On divorce

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[Aside: I have been running an internal debate about whether to write on this subject. It's not like I'm the first person to get divorced: it happens all the time. So why should my words be of any interest? Also, is my personal life relevant to my professional life? I think it is. In writing this, I'm not looking for absolution. I'm not trying to prove a point or make excuses. And I'm aware that any thoughts here are from my perspective, which is unique to me and is not the whole truth. But I feel I need to say something.]

Yesterday I heard that my divorce had been finalized. Some 16 months after I moved out of home, the legal process that signals the end of a marriage has been completed. It’s not something I’ve mentioned publicly before, and I do so now with great caution. This is very personal territory. Nonetheless, it is something I want to share, albeit briefly and without too many details. Now that it’s final, it seems an appropriate time to disclose this news.

Fiona and I were wed on May 8th, 1993. It was a joyful occasion, full of friends and hope. We remained married for just under 23 years (legally, for just over 24). That’s a big slice of life.

We got together when we were both very young. If I met the ‘me’ of 1993 now, it would be a strange experience: me, but not me. I was raw and quite naïve, and very idealistic. I didn’t believe in divorce and thought that marriage was forever. I meant my marriage vows.

Even now, coming out of a marriage that has – on paper – failed, I still believe in the institution of marriage and I dislike divorce intensely. It is brutal and cruel. In terms of the separation it causes, it has some of the aspects of a bereavement, except that the closure is perhaps harder because your partner is still there, but you are separate from them.

Divorce causes a lot of pain. I didn’t realize quite how much, until it was too late. I had an inkling that this wouldn’t be an easy path, but it was only when I moved out of home that the full implications dawned on me. It is not an easy fix for a problem.

Still, even despite this, I think that it was the right path to take. Today I met with Fiona to talk over some issues to do with our boys, now 19 and 20. Time is a great healer, and we are now able to talk as friends, with respect for each other. We both wish each other well. We have both moved on. But there is no denying that there is still pain, sitting somewhere under the surface. So we tread carefully and as kindly as we can.

How do you process the end of a 23 year marriage? It isn’t easy.

There is a wounding, but there can also be a healing. It’s important to take the position that nothing is wasted, holding onto the many good times with a sense of gratitude. I think both of us realize that we were not terribly well suited to each other, but at the same time a marriage is something that you build rather than discover as something already complete. It is something that grows, built on an initial foundation, and hopefully with a commitment to build well. It is not something that starts out finished and untarnished, and then gradually with time loses its lustre. I also think that, when approached the right way, the inevitable pain, conflicts and challenges that exist in any union between two humans can be turned round and used as building material.

That our building eventually failed is probably in part due to the incredible stresses we were put under over the last 16 years. Our family life has been challenging. After five years of trying and a range of tests, it seemed we couldn’t have our own children. There was no obvious reason; it just didn’t happen. So after a lengthy approval process, we adopted two boys. They were brothers, and they’d had a terrible start, and they came to us aged 2.5 and 3.5 years old, back in 2000. From the beginning, we realized that we were in for a challenging time. It wasn’t a simple matter of pouring love in where there had been a deficit – sadly, it doesn’t work this simply. Things got gradually more challenging and difficult, beyond anything we could have imagined and certainly beyond the level that anyone should have to tolerate. But we stuck at it, through the most trying times. [I should add: I do not blame my boys. They are talented and have lots of qualities. They have had to overcome a lot, and I'm proud of them. But we had a very tough journey.]

Without this intense, unending pressure, with no respite, things might have turned out differently. Who knows? But nothing is wasted. Even what looks like a failure, has within it seeds that given the right conditions, can grow.

I read that the average divorce costs £44 000. Ours cost a more modest £1346, which is about as cheaply as you can do it, I think. We did our financial sums over a drink in the pub, and then got a solicitor to help with framing the agreement and dealing with the family court. I have unending respect for Fiona for dealing with things this way. We both genuinely want the best for each other, even though the dying days of the marriage were horribly painful.

Perhaps the best advice we received as we talked over things with professionals and close friends was this: it hurts, and there is pain, just as when you have a physical wound there is pain. But don’t keep taking the dressing off and poking the wound, to see how much it hurts. Acknowledge that there is pain, but don’t dwell there. Don’t keep going back to it, taking a look, picking off the scab.

And in this process, many of the horrible aspects are out of our control. While we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can decide on how we respond. We do not have to be a victim. We don’t have to respond in the stereotyped, movie-script sort of way. We get to choose.

Since January last year, I have been travelling a lot. When I am in the country, I have been living at my sister’s place. I have to think about what comes next. It’s great to get a second chance, but there are many potential pitfalls. I’m not going to play it safe, though. Second chances don’t come around all that often.

22 comments to On divorce

  • All the best for the future Jamie

  • Dear Jamie

    As always a beautifully written piece.

    Sending love and warm hugs from Cape Town.

    Oh yes and when are we going to meet finally?

