“There are two sides to every story.”
An old adage applying as much to separation and divorce as to any other situation. The significance in this instance is that only the two protagonists can fully know the story – yet sometimes even they don’t know the whole of it.
The variety of versions of the story we tell may depend on who we’re talking to.
Versions to ourselves
The first version of our separation story is that which we tell to ourselves. The two extremes are self-condemnation where we convict ourselves of everything versus a personal absolution of anything we may have done to lead to the marital breakdown.
Perhaps we blame our spouse, their decisions and their actions for the breakdown – and perhaps rightly so. Everything we say and do indicates their behaviour was to blame, and our thoughts confirm this. ‘No fault’ divorces seem a laughable idea – it was all their fault. If your ex was abusive in any way, then they are at fault with their behaviour, and you may need support to feel confident that you are not to blame for this: that is their behaviour, not a fault of yours.
Alternatively we may convict ourselves, reproaching every action and decision we took as the ultimate factor in the breakdown of our marriage. We may tell ourselves that if only we had behaved differently things would have been different. Maybe if we’d been less or more of ourselves…
Yet perhaps there’s a middle ground where we accept some of the responsibility lies with both sides. In some situations this is neither appropriate or particularly true, such as in abusive relationships. However telling ourselves this version requires us to face up to our own inadequacies as well as our partner’s.
But whichever version of the story we tell ourselves it can be an important factor in how we view ourselves. Do we trust ourselves any longer? Do we beat ourselves up emotionally? Do we realise our own shortcomings and endeavour to be the best possible version of ourselves? Will we remain angry and sustain that emotion through our thoughts?
Versions to one another
‘You’ and ‘I’ form many sentence starters. If we aren’t careful, ‘always’ and ‘never’ follow straight after. We tell each other the way they should have behaved, how things could have been better, berate one another.The purpose? We hope they will have clarity about their wrongdoing and come back to us perhaps.
Yet the versions we have in our individual minds are inevitably different, coloured by our view of situations, of what the other person meant, and of so many other day-to-day things we experienced. Chances are, our interpretations of the situation will look very different. This happens even on happy occasions with people who are happy together, why would that not be exacerbated in this instance?
A particularly good piece of advice came from the Restored Lives course I attended. Speak factually; don’t bring in emotion; find someone else with whom to discuss your feelings. The Restored Lives course has help, advice and useful tools for communicating with your ex, amongst other ways of negotiating divorce and separation.
As we speak to one another, if we listen, we will find different ways that things have been interpreted, thought of and seen. Maybe we’ll never know why, but maybe this will go some way to understanding a small fraction too.
Versions to our friends
Outside of the couple there is the wider world. We recount elements of the story to people, yet maybe no one receives a full explanation or all the individual nuances we both bring to the experience.
Where this becomes particularly complex is when one half of the couple has recounted their version, and the friend or family member recalls an element of that to the other half of the couple, especially when that seems totally at odds with the person’s own experiences or recollections of the split.
We are all free to tell our own story yet we must also remember it’s their story too. As we tell ours, they may tell theirs. One or both could embellish, omit or seem to have lived a different existence.
As the listeners, we must remember we hear one side of the tale. We may hear only the angry, the self-blaming, the relived, the devastated. If we hear both, we must remember there are different lenses through which the individuals view the marriage and separation.
There will always be more than one side to a story. There’s no way to know the tiny ins and outs of another’s relationship. We have to hear the versions with grace, acknowledging we won’t know the full story and forgive wherever possible, even when we don’t agree.