A blog by Claire Standen Coaching
Given the statistics, it’s incredible that any woman leaves a man to whom she is married. In fact, it’s actually incredible that we GET married in the first place. But he, that’s patriarchy. Back to divorce… That women continue to do so, despite for instance the figures showing we are likely to experience a drop of nearly a third in our income, speaks of our incredible resilience and strength. It also makes me wonder just how bad it is in many of the relationships that do stay together… Anyway, national family law specialist and former chair of mediation, Nigel Shepherd said ‘There’s this perception than men feel they get taken to the cleaners. It’s trite. Women do worse out of divorce’… ‘the ability to recover financially after divorce reflects the wider inequality in society’ (www.familylaw.co.uk). A man is saying it, folks, so it must be true.
Look, I know I get snarky about ‘women’s issues’, but SHIT NEEDS TO CHANGE. Pronto. It’s at this point I’m always tempted to say something about how if women suffer, children suffer. I’ve always had a problem with women’s wellbeing being viewed merely as a portal to children’s wellbeing. Yes, children are important, but guess what they grow up to be?! Adults! SO why can’t we just accept that women’s wellbeing (as well as being important for the children they are often primarily in charge of raising), is innately, separately, completely and necessarily important.
Which is why I want to talk about coercive control, and relationship dynamics after divorce. I remember the day I read an article citing the ’18 ways you know you’re being gaslit’, and I remember my shock at being able to tick off at least 12). More about gaslighting here. The problem is, that even after separation and divorce, I hear far too many stories of situations that are toxic and controlling, where the ex-partner still coercively controls many aspects of their ex-partners life. This can happen to either women or men, but statistically speaking, it’s more likely to happen to women. Why? Because the unpaid care often falls to the woman to do, because the woman will more typically have been the one who gave up work to perform childcare duties, because we are still seen as the providers of the care in our families. Whether money was withheld during the marriage or controlled through manipulative means, these behaviours often multiply when the woman is no longer carrying out her ‘role’ as wife. It’s internalised patriarchy at it’s very best.. Intangible, difficult to verbalise, unjust and ingrained in the very fabric of our lives.
When this happens to women, some might say they should just do their best and get over it. However, the reality is that many women are still dealing with this many years later, even into retirement. The fact that we get left with the majority of childcare duties after divorce can impact in a variety of subtle and frustrating ways. Not least is the physical inability to be both caring for our children and working, at the same time. Some people I know achieve this, but it takes radical shifts in their lifestyle and in my opinion can still leave them burdened with this, but in a different way. Yes, these women are incredibly adaptable and resilient, but where is the father and why isn’t he stepping up? Not only this, but we’re told that children from divorced families do worse in school, and have worse mental health when they grow up. My aim, throughout my separation from my children’s dad, has been to ensure to the best of my ability, that this is not a given in our situation.
SO women are doing most of the childcare, often. What else, though? They’re also unable to plan for their future financial stability, or hindered from doing so by the immediate and rising costs of rearing kids. The inequality is stark. This is why I consider men withholding financial support from their spouses to be financial abuse, and that’s a hill I’d die on. I think that if men really dug down into what makes them do this, they would find a toxic mix of views that belong long ago (and didn’t even belong then, really).
What I do know is, that when I disentangled myself from financial dealings with my ex-husband, it changed our relationship entirely, not least because it then catalysed my insistence that we split the caring of our children 50/50 between us. This has meant that some of the issues that had, for four years, only affected me (sickness days, out of hours childcare arranging and costs, school dinners, purchasing school uniform, keeping up with parties, special days at school, sports days etc etc) now for the first time also fell to my ex-husband to arrange. It was an uncomfortable transition, and one which I had to stand firm about several times in the face of his incredulous surprise, but one that has changed literally everything since. I would say that this equality has paved the way for a much more respectful and cooperative relationship.
