Panel of Experts
Charlotte Friedman is the founder of www.divorcesupportgroup.co.uk a unique and nationwide service set up to help make separation manageable. DSG runs small local support groups across the country, where you can meet others in a similar situation. DSG also offers individual counselling, telephone and even Skype support. Charlotte was a family law barrister and is now a therapist working almost exclusively with people who are trying to cope with the emotional impact of their separation.
Q. My ex denied me access last weekend. A totally soul destroying moment for me. Eventually gettin the excuse that she is not happy with the amount the csa awarded her. Fortunatly I have a date for my 1st hearing in
court next week for regular and consistant contact which is all i want. She is now saying the court/judge will decide what i pay. Am i right in thinking that a family court hearing is only to deal with contact and not financial arrangments?
A. Thanks for your email. Yes, you are right in thinking that. The court will never mix contact and financial arrangements in the same hearing. Whatever, the financial situation, even if money is owed it will not make a difference to the Court’s decision on contact. If the CSA are dealing with maintenance anyway, the Court won’t be involved in it.
I hope that answers your question.
Q. I have been separated for 6 months. I know that my partner is really angry with me for leaving but she is taking it out on the children by not letting them see me. She has told them that I have left them. It is not true. I have left her, but not the children. I love them and miss them. It is driving me insane and I can’t think or work. What can I do?
A. Sadly, this is quite common. Some people on separation recruit their children to their way of thinking and to their belief systems. Children are ‘taught’ not to want to see the non resident parent and start to believe all the bad things that are said to them about that parent. The only thing you can do apart from start a soul destroying court process, is to ask to mediate with her and to keep the lines of dialogue open in the hope that she will see how important you are to the children. If it is possible for you to talk, take advantage of that too and talk. Good luck.
Q. I separated from my partner a year ago after 10 years together. We have tried to remain amicable because of our two children and contact works reasonably well, but I still feel so upset about what has happened. A good friend of mine is having a party next week and has invited both of us. It is true she was friends with both of us before, but she became more my friend than his over the years. I don’t want to let her down and not go, but I don’t feel at all comfortable in a social situation with him, especially if he is going to bring his current girlfriend. I feel cross with my friend for being so insensitive, but I know she is just being her usual friendly self. What shall I do?
A. These sorts of situations are always difficult and it is understandable how you feel. You are desperately trying not to hurt your friend and at the same time, feeling bad about exposing yourself to more hurt. You are perfectly entitled to feel the way you do. It is never easy being in this situation and you don’t have to sacrifice your own feelings at the altar of your friend’s feelings. You must explain to her how you feel and say that you find it too difficult to be in a social setting with your ex and that you hope the party is great but that you are not going to be able to come. If she has any sensitivity she will understand. If she doesn’t, you will just have to cope with knowing that there are some things she just doesn’t get. That doesn’t mean you need to put yourself in a bad situation. You stick to what you know is best for you and everyone else will have to adapt.
Q. I have 3 children under the age of 6 and my partner of 7 years has just left me. I am finding it really hard to cope on my own, although he says he still wants to be involved with the children.
A. This must be very hard for you. It is hard enough looking after young children without having to cope with the grief associated with the end of a relationship too. It is normal to find it difficult to look after others when you don’t feel looked after yourself. Take advantage of the amount of time your ex is prepared to spend with them, you will really need a break. When you get that break, take some time to look after yourself – whether it’s chatting to friends, seeing family, having a walk, sleeping or a nice warm bath. If you would like a support group or some professional help, you can access that information from your GP or from the internet.
Q. My wife has left me and take our 2 children to the other end of the country. I think I can cope with most of the horrible sides to this situation but I cannot cope with the idea that I will not have the opportunity to be a proper dad to my 3.5 year twins. I don't want them to live hundreds of miles away. We have started mediation but I feel helpless.
A. It is a very scary thing to find that the sands are shifting beneath your feet and you feel that there’s nothing you can do about it. I know, I’ve been in a very similar position to you.
I’m not a lawyer and unable to give you legal advice, I trust that you have sought some legal input? If your wife and children are to remain where they now are, and this is legally acceptable, then the work you have to do is on how you think and feel.
The very fact that you are already at mediation says a lot about both you and your wife. I’d like to think that this alone will be of help to your children’s future. Sometimes, things move very slowly in separation and you are left with your thoughts which tend to focus on how you will cope.
The hard truth is that you are trying to imagine a future which now looks different to a future that you used to imagine before your wife left. Neither of these futures have happened, it’s your thoughts and fears taking hold.
