If you get on so well, why did you divorce?: After the hurt and bitterness of separation, can couples really hope that the wounds will heal into an uncomplicated relationship? Janet Reibstein has her doubts

SO THE Duke and Duchess of York have formally separated. Yet pictures of them with their daughters suggest they are striving to be good friends. In the same week, the camera catches a wistful look from Prince William as his parents kiss goodbye after his school sports day. But whatever the reason for such public reconciliation, can the royal couples, or any separated couple, truly be friends again?

When a childless marriage ends, a clean break is possible. But when children are involved, the belief that everything is over is a dangerous fiction. And it can be just as dangerous to hope to become friends again. An uncomplicated friendship with the person you wanted to be rid of is not a realistic aim.

The fact that there are children also puts paid to the belief that divorce means the end of the relationship - which can come as a rude shock. Many people would adjust far better to divorce if they saw it as leading into a different, longer process of attenuation and change in a necessarily continuing relationship.

A year after her divorce a woman I know moaned recently, 'How much longer am I going to have to hear his stupid, braying voice over the phone?' Her ex-husband was calling to make tortuous arrangements over the children. The answer to her question is, 'As long as you have children, with decreasing frequency and intensity after they leave home, except again at family occasions.' Anyone not prepared to accept this will be angry and frustrated.

Divorcing couples often do not recognise the ways in which they will still be tied to each other. Anger, bitterness and resentment are negative but strong ties, and keep couples in a marriage even when it is over. Divorce should be a long-term process, an emotional distancing, so that the actions - good or bad - of either partner make little difference.

As for the expectation of 'friendship', this is a minefield. Over the years, many couples in my practice at the point of divorcing have said, 'He/she used to be my best friend. Why can't we be friends?' Or, 'We're good friends but we just can't get along.' I think they are stretching the definition of 'friends'.

Let's be clear - divorce is serious. It has many consequences, especially if there are children. Divorce means a breakdown of a friendship, 'no longer being able to get along' in some fundamental way. Why should your ex-spouse be any different, with you or the children, just because you have stopped being married? If she was critical and curt, why should she suddenly become encouraging and effusive? If he gave the children junk food before, why should he act differently now?

The main difference is that more of these 'objectionable' qualities are focused, undiluted, on the children. As the ex- spouse, such qualities will still get to you. The difference is that after divorce you are more powerless, and will feel even angrier.

Divorce does not give the space for love or friendship to grow. It gives the space for people to grow apart. Friendship does not thrive on these grounds. It certainly doesn't help the children to adjust.

A woman who had moved in with her lover continued to visit her ex-husband and children in the family home daily, even offering them temporary accommodation. The children were confused. 'If you and Mum get on so well,' the 10-year-old asked her father, 'why did you get divorced?'

Research shows children rarely give up hope that their parents will be reunited. They believe that with will, luck - maybe magic - parents will love each other again, and they will all live happily ever after.

Children wish to be with both parents, in a conflict-free, loving home. They can adjust to divorce, of course, and in many cases do so very well, in time, in the right conditions. But one condition is clarity: being close post-divorce is confusing and holds out false hope. Such involvement also keeps people stuck in a kind of no-man's-land in which there is no marriage, nor any new lease on life.

Couples used to stay together 'for the sake of the children'. One in two marriages in Britain fails - the highest divorce rate in Europe - and so for many people the real question needs to be 'now that we are divorced, in what way do we continue some sort of relationship, for the sake of the children?'

Research points out some of the ways. Clarity is a key. Reducing overt conflict is another. Not putting the child in the middle of relationship negotiations or maneouvres is a third. Showing the children that you respect their love for, and relationship with, their other parent is also crucial. All of these are often undermined by expecting that, after divorce, you will never have to deal with that person again, or that that person will magically be transformed into a reasonable being, or that in time you will regain an easy relationship.

The post-divorce relationship is not a marriage. At best it is a fragile but necessarily dedicated alliance. It is not friendship.

The author is a psychotherapist and affiliated lecturer at Cambridge University. She is co-author of 'Sexual Arrangements: marriage, monogamy and affairs', published by Mandarin.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

    Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Day In a Page

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road