    After all I am the self sppointed life president of your fan club.

    All bests and keep your passport up to date.

    Love from Maddy and me

    Michael

  • Andrew Gunn

    Hi Jamie, as somebody who has gone through divorce I understand your pain, thank you for sharing your perspective.
    Take care,
    Andrew

  • Sorry to hear this, Jamie. The second such announcement that, sadly I’ve read in the past week.
    Good to read that it that it has been as sensible a process as it sounds.
    All the best for the future.

  • Alastair Green

    I was divorced in 1997, having been married for 12 years. It is definitely a painful experience. The boys’ lives have been enriched by you and as a very selfish person, I admire your giving them a home and a brighter future than would likely have been the case.

  • Kathy

    Jamie, I am so sorry to read about the pain you and Fiona have experienced. I have a great deal of respect and empathy for you both. Life truly goes by in a blink of an eye and happiness can be enhanced by making difficult decisions at times. I wish you and your family a lifetime of happiness. I’m hopeful you are all on your way. Thank you for sharing such personal details of your life. Hugs from Napa!

  • Jamie firstly well done for being honest!
    I have faced much death in my life. Tragic death. The breakdown of a marriage however and the associated trauma that goes with it is very much misunderstood. In death there is finality and one is able to move on. In divorce however there are repercussions and the ripple effect of those continue. In death much support comes; in divorce much judgement comes. Unnecessary judgement from those who often have no idea of the circumstances one has lived through.
    As a piece of advice for those supporting ‘friends’ and family through divorce; be there for them! Be there as much as you would for someone who has suffered a death.
    While in death everyone surrounds the family, often in divorce many walk away and yet I firmly believe much greater support is needed. Be aware that those affected by divorce have not necessary chosen that path and the TRAUMA attached to their walk has not been seen. The pain and the loss is as immense as in a death, BUT the reaction of those around can add much more grief onto the pile than is necessary.
    It is interesting that little judgement comes from those already divorced….why? Perhaps they have lived through the experience themselves enough to know that pain is pain, loss is loss, grief is grief and that no one can help that process unless they come with the open arms of Jesus and bring his love to light up the path.
    Marriage is sacred – but so too is the life of an individual who is struggling to find a new way when they married and never intended it to end.
    Blessings to you both Jamie and Fiona.X

  • Ruth Guest

    So terribly sorry to hear about this Jamie! Very brave of you to write so honestly about it. Thinking of you & your family! x

  • Bob Parsons Alberta

    Admire your honesty Jamie. You have done a great job with the boys imo. All the best.
    Guess no more bubbly tastings?

  • Cam Haskell

    As always, admirable honesty and candour from you Jamie. But along with this what is obviously an incredible amount of maturity and enduring respect for one another. Best of luck to all of your family.

  • Magnus Traustason

    I am sorry to hear about your divorce. I was your boys’ age when my parents got divorced, and I can only say, it was a very strange and difficult time. At first they sort of kept a distance from each other, but are now (and really always have been) on friendly terms, thank the gods!

    Best of luck for the future, and thanks for all the insightful and very personal posts.

  • So sorry that it didn’t work out for Fiona and you.

    Very best wishes for the future, for you all.

  • william chambers

    Very sorry to hear this. I wish you both well.

  • Robert Joseph

    Wishing you well for the next part of your journey…

  • Nicoletta Dicova

    Admire your honesty Jamie.
    You can feel that what you have written comes straight from the heart.
    There is a reason for you to be going through this, everything that happens to us happens for our good, with the time it becomes more evident why..
    Keep on believing in second chances.
    They come for the honest and authentic people.
    All the best,
    N.

  • Vinogirl

    So sorry, been there myself, hard.

  • On top of being the best wine blogger around, you are a brave, insightful and honest human being.
    Thanks for opening your heart to people like me that you don’t know
    all the best

  • Thank you for telling us this private story. Having had a divorce after 23 years myself I have learned that being able to share the (good) memories is very important. For your boys, your ex and yourself! Family is important and can be of great value, but they can also be destroying lives. Pressure in the past? …. beware of family stress in the future.
    You have a wonderful job, a great passion. Thank you for sharing a lot of that with us. Keep on making memories with all kinds of love, also with us :) It is going to be alright :) Cheers to the future!

  • Thanks for your perspective. It is rare to read something about taking the high road and learning from tough mistakes. You are a great writer and I’ve always loved your stuff.

  • Angela Reddin

    Jamie, thank you for this piece. Hugely personal and very moving. I wish you and your family as much clear water as can be had through this time. Hope to see you soon.

    Best Angela

  • Alison Carpenter

    Thank you for writing this Jamie. We continue to love and respect you both, and are so sorry about what you’ve been through.

    Michael & Alison xx

  • Ness Rogerson

    Sorry to hear about the divorce Jamie, but how brilliant you two could sort it out amicably. For sure you have been through a lot more than most have to cope with. Every blessing for the future. Love Ness

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