Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Breaking up should be much harder to do

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On Wednesday, Eric Joyce, the Labour MP for Falkirk, an ex-army major, was ignominiously arrested in the House of Commons after what seems to have been an almighty fracas. A glass door was shattered and parliamentarians were allegedly assaulted and headbutted by Joyce, who seemed to have "flipped".

This top soldier bravely accused the Army of being "racist, sexist and elitist", went into politics and rose fast. The case is sub judice but there is some speculation that Joyce was "not particularly well", after apparently separating from his second wife. The last, if true, makes me feel for him. Divorce can rip and ravage all that you thought you were, consume you like a fever which lingers in the cells.

In Britain, a depressingly large number of marriages fail. Some people decide to get divorced for perfectly understandable reasons – violence, real incompatibility, alcoholism, oppressive partners – others because they want to move on to new pastures or feel imprisoned by the institution.

To avoid any misapprehension, let me say it out loud. Enabling men and, even more importantly, women, to divorce without atrocious social repudiation was one of the most progressive changes achieved in this country. But now it's all too easy; Britons are blasé about marital split-ups, unconcerned about the consequences of the momentous life change.

In classrooms full of pupils living post-divorce lives, you find an engineered normalcy; parted couples stay friends and the cultural expectation is that you maybe get a new haircut or suit, a little counselling and simply move on. Those who can't are judged to be immature, selfish, backward. But the manners and courtesies of modern divorces are as throttling as were the manners and courtesies of Victorian marriages.

I write candidly of my own divorce 20-plus years ago. The experience made it impossible for me to understand the ex's point of view. It's as if my eyeballs were turned inwards and my other senses too. Many have accused me of washing too many wet hankies in public, of being dementedly obsessed with the past. All true.

It was all I could and can do. It must be hard for the dear departed, never being allowed to forget. I hear he hates me. Can't be because he carried on an affair for five years, meticulously planned his exit, leaving me to raise our boy. Must be because I didn't go quietly. I understand his fury but not the pernicious rules of behaviour when everything falls apart.

The psychotherapist Phillip Hodson and others believe we must acknowledge our primitive selves, recognise pain and sorrow when love, trust and hope fall away. The pressure to accept pivotal life changes without fuss is damaging. Soldiers back from wars were expected to ignore their internal traumas. Now we know there is no good war. Couples may fake it, pretend and posture, but there is no good divorce either.

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