About 6 years ago, after much haranguing, my husband and I chose to have our daughters live with him. That meant, as their mother, I was the parent without care. It took a lot of soul searching to come to this arrangement. Even though we only have 30 miles separating us, I often felt that it might as well be hundreds.
When I was soul searching, I asked myself what would a mother who really loves her children do in my situation? I recognised how disruptive it would be for our daughters to live out of suitcases and live part time so far from school and their friends. I was unable to relocate back to the area due to my financial constraints. I admitted to myself that a mother who loved her children as much as I did, would want her children to be safe, secure, loved, and able to live without their parents arguing over who they lived with.
You want to be a proper Dad to your twins, of course you do. What are the qualities of a proper Dad? How can you continue to bestow your children with those qualities? So many men are ‘proper Dads’, and yet each and every one of them will have different ways of expressing it. There is no set rule as to what ‘proper’ means and if that’s true, then you will be able to find a way of being a proper Dad in a new situation.
The answers to your problem lie in a new way of thinking, feeling and looking at your situation. I appreciate that this may be a bit of a stretch right now, but it’s what is going to pull you through and give you some peace of mind, sense of self and purpose.
Here are 5 Steps which might help:
Start to accept your new situation instead of fighting it. It’s the wishing that something wasn’t really happening that creates the difficulties. If it is, then it is. There’s no need for you to like it, just accept it.
Create a period of time each day/evening in which to allow yourself some ‘unhappiness’. If you know that you can be wholly unhappy for 30 minutes each day, then you will start to function more easily for the rest of the day.
Learn to breathe. Of course you breathe already, but I want you to stop what you’re doing 3 times a day and take 5-10 slow, deep breaths in and out. Put your hand on your stomach, and when you breathe in, your hand should go out. Breathe in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 8.
Start writing your thoughts down. You can use a pad of paper or a Word document. You are unlikely ever to look at it again, but it’s important for you to find a place to get ‘stuff’ out of your head. It’s a bit of cesspit for your thoughts. The best time to do this is in the evening before you go to bed.
Be grateful for what you do have. Even for those who feel they have nothing left, they still have something to be grateful for. It might be the clothes they are wearing, the roof over their head, the kindness of strangers, the smile of the supermarket checkout lady, the rain for making things grow. Each night as you close your eyes in bed, think of 5 different things you can be grateful for that day.
Being a parent is often about recognising how to let go of them and still love them fully. For some of us it comes earlier than the expected age of 18. You will cope perfectly because you want to be a proper Dad, and your children will want that from you. Be their role model and show them how to overcome adversity.
Q. This is going to sound like I've got a one track mind! ...hubby is great. Great with our two boys, great around the house, steady job, no affairs...BUT. Our sex life is becoming (has become) non existent. To the point that I find myself talking with Divorce coaches!! It has come to that though. I just can't (better put, don't want to) continue living in a marriage to a man who clearly doesn't find me attractive anymore. I'm 40 next year. This is my first and only marriage. I want to look forward to the next however many years in a relationship that is close and loving and fulfilling at all levels. I have tried talking to him - but it is very difficult. His "excuses" are "tiredness", "bit stressed at work" while all the while giving me verbal reassurances that things will get better in this area. But they haven't. Can you think what I might do to help?
A. Talking with divorce coaches is allowed when stuck. And isn’t it better than not talking - which is what many people do when faced with a long-term partner who rejects us sexually?
Let’s take a step back. I’m reading between the lines here and taking these points as a given:
• Your sex life was once, great even;
• Your hubbie found you attractive, even loved you;
• You once had the relationship you describe in your Q as one that is “that is close and loving and fulfilling at all levels” - in other words, you have experienced the relationship you desire and that this is not just a romantic dream.
• You don’t just want to hear what’s comfortable but are looking to explore ‘outside the box’.
(I did however check out a male perspective when replying here to make sure it reflected a male viewpoint too!)
You mention his "excuses" as "tiredness", "bit stressed at work” - all of which are probably true, but what’s changed since you last had a good sex life? Men’s sex drive varies considerably and energy and inclination are major factors affecting it. I can see why you might consider the problem is that he doesn’t fancy you when you write: “I just can't (better put, don't want to) continue living in a marriage to a man who clearly doesn't find me attractive anymore” but how do you know this is the case and not just your perception?
