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Why I chose to write the Bad Wife’s Guide to Divorce

To get what I wanted from my divorce, I had to be tough and demanding – things women are constantly told we must not be.

Taking control of the divorce can be a way of taking control of the situation. Photo: Keonl Cabral / Flickr / Creative Commons
Taking control of the divorce can be a way of taking control of the situation. Photo: Keonl Cabral / Flickr

One day last year, my husband came home and announced he was in love with someone else and was leaving me. I was devastated. It was – without a doubt – the worst night of my life. A night I almost chose not to live through. That’s hard for me to reconcile now, when I look back at where I was and how far I have come. But the journey has been long and hard. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of self-examination – as well as examination of my marriage.

The first month after he left I was a mess. I was both obsessed with getting my divorce moving and unable to do almost anything else. Terrified he would get there first, taking control of the situation became incredibly important to me. Under the law, there has to be “fault” in a divorce. So if he had filed first, as I hadn’t cheated on him, he would have had to file under the catchall “unreasonable behaviour”. The idea of him listing my flaws as reasons he left me was simply too painful to bear. Thankfully, I made it to court first. Thanks to the good advice of my lawyer and friends who work in the law, my divorce itself was pretty smooth. My recovery less so.

At first there were odd things I simply couldn’t do at all. I had to stop watching Pointless for example. Because we had watched it together and because over the month he was seeing his other woman I had noticed his distraction as we did so. Now I realised the cause of that was his constant texting of her.

I found myself terrified of getting public transport. Then I realised it wasn’t getting the bus – it was walking to it. Down the street where so often I had hoped I would bump into him on the way to his shift or on the way home. He was in every part of my life and shaking that was really, really hard.

To get what I needed from my divorce, both emotionally and – to be frank – financially, I had to break my programming. I am a facilitator and compromiser by nature. As women we are taught that to be anything else is ugly, unfeminine and unbecoming. Even my wonderful friends and family – without whom I could not have got through the past year – would talk admiringly about “dignity”.

To me dignity felt like a prison. A persona I had to adopt to please those who cared about me, to ensure I got what I needed from my divorce. It didn’t match the anger, bitterness and sheer hatred I felt. It felt like a lie.

But dignity or no, I had to be tough and demanding. I had to be all those things women are constantly told we must not be. I had to be money-grubbing, gold-digging, a shyster. Because, at the end of the day, why should I suffer financially for his failure to respect me, to respect our marriage? Why should I be homeless as he lived with that woman in his new boxy suburban nightmare?

As someone who has written often about feminism, one thing I have been forced to examine are my thoughts and feeling about her. I hate her. I judge her. I am ok with that.

My feminism is an extension of my humanity. It is not a separate entity. I do not believe I am humanly capable of feeling any other way towards the woman who played such a large part in the destruction of my happiness. I do not believe my feminism asks other of me. I blame him more – he is the one who made promises to me he was incapable of keeping – but she must take and live with her portion of the blame and the knowledge both of what she has done and what he is capable of.

Part of what kept me going as I fought my way back to health and sanity was writing. I’ve always written about my personal demons (my weight, my lack of looks and my surgery for example) and was advised to do so again by my therapist and by supportive friends. My words flowed from my heart to my finger tips and they helped. But I also sought out the words of others and didn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted catharsis. I got advice on how to have a nice, friendly divorce. I didn’t want that. I was angry. I was hurt. I wanted permission I suppose. I wanted to know that it was ok to feel that way. I didn’t find it. I had to give myself permission.

My writing did that for me, and I hope that if another person (man or woman) finds themselves in a similar situation and happens to stumble across The Bad Wife’s Guide to Divorce it helps them too. As I have so far had over 3,000 hits in two days and a tsunami of supportive comments from friends and strangers alike, I think I have touched a chord and maybe plugged the gap I found when I went looking.

One of the most interesting reactions I have had as I told people about this project was about the name. It wasn’t universal, but the reaction spilt almost neatly into two camps. Women loved it. They understood the sense of the whole person that the title is intended to display. Men – on the other hand – were often quite shocked by it. As I was the injured party, they could not see the sense in labelling myself as a bad wife. It was quite a binary take on the situation. Good vs evil. Right and wrong.

I would have failed myself and my recovery spectacularly if I only wrote about the flaws of my ex-husband and his mistress. Having been brought down to almost nothing, I needed to rebuild myself. I was not a perfect wife. Far from it. I have huge lessons to learn both about myself and about how to be a better partner. If I put all the blame for the failure of my marriage on others, I would lose the chance to learn and to grow. I have to accept my share.

One day, I would like to fall in love again. That I can even think this is an extraordinary measure of how far I have come in the past year. In those first weeks and months, the thought of ever again trusting anyone was anathema to me. It took me a long time, a lot of therapy and a lot of work on myself to realise that my ex-husband is (to misuse a meme) not all men. That I am a person deserving of better love than he was capable of giving me and that it is my happiness that counts. It is from that that the happiness of my partner, family and friends can flow. That if I am unhappy, I am incapable of making anyone else happy, no matter how hard I try.

Too much of my life – before and during my marriage – has been spent in the pursuit of unattainable perfection and a blistering punishment for myself at mot being capable of achieving it. I rarely gave myself a break, the benefit of the doubt or even the odd compliment. I had such a dark and unhealthy vision of myself. It manifested in my physicality and my mental state. At the end of last year, I had an operation to force myself to change my physicality (I have since lost six and a half stone and have never felt nor looked better) and the positive impact of this on my health has had an equally dramatic impact on my mental health. To put it simply, I like myself. I like the version of me I am becoming.

One thing that has been raised with me is the potential for this blog to put off would be suitors. The old me would have worried terribly about this. I felt so strongly that my attractions were so very limited that anything that tipped the scale even further against me was to be avoided at all costs. New me sees it a little differently.

I have a fantastic life. I have a great flat, a great job and a social life I can barely keep up with. Love – when it comes – will be in addition to that. I want someone to complement me, I no longer need someone to complete me. And whoever that person is, he won’t be so weak as to worry before we even start how I might react to his eventual betrayal. I don’t want a man who is thinking that way, just as much as they might not want me. I can allow myself to be choosy now.

I will always now be the author of the Bad Wife’s Guide. It will always be a part of who I am. I am very proud of it as a piece of work and as a project. But it will remain just another string to my bow. I will return now to the more traditional political writing that I enjoy so much.

I am the Bad Wife. But what I have learned over the last year is just how much more I can be. I hope that for anyone going through what I did, you find the same destination in your journey. It’s an incredibly long, hard slog. It is far, far from over for me. But for all the pitfalls. For the night I nearly didn’t make it. For the times I thought I would never stop crying, I would still never go back to what I was and where I was. This Bad Wife is going to enjoy myself as I grow beyond the labels my marriage placed on me and beyond the new labels I have placed on myself. They say life begins at 40. So I have until February next year to prepare. Bring it on.

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