"First of all we dug a hole in the back garden, then we went inside and started the verbal part," says Paul. They repeated all their criticisms of each other, then all the positive aspects of their relationship, and finally said that they forgave each other. "To make sure the other person was heard, we repeated every sentence they said," says Paul, eager to point out how sensitive they were. During the ritual they drank from a water pitcher they'd been given at their wedding and at the end, they smashed it and buried it in the back garden, along with the remnants of a scarf they'd both worn and torn up. The whole thing lasted four gruelling hours.
So what was the point? "It was very painful. We cried a lot. But we managed to be more truthful than we'd ever been and it was great to participate in such a physical manifestation of separation," says Paul. "Although we haven't seen each other since, I feel the ritual set up a basis for future friendship and trust."
It all sounds very Californian, but perhaps it's too easy to scoff. "Quickie" divorces may be on the way out; but still, our society has no rite of passage for the ending of marriage. At the wedding, there are the gifts, the speeches, the clothes, the rings to symbolise the coming together of two people, but the separation has no such ritual. Yet divorce ranks with bereavement as one of the most stressful human experiences. It should not, therefore, be surprising if couples invent their own ways to mark the unhappy event.
"We took the white ribbon that had been on our wedding Bentley and wound it round into a figure of eight," says Eric, a teacher from Somerset, "then cut it and it fell apart. It was very emotional and I don't think it worked at that time. I left the next day. But it felt a healthy thing to do."
Separation rituals are not always cosy shared experiences. It is not unknown for betrayed partners to cut up or burn the offending partner's clothes or personal possessions or spray his or her car with paint. A Welsh friend of mine decided to deal with her husband's girlfriend in a symbolic way. "I took a photograph of his girlfriend, threw it down the toilet and shat on it," she says. "It felt wonderful."
Some people try to remove all trace of their former partners from their lives by, for instance, destroying all the photos of them. Others take more drastic action. "I think it's quite common for men to walk off with all the woman's money," says Sally, a mature student from west London. "My husband went and drew out all my cash from the bank. I think it was about him not liking the power of independent women. He also went and made someone else pregnant straightaway, which happens a lot."
So is a personally tailored ritual a good way of getting a dead relationship out of your system? Penny Mansfield of One Plus One, the marriage and partnership charity, is dubious. "It's important to recognise that it is a point of transition. Separation rituals should be about reinforcing what you are rather than being destructive about what you've relinquished." She would not be keen on setting fire to a former partner's belongings.
Agony aunt Susi Hayman is more open-minded. "The burning and tearing- up are good as long as they are not used to deny reality. I think they could be healing if used correctly."
Patricia, a nurse from west London, managed (she thought successfully) to celebrate her divorce with her ex-husband in the pub. Even the former best man was present. "We had a divorce cake with candles," she says, "it was symbolic of us splitting up in friendship. We even had two witnesses. It was like getting married. I suppose I saw it as going full circle. We celebrated our marriage, now we were celebrating that our friendship survives our divorce."
Sadly, Patricia and her husband did not break their emotional ties. In fact, subsequently she had to completely cut him out of her life. "He betrayed me and stole money from me," she says. This time, she has thrown her wedding hat in the bin.
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