Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Breaking up is hard for everyone to do

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Divorce: move on, trade up, whatever ... but don't be bitter for ever ... and get some decent counselling

Hollywood director James Cameron and Suzy Amis, his fifth wife. Cameron reckons he can never resist an upgrade. Photo / AP
Hollywood director James Cameron and Suzy Amis, his fifth wife. Cameron reckons he can never resist an upgrade. Photo / AP

It's now three years since my marriage ended. Hey, taihoa, easily embarrassed people. I'm not going on another diatribe about my long, dark teatime of the soul. Although there is a noble tradition of columnists chronicling their divorce crud - the old "bastard stole the best years of my life and ruined my pelvic floor" genre.

Rachel Royce grizzled regularly in the Daily Mail about how her husband, Spectator columnist Rod Liddle, decamped for a 22-year-old blonde muppet. Not so bad, but Royce was still wheezing on about her misery four years later when he married the muppet. Oh you sad, sad chook.

And author Kathryn Flett turned her divorce into a career, writing about her ex-husband and how useless he was in bed and possibly worse, "He had a boxed set of Yes CDs." So cruel, sister.

But it's not just women. Film-maker James Cameron, asked why he got married five times, said, "I could never resist an upgrade." Doofus.

But I don't need to vent any more. I'm happy with my lot. And the only reason I am bringing this topic up again is because I want to say what made me better. Yes, my ex-husband was a non-doofus apart from his uncharacteristic lapse of taste in not wanting to be married to me. But even so, I would not be as chirpy as I am if I hadn't been going every week for the past three years to see a therapist. That costs $180 an hour per week. Yes, I know. "I'd like to spend $20,000 on a shrink," said no person ever.

But maybe they should. Maybe we would all be better off, including children in splitting families, which is a lot of children, if everyone who was going through a divorce took all the money they spend on lawyers ($300 an hour) and spent it on therapy instead.

Oh, I don't mean just any old hand-patting nonce. Bad counselling is worse than useless. There are lots of psychologists who seem to want to keep clients coming back week after week as their mortgage-payment fund. Where is the incentive for a client to stop their pity party if it means a lucrative revenue stream is going to dry up? But the kind of practical guidance, like mine, which helped me to let go of anger and stop seeing myself as a rejected loser victim is bloody helpful.

Oh I know I'm smugly middle class and I had a generous ex-husband but trust me, even I could have been consumed with anger and bitterness. So imagine what some people go through.

And just in case you don't know what going through a divorce is like, it is as though when you got married you got on a plane to Paris, looking forward to eating croissants and going to the Louvre. But instead you landed in Beirut.

Why am I here? Where are the pastries? Coming to terms with being in this new place is painful. It involves accepting the world is not what you thought it was. And frankly, just trying just to stay alive.

My psychologist (his name is John McEwan) helped me to face the annihilation of my old self and the creation of a new life. This is a frightening process; an existential crisis.

The only way is to go through it, rather than avoid it. Yet for most people the only help they get is from lawyers. I once asked a top divorce QC what she advises her clients in terms of getting emotional support. She looked genuinely puzzled and said something crisp like that wasn't really her remit. Which is true, I guess. Lawyers know about arguing. Letting go of anger ain't their gig.

It may even save money in the long term if warring parents could have a more constructive outlet for their anger and pain. The system we have for helping people whose marriages are ending could be a lot better. Unless you're a lawyer; it's great for them.

Editor's Note:
The Law Society did not recommend that the Family Court should stop funding voluntary counselling services, as stated in Deborah Hill Cone's column and the Simon Collins report of 14 July 2012. The recommendation was to stop funding mandatory counselling.

- NZ Herald

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