Belfast Telegraph

Why breaking up really should be much harder to do

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Eric Joyce, the Labour MP for Falkirk was ignominiously arrested in the Strangers' Bar of the House of Commons last week after what seems to have been an almighty fracas.

A glass door was shattered and parliamentarians were allegedly assaulted and headbutted by Joyce, who seemed to have 'flipped'.

There is some speculation that Joyce was 'not particularly well' after apparently separating from his second wife.

If true, this makes me feel for him. Divorce can rip and ravage all that you thought you were, consume you like a rabid fever which lingers in the cells long, long after you get over the worst of it.

A depressingly large number of marriages fail. Some people decide to get divorced for perfectly understandable reasons - violence, incompatibility, alcoholism, oppressive partners - others because they want to move on to new pastures, or feel imprisoned by the institution. But now it's all too easy; we are blase about marital split-ups, unconcerned about the emotional consequences of the momentous life change.

In classrooms full of pupils living post-divorce lives, you find an engineered normalcy; parted couples stay friends and the cultural expectation is you maybe get a new haircut or suit, a little counselling and simply move on.

In this Pollyanna world, inspirational divorcee role models are Prince Andrew and Fergie, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Jude Law and Sadie Frost.

I have recently been interviewing people affected by separation and divorce. I talked to a grieving grandma, a passionate father-novelist (Louis de Bernieres) and a damaged and recovering teenage girl. I write of my own divorce 20-plus years ago. The experience made it impossible for me to understand the ex's point of view.

Many have accused me of unseemly solipsism, of washing too many wet hankies in public, of being dementedly obsessed with the past. All true. It was all I could - and can - do.

I hear he hates me. Can't be because he carried on an affair for five years, meticulously planned his exit, leaving me to raise our boy. Must be because I didn't go quietly. I understand his fury, but not the pernicious rules of behaviour when everything falls apart.

A new book on her separation by the writer Rachel Cusk is, again, a riposte to these injunctions. It is a shockingly honest and self-absorbed account.

Conversations with her husband are like "chewing on razors"; she is appallingly intolerant of his domesticity, a man who was a house-husband for 10 years.

Her children are hers, because of the "long pilgrimage" of pregnancy. It's not pretty.

The psychotherapist Phillip Hodson and others believe we must acknowledge our primitive selves, recognise pain and sorrow when love, trust and hope fall away. The pressure to accept pivotal life-changes without fuss is damaging.

Soldiers back from wars were expected to ignore their internal traumas. Now we know there is no good war.

Couples may fake it, pretend and posture, but there is no good divorce, either.

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