The secret to a happily ever after divorce! She thought their marriage was solid until he dropped a huge bombshell. In a brutally candid account, ANNA STEVENS shares the lessons she learned from her hideous break-up

  • Anna Stevens reveals what she learned while divorcing her husband of 19 years
  • Discovered her then-husband had been having an affair while they were married
  • British mother-of-two says divorces very often come with plot twists 

Looking back, the signs were there, had I only opened my eyes to them. The growing distance between us. Him having an affair with a colleague six years before, which I forgave because, well, everyone makes mistakes. The fact that I was the one doing all the heavy lifting of parenting at the expense of my career, while his blossomed and soared, often taking him away from home on business for weeks at a time.

And yet, to me, it still seemed to work. Our marriage was fine, no worse than anyone else’s — until suddenly it wasn’t. Until one day he announced that this profound, complex thing we’d built together over 19 years, a relationship that had produced two wonderful children, was no longer enough for him.

Traditionally, divorce lawyers report a spike of activity this month, as couples contact them in the wake of enforced proximity at Christmas and subsequent relationship meltdown.

In 2020, of course, the lawyers were busy all year. A full quarter of us confessed to feeling pressure on their relationship over the spring, and this lockdown may well be the final straw that breaks a faltering marriage. 

Anna Stevens reveals what she learned in the process of divorcing her husband of more than 19 years (file image)

If you’re one of those unsure whether your relationship can survive, take heart. That was me in 2019. But less than two years on, despite days of such pain I wasn’t sure I’d get through them — and despite the pandemic —here I am, divorced, independent, and truly happy.

There are big lessons to learn about divorce, especially if you have children and want to attend their graduation or wedding without feeling the need to hurl insults or bread rolls at their other parent.

Often, you will feel as though you are being ‘the bigger person’ and they are being callous or over-emotional. So will they. My top tip, especially at the start? Keep your eyes on the prize.

For a future of well-adjusted children, family harmony, feeling good about yourself, and a bank account not emptied by lawyers — all possible, I promise — you will need to swallow your pride and resist the urge to score a win by deliberately hurting them.

The tone you set now is likely to remain throughout your divorce and post-marriage relationship.

When my husband first declared he no longer wanted to be with me, my first reaction was one of confusion. Surely most marriages were like this as you hit your mid-40s — friendly, comfortable, full of love rather than in love. Was I an idiot for not realising there should be more?

But I was also furious. How dare he do this to us? Why couldn’t he fight for us? How could he be so selfish? What the hell was he searching for outside of our marriage?

He saw a therapist — alone, every week for a month, while I sat at home waiting to find out whether he’d achieved any clarity on the issue of wanting, or not wanting, to stay in our marriage.

Anna discovered her husband had been having an affair for one year while they were still married (file image)

He shared very little of those sessions, except to list all the reasons he didn’t think our relationship was working, mostly a laundry list of what was wrong with me.

Eventually we had a hideous conversation in which I found myself apologising for not being the wife he needed and agreeing to the split.

He asked if he should sleep on the sofa, but we ended up just agreeing to share our bed as always. I lay awake for hours, listening to him sleep.

I dreaded telling my children. My own parents divorced when I was a child, and I knew there was a before-and-after moment — and then their lives would never be the same again.

Golden rules for staying sane.. 

1 Let it go. I’ve spoken to enough people who have gone through a divorce to know that they typically want to hang on to the bad emotions. The hurt, the anger, the unfairness, the resentment, the injustice, the rage — all of it. They want to wrap themselves in it, like a malevolent security blanket, thriving on the drama of it.

I refer you, however, to the top tip in my story above. Eyes on the prize. Remember what kind of future you want. Hanging on to those negative emotions only hurts you.

2 Agree on the message. Do not announce on social media that your husband is a cheating bastard who ran off with the nanny, or that your wife is a money-grabbing cow.

If you’re not on speaking terms, decide on what your message is, remembering this is what everyone will hear — not only your ex, but your children, the gossip-mongers and potentially the lawyers, too. Keep it dignified.

3 Save your sanity by:

  • Reading, listening to music, walking, meditating — whatever works as a distraction.
  • Accepting all offers of support. I had a WhatsApp group called My Support Group, imaginatively, with a bunch of women who rallied round magnificently and always let me vent or wail at any time of day or night.
  • Looking after your health. When your world is imploding, it’s easy to stop eating or comfort eat, to drink to excess, to become a shopaholic, or so depressed that you don’t exercise.

Everyone has different ways of coping. But unless you take care of yourself, you won’t find the strength to get through the difficult stuff.

I spent a lot of time planning what to say. They were brave about it, but I was heartbroken.

We set up a WhatsApp group to tell friends we felt needed to know. As I pressed the button on a message we’d both agreed, the brutal reality sank in. I knew this could not be made better.

In the space of a week, my then-husband started to check out completely from family life.