So, if you feel that you may be being financially controlled by your ex, what to do? My decision came after a lot of inner work around trusting myself to provide financially for myself and the kids (to be clear, I stopped taking any child maintenance from my ex-husband for more than a year before we went 50/50 on childcare, but it was the middle of the pandemic and we were all just getting by as best we could). I think that there are energetic tendrils attached to money, especially that which is grudgingly given. You can ask yourself whether you’re prepared to accept this, and what might be possible for you if you said no. It’s a tough subject, because I have for a while believed in finding the outer edges of what is possible, and exploring these. It takes a lot of working on what I fear (with a lot of this being ‘destitution, debt, homelessness!’). However, whenever I have made a bold decision (and telling him to stop giving me any money in a global pandemic where I was home-schooling and unable to earn on a regular basis could certainly be called ‘bold’, amongst other things…), I have found that my options open up and new possibilities become available. I suppose what I’m asking is: what if you really believed in yourself? What would you do then?
In 2009 my dad had a series of strokes. Having been a very fit and healthy man, it was a surprise to us all. It shouldn’t have been, though. It was a reminder that as much as you may regulate your diet and exercise, if you don’t deal with stress effectively, your body will eventually show the toll. It was a turning point for me. Having watched my dad work hard, and I mean really hard, his entire adult life, this was the ultimate shocker. That much talked about retirement? Nope. Days of leisure? No.
I’ll be honest though, he wouldn’t have known how to spend his days at leisure. It wasn’t a skill-set he’d developed. Even our family holidays were spent renovating a dilapidated French farmhouse from the age of 11 onwards. A different kind of work to his academic career, granted. But still. After his strokes, he languished for many years in a care home. He died in 2020, with Covid.
Most of all, he gave his time and energy to his work. That’s not to say he wasn’t an excellent, involved and devoted dad. He was. However, he went to work in the morning and when he came home, his work continued until late into the night. Grant proposals, marking exams, writing papers… He tapped away in his tiny office until sometimes 10 or 11 at night. And guess who went to his funeral? Well… almost no one, as it turned out. Since it happened in early 2020, I didn’t even go. I could transgress here about hypocritical politicians and inhumane loses of human rights, but I’ll stay the course.
The point is. None of those fuckers came to his funeral. He had some great friends at work, and was well respected, so maybe some of them would have, if they’d had the chance. The problem is- you’re dead by then. My dad, in my opinion, gave way too many of his fucks to his work. He gave almost none to his own wellbeing. Part of why I do what I do, is because growing up I didn’t learn from those around me how to do self-care. Much less self-compassion. The less said about self-love, the better. Or at least, that seemed to be the mantra in my family’s house. I’m not blaming anyone here, that’s just how it was. But when I look at my life, I want to be able to say I gave my time, energy, money and effort where it made a difference. I want to learn how to be self-compassionate without sacrificing myself at the alter of ‘hard work’. Perhaps given the chance again, my dad would still choose to make such huge gains in the field of physiology. But I like to think he might have made a little more time for relaxing.
It’s not just relaxing though… that doesn’t quite do it justice. The work I’ve been doing for the last four years could hardly be called ‘relaxing’. It’s a re-imagining of what life is actually about. It can take a lot of witnessing, effort and consciously turning the tide. It’s about choosing what really serves you, friends. Knowing people who die ‘too soon’ seems to really focus the mind on this issue. It seems to me that if you continue to just do what comes naturally, there are many pitfalls that you may encounter. I’d love everyone to ask themselves: who am I actually living for? I bet for many, there are tendrils of the expectations of others, which weave their way into the very fabric of how you live, what you do with your time, who you spend time with… everything. It is up to us, once we reach adulthood and autonomy, to ensure that what we do is aligned with who we really are.
So here’s a reminder to make sure your energy is flowing to things, situations and people who are worthy of it. That includes but is not limited to toxic family members, ex partners, frenemies, colleagues or bosses. Nobody gets a free ticket to your energy, just because of who they are. Let’s take good care of ourselves, in every way we know how. If you don’t know many ways how, this is your nudge to discover some new ones. Mine include wild swimming, hugs, joining a book club, bike rides, dog walks, camping trips and snuggling.