I had been with my partner for about 15 years. We have no children. Over time, for numerous reasons, our relationship became more toxic. I realised that divorce was the appropriate option for me; the relationship was no longer working.
Initially I was OK with the process. My work took me away from home, so we didn’t have to be in the same town even. However, not long into the proceedings, my contract ended and I had to return to our shared house. At this point, my own stresses and anxieties began to increase. I felt guilty about initiating the divorce and increasingly anxious about what the future held. Being a man, I told myself I could cope. Counselling was what weak people needed, not what Alpha males did.
Yet I knew there were problems. My sleep was all over the place – I would lie awake, churning over possibilities in my head and not really resolving anything. I was increasingly rowing with my family and overreacting to ordinary life events. Minor setbacks would send me into the doldrums; minor victories made me overly celebratory. I could see that I was swinging back and forth across the emotional spectrum and had lost sight of ‘me’ in the midst of the maelstrom.
My first counsellor was a bit of a disaster. She came from a CBT perspective and I found her approach too prescriptive, too harsh. I felt she took me in directions that were not helpful; that she was trying to trammel my thinking into a very narrow channel, mostly dictated by her own interests rather than what I needed to unpack.
My second counsellor took a person-centred approach. She initially offered video-counselling via FaceTime, and I knew from our first contact that she would be right. She listened, explored and allowed me to work through some of the pain involved in ending my marriage. What I needed was active, reflective support, not to be beaten into submission. This second counsellor gave me exactly that and enabled me to work through the trauma at my own pace.
Before my counselling, I was facing the wrong way in the starting blocks; in fact, I wasn’t even sure what direction the race was meant to go in, so I kept running into walls and getting angry that I wasn’t making sufficient progress. We are now eight months on. I’ve progressed from baby steps to huge strides and am now sprinting through the last stages of the divorce process, with the finish line in sight. I wouldn’t say I am ready to compete in the Olympics, but things are much better. I am more rational, less stressed, calmer and better able to deal with life’s turbulence than I have been in both the recent past and the medium term.
In truth, an unhealthy relationship took its toll on me and ‘fixing’ stuff will take a while longer. I still see the counsellor, but now, rather than firefighting, she is helping me construct a better future from the rubble that is left.
Men tend to bottle things up; we tend to fall back on our own stereotypical expectations of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be this way. Divorce is like scaling a series of mountains. With the right counsellor, the mountains can become molehills.
My five tips for choosing a good counsellor:
- Do your research. Look for people who are appropriately qualified and deliver what you need.
- Choose a counsellor who puts you in control. You know how often you need support. It should be your choice, based on your needs.
- Commit to the sessions. I took to emailing my counsellor with a list of the good and bad points that had occurred since we last met. Even writing the email was a constructive process as it enabled reflective insight.
- Be patient. We blokes want rapid progress, and this may not happen. It’s like unpacking when you move home – you won’t find a shelf for every item and may have to throw some things out.
- Celebrate your progress. Acknowledge where you started from. Progress isn’t always linear, so don’t give up; it’s worth pursuing.
The writer wished to remain anonymous.
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