Saturday, March 3, 2012

'Let me tell you about divorce …'

She was a wide-eyed romantic. He was a hard-bitten divorce lawyer. But, says Christina Hopkinson, their marriage has been the very definition of happiness

Christina Hopkinson

Despite their differences, Christina Hopkinson and her husband have been happy together for 11 years. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The majority of people, having fallen in love and got engaged, talk about plans for the wedding day, not about the potential for divorce. Unless they've got Paul McCartney's money and marital history, they don't debate the merits of a prenuptial agreement or consider whether it's a good idea to seek legal advice before tying the knot.

But then most people don't spend all day thinking about divorce, child residence and the financial wrangles of the once-in-love. Most people aren't like my husband, Alex, one of the country's leading family lawyers; a man who charges a fairly high hourly rate to listen to very rich people talk about their miserable marriages.

When we met, Alex's parents had been happily married for 40 years, but he had the jaundiced attitude to long-term monogamy that you'd expect from the offspring of Elizabeth Taylor.

I was very different. Despite years of failed relationships, I was still a hopeful believer in the power of true love. As an avid reader and writer of novels, I like happy endings and these often involved soulmates meeting and a good wedding. Alex's world, in contrast, is all about the unhappy ever after. While I was daydreaming through my 20s, wondering when I'd meet the perfect man, he was rising up through the ranks of a profession that was all about the death of romance.

With such different perspectives, we shouldn't have been able to get beyond the first date, let alone to a permanent commitment, but somehow we did. Our positions appeared to be those of the cliched man and woman: him paling at the mention of settling down and me horrifying my feminist self with thoughts of rings and dresses. I'd like to say that love conquers all and, while it's true that we were besotted, what really drove Alex to commit was dogged bullying on my part. I whined and I cajoled. It worked, but not without guilt on my part and resentment on his. I felt sure that what we had was strong enough to combat his view ofmarriage as doomed to end in acrimony, but it didn't stop me spending most of our wedding day whispering apologies in his ear.

And in the 11 years we've been together, his experience at work has taught me some lessons about relationships. I'd never be so hubristic as to say they have inoculated us against marital breakdown, but they may have made it a bit less likely that we'll be needing the services of one of his colleagues.

His first rule on how to avoid the divorce lawyer's offices is to "marry someone sensible", though he uses somewhat pithier and less PC language to express the sentiment. Many of us saw Betty Blue at a formative age and so associate love with derangement and drama. I was previously engaged to a man with whom I'd get very drunk and argumentative, one time smashing a framed photo of his first wedding over a chair. By all means go out with the wild ones, but when it comes to settling down, Alex believes you should remember that marriage isn't a romantic pact. It's a long-term business contract. He's a man who drinks and dances to excess and always bets everything on one card in poker, but there's no room for gambling when partnership is concerned.

He and I could have been set up by matchmaker, our backgrounds and educations are so similar. Forget Romeo and Juliet, our families were divided only by the A428 that cuts across Cambridgeshire. I travelled round the world only to end up with the boy almost next door, as if my horizons were as limited as those of a Jane Austen heroine. Even our teenage rebellions had been identical, leaving us with the exact same opinions on everything from AV to VAT. Boring though this is, it does mean you cut down on the potential for argument.

The next directive he will give our children is "Don't marry an Australian". It's not that he's got anything against Antipodeans – in fact, some of our best friends … and all that – but access to children is much trickier if you're having to negotiate it across 10,000 miles. Or the 1,500 miles to Russia. Or across the Atlantic to the US.

Having married someone not Australian and quite tediously sensible, my husband's next greatest principle is that our lives should remain similar to one another's. The most common problem he sees at the office is when two people change radically over their marriage: the internet geek who becomes surprisingly attractive to women upon making millions; the high-achieving woman who gives up a career to dabble in interior design; the nimble-footed teenage boy who marries his childhood sweetheart before he becomes a world-famous professional footballer.

When we met, our salaries were equal and our lack of interest in our domestic surroundings on a par. Then children came along, my career stalled and I became obsessive about stemming the tide of filth and plastic toys from silting up our house. His salary had risen sharply as the firm he set up became more successful, while what I earned barely covered minimal childcare.

