Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 22

Conflict & Separation

December 22

Conflict and Separation – It comes as no surprise that January is the month of the highest number of divorce petitions. This time of year, far from being festive and joyful, is the most contentious time for many couples and families. Frequently, what has been festering unspoken for the rest of the year, and maybe years before, is brought to the surface through the demands we place on ourselves and each other at Christmas.

Problems brewing

I remember with crystal clarity, the agonising months and years of trying to decide just how long it was reasonable to stay in a marriage where I was so lonely. Eight years, on and off, of couples’ counselling, no intimacy and no movement, long walks where I begged for connection, the time I was yelled at by one of the villagers for startling her when I was wailing like a banshee on the hill outside the village, thinking I was alone and in despair.

And yet, we had a small child..I had failed once before…my friends were (apparently) all happily married..what would anyone think of me? How could I do this to my daughter?

The questions swirled round and round for literally years. I did a coaching course. We had to find subjects on which to be coached. I tried desperately to find things that were manageable and not related to possible separation. I failed miserably.

Facing ourselves honestly


Perhaps the most difficult thing to face in considering sundering an important relationship, and particularly a marriage, is what we have wanted to believe about ourself, and what we have wanted others to believe about us. If we are the one who is choosing to walk away, we potentially face the wrath and judgment of society, of friends, of family. Our place in the fabric of life.


Avoiding making the decision

It took probably four years for me to find the courage to separate. And I will acknowledge that at some point in those four years, I made a conscious decision to have an affair to try and meet some of my needs and keep my marriage together. I have worked with people for decades now, and I am aware of how many different (and frequently unhelpful) things that people do to try and stay in unhappy marriages. And they all have consequences.

Facing the Consequences

One of the biggest consequences of my prevarication was the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent financial insecurity I have faced since. Yet I also know that I did not have the necessary resolve until I did. Some of that comes with the accumulation of a thousand daily proofs, that at some point becomes sufficient evidence to act. Like the straw that broke the camel’s back, the final tipping point may seem, of itself, strangely insignificant.

Unexpected Outcomes

Things do not turn out as you may expect. For years, one of the things holding me back was concern for my husband’s emotional state of wellbeing. He had experienced significant loss and difficulty in his childhood, and I feared for his ability to survive this one. Yet he was dating again within a few months, and had found ‘the one’, in less than six. Whereas I have lived alone for many years, lacking the courage to face further heartbreak.

However, the judgment I experienced, was far less than I had feared. Mostly it came from those who, for whatever reason, felt themselves trapped in an unhappy marriage and unable to break free. My experience has been far more, that friends, colleagues and clients have felt free to unburden themselves to me, knowing what I have faced in myself and in my life.

Experiment with Changing your beliefs

I am fortunate in that, despite the fact that my life has not turned out as I may have hoped or expected at the time, I have never regretted my decision. But often it is not our situation that needs to change. It is our beliefs and our attitude. I would strongly advocate that you explore all possible avenues before making any irreversible decisions. A practical application of this would be to ask yourself the following question when debating what to do in particular situation: “If I did not feel trapped/stuck, what would I do in this situation?’ Sometimes the answer may surprise you.


If any of this resonates with you, I highly recommend finding professional support. Friends and family are good, but will often have their own agendas in advice they may feel impelled to offer. Of far greater assistance, is a non-judgmental ear which will allow you to plumb the depths of your understanding of yourself and your situation, allowing you to find your own internal resolve for movement or for staying.

If reading is something you find helpful, I can highly recommend Esther Perel. She has written two deeply insightful books, ‘Mating in Captivity’, and ‘The State of Affairs’, she has numerous YouTube videos and a podcast that examines these complex human relationships with empathy, warmth and understanding. If you want to get in touch with me, I offer online and in person coaching.

Whatever you are experiencing, you are not alone. I wish you courage, patience, determination and compassion for both yourself and those with whom you have lost the way.


Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 7

December 7

Learning from ‘Failure’


Learning from failure – yesterday I fell down. I’m choosing not to call it failure. At some late stage of the evening, I realised I had not kept to my commitment to do a daily blog. You may imagine the ensuing internal dialogue.

“Hmm, you can’t even manage 6 consecutive days!” Are you really going to fail to keep to your commitment?

“Well, I’m not sure I have anything of value to say today.”

”I’m sure you could think of something if you could be bothered to put your mind to it.”

” Well I’m not sure anyone would even notice! It’s not as though anyone seems to be reading it, or commenting, or re-posting or sharing it. Maybe I can just skip a day and nobody will notice.” (They did!)

”That’s not the point. You made a commitment to yourself. And you know that a large part of the point of writing a blog like this is to help keep yourself on track at what has historically been a difficult time of year for you. So what does it mean to give up on yourself so soon? Don’t you have any staying power?”

”You know what? I used to think that was true, but I have proved myself wrong! You know the weekly meditation I started running to make sure I started my week on a positive footing? 7 years!!! 7 years, without fail, other than a couple of Mondays when I was sick or travelling. I’ve run that meditation from England, France, Italy, South Africa and Australia! So there! 

And what about my Italian learning? I’ve got a 455 day streak on Duolingo, and it would have been almost double that if they hadn’t changed the cutoff time and I hadn’t gone walking in the bush for 5 days!”

“I agree about the meditation – that’s really something – well done! The duolingo I think is more about your being so competitive.”

”You are right in a way, but hey, I am actually teaching in Italian, now, so it can’t be all down to competitiveness! And anyway, I’m going to follow the advice of @James Cleer in #Atomic Habits – never miss twice.”

” Ok. Go to bed then – it’s late.”

Interesting that if I had committed to someone else to do something on a daily basis, I would have knuckled down and done it. Because I didn’t think anyone was reading my blog regularly, I thought it didn’t matter so much if I ‘only’ let myself down. And yet, a large part of me knows that self-respect, self-compassion and self-care are really pre-requisites for applying any of those to others on a consistent basis. And if I want anyone to treat me respect, compassion and care, the best way to achieve that is to model that behaviour for myself …and others.

Not many people really achieve this, I don’t think. Not many people achieve self forgiveness, or forgiveness of others. Not many have walked the Long Walk to Freedom. One person who did – though it was a very long and painful walk – 27 years, to be precise – was Nelson Mandela.

Here are some of his thoughts on learning from failure, and of what it means to truly forgive.


I think I will further explore this theme of forgiveness tomorrow. Meantime, if you would like to read my earlier blogs (other than Dec 6!), you can find them here.

I would have been grateful for some daily inspiration in earlier Advents. Please can you help make up for my technical inadequacies by sharing this post in a way that the people who might also consider it helpful, will be able to find it! Thanks, and never mind the dark and the rain, tomorrow is another new beginning, another day to rise, to get back up again, even if you have fallen.