Having to disclose at a dinner party that you are a divorce lawyer tends to be a good conversation stopper. Sometimes it can be a conversation starter of sorts but that is usually because someone at the table has a story to share about their poor experience during their divorce (which they can often somehow bring back to us lawyers!)
And so, for a long while there I would do all I could to avoid the conversation that led to the age old question ‘So what do you do?’ And even when asked I would be a tad vague “I am a lawyer…” That in itself is often a great conversation stopper (and then try adding ‘divorce’ to ‘lawyer’ and you have the perfect double whammy!)
But these days it may be that I am less concerned or perhaps that thanks to all this writing (and therefore thinking!) about what I do that now I am more than happy to have ‘that’ conversation. In fact, I invite it. And when I get ‘that’ face- the one that says ‘Oh how terrible for you that you have to work in the world of divorce’– I politely smile and say ‘Actually, I love the work that I do- without it I would never have learned all that I have about relationships, love and life.’
You see I grew up in a family with two parents who were madly in love with each other (and still are!) They met when they were kids (literally, like under 10 or something mad!) were ‘going steady’ for all their teens, engaged and 21 and then married a short while later! I therefore grew up being a little confused and thinking that pretty much anyone I was dating after the age of about 12 had the potential to be a future husband!
But my romantic life did not really pan out in the ‘love story’ way of my parents. It took me a few false starts, many broken hearts and then a bit of a plan before I met my now husband. And the thing is, I expect your story will be a little different to mine too, because when it comes to love we all have our own tale.
Whether it was watching my parents, learning myself or helping people every day for the past 15 years fall ‘out of love’ I have come to learn a few things about relationships as a divorce lawyer and here are 3 of my biggest learnings-
1. Relationships make (and break) our lives- The relationships we have with others, particularly our close intimate relationships, are possibly the most important things in our lives. Our immediate family relationships sculpt us into the people we are. The impact of parents on children, particularly in the first 3 years of life, is both incredible and terrifying all at the same time. And so much of who ends up in our lives seems to come back to ‘chance’. It was perhaps chance or even luck that had me being born in a Country where my liberty and freedom are prized and into a family where I was given every opportunity in life. Sadly it was not until I started to work as a lawyer that I realised just how different my life had been to so many others around me.
I struggle to find anything that is a higher priority in our lives than our relationships with those closest to us. We can almost do without everything else but if when we don’t have ‘love’ we are lost. We seek a life that is meaningful and often our relationships with our partners, our parents and our children create much of what makes life ‘meaningful’.
It is therefore no surprise that when those relationships are broken, we fall apart. Our very being is challenged. But when we open our heart again, our relationships really can make our lives- those moments in time with family, friends and loved ones will be the things that we look back on when life is coming to an end as the things that really meant the most.
2. Relationships take courage– I have had my heart broken on more than one occasion. I know at the time I despised hearing things from my friends like ‘everything happens for a reason’. I also know now, looking back, that sometimes those heartbreak moments are like a crossroads in life- and just because I was taking a different path (sometime not by choice) that path has still led to many wonderful things. I am however an optimist and I am eternally grateful for this trait. I will always see the brighter side and have many conversations with myself on a daily basis about the good in any situation.
The people who I have seen make the most of the challenge that heartbreak throws their way have the same outlook- they will always see the glass half full side of life. They believe in being responsible for themselves. They are the master of their own happiness and don’t require any one else to make it what they want. They believe in themselves, hold their head high and take challenges in their stride. This doesn’t mean that they are indestructible, just that when they are knocked down, they dust themselves off and get back up. But they also take the time to reflect- to consider what they have done to contribute to the situation so that they are always learning. They know when to say sorry, when to forgive and when to let go and walk away. They are courageous- so much so that they will open their hearts again to love no matter the risk of feeling heart break all over again.
3. The grass is not always greener (but sometimes you will have to find some fertiliser and make it so!) You may have heard me say before that relationships have ‘seasons’- like the weather they can sometimes be hot, sweaty and fun and other times cold and dark and seemingly never going to end. But just like the seasons in each year, our ‘relationship seasons’ will come and go if we let them. The trick of course is to remember this even when things seem to have hit rock bottom.
When things are challenging it is normal and natural to allow your mind to consider what the grass might look like on the other side. And in our modern world you don’t have to look too far to find out. But the thing is, in my work I have seen a lot of people make that decision to move to the ‘other’ grass only to discover (sometimes when it is too late) that perhaps things weren’t so bad after all.
For me I take a moment each day to be grateful. To say ‘thank you’ to my partner, my family and my friends. I focus on what is going right rather than what is going wrong. And I remind myself, that even though sometimes the grass over there might look ‘greener’, I am in charge of the greenness of my own grass and with some time, care and fertiliser mine might even be greener!
I am in the business of relationships and what my work continues to show me is that our relationships with those closest to us are the most important things in our lives. They provide our lives with meaning, worth, challenge and direction. And sometimes they do, with little rational explanation, come to an end. But that end is really a beginning if you just look at it a little differently. As each moment, each hour and each day is a chance for something new if you make it so. It is a choice that you can make.
I don’t know who said this but it sums it up for me-
Relationships don’t last because you love each other. They last because you make, and keep making a choice…
If you are experiencing divorce or separation and don’t know where to start, Clarissa’s book, ‘Splitsville- How to separate, stay out of Court and stay friends’ will keep you on the right path. Available in bookstores now or Order your copy here.
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