Saturday, 19 October 2013

Ten things to consider before separating

Are you ready to leave?

All relationships go through ups and downs.  You're cross because he hasn't put the bins out AGAIN.  He's cross because you're talking over the football.  You both don't talk to each other for a while.

But usually, time - the great and ancient healer, just like TCP - knits everything up nicely and you forgive, he forgets, and you slowly slide from your parallel living to a joint relationship again.

In some relationships, time doesn't heal.  Instead of rubbing along with each other, you end up giving each other friction burns with your constant arguing.   Or worse - not speaking at all.

You've heard it all before, so I won't go on.  If you are in this type of relationship, there may come a point where you say to yourself, "I can't go on.  I need to leave."  And it really does feel like a breaking point, a tipping point.  It feels like you're at the pinnacle of a mountain, and you have nowhere to go.  You need to jump off.

Before you boldly step into the blue, just pause for a minute.  Have you done everything you possibly can to save this marriage?

Unless you're in an abusive relationship (in which case, just get the hell out of there), consider the following before making any rash moves.

1. Do you love him?

If you don't love him, but choose to stay, things are going to be difficult from now on.  You might be a better person than me and be able to grit your teeth and get on with it.  I refused to consider being with someone who I didn't love for the rest of my life.  Think about this question hard before moving onto the next, as love and respect and all that jazz are the fundamental building blocks of any relationship.  Without them, unless you find a way around it, your marriage will crumble.

2. Communicate

Let's say, when all the shit is stripped away, you love him.  Really try and talk to him about your problems.  Encourage him to open up to you.  Get a babysitter, go out for a nice meal (but don't get hammered).  See if, between you, you can build an action plan to get you back on the right track.

3. Seek relationship counselling

Didn't work?  Consider going to marriage counselling.  We didn't do it because my ex didn't want to, but I know others sing its praises.  It depends heavily on how good your counsellor is.  If you can get a personal recommendation, all the better.

4. Check your finances

No good?  Still unhappy and about to jump?  Wait.  Check your finances.  Can you afford to leave?  Check his finances, too.  If you are serious, and he is the main earner, be a bit underhand and make copies of statements, P60s and pay slips.  If you have children, check whether you'll be eligible for any benefits as a single parent.  If you think you will be the main custodian of the children, use the Child Maintenance Calculator to work out how much he will pay you per month.  Make sure that Child Benefit is paid into your account.

Consider cobbling together an Escape Fund.  If things go totally tits up (see no. 7), you might be glad of it.

5. Find a good solicitor and use your free half hour

If you leave, your solicitor will become your best friend for MONTHS.  He or she will also suck up a vast amount of your money.  So choose wisely.  Get a recommendation if you can.  Most solicitors offer at least half an hour for free.  There is nothing to stop you from seeing every damn solicitor in your town and getting a large amount of free advice, before choosing the one you feel most comfortable with.

6. Tell your close family or a friend

If you're going to do this, you'll need emotional - and possibly financial - support.  Tell someone you trust and respect, if you haven't already.  Talk through the whole thing with them.  Tell them how you feel.  Be brutally honest - and then ask them what they think.  If they come back saying you are a fool, think very carefully before carrying on to number 7.

If you are still sure you want to leave...

7. Imagine the worst case scenario

Think through what will or might happen once you drop the bomb.  Imagine it as a chess game, with a whole load of possible futures.  From 'oh yes, he was quite happy, turns out it was what he wanted too', to 'oh no, he actually wants to throw me out of the house with nothing, keep the kids and never allow me to see them again'.

Remember that people under stress or who feel humiliated, can act in uncharacteristic ways.  You'll need to cover all possibilities.  Or as many as you can.  If you think you can cope with them all, move on to number 8.

8. Hide anything sentimental

See number 7.  You might announce that you are leaving; next day, all of your Granny's jewellery has been flushed down the toilet.  Hide anything that you really care about.  We're not talking about wads of cash here - but anything sentimental that you cannot replace.  Hide it for now, or even better, give it to a relative to look after, until the dust has settled.

9. Have a plan for the children

I don't mean have a long term plan - you'll work this out with your partner.  Rather, think about how you will tell them.  In my case, I had to tell mine why I wanted to leave, and it was the worst part, by far, of the whole process.  Making your own children cry makes you feel like a monster.

But let me tell you this.  My children are happier now, a year on, than they were before the split.  When we were together, my ex and I thought that we were shielding them from our unhappiness, but far from it; kids will pick up on emotions, unsaid words, lack of love, separate beds...They will overhear arguments when you think they are asleep.  They will not want to ask about it in case it makes it worse.

And so in the end, admitting to it, voicing it, was ok.  Don't get me wrong - I'd have loved them to had had an idyllic childhood, ensconced in a family with a mum and dad who loved each other - but it was not to be.

10. Prepare yourself for a tough road

Bloody hell.  There will be shit times.  You will feel lower than you do now.  There will be money worries, stress, arguments, tears.  No matter what is thrown at you, try to be dignified.  Try to be fair.  But don't be tempted to do what I did; don't feel that it was all your fault and let this guilt cloud your judgement when it comes to money.  Remember that it takes two to make a marriage work.  Your circumstances will be different from mine, but when agreeing a settlement, fight for a fair (not greedy) slice.

It will be ok.  There will be good times too.  In a year's time, you will look back and feel like you've been in a washing machine, or a concrete mixer, or both at the same time (think of the mess) - but will be happier.  Just think carefully before making the leap.  Because once that's done, there's no going back.

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