Chances are if it’s tough at work, any perceived underperformance at work can have a knock on effect on his sex drive and he will avoid making love. After all, in his mind, if he’s under-performing at work or not doing anything right in other important areas in his life, why should his sex life be any different? Be also aware that he may be protecting you here and not being fully upfront about work related issues.
So what’s changed since you last had the relationship you miss now, apart from the lack of sex? Take a sheet of paper and divide it into three – a ‘Q’ column; a ‘He’ column and a ‘She’ column.
In the ‘Q’ column write:
• What did we both used to do and we don’t do now?
• What do we both do now and didn’t used to do?
• What did he used to do and he doesn’t do now?
• What did she used to do and she doesn’t do now?
In the ‘He’ column write down the first 3-5 things which come to mind. Don’t think about them.
In the ‘She’ column write down the first 3-5 things which come to mind. Again, don’t think about them, just write. Don’t worry if you can’t do this exercise together right now, but aim to do it later with him, to see how far you’ve come.
You will end up with between 24 and 40 insights into what has changed over time, some of which may take you by surprise. Look at your results. What does this tell you about the relationship as it was and as it is now?
How important is Sex?
In the ‘He’ column write down, on a scale of 0-10 (with zero being the last thing he thinks of and 10 being THE most important thing in his life) just how important she thinks sex* is to him.
In the ‘She’ column write down, on a scale of 0-10 (with zero being the last thing she thinks of and 10 being THE most important thing in her life) just how important he thinks sex* is to her. (You may not able to do this just yet.)
Reverse it In the ‘He’ column write down, on a scale of 0-10 (with zero being the last thing he thinks of and 10 being THE most important thing in his life) just how important he thinks sex* is to him. (Again, you may not able to do this just yet.)
In the ‘She’ column write down, on a scale of 0-10 (with zero being the last thing she thinks of and 10 being THE most important thing in her life) just how important she thinks sex* is to her.
* Sex in this context is making love in your existing relationship/marriage
Look at your results. What does this tell you (and him, if and when you can do the exercise together?) Who is an abstinence of sex really a problem for?
What you may uncover here is that not everyone needs a sex life. But if one half of a couple does, and the other doesn’t, who is it a problem for? In your case, my intuition tells me that if your hubbie is giving you verbal assurances that “that things will get better in this area” he isn’t hiding from the issue entirely, but he may be trying to protect himself from uncovering underperformance or personal relationship issues which he’d rather not delve into.
But whilst you will want to try and help him get over this problem - which is after all, in your best interests to resolve too - ask yourself exactly what is he doing/ has he done to put it to get his sex-life back on track? It is often very hard for a man to seek help because it’s so embarrassing to admit to sexual failure, but if a guy can’t do this, he often simply can’t find the answers he needs and he may be completely stumped as to how to progress: it’s so embarrassing for him and wifely pressure won’t help. Or conversely, he may be seeking help - how do you know for sure he is not?
If he genuinely can’t get it up, then stress could be a major factor and male sexual dysfunction (as it’s called) regularly affects men for a number of reasons, psychological and physical. There’s some very helpful advice on the NHS site which strongly recommends suffers speak to their GP as soon as possible to identify the cause and get support in overcoming it. What can you do to help get him to his GP? Gently ask if he is open to suggestions and get his permission before you put them forwards. Reassure him that he doesn’t have to involve you if he prefers not to.
Does he know you find him attractive? You can help him and reassure him but there is a point where you might ask yourself:
• Where will I be in 2 years time; 5, 10 or even 15 years if we can’t make ourselves happier?
• Do I want to be in this relationship without sex?
• Have I really thought through what the alternatives are – eg. divorce?
It might also be worth asking how healthy the relationship is in every other aspect. And how do you know that he isn’t sexually active elsewhere?
Enjoy each other’s company, if not their body
When did you last have a romantic dinner together? Book a babysitter, order a cab, and find a restaurant you both like and go out with no agenda but to relax. Before you go out remind yourself of the three things which used to turn you on about him and remember to mention them over the course of the evening. Think about the three things about you which used to turn him on. If it was a certain perfume, wear it, likewise the fuchsia mini-skirt. Over the course of the evening do one thing well – really listen to him. If he talks about football, be interested. Ask him questions even if you have no interest in the game. When you talk about the children, actively listen to what he has to say whether he verbalises anxieties or good moments. Share his emotions without judging whether he is right or wrong; just enjoy being with him and communicating.
