When I heard the news that Chris and Christina had separated, I was dumbfounded.
Like most of our social circle, we knew that things had been a little bit tough recently. However, they had always seemed the model couple, had been together for almost ten years and for most of that time had appeared quite hopelessly in love. After each of their three children, Christina struggled through a period of postnatal depression, and some cracks had opened up. Nevertheless, we always just assumed they would work it out.
Rather than using the services of family lawyers that are trained in settling divorces with a minimum of conflict, from the moment they separated, there was never the slightest pretence of attempting to find an amicable settlement. Each hired the most aggressive lawyers they could find and threw themselves headlong into doing everything in their power to destroy the partner they had once loved and cared for so deeply.
That was three years ago.
Despite having been to court and finalising orders regarding custody and finances, there has been not the slightest let-up hostilities. Each spends an astonishing amount of time, energy and resources on devising new and exciting ways to exact their revenge. They’ve each taken their fair share of hits, but keeping getting up off the canvas to have yet another swing, like a battered boxer that simply never knows when he’s had enough.
I’m no psychologist, but I have a theory: The reason Chris and Christina are completely unable to disengage is that that they have never actually divorced. The law says they are; their living arrangements say they are, but in their hearts and minds they have not managed to cut the cords that bind them to each other. Without ever being over the loss of their former loved one, they will take any attention, even the most negative and destructive kind, over irrelevance. The constant sniping keeps them connected; and on a subconscious level is preferable to having no relationship at all.
Both Chris and Christina have had abortive attempts at new relationships with no success.
It seems that they are more interested in a warm body to sleep next to than pursuing anything meaningful. Unable to develop a deep connection and frustrated by the continued focus on their exes, the new partner’s inevitably depart in frustration and disappointment.
I am not saying that the still love each other, this is patently not the case.
One could never do the things that they have done to somebody that they love. Rather, I believe it is a deep-seated terror of the unknown and lack of self-esteem that makes losing the connection to someone they were once so close to so utterly terrifying to contemplate.
So, what are the lessons that we can learn from this cautionary tale? Here are some of my thoughts:
1. No matter what the external appearances, you absolutely can never know what is truly going on with another couple’s relationship. Never make assumptions, and never judge.
2. Separation and divorce can bring out the worst in people. No matter how in love a couple may have been, the pressure and heartbreak of the breakdown of that relationship can lead them to do and say unspeakable things to each other.
3. Marriage is genuinely hard work. This is no great revelation. However, when you see a couple that had once been so incredibly close descent into such insanity, it starkly brings home how much time and effort we need to put into our own partnerships
4. Most importantly, if you do find yourself navigating the end of a committed relationship, it is absolutely crucial to get the psychological help that you need to ensure that you have emotionally divorced yourself from your partner.
Without doing to, you will never be able to move on and like Chris and Christina risk being stuck in an indefinite cycle of vindictiveness. Getting the help you need to properly mourn and prepare for the next chapter will go a long way to helping you attain a better, healthier, happier life for you, your former partner and any children that you share together.