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What would they have done differently?

We have written before about the Marriage Foundation and its campaigning remit. We’ve also written about its founder, Sir Paul Coleridge, who recently announced his retirement from the High Court bench to concentrate his formidable powers on the foundation’s work. In fact, as part of its campaign to put marriage back at the heart of society, it has just published a survey which canvassed the views of almost 900 separated or divorced people about various aspects of their separation. Although this is a small sample of people in the context of the population at large, there are a few interesting points to come out of this latest survey.

The headline grabbing statistics are that one third of the people surveyed regretted the impact that their split had on their children. However that was in the context of a question about what they most regretted about separating, with other answers including the financial impact, losing the house, or the way the divorce/separation was conducted. We found this quite interesting: in our experience, for most parents with children, the children are absolutely the most important thing to think about on separation, and the fact that only a third of the sample felt that the impact on the children was a matter of regret must be quite reassuring to those contemplating a split.

Carrying on with this theme, 25 per cent of respondents thought that the children were most affected by the separation (with 35 per cent saying they themselves were); nearly the same proportion of respondents thought there was no negative impact on their children whatsoever. Furthermore, most indicated that both their relationship with their child and their children’s personal relationships had not been affected.

We can look at this two ways: how can as many as a quarter of the people surveyed not consider that their children were adversely affected by divorce, despite many medical and scientific studies concluding quite the opposite – are divorced parents in denial? Or is it, in fact, that as long as separation and divorce are handled bravely and positively, with efforts continually made to keep open channels of communication, the impact on children need not be adverse? In our experience, most separating parents are highly tuned-in to their children’s feelings and can experience great initial guilt about changing the family; but instead of going into denial, most go out of their way to do things as well as they can for the children’s sakes. Some children are, of course, affected negatively and the potential impact should not be underestimated. There are professionals and agencies who can help, if this is the case.

When asked what they would change about the way they separated, 10 per cent said they would have warned the children earlier about the impending split, 17 per cent would have talked to the children more about what was happening during the divorce, 10 per cent wanted the children to understand exactly why they were getting a divorce, and 13 per cent would have argued less in front of the children. Added up, that’s half of respondents who would have done something differently in relation to the children, but the same proportion wouldn’t have done, showing that they feel the situation was handled appropriately at the time. The survey also revealed good awareness about the destabilising effect of parental conflict on children.

We were also interested to see that almost 80 per cent of couples did not seek any form of counselling or therapy when their marriage or relationship was in difficulty, with many respondents saying it was either too late, or they didn’t think it would make a difference to them. When asked to look back and ask what they would change about their relationship, only 19 per cent said they would seek counselling or other professional help for difficulties they were having. We wonder what this is about, but we do understand that our cultural reserve still makes counselling a taboo subject to many people, in contrast to other cultures such as America where therapy is part of the mainstream. A general reluctance to seek counselling perhaps also indicates a lack of belief in the effectiveness of relationship therapy in being able to make things work. All we can say to this is that we certainly recommend doing all that can be done to save a relationship if you consider that it is worth saving, and trained professionals can be very effective in assisting you to make those important decisions, either together or separately.

Those behind the research at the Marriage Foundation have highlighted the apparent perils caused by people not attending marriage preparation classes, or not seeking counselling when things got difficult. Sir Paul Coleridge has bemoaned the “dangerous level of ignorance amongst those who embark on separation and divorce” and has called for greater awareness of therapeutic services for couples going through difficult times. Whilst we agree that a greater awareness of these services would be beneficial, they need to be accessible and affordable to all. In our experience, which naturally reflects the experience of our clients, not all marriages are good marriages: some are better ended. We feel resources ought to be concentrated on allowing those relationships to end with dignity and as little stress and cost as possible so as to protect the children involved, and allow the adults to co-parent successfully in the future.

If you would like to read the survey, you can access it here.  If you’d like to make an appointment to see Sue, Simon, Adam or Gail to discuss anything in this blog, do call us on 01223 443333.


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