Yesterday I did a blog post lamenting my week as a single parent in Home Alone. At the end of the post I asked “how on earth do single parents cope?” Once again I reached out to some of my friends who have experienced this in their own lives. Most times my own idea of “going solo” is never grounded in the reality of what it would be like to actually go through the process to get to being single again.
The first story I want to share with you is by my dear friend Barrie Bramley. I met Barrie in 2008 when we were both presenting at the AMASA Annual Conference in Little Switzerland and our friendship has grown over the years. Single parenting is not ‘old hat’ to Barrie; before I get to his story here is a bit about the man himself, in his own words:
“I’m defined by many things, and depending on what day you ask me; I might answer with any one, or a combination, of the following….. I’m 42. I’m male. I’m White. I’m a dad to two beautiful girls. I’m a friend. I’m a son. I’m a brother. I’m curious. I love disruptive thoughts. I’m easily bored. I was born in Johannesburg. I lived in Durban for 11 years. I’m a divorcee. I live in Johannesburg. I’m a South African. I’m not a fan of any sport, but I play most. I hate injustice. I’m open-minded. I believe in growth and development. I think people don’t play enough, laugh enough, and eat chocolate ice-cream enough. I speak at conferences about business change and trends. I’m a consultant. I’m creative. My favourite clients use me to disrupt, create and enthuse. I’m learning to cry.”
Barrie said that how he came to be divorced is not as important as the lessons he has learned about divorce. I think this is a very fair comment and agree that it would be just one side of the story.
There are multiple sides to the divorce story. Her side/His side/The children’s side/The truth.
He continued; “Sadly, most people surrounding a divorcing family, pick one, or abdicate almost completely. Divorce doesn’t just impact a family, it impacts an entire community. Marriages begin before the ceremony, and end before the divorce.”
I grew up, met a girl, we got married, had children together, without ever imagining divorce would ever be something I would consider or be a part of. And there I was, 17 years after the ceremony, getting a divorce.
We didn’t both wake up one day and jointly decide divorce was our only option. For one of us it was a long journey that began months and months before it began for the other one. I do think that the morning you wake up and think about it as an option, you need to bring it up in a safe forum with your partner. The sooner the better. The longer you hold a thought like that outside of the context of your marriage relationship, no matter what state of health or “unhealth” it’s in, the less chance you have of ever finding a possible way to avoid it. And having been through it, avoiding it is first prize. I’ve spoken to enough other divorced people, and for most of them, holding it together would almost always have been first prize.
Before we got divorced our life seemed like everyone else’s. It all seemed quite normal. We fought, we loved, we laughed, we cried, we stormed out, we ignored each other from time to time. We created, we entertained, we watched TV together. Divorce took one of us completely by surprise. I think it can be like that for many couples. One partner has done all the work around the divorce. They’ve fully processed what it will look like, feel like, taste like, what it will require. They slowly build up the capacity to go through with it. The other partner doesn’t know it’s gone that far. They’re not necessarily unaware, simply not as aware. When the bomb is dropped, it’s now over for the one, and the other one is only just starting to process what’s happening. At that point, I think it’s often too late. They’ve become so disconnected, so disjointed, and so misaligned that it needs a fairy godmother’s wish to provide what’s needed to change direction.
As for whether I thought it would ever be an option for me? I remember the minister who married us, saying to us that the word ‘divorce’ should never, ever enter our vocabulary. Not under any circumstance or situation. Not in jest, not in frustration, not as a threat, not ever! I guess he was right. While I accept that divorce is now the norm for more than 50% of couples and families, I do think work should be done to work out why it’s arrived here, and what needs to be shifted to reverse the trend? So no, divorce was never an option for me.
Learning to be single again
The thought of being single again, having been part of a family of four for as long as I had been, was terrifying.
