Why divorce shouldn’t just be seen as a failure- By Suzanne Newton



Sometimes failing forward feels just like regular failing.


In July this year my husband of 16 years and I formally separated. This was a long and slow process that was more of a controlled crash than a complete train wreck.

My Mother (who has from all appearances had the near perfect relationship with my Dad) has always observed, to stay compatible in marriage over the changes in life required a certain amount of luck. This has not made it any easier to accept my marriage has failed.

The 4 beautiful children of ours made it all the more difficult to come to the final conclusion that the relationship was not salvageable.

In January 2015 we took the opportunity to move to Sydney. I had been contacted via my Linkedin profile to consider a job and the universe aligned my very long ‘must haves” list to confirm the move was right for us. After a couple of years of increasing disconnection, this was our opportunity to get out of our rut, or more specifically, to get my husband out of his. Our life style had seen us grow apart.

The 4 bambinos, my career demands and trajectory, the Christchurch Earthquakes and completing an MBA I had grown in my capacity to take on challenge and grow. Alas, these experiences, the death of my Father in law, shift work, and other childhood experiences, resulted in the opposite for the other half.

We engaged a counselor, who I was truly expecting to be able to open a door to us reconnecting, was quick to spot that we were moving in two different directions. To become the partner that the other needed, would be to change who we really were.  Nicely framed, no blame, an honourable exit.

There were things that had happened that I felt justified in casting blame for the demise of us, and are maybe these are to be told of another time. These suddenly became unimportant though as the new frame, that our relationship was not capable of nourishing us as a couple, came in to focus.

All of this logically made sense. My support people agreed. The only option was to split while we still kind of liked each other. The decision that had been circling us for quite some time had finally been made.

Along with the shame of failing at marriage, the double bind is that in this day and age, there also exists the shame of staying in an unhappy relationship.

Once I had given voice to my realisation that I was indeed unhappy with the state of things, and it was unlikely anything would change, my practical self took over to arrange logistics.

This leads to the next stage of how to unravel a life of expected togetherness. Telling selected people was the first step. We became private in our conversations with our respective supports.

The hardest was telling the kids. Unlike our closest adult special people, who had some insight into the process, the kids had been shielded somewhat, so it came as a surprise.

There had been no heated arguments and few obvious tears in their sight to herald the arrival of our new family circumstance.  I remember my 6-year-old saying, with tears welling, ‘I wish you didn’t tell me that Mummy”, when we had the sit down to inform them what would be happening. I was more heart broken by this than anything.

The mediated non-adversarial separation agreement process to decide the practical workings of the division of property and child care arrangements was mercifully straight forward.

The grapevine has been a surprisingly inefficient in spreading the news. This had lead to many slightly awkward conversations to have to explain the change in status. Also awkward is maintaining contact with those outside my inner circle who are joint acquaintances and the social leprosy that the status of being a newly single woman can bring.

Whether a threat to the happily ever after narrative, just not knowing what to say or just not knowing yet, the silence from the next social strata has been profound.

As much as the logic all stacks up for me, and in my heart of hearts I know it is the right decision, I am still hounded by the shame of failing.

Could I have done more?

Why was I not enough for my husband to fight for? Why was it so easy to undo? The idealised thoughts I had, pre and during marriage, of people giving up on the institution haunt me often.

It still feels like crap, no matter how you intellectually frame it. But today, 3 months after we officially and privately parted ways, I have stepped up more openly to claim my failure, so I can fail forward. Facebook relationship status changed to “separated”. Now the old school friends know, the old colleagues too, that I have failed.

As with any major change in life circumstances we all need time to adjust, and adjust on may different aspects of our humanity. My psychological recovery feels well underway, my emotional, social, spiritual and what other dimensions hold us together as a being, I guess will take some time.

Over this time, I have devoted much energy to ponder the significance and purpose of intimate adult relationships, to us individually and society, as my own has unravelled.  Follow me as I piece it all my learnings together, to fail forward and explore life beyond my marriage failure.

In the words of CS Lewis “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying I will try again tomorrow.”

I’d like to add to this

“…and sometimes courage is to simply say, I will try no more.”

img_7415Sue Newton is mother to four fantastically quirky kids. Orginally from Christchurch, New Zealand, Sydney is now home base. As a registered nurse who has worked in educational settings over much of her career, wellbeing and relationships are a bit of a passion. Juggling family and career has not stopped her ambition, and she has recently completed a Masters of Business. Always up for a new challenge, bee keeping, cheese making and snake handling are some of her interests in which she dabbles. 

Photo courtesy of Ambro @FreeDigitalPhotos.net



1 Comment

  • Susan McLean says:

    Amazing. I love the term fail forward. But here’s a thought. When one runs a project and it’s derailing one pulls the plug and stops the project before the budget is blown and the product explodes in flames (Samsung take a leaf)….the act of stopping a project is often assumed to be a project failure. When in fact the act of stopping it before the thing self combusts is in technical terms good project management. Putting a technical or methodical lens on this then translates to good management and efficient identification of impending spontaneous combustion and therefore ceasing further damaging impact. It’s a resounding success in my books.

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