Dear Mrs J,
As someone in their late thirties, I didn’t think I’d find myself writing into an online agony aunt but after seeing the advice you give I realised it’s no different to asking a friend for advice. I suppose the difference is the advice you give is available for everyone to see. I don’t think from what I say anyone will be able to tell who I am… and maybe the advice you give me will be able to help some other people. Be
fore all of this, I was planning on leaving my partner. We’ve been together a long time and we have children together (under 10). We’ve never got married and have both been unhappy for a long time. Neither of us have found anyone else but, if we did, I think that would just be a catalyst for speeding up the separation.
I don’t think it would have come as a big surprise and we’d spoken about separating before. With all of this now though it’s not as easy. The kids aren’t at school and we rely on each other being in the house to look after them.
We didn’t get on well before all of this and now tensions are even higher. I don’t know how we can carry on like this but, equally I don’t know how we could possibly separate. I don’t want to give any more information because it’s the Isle of Man and I don’t want anyone being able to guess who I am… but I am male, she is female and we both have full time jobs we’re now doing from home. At the moment I don’t think we’ll lose our jobs but, with everything being so uncertain at the moment, that could also happen.
The question is do we stick this out for a little bit longer when this could be our lives for quite some time? Or do we separate, and make what is already a stressful time even more chaotic? As I’m writing this I’m thinking we stick it out – but any advice would be really appreciated.
As I always do, I read each problem once – then sleep on it. I then re-read it a few more times and start to formulate how I might talk to you if you were sitting right in front of me, chatting over a cuppa or a glass of wine. Firstly, I want to say a huge well done for being a decent bloke and for clearly wanting to do the right things in the right way. If you were feckless or selfish, or didn’t care for your partner and children, you might have bolted some time ago. You haven’t actively become involved with anyone else, which might have forced a decision, so I sense doing the right thing is probably very important to you: my friend, that is part of the battle won.
Considering leaving a relationship is a weighty decision, of course, but these strange times mean the choices are laden with even harder options. Even though you are with someone in the same house, it can be a terribly lonely place. If you are not happy together, and not sharing anything meaningful, that’s very hard indeed, and now you are in the most stressful period most of us have ever experienced. Married or not, unpicking a long-term relationship that has produced children means huge soul-searching, trying to behave in the best way you both can manage and having some very grown up conversations about money, possessions, access to the kids etc.
Similarly, grown up conversations will be needed should you decide to make a go of it – but you have some work to do first.
You need to start by working out how you personally feel about your current situation, and how you see your future: by putting pen to paper in this letter you have in some small way begun that process. Writing things down is a very powerful tool you have at your disposal, and you can do it anytime and anywhere: it doesn’t hurt anyone, the words have not been said aloud, and it will certainly help to flush out and make sense of what must feel like a tangled web of feelings and choices.
As your kids are under 10, I know that they will be very demanding on your time – you will be playing with them, trying to do some schoolwork with them, keeping the home fires burning, trying to do your own job from home while worrying about the possibility of redundancy etc. No wonder you feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. However, the next part of the battle is essential: you need to carve out some time to have a really good, honest, deep talk with your partner. In other times, I would have suggested sending the smallies to stay with their grandparents for a couple of days, but that is clearly not an option right now.
If the kids go to bed at a reasonable time, maybe choose a night when you and your partner can have a glass or two of wine and have the very big conversation that probably feels like the elephant in the room – where is your relationship heading? How is she feeling? What are your visions of how the future might look, whether together or apart? How must things change to achieve this? Trying to keep your respective tempers at this point will be pivotal – so choose an evening when things haven’t been too fraught between you, or the kids haven’t been too vile! If you are brave, you could even share some of the things you have been exploring on paper – maybe suggest she does the same, and swap “letters”? You might find that the proverbial dam gets breached, and the impasse you find yourselves in can start to be confronted. It may get very emotional – but that needs to happen. Big boys DO cry, as much as big girls do. It is essential that the two of you dig down to the stuff that hurts – bring it up to the light and see what you both have, even if the prospect terrifies you.
If you agree to part, you will need to do it after lockdown is over – that much is obvious. By then you should have a clearer view of your job situations and how your finances might look. I would advise you to seek some kind of counselling or arbitration, even if both of you want to behave well: do this for the sake of your children. From what I have observed in some of my wider family, it can get very messy around access and maintenance – I would certainly advise you to have any arrangements made, to your mutual agreement, and ratified in some way.
You seem willing to consider staying together, which is indeed admirable. I would do some research about counselling: Relate may be offering sessions virtually, by video, and there are probably some online resources you can access. You BOTH must be prepared to do the work, however, not just one of you. One of you cannot be wholly responsible for the current and future state of your relationship. It may be a long road back to a good place, where you can feel joy and optimism again, with a deep bond that brings you happiness. If you think that’s worth fighting for, then start the journey.
Whatever you do, do it with care and thought for each other and for your children. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks (your friends, parents etc). As I have said in another column – you have one life and you need to be as content as you can be. Do the groundwork and you might find some wonderful reasons to stay together; or agree, together, that your time as a couple is coming to an end. Either route will require bravery: I wish you, and your partner, all the strength you need to come to a peaceful and happy place.
Mrs J xoxo