My brain was addled by the lack of sleep and all the love and anxiety that comes of having a newborn in the house. I was tempted to give up the pretence of a career to claim that I was putting my family before myself, especially as his salary could comfortably support us. He was adamant that this should not happen and that I must contribute to the mortgage.

Why? He would be concerned about his position in law, as a middle-class man with a short marriage behind him, one child and a wife who is not working. When couples like that divorce, the law not infrequently applies the paternalistic assumption that she should never work again, and the onus is on the husband to support her for ever, even beyond the child's 18th birthday. (This principle is rarely applied if the roles are reversed.)

So I persevered with working from home during nap times and at nights, though it seemed financially and emotionally unrewarding. He'd ask me what I had achieved each day and sometimes I would fib a little, as I felt like I had nothing to show for my toil.

With hindsight, he was right. I'm lucky to have work that I can fit around my family and which I enjoy, but I wouldn't be in this position had I not got through those difficult early years with small babies. It would have been damaging to both of us if I had not been able to earn money of my own.

So it's not all bad being married to a divorce lawyer. There can't be many other areas of the law as interesting – I can't imagine discussing conveyancing or commercial litigation. His work revolves around money and sex – and for a novelist there are no greater topics. (He never reveals details of individual cases.)

Others are just as interested in his work as I am. Divorce, especially when it involves the wealthy, exerts the same fascination as crime novels – we read about it with the hope that it never happens to us or with theschadenfreude towards rich people squabbling over pennies and pets. As London has become the "divorce capital of Europe", the number of cases involving mind-boggling sums has risen, and even broadsheets fill their pages with detailed reports from the high court.

I'll never be able to avail myself of his professional services and, in the event of a divorce, I'm scuppered, given who I'd be up against. But despite, or even because of, his unromantic talk of contracts, equity and parity, we've both learned that what binds people for the long term is more than just legalities. They may be corny words with no place in a court of law, but respect, gratitude and tenderness play their part too.

Christina Hopkinson's novel The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairsis published by Hodder, £7.99. To order a copy for £6.39, with free UK p&p, go to or call 0330 333 6846


The Secret to Emotional Intimacy

By Rori Raye

Did you know you can skyrocket the connection you feel with a man simply by choosing different words when you speak to him? 

There comes a time – maybe shortly after you get to know a man, or maybe a little later – when you’ll want to tell him something that’s bothering you, and yet you feel afraid to tell him the truth for fear of messing things up or pushing him away. This happens to all of us. Even now, before I speak a hard "truth" to my husband, I feel that thrill of fear go through me – the "good girl" part of me that thinks I’m better off "keeping things to myself."

And yet, what if the hardest things imaginable to say to a man...could make him love you more? Well, they can.


It's absolutely crucial to speak your truth using the right words – at the right time, with the right body language, and radiating the right "vibe" from inside of you. To show you what I mean and help you practice this, I’ve created a Tool. It’s called “Tell the Truth”:

1. If I made "telling the truth to a man" a game for you, where you couldn't vent, or yell, or complain, or make him wrong – or even say the word "you" to him – how would you say it in the most truthful, fully-expressed way possible? I want you to just consider this. Give yourself some time to breathe and mull it over.

2. Now, imagine a situation with a man that comes up all the time, that's bothering you constantly, or seemed to be a pattern of conflict and upset for you in past relationships.

3.  Imagine that he’s standing in front of you. Allow yourself to FEEL what you feel, what you've felt, what the memory brings up for you, and how you feel imagining him standing right there in front of you.

4.  Stand in a comfortable position, with your palms turned toward the man you imagine standing in front of you. Now, as silly as this may sound, imagine there's a big plastic zipper over your heart – and pull that zipper down to expose your heart. Allow yourself to feel what it feels like to have your heart open to the world and the man in front of you. Track your entire body so that you notice what parts are tense, and, as you gently allow the tense parts to release and relax and rest, notice where tension shows up in other parts of your body.

6. Now imagine what you want to say to him about what you need and want and would change about him and your situation together – and say it out loud if you can.

