Divorce dilemma: ‘My single life looks great on paper, but I feel miserable now I’m not married’

Hugh is 50, divorced, and has rebuilt a successful single life – on paper. Inside, he’s unhappy and misses being married. Divorce specialist Charlotte Friedman gives her advice

My divorce absolute came through a year ago and I could not have been happier to close a very unpleasant chapter in my life. The last five years of my marriage were so awful that they completely obliterated any sense that it had once been a happy union.

I tell myself that my wife and I once loved each other, and that there were good times. But all I can remember are the arguments, recriminations, the stultifying paralysis that lurked for years when neither of us had the guts to call it quits.

It was that pathetic mantra – better the devil you know – that kept us together. Fear of starting anew.

But eventually my wife met someone and asked me to move out. I won’t bore you with the dramas that caused. If I’m honest, there was a certain level of bitterness on my part that she had trumped me by having the courage to move on.

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It was that pathetic mantra – better the devil you know – that kept us together

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Anyway, though that relationship didn’t last, it propelled her to the understanding that there was a life out there if she had the enterprise to grab it. And that was good not just for her but for both of us, because it gave me a kick up the arse to do likewise.

Since then, I’ve done all the things that advice columns like yours would tell me: rekindled old interests (in my case, sailing), signed up for a night class (Mandarin) and committed to trying new things (a road trip in the States in the summer, hiking in China planned next year).

I bought an off-plan apartment shell in an old textile factory and I’ve been doing that up myself, and I’ve even tried speed dating (hated it).

On paper I look as though I am coping. Or at least trying to move on. But the truth of the matter is that for the past four or five months I have felt absolutely miserable, so down and rudderless that it is becoming an increasing struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Why?

I don’t love my ex, and I wouldn’t want to go back to that marriage. Nor do I want to leap into another relationship.

I think that, somehow, I miss the structure of what marriage provided and my life is now some never-ending black hole. What comes next?

Charlotte replies: Hugh, I think your question has taken a lot of courage to ask. I see that you have rationalised your marriage as being so bad in the last five years that somehow you have missed the mourning bit.

That is essential if you are ever to really move on. It is one thing to take the advice of well-meaning friends or to follow blindly what advice columnists advocate, but it is altogether another to take it in the absence of doing some serious work concerning your feelings.

Climbing Kilimanjaro or bungee jumping from the top of the Eiffel Tower will take your mind off things temporarily but lurking, ready to pounce, are all the feelings that you have unsuccessfully put on the back burner while you are doing them.

In some ways, the end of your marriage may have been a relief or even welcome, but whichever way you cut it, it is a loss. A loss of familiarity, companionship, security, stability, a way of life. You can’t just step out of it and expect distraction techniques to provide the answer.

Now and only now, you are feeling the effects of the loss of your wife and your relationship. It seems that only now are you able to be in touch with some very real feelings about that loss. This, for you, is just the beginning of a new start and a real one, that doesn’t involve rockets to the moon for stimulation.

You will get through it: you will now start to think about what your marriage and your wife meant to you and to say goodbye to it properly. When you have done that, you will be ready and emotionally available to meet someone else with whom you can have a more peaceful and satisfying relationship.

If you need help to get through the process then do get in touch with your GP and ask for a referral to a counsellor. It is not necessary to battle these things alone and talking things through often helps.

Charlotte Friedman runs the Divorce Support Group