Newly single, I suddenly feel happy again

At my parents’, with the children, I feel protected by the familiarity of the house and my family

The children and I set off for a holiday in the early morning. The smell of alcohol on R’s breath is so obvious to him and me that we skip the goodbye kiss and settle for a wave. I always look forward to going to my parents’ house, and this time I feel both very young and very old.

When we arrive, I sit in the back of my mother’s car with the boys. I am suddenly 12 years old again, but I don’t mind. My daughter sits in the front so she won’t fight with her brothers.

I feel young because I can’t afford to pay for a long taxi ride. I am, as usual, broke and this is not so much embarrassing, as it is disappointing. In my teenage years, when my dad would ferry me to and from parties or friends’ houses, I would think: “When I’m 20, I won’t need lifts. I’ll be loaded and I’ll get cabs everywhere.” I’m way past 30, but I’m still not rich enough for any of that.

As soon as I enter my parents’ house, I feel old. Old, because I have separated from R and arrived with our children as a newly single parent. I don’t feel like the child of anyone, because surely my recent decision is the stuff of grownups.

I drag my suitcase inside, and glance at the photograph in the hall of R and me on our wedding day. I wonder if it will still be there next year, or – if we are still separated – when it will be put away for ever.

“You’re here!” My sister S, who is also visiting, bounds towards us with her children, and we hug. It is so wonderful to be together and the children run into different rooms, immediately picking up where they left off. I scoop up my baby niece and don’t put her down for a very long time.

I feel protected by the familiarity of the house and my family. The drill here is so reassuring, the loose routine so appealing compared with the recent long stretches of structureless school-free days that I’ve had to plan back in London (and I’m a dreadful planner).

Here, I will wake very early some mornings, leave the children to sleep and walk the dogs along country paths with nothing but nothing – save the flora and fauna – for as far as the eye can see. I will enjoy the kind of solitude that I have been craving.

At home, I have lovely friends and neighbours, for which I am grateful. Yet as evening nears, I find myself carrying out all the mundane but necessary tasks on my own, with no one for company apart from the children. Night after night, it becomes isolating and tiresome. It is a miserable kind of loneliness, and come 8pm, I’m often crying out for the presence of another adult: someone to talk to as I sweep up the detritus of a busy day; to eat dinner with; someone with whom I can sit down and enjoy the last peaceful moments of a day’s end. I am so lucky to have that here.

When we are together, my sister and I talk about memorable periods of our childhood. Here, we have the aid of photographs, books, toys – there is even the odd bit of graffiti on furniture (amusingly, my eldest son spots the words “I HATE IT ALL” etched on an old dressing table of mine, and I have a vague memory of scratching them on to the polished wood with a compass from my maths set, in one of my more expressive periods of adolescent malaise).

Most major things that have happened – and that I’m reminded of when I’m here – have always seemed fairly recent in my mind. But now I realise they occurred 10, 20, even 30 years ago. I was a baby of the 70s, a child of the 80s. The photographs that my children ask me about – “Is that really your hair, or did you wear a curly wig then?” – seem not just ancient to them, but to me also.

Later, with most of the children in bed – and my sleep-shy daughter sharing chocolate and watching Don’t Tell the Bride in the living room with her grandpa – I sit with my mum and sister in the kitchen. We drink wine, eat pudding, and talk. I rock my niece in my arms, as warm, compact and pleasing as a freshly baked loaf. A single fat tear rolls down my cheek, and I wipe it away before anyone notices (and my mother asks if I’m depressed). It makes me think that I haven’t experienced happiness like this in a very long time.

Exhausted, we clear up and go to bed, saving further talk of unsuitable underwear and the events of the past year for another evening. It is hard to pinpoint exactly how everything can suddenly feel so right and good again. It’s very dark at night here, and I will sleep well, cheered by the thought of an army of my favourite people at the breakfast table in the morning.