7. Write it out for yourself – what you would normally say to him, what you're imagining saying to him, what you've said out loud. (It's great to carry a journal or piece of paper with you to practice this tool as much as you can to change things as fast as you can.) Just write what you instinctively first want to say...using the words you most usually want to use. And then...

8. Translate it into what I call “Feeling Messages.” This means using words that actually say what you FEEL – you focus entirely on the feeling you’re having rather than on his behavior. Just rework what you instinctively want to say – how you want to hurl your upset at him – and write it all in poetry, from your heart, instead of "descriptions" and "reportings" from your head. Make it only from you, sharing your feeling state and not linking it at ALL to what has happened or what he did or didn’t do, or who he seems to be or not be.

For instance, you might want to say: “You never make plans anymore – it's always me making plans for the two of us. If I don't make the plans, nothing happens – we just sit and watch TV. I need for you to move this relationship forward, and I want to improve our connection by doing more things together.”

Instead, try: “I feel bad and uncomfortable without plans for the two of us anymore. I miss that.” Then: "I feel so alone and lonely and like I'm single and leading a life so separate from you. I miss you. I miss feeling close to you. I don't want a relationship with you right now that feels like just dating.

Can you see the differences?

In the first instance, you’re talking about him, and what he’s doing and not doing, and what you think he could do to solve the problem. In the second approach, you’re only using the word “I” as a frame of reference. You’re not asking him to do anything, you’re not making him wrong, and you’re not asking him why he’s acting the way he does.

When you talk to a man this way, something miraculous happens. He doesn’t feel attacked, so he doesn’t feel a need to defend himself. You’re also communicating to him that you trust him – you trust him enough to reveal yourself to him, and you trust him to want to make you happy.  In essence, you’ve created instant intimacy.

To learn more about Feeling Messages to help you express your feelings in a way that will make a man want to listen to you and come closer to you, subscribe to Rori’s free relationship advice e-newsletter.  You’ll learn a simple three-step system you can use in any situation to connect more deeply with your man whether you’re dating or in a committed relationship.

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Diary of a separation

Am I lazy or have I just become used to intimacy?

I got a message from Mark, the aspiring sitcom writer this week. I have been really, really hopeless with Mark since dumping him by email after three dates. For a while he kept in what felt to me like oppressively close touch, emailing and texting and suggesting we go out for a drink. In return, I behaved like an evasive weasel, expressing generic positive thoughts about the "going out for a drink" scenario, then going silent or finding an excuse whenever he suggested a concrete date. Finally he got quite cross and asked if I really wanted to see him again and I said that he was putting too much pressure on me and that no, if he kept being so insistent, I wouldn't actually want to see him again. A fairly poor performance in the maturity stakes from both of us, really.

This email, coming after a break of a month or so, amused and appalled me in equal measure. On the one hand it was conciliatory and thoughtful: he said he was in a "strange place" in his life when he met me and he knew he had been far too pushy when I had been very clear about wanting to keep things very casual. On the other hand, I found it hard to concentrate on his apology once he used the expression: "lazy sex" in describing our abortive relationship.

Lazy sex? In context, it was obviously not intended to be insulting, but somehow it doesn't sound great either. "Lazy?" Am I lazy? I wonder. I didn't just lie there with a pained expression, did I, like some Victorian newlywed being ... bothered? I think back, slightly nervously and come to the conclusion that lazy or not, the kind of sex we had is the only kind I know how to "do". This makes it worse, somehow.

No one likes to think they're not very good at sex, but even so, I'm inclined to think it might be true of me. We're all supposed to be GGG, "good, giving and game", according to the wise and funny US agony uncle Dan Savage: I'm not even sure I can muster one out of three. "Stilted, vanilla and inarticulate" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Having stewed over the email for a few days, I'm considering take holy orders and giving up the life of the flesh altogether, but instead I confide in my best friend.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing, laziness," she says, when I tell her, but she doesn't sound entirely convincing.

"It's not great though, is it? It's not 'the sex was mind-blowing, I scaled hitherto unimaginable erotic heights'."