With a terrible irony, despite not wanting this divorce, I was the one who ended up doing all the work of it — putting the house on the market, taking stuff to the tip or the charity shop (even my wedding dress), finding an online divorce service to negotiate finances for both of us instead of using expensive lawyers.

We were not husband and wife in anything but name, and didn’t seem to be friends either. We were just two people sharing a house for the time being. The shock was breath-taking, the pain almost unbearable.

When the divorce petition papers finally arrived for me to sign, I texted him at work saying it was his final chance to change his mind, but he didn’t bother to respond, so I posted them off and sat crying at home.

My resentment grew. The house I found for the children and me was in a less nice area of our northern town because that’s what my share of the marital home would buy me. It felt small and dowdy after what we’d had.

By contrast, my ex chose a flat on a lovely street close to the centre because he was happy for the boys to share a bedroom and didn’t need a garage for all the stuff of family life, the tents and bikes and sledges. Why was it only me who considered that?

Unfairness is baked into divorce. The sooner you can come to terms with this fact, the better you’ll be able to keep your eyes on the prize.

It’s not just women’s sense of unfairness, of course. Many men struggle with how little they see their kids or how much money they have to pay.

And then, one day, shortly before the marital home was sold, while we were both still living our separate lives there, I rummaged in his backpack looking for his passport in order to fill in some detail of divorce admin, and instead pulled out a card.

I opened it. And it was from a woman celebrating her one-year anniversary with my husband. One whole year he’d been having an affair while we were married.

This was the man who’d told me I was the problem, that he didn’t fancy me anymore, that I was too negative, that he just didn’t feel the same about us. The man who vehemently denied there was anyone else.

A block of ice-cold rage settled in the pit of my stomach. My entire body tingled with adrenalin, I felt nausea rise, my ears rang and dizziness threatened to engulf me. It was truly the most extraordinary physical and emotional response.

Here’s another lesson. Divorces very often come with plot twists. You might not discover adultery as I did, but it’s likely at some point something will happen that knocks the wind right out of you.

Anna admits single parenthood, financial uncertainty, a new house she didn’t like and not having a partner frightened her (file image)

Maybe you’ll find undisclosed credit- card debt, a gambling habit, a secret love child, or a loyalty card for the local brothel. Or the twist might appear in a sudden new behaviour.

They might empty your joint account, start dressing like a boyband member, repeatedly let the children down, or make up claims about you. The point is, you can’t control what they do.

No matter how awful things feel, it is just a plot twist and it’s your life story, not theirs. This is where you build resilience.

After finding that card, I spent the night at a friend’s house and the next day my then-husband and I met in a public car park, of all places, to make sure we were well away from the children.

He told me the relationship wasn’t serious and was ‘no big issue’ and then accused me of reading his mail. Much to the bemusement of passers-by, I lost my temper spectacularly.

And yes, I later wrote him an email telling him precisely what I thought of him. And yes, I also told him that it was his job to tell the kids about his mistress.

They were teenagers, old enough to know the real reason why he had opted out of our marriage, and I didn’t want them to learn about it via the grapevine. I also wanted him to feel the embarrassment of having to tell his children what he’d done.

But I also told him that, having done those things, I would move on. I would not enter into a tit-for-tat exchange of nastiness, and I would try my hardest to keep our divorce amicable. It wasn’t my first instinct, but I kept my eyes on the prize.

Anna said she’s learned to find happiness in the everyday and her self-worth is greater now than it’s ever been (file image)

This time two years ago, as I stared down the barrel of single parenthood, financial uncertainty, a new house I didn’t much like, and no partner, I was scared.

I feared I would become another grey, washed-out woman struggling to pick up a career she’d lost her place in. Having to juggle and make ends meet, instead of being someone who follows their passion.

My ex had lobbed a bomb into my life and then, like a James Bond wannabe, drove off in a sports car — with the mistress, now his partner, serving him a chilled martini. He barely glanced behind him as the world caught fire in his rear-view mirror.

But, in fact, I did not become that woman. I got a new, full-time job — WFH now, of course — and I joined a walking club and changed my life. When I couldn’t walk with new friends, I walked by myself, out over the North Yorkshire moors where I shouted at passing sheep until I had no more anger left.

And in the end, I forgave him — forgave them — and ditched all that lingering emotional baggage so I was ready to start again with no feelings for him whatsoever.

The pandemic put a dampener on it, but I made time for adventure and fun, travelling abroad to places I’d always wanted to visit.

I went on socially distanced dates (and also had my first first-kiss in over 20 years, which quite literally made me weak at the knees).

I’ve had plenty of unsuccessful dates, too, but I’ve discovered myself in the process. I’ve learned to find happiness in the everyday, and my sense of self-worth is greater now than it’s ever been.

Whether you’re waiting for divorce paperwork to come through, or are in the throes of the decision right now, it may well feel like the world is spinning out of control and you have no idea which way is up.

But it will be OK. It may even be a lot better than OK. It really has been for me.

Names, including the author’s, have been changed.

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