When did you last have a weekend away together, without the kids? If the dinners are successful, arrange childcare and book a break away. Find a destination you both know and like and go with no agenda but to relax and re-discover each other. Before you go out remind yourself of the three things which used to turn you on about him and tell yourself they will return, but maybe not this weekend – your aim is to take the pressure off. If it seems right, take his arm when strolling or his hand over the table. Think ‘first date’ and what you might do on a first date – a quick kiss, a cuddle, warmth, friendliness. Expect no more from him - be affectionate if he is but absolutely do not mention sex if he doesn’t, or initiate it.
Take the pressure off You’ll find the answer, be patient. Whether we believe in the old proverb ‘Marriages are made in heaven’ or the opposite ‘Wedlock is a padlock’ it is a fact that sometimes the kids are the only thing which couples have in common, as people grow apart and boredom can set in.
People do live in sexless marriages very successfully, but only if their prime needs are being met. If you have a prime need to be sexually fulfilled (and this is a basic human need and nothing to be ashamed of!) then the chances are that sooner or later this need will have to be met – perhaps outside the marriage. Affairs come to mind and dating sites for people in marriage who are looking for intimacy and sex outside the marriage. I’ve not got any information or experience personal or otherwise to draw on here, but I would be interested in hearing from anyone, in confidence, who does have experience of these sites and can share whether and how they helped.
Q. I am so glad that this service is anonymous!! I have been married for fourteen years. We have two children (12 and 10). To put it bluntly, our marriage is over. We hardly talk, haven't had sex for over a year, and I am sure we would both benefit from ending it.
What should I/we do next is the question I think...
A. Thank you for getting in touch and asking your anonymous question. Although you have given scant details, I hope the following is of some help to you. Much of my answer will be in question format, this is to get you to think a little differently and define what it is you believe a marriage to be, and secondly to help you find out what it is that is really causing this lack of communication - both physically and literally.
A marriage isn't over until it's over. For the sake of a few conversations around how you are feeling and beginning to open up to one another, I believe it's too early to say whether both of you would benefit from ending your marriage. You don't say whether you want to save your marriage if you had the opportunity and chance to do so. I'm making an assumption that you would like to save your marriage.
I'd like you to take some time now to become aware of when you and your husband started to hardly talk. Hardly talking might for some people be a blessing - it saves them listening to the same thing time and again. It might save arguments and fighting. Many people would rather have the quiet time for inner reflection. If on the other hand this isn't what appeals to you and you would like to start talking with your partner again, what is it that stops you doing so? Did the sex stop before or after the talking deteriorated?
What did you once do that you don't do now which allowed you to talk? What did you once not do that you are doing now to prevent the talking from happening?
Although this may seem both obvious and ridiculous - have you talked to your husband about the lack of communication between you? Have you explained to him how it makes you feel? Do you know how it makes you feel when the two of you are hardly talking - do you feel sad, unhappy, ignored, unloved or frustrated? It may be one or more of those emotions, or it may be something else.
Unfortunately, saying to your husband 'We need to talk' is unlikely to be a fruitful starting point. If you would like things to improve then you will have to start doing something differently. There's an old saying - if we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we always got.
Working on the assumption that you want to save the marriage and want to talk with your husband, I would suggest the following, which although they're simple steps, can be a challenge for some.
Step 1. Start to love your husband again - when you look at him, when you address him, when you are thinking of him in his absence - think loving thoughts.
Step 2. Talk to him as if he is talking to you. Leave your negative emotions behind for the time being and remember what it's like when you chat happily and easily. Start to chat happily and easily.
Step 3. Stop mind reading, ie guessing what's going on in his head, guessing what he means, making up why he's done something. Take things as they are and stop loading meanings on them which make you feel worse.
Step 4. Stop taking things personally. Many people imagine that when someone says something it's a personal affront/attack - it isn't. 'This chicken's a bit dry' - that means the chicken is a bit dry and it's not your cooking ability which is being attacked. 'The house is a mess' - means the house is a mess, not that you have to tidy it up.
Step 5. Be Yourself. Both men and women very often try to mould themselves into an 'acceptable form' for their partner. They think that by being someone/doing something for their other half they will be loved. It doesn't work that way, it gets very tiring and you lose sight of who you are and might become resentful.
Step 6. Stay strong within yourself. If you want to make changes, you must know where you are headed and what is acceptable or not acceptable in your life.
Step 7. Take responsibility for yourself, your thoughts, your actions, your emotions. Stop taking responsibility for his. He has a right to feel, think and do what he wants - just as you have.
I wish you the best of luck and if you are struggling with any of these steps, understanding yourself and want more clarity or confidence in moving forward together or apart, please download our free report The