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Telling the children about our separation

It’s finally time to speak to the children about R moving out, and it’s a million times worse than I imagined. I don’t know why I pictured a calmer, less emotionally charged scene

It’s Saturday morning and we’re lying in bed listening to the radio. It is lovely, the kind of thing that rarely happens, and I’m already nostalgic for these times that won’t exist when we are living apart. The boys are watching television downstairs, and their sister is still sleeping.

“When shall we tell them?” asks R.

“I think we should speak to them separately,” I say. Our middle child is the most likely to take the news of our separation the hardest.

I think my daughter – with her previous outbursts of rancour and confusion at my hesitation about leaving R, despite him drinking again – will probably be relieved that I have finally come to a decision. And the youngest barely talks in proper sentences, so it’s difficult to see if we should tell him at all.

“OK. Well, I’ve got to go to work in a couple of hours and I don’t want us to break the news, make everyone cry and then bugger off,” R says.

We call down the stairs for our older son to come up with his brother. They come into the room and one plays on the floor with the laundry basket, while the other climbs into the middle of the bed, nuzzles into his father’s armpit. “Strange Hill High‘s on the TV. Can you hurry up, please?” he says. I begin, and it is painful from the start.

“You know that Daddy had a break last summer, to try to sort things out? Well, things haven’t really gone to plan,” I say.

I wait, hoping that R will step in, and luckily, because I hate myself for breaking such horrid news, he does.

“When you come back from your holiday, I’m going to be living in a different place, just around the corner.”

“You mean you aren’t going to live here any more?” our son says, slowly working out what we have known for days. A lump in my throat begins to form, and the solid ledge – an imaginary line that stretches across my diaphragm and suppresses all of the emotions that I find too visceral to deal with – gives way. I don’t want to let my son see how sad I am because I’m afraid that if I allow myself to cry properly, I won’t be able to stop.

R, whom I have only seen cry once in our relationship (he sobbed emphatically as he gave his speech at our wedding reception), continues: “Yes, darling. Mum and I are going to be living in different houses soon. But I will still see you lots and you probably won’t even notice that things have changed.”

Our son doesn’t buy this at all.

“But it won’t be the same. I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to go, Dad.”

He is sobbing loudly and our youngest stops throwing underwear across the floor and looks up.

“Is there anything I can do to make you stay? Is there anything at all I can do? Anything. Please.”

This is a million times worse than I imagined. I don’t know why I pictured a calmer, less emotionally charged scene. He is saying things that children are scripted to say in films. It seems unreal. And both R and I feel helpless, hopeless. No, there is nothing you can do, I say, digging my fingernails into my arm to pinch the pain away. I’m listening to his pleas, remembering the powerlessness of being a child. We lie there, four of us by the time we’ve hoisted our youngest on to the bed. We wait for something to happen and I wonder if there is anything we can do to stay together like this for the whole day.

All I can do is hold our son and stroke his head, as I did when he was a baby. R takes his free arm, the one that is not jiggling the other boy up and down like a farmer on his horse, and he takes my hand and squeezes it.

Our daughter walks in and she’s cross with all of us. “What’s the matter? Why are you all crying?” she asks.

“Come here. Sit on the bed,” says R softly.

“God, no. You’re just going to tell me that you and Mum are getting a divorce. I’m going for a shower,” she says.

“I know you’re angry at both of us, but …” I begin. But she’s already left the room and I hear the slam of the bathroom door.

“Just leave her. We can talk to her later,” says R.

I want to call a friend and tell them I’m having a breakdown so I can stay in bed all day and cry. Or book a babysitter so R and I can spend a few hours together walking around, as a couple, in case we never go back to being one again. I’m scared to let R go. But I really must.


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I have borderline personality disorder and my partner is bipolar. Is there a future for our relationship?

