2015 was a dark year for lots of my nearest and dearest. As well as some more distant friends, four of my closest friends and my brother all got divorced, early in their marriages. They all stayed with us at different times and our Marina apartment became Heartbreak Hotel.
It was tough going; lots of ice cream was eaten and lots of tears were spilled, but I’m happy to say they all ended the year on really positive notes and are now in a far better place than they were at the end of their previous relationships.
Over Christmas in the UK, we were shocked to hear of more friends, and friends of friends – all couples in their 30s with young kids – whose marriages had recently come to the same conclusion.
Must be our age, we thought. The rounds of hen and stag dos, destination weddings and new arrivals had started to dry up and now it seemed we were at ‘the divorce stage’.
While I can’t comment on divorce between non-parents, I recall words I once read on divorce post-baby – “I’m not surprised that some couples break up after having a baby. What surprises me is that any couple doesn’t!” It rang true to me at the time and I won’t forget it, as my own marriage had a tough time after having my two sons close together.
We got through it with my husband refusing to entertain the D word; us slowly coming back to life in other ways; and then us redesigning – contriving at first – the dynamics of our Marriage 2.0.
My husband and I, and a few close friends whose marriages have also just made it through the relationship hand grenade of having babies, have discussed what’s happened and what went wrong at great length. We weren’t being smug or gossiping; we cared that lots of our friends were going through break-ups. But from my intimate view of these marriage breakdowns, I’ve learned that the signs of a fundamentally healthy – or unhealthy – relationship aren’t always what you would think.
From my own marriage meltdown and subsequent bounce-back, and the demise of so many marriages around me, I’ve learnt the following:
Healthy couples argue. Many we know who split seemed happy from a distance, but were either too scared or didn’t care enough to argue. They just weren’t communicating. Celebrity psychologist Dr Phil says once a women doesn’t care to argue any more, she’s checked out and it’s over. Of course, fighting all the time is unhealthy, and arguing should be constructive and away from the kids.
Also, couples need fun times together. It may sound basic, but those who went their separate ways were always praised for maintaining their independence, but they forgot to have fun as a couple. Passing like formula-feeding ships in the night, talking only about the kids and work and being around each other but not really present does you no good long term. Make time, put your phones down and have some fun.
And, finally, fake it till you make it. Go through the motions of a good relationship – date nights, being affectionate, sending thoughtful messages, even flirting. I think it has to start somewhere and ‘practising’ triggers brain connections and, before you know it, you’re feeling it all over again… if it is still there to be felt.