How to survive an unwanted divorce

by Amelia May Kingston


18 years ago, I had it all.  I had a loving, intelligent, handsome husband who was fun to be with.  I had three beautiful children.  I had a dream home on a beautiful Island, plenty of friends, plenty to do, and I was fulfilling an ideal for which I had striven most of my life.  I was a happily married woman, respectable, and solvent.

I used to go to my husband to hug him, leaning against him gratefully, whispering, " I am so happy... so lucky...," and I really believed I was.  In spite of the fact that one of my sons is autistic and I myself have multiple sclerosis, I still felt that, on balance, life was incredibly good.

We had an overgrown garden, chaotic but productive, a tiny cottage, dark, damp and cluttered, where much of our comfort was contrived as cheaply as possible, and most of the work had been done by my husband or my son, as creatively as they wished.  Every where I looked there were the symbols of our shared values and our love.

When he left me at half-an-hour's notice to set up home with a younger woman, I was devastated.  My perception of reality had been invalid.  My husband and best friend was a heartless stranger.  My safe and secure home was about to be taken away.  My future had disappeared and in my own eyes I had suddenly changed from a desirable companion, loving and loved, to a worthless old woman, rejected by the one man who knew the very best I could be.

That was when I learned the Lesson of the Pivot.

As suddenly as if someone had swung a mirror to reflect a different view, my outlook on the world had changed.  It felt as if the whole world had changed.  My husband was a different man.  I was a different woman.  The past had lost its meaning and the future had ceased to exist.

But the pivotal focus was my own perception.  Nothing else had changed. In fact, nothing had changed at all!

The reality of the past and the potential of the future were artefacts of my own mind.  The man who loved me and the man who left me, the woman I had been and the woman I had become, were constructs of opposing views of the same reality.  I could choose one or the other, or even both.  Both realities were valid.  They did not have to be consistent.

Much of my pain arose from this myth of consistency.  If he did not love me now, could he possibly have loved me then?  Was my judgement so poor?  He also had a drive to rationalise his behaviour and hurtfully insisted that he had never loved me as he loved her. I realised that he had to convince himself of this or face the possibility that his currently overpowering feelings could change again.  Yet I tortured myself by reading his old love letters in which he had said to me the things he now was saying about her, and I tried to analyse the evidence of our lives together.

It was not easy.  Although I was a practising therapist, I needed help to regain my balance.  I hurt, beyond all reason.  For the first few weeks I sat in the dark and rocked and wept whilst the house became a pig-sty and food mouldered and fermented untouched in the fridge.

Asked to describe how I felt, I choked out one word, "Destroyed" and fell to weeping again.  My self-esteem had reached an all-time low.

Pivots and perception bring new points of view.

The watershed occurred in the middle of a despairing night when I phoned the Samaritans and talked to a lady who said "I hear what you are saying. You are old, ill, a burden.  You were holding him back.  But have you ever thought, the boot might have been on the other foot?"

How often I bless that woman!  I may never know who she was.  She may never know what she did for me, and through me for so many others.

I thought of the ways in which I had restricted myself out of consideration for my husband. (Or at least, that was the excuse I had given myself.)  He was not as well-educated and had not been as successful as I.  So I supported his college studies and left my own career in abeyance.  After all, what did it matter?  I was ill and would be largely dependent on him, and he was all I needed!

He did not like to dance.  He did not like to sail.  He did not like swimming pools.  He did not feel comfortable with my middle-class friends.  He did not like me to wear makeup.  He sabotaged my efforts to slim.  I thought he was insecure, so I restricted my social life whilst becoming the little brown hen I thought he wanted.  He lost interest in me sexually.  I repressed my own needs as I did not want to seem a demanding woman nor highlight what seemed to me to be his waning potency.

He did not want me to exert myself, using phrases like, "You don't want to do that. You'll only make yourself ill, and I'll have to look after you."  At the time I thought this was loving and considerate, and so, I am sure, did he.  We protected each other from my illness.  Or was he really pleading, "Don't bother me with your illness!" and was I protecting him?

When I really looked at what had been going on, it was not the loving, mutually nurturing partnership I had imagined.  I had allowed myself to become his mother!

So I set out to reclaim the self I had given up for him because it was the easy option and the real world is a scary place.

I admitted he had been a good husband and friend to me for ten happy years, but it was time for both of us to move on.

I learned, used, adapted and taught others the techniques of reclamation and self-affirmation.   I realised that without first-hand experience, painful though it was, I could never have understood what was really happening to the people I was trying to help.

From being resigned to the progress of my crippling illness, I started to work hard at regaining physical control and enhanced mobility.  I pushed the limits, gave up medication, paid the price over and again without pressure to protect a distressed and helpless onlooker.  I reclaimed my world.

I swam.  I walked.  I danced.  I went sailing.  I painted and wrote.  I rebuilt a circle of creative and intellectual friends.  I lost weight, tinted my hair and invested in a new wardrobe.  I gutted the house that had his ghost in every room and expressed myself without restraint in my own special environment.  I reclaimed the world we had once shared,  though not without tears and pain.   It took a long time.  I went back to University.  I took an honours degree in Psychology, then devoted years to a participant observer project for a Masters in Social Science Research. I started a PhD.

Seven years on, alone with my black cat and my friendly ghosts in the house I fought successfully to keep, my life is rich and fulfilling.

I have it all.  I have a number of caring, intelligent, handsome occasional escorts who are fun to be with.  I have three beautiful children, all grown and independent.  I have a dream home on a beautiful Island, plenty of friends, plenty to do, and I am fulfilling an ideal for which I have striven most of my life.

I am a happily independent woman, a useful member of society, respectable and solvent.

In fact, my pursuits are more challenging, my family and friends are more intimate, my home and garden are more beautiful, my financial situation more promising, my health much better and my self-esteem much higher than they were BC - before the crash.

18 years later, I am retired in Spain with half a dozen cats and a several hundred fish, a chaotic but productive smallholding on a river bank and a tiny, dark and primitive weekend home and a breathtaking view of forest and mountains.  I also have a beautiful cottage with all amenities and wonderful neighbours in a friendly rural village.nearby

I have wonderful children and grandchildren and am closer than ever to an extended family.  I have many friends of different nationalities including one special gentleman escort.

I am happier still.  My health is much improved.  I regularly use 9 languages.  I have a small pension supplemented by a paying hobby copywriting articles for the Internet as well as several unpaid pursuits: book revision, contributing to online magazines, blogs and projects, supporting worthy causes, and teaching English and Spanish on an “Otra dia” basis.  This is a Catalonian barter system whereby I can call for return favours as needed or receive spontaneous gifts and treats in lieu.  It is a much more efficient safety net than a marriage!

I am fulfilling an ideal for which I have striven most of my life.  I am an independent old woman, still living a productive life and playing happily in my second childhood.

I frequently whisper "Thank you", to an unseen supporter of whom I am constantly aware, as well as saying to my children and my friends when we share a hug, " I am so happy.  so lucky..." and I really believe that I am.

Life is incredibly good to me.