We started out very much in love, but when we argue we retreat into our our respective disorders and find it difficult to cope

I am in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder, and I have borderline personality disorder. Having read up on each other’s conditions and the best way to deal with them we embarked on a wonderful relationship, very much in love. A year in we hit a snag. When we argue he retreats into his head. I go completely borderline, need resolution right now and get very destructive. At the point he’s sorted his head out, I am worked up and using unhealthy coping mechanisms. By the time he comes back we’re into argument territory again. It is hard to find stories from relationships where both people have a psychological disorder, but the breakup statistics where one person is affected appear to be bad. Does our relationship stand a chance?

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I’ve had the abortion. Now it’s time to move on

At my support group, I finally realise how my life has to change

I am thinking about separation.The abortion is thankfully over, and R was initially supportive, loving and attentive. It was almost as if we had just had a baby: we watched films, ate crap and read the papers on the sofa together. I felt safe. Now, just three days later, it is the morning after he has been on a major binge. He spills boiling water from the kettle on his hand and I almost smile: he is moody, indifferent and distant towards the children and me as he leaves for work.

Nothing and nobody is curtailing his drinking, and while I am still recovering he is shirking his responsibilities at home. As the day progresses, I feel despondent and deflated. I need to go to my support meeting for families affected by addiction.

“You can live in the grey for a long time. It is something we all do, and some of us do it for ages and are OK with it,” says one woman.

“I’m not comfortable with living in the grey any more. In fact, I’m exhausted by it,” I say.

“Well, then you need to make a change.”

All eyes are on me. I say the thing that has been on my mind for days. “I don’t think I want to be with R at the moment, but I don’t want to break up the family.”

Every time that I think of a separation, I imagine the explaining I’ll have to do to the children, our families and friends. I am terrified of diving into the unknown, and I don’t want to act impulsively. If I am wrong, then I will be blamed for the fallout of my decision. Our middle child is so sensitive to change, so close to his father, and I keep imagining his reaction when I break the news; I don’t want to be the one to ruin their relationship.

“But you’re not destroying anything,” says another woman in the circle. “R is continuing to drink. He is choosing that and, hard as it might be for him to stop, he has to feel the consequences if his addiction is more attractive to him than his family.”

She is right. It is not just me who would spoil the family unit, but there is something about my outdated idea of the mother holding everything together – and being held responsible if things go wrong – that stifles my ability to make a change. The alternative to life in the grey seems to be a bold leap to black and white. One of the men in the group almost reads my mind.

“Just because you decide to separate from R, doesn’t mean that you have to make any bold statements or grand ultimatums,” he says. “This doesn’t have to mean the end of marriage, and a change of emotion from compassion to indifference, if you don’t want it to.”

“No. I suppose you’re right … because I still love R, and perhaps naively I do see a possible future for us together,” I say, speaking as I think.

He continues: “What I’m hearing is this: that the only thing you are sure of at the moment is that you don’t want to be with R when he is drinking. And that is enough. You don’t need to know anything else.”

I reply: “Yeah … I could actually say to R: ‘Listen, I don’t know anything other than this. That I am never going to be in a relationship with you while you are still drinking.’”

Just repeating and strengthening the man’s line has further reinforced its wisdom and simplicity. I have never felt more clear-headed.

On the half-hour drive home, I have time to assess and digest everything that has been discussed. I am dazzled by the power of others’ suggestions, and the change in my recent muddied, confused thinking: at 7pm I entered a room with an idea of what I wanted, but I didn’t have the clarity to arrive at any solution. When I left at 8.30pm, I had been galvanised by the group’s insight. My thoughts may still be jumbled, yet the practical advice has surpassed the emotional tumult and given me the power to act.

I walk through the front door, into the living room, pretending I’m in a film, with a camera on a dolly following me as I walk. It is easier to pretend that I’m looking down at someone else, an actor playing my role. I feel composed, ready and sure of my words when I start to speak to R. It feels dramatic but necessary.

“The kids were great tonight. Went down without any bother,” he says.

“That’s brilliant,” I reply.

And then for the second time in an evening, I repeat the line that makes most sense of my thoughts on our situation: “I don’t want this as it is. I’m not sure of anything, but all I know is that I don’t want to be in a relationship with you while you are still drinking.”


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