It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been blogging about divorce and mediation for over 10 years and I’ve never written about love writes Louisa Whitney. That struck me as being particularly strange given the work I do. It almost feels taboo to be talking about love when you talk about divorce as though you are breaching some unwritten rule.
The simple truth is that when your partner tells you they want to separate, or you make the decision to end your relationship, it doesn’t mean that love immediately evaporates into thin air. Sometimes it moved out a long time ago and other times it still sits there; the elephant in the room. Part of what we do in mediation is naming that elephant and looking it in the eye so this seemed to be a blog that needed to be written.
We all grow up with different experiences of love. We may have had parents who openly expressed their love and affection for each other. Alternatively, we may have had parents who frowned on such things but who were still kind and polite to each other. Equally some of us may have been brought up in families where love didn’t feel safe or like something you would want to embrace at all. Since we all have different life experiences we all have different feelings about love and responses to it.
We have the romantics who love a truly a romantic, soul driven love connection. The story of Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love is a classic but this scenario has been played out in so many other stories. I think the ones that immediately come to me are Angel and Buffy, or Sadie and Kevin in the Across the Barricades books by Joan Lingard. Am I showing my age and teenage experiences? If we think Disney too then we were brought up on messages that love conquers everything: racism, religious intolerance, angry parents and all manner of other situations.
As you get older you realise that things are rarely so black and white and that love does not always conquer. Indeed abuse, narcissistic personality disorder, differences in parenting and a family that does not like your spouse are some of the things that my work tells me it’s pretty darn hard for love to conquer.
One of the things that fascinates me is about the way that we express our love for people in our lives (be it our partner, our children or other family and friends). I love the 5 languages of love as this makes so much sense to me. You can make the most earnest declarations of love but if you’re saying it in Italian and your partner only speaks Mandarin they won’t know or appreciate how you feel. The 5 languages of love runs along this theme. The idea is that there are 5 love languages: acts of servitude, gifts, quality time, physical touch and words of affirmation. We all like to have love spoken to us in our primary love language. But we tend to express love in our primary language rather than in the language that is our partner (or child or other person’s) primary language. This can lead to the person we’re expressing love to not hearing what we’re trying to say. As you might imagine I see this quite a lot in my work and it’s something that often crops up when I hear people talk about difficulties in the relationships in their lives.
I have also for some years been intrigued by the commonly held myth that love can turn to hate in a heartbeat. I don’t believe it. I believe that one of the messy truths in life is that you can still love someone even though other people don’t want you to, and even though you are disgusted with yourself for feeling that way. Still feeling that intensity of emotion when you’d rather not means it’s easier to talk about hating someone but it is not always this clear cut – much as might prefer it to be.
Some clients have shared with me along the way that although their ex has behaved in an unkind, hurtful and disrespectful way they would still get back together in a heartbeat. More than one person has told me that they used to think about this happening to help them get to sleep.
So what can you do when you still love your ex but desperately don’t want to?
- Acknowledge how you feel (to yourself – you’re not obliged to share unless you feel it would be helpful to do so) and accept that love and emotions are complicated and this may be the case for a while. You may always love them although the intensity and nature of your love might change over time. If you have children with your ex there will forever be a connection between the two of you and you may feel that you will always love them for the fact that you created children together. This is natural and normal.
- Much as people may want to feel that they “got over” a long relationship in a few short months the reality is more likely to be a couple of years than a couple of months. You may not feel such intense pain for all of that time but it may be a longer adjustment than you might think. Time doesn’t automatically heal but it can give some perspective that changes the emotions. Different people have different experiences so it won’t necessarily be the same for you as it is for someone else.
- If you are finding it really difficult to manage your emotions on a day to day basis, or to function in daily life then you might find you need professional support. Since divorce and separation are the third most stressful life event anybody goes through there is zero shame in this. Talking to a professional in a safe space can help you to talk about and understand how you’re feeling. They may also be able to help you develop healthy coping mechanisms whilst you work through your grief.
If this blog resonates then I would love to know. I’d also love to know what the most powerful love stories you watched or read about when you were growing up were? What did you learn about love from these?
If you feel you could do with a pick me up at this difficult time then you can sign up for 5 days of loving and inspiring messages directly into your inbox from us at LKW Family Mediation. There’s a bit of separation support thrown in too. If you’d like to know more about family mediation then we have some information for you.