know that this part will be very hard and fraught with risk. Mainly, this is because we don't have much money left over in the account once domestic matters are attended to. Neither of us has anything other than debt.
Upon reflection, the lack of equity (other than that in the house) might actually make any eventual legal proceeding much less onerous. Only time will tell, but I'm hopeful that money won't become a problem.
What makes things slightly better, and provides a degree of hope, is that (currently) neither of us are big spenders, and we don't consider ourselves to be frivolous when it comes to spending money.
Thankfully, for both of us, there's no-one else involved, yet. I often hear of divorces becoming acrimonious owing to the infidelity of one or both of the partners.
These types of separations can be bitter affairs, the children suffering most, the lawyers gaining most.
The divorce proceeding often drag on for months and cost lots – financially and emotionally. I don't think I could stomach anything like that. However, I realise that at some stage, the odds are that one or both of us will want to move on.
When that happens, then our living together will have to end, obviously. Depending when this happens, this will likely have significant implications for finances and, more importantly, the children.
The more we can plan for this eventuality the better, I suppose...