Everything had to change. Nothing would or could remain as it was. I spent 3 months holed up in my new home. Our girls spend one full week with each of us, alternating weekly. I had to learn how to become a ‘full time’ dad. I learned lots very quickly. I inherited one of the family cats, and bought a bird. I watched lots of TV, I kept seeing a therapist, I avoided phone calls and social invitations. I remember the first night I eventually went out with friends, I arrived an hour late very anxious about being there. As for dating, I had no idea. 41, single dad of two, 17 years out of the single scene. What now? I often laughed at myself. I still do : )
The Bramley’s have a family website: www.bramley.co.za
I asked Barrie what can family and friends of divorcees do to help.
- Don’t take sides. Whatever you think you know, you only one side of at least 4 sides. Whatever you think you understand, you probably don’t understand at all. As people know nothing about the intimate goings on of your own relationship, so you know nothing about anyone else’s, no matter what you’ve heard.
- Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be polite. Don’t avoid conversations. If you have questions, ask them. If you feel like you need to make a judgment or a statement, make it. Put everything on the table. Of course it’s going to be difficult at times to do that, but far better to have everything out in the open than for anyone to endure the secret conversations that go on behind closed doors. We attend weddings as witnesses to a union. We attend friend’s and family weddings as guests and fellow travelers to the life these two people will live. How shallow and weak of any of us to abandon ship at the most difficult moment.
- Be as supportive as you can. You don’t have to fix anything, but don’t make things more difficult by avoiding anyone. Being supportive of someone doesn’t mean that you’re taking sides or vindicating them of behavior you’ve heard about or witnessed first hand that you don’t agree with. Certainly people behave badly from time to time, but it doesn’t make them bad people.
- If there are children involved, make them your priority. Suck up your pride, suck up your judgement, and be there in whatever form will ensure the children are cared for and looked after. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve watched take sides against one of the adult partners only to make the support-net of the children smaller.
- Don’t project your own relationship rubbish onto a family going through divorce. I feel confident to suggest that all couples will flirt with divorce, at least once, during their relationship. Marriage is tough stuff. I can’t help but suspect that there are many people who use the breakdown of someone else’s family as an outlet to their own relationship and personal problems. Toughen up and deal with your own stuff in the appropriate spaces and places.
I still believe in family, and 2 people committing to an adventure together. I can’t imagine any other way to live my life. I can’t see how you can create any powerful bond with anyone, outside of a secure commitment. It’s cliched, but relationships are a daily exercise. A daily discipline. It’s falling in love with the same person all over again, every single day. Going forward I’ll never substitute a commitment someone makes to me with something urgent in the present. I want my relationship to be my number one priority, and not allow anything or anyone to ever steal it’s place, even if there’s a good rationale to do so while this project is on, or while I’m chasing this position, or closing this deal, or while that person is in town. You get married to one particular person to do what you can, while you’re together, to help them become the best person they want to be. It’s largely selfless. Otherwise why embark on such an adventure in the first place?
What would you do differently knowing what you know now?
- I’d find a therapist immediately. Someone to help you get perspective from the get-go. Someone qualified with bundles of experience in this particular space. Get the best person you can with the money you have. It’s worth every cent.
- If children are involved, make them the center of every decision. P.S. No matter how amazing you think you are, no matter how wronged you think you’ve been, there’s often a massive difference between what’s best for them and what’s best for you.
- For the sake of your children, guard whatever relationship you have with your ex. I’m seeing more and more literature suggesting that it’s not divorce that messes up children, it’s the poor relationships between the ex’s that does it. Both before and after the divorce.
- Surround yourself with positive people. People who will stand by your side, no matter what. And then make sure you have people who will say things you don’t want to hear, but need to.
- Divorce is an inflection point. An opportunity to go inwards and do some interior work. There are always things you contributed to the breakdown of your marriage. Find those things. Find healing. No matter how hard it feels like it is, you can come out on the other side a much better person.
- Remember that there will come a day, no matter how shitty it gets, where the world looks like a different place. The colours are brighter, warmth is warmer, rain is sweeter, birds are chirpier, and you’re healthier. If you hold on, do the work, don’t do too many stupid things, it’ll come. It always does.
Barrie recommends the following for information and support:
Barrie may be contacted directly via his business website which is www.barriebramley.com
Thank you Barrie for sharing your story with me and allowing me to post it here.
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