"Well, you obviously didn't think that either, did you?" she points out, very reasonably. "Or you'd have been keener to see him again."

"That's true."

I check with my other friend Anna. "Do you think I might be bad at sex?"

"Oh," she says reassuringly, "I don't think it's really possible to be very bad at sex. A little enthusiasm goes a long way. That, and blow jobs."

I'm still not sure though. Being separated is a bit like being 14 again in this respect. "Am I normal?" I ask myself repeatedly, but this time, there's no Just 17 problem page to put me at ease.

It's funny. Sex – wanting sex with other people – was a big part of why we broke up, but I've surprised myself with how much I actually miss "married" sex. The sex I (occasionally) have now is more exciting in prospect: there's the uncertainty, the novelty, that moment of happy realisation that indeed, you haven't imagined it, this person does want to sleep with you. It carries a tiny but powerful vindication: yes, I can be desirable.

But sometimes that moment is actually the best bit: the actual sex that follows can be awkward, strange, comic and very lonely. It's easy to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable with someone you don't actually know very well and those aren't the best circumstances for losing yourself in the moment.

Sex in a long-term relationship is often lazy, I suppose: it's sex where you both know what you want and need and how to get it without superhuman effort. It can be selfish, or opportunistic, or an accident of proximity: it's the kind of sex where you might not even bother to get undressed.

I miss that easy shorthand you have with a long-term partner, the instinct you develop about another body and its reactions. I mean intimacy, I suppose.

Intimacy is ... not having to make an effort? I don't think Dan Savage would approve.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Tempted to Call the Ex? Stop, Drop and Roll!

By Maryanne Comaroto

My "Stop, Drop, and Roll" technique is the tried and true, all-time favorite method for avoiding relationship Groundhog Day (the insanity of doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result), which is what we do when we make impulsive, unconscious choices like calling an ex when we know better. Learning this skill is not only effective but, according to scientific studies, developing delayed gratification skills has been associated with success in all areas of life. It works just like a fire drill! 


True love does not have a shelf life, Real love will be here tomorrow, next week, and next year! Your life is not a movie, and healthy relationships do not thrive on drama, low self-esteem, neediness, loneliness, fear, etc.  


Drop the story you are telling yourself by thinking it all the way through. Ask yourself, "What do I really want? Why am I so desperate? What do I expect my ex to do for me on the other end of the phone?" Then sit down for a moment and listen to your answers. Don't get up until you have the courage to tell yourself the whole truth.

Most often we dial our ex because we are lonely, bored, need validation that we are lovable, are romanticizing the past, need a "fix," or want to avoid feeling something that makes us uncomfortable. When we drop in on ourselves, essentially we are learning the most profound relationship skill of all, self-inquiry.

Self-inquiry is key to avoiding self-destructive patterns, developing self-love, and attracting a great partner! When we learn how to be with our discomfort (sit quietly and listen to our own real needs, let the pain, etc., come up and out) we learn we can give ourselves what we need, or at least get clarity. If we don't know what we feel, we don't know what we need. Once we have developed this critical skill we can avoid dragging ourselves and our ex through another unconscious round of voluntary pain and suffering!


Once you have interrupted your impulse by stopping and dropping into what's really going on, then you get to choose. Our ability to choose is what keeps us from repeating self-destructive patterns and separating us from what our hearts truly desire. When we have given ourselves the space to think through what we need, then and only then can we access these real choices — primarily because we are now internally focused.

We remember that love isn't "out there"; it is, and always will be, inside of us. From here, healthy choices and plans of action emerge. You will be surprised at all the choices you didn't even know were an option in that place of reaction and desperation!

Lady walking down the street falls into a hole. Yeoooww. Eventually she figures out a way to climb out. Lady walking down the street forgets the hole is there and falls in again! Yeesh! This time she remembers how to get out and does so expeditiously.  Lady walking down the street, sees the hole and … falls in anyway! Seriously? Next time — lady takes a different street!

So, next time you see or smell "relationship smoke" (especially when the smoke is emanating from inside your brain), stop, drop, and roll. It could save you lots of self-inflicted pain and suffering.

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Life For Rent: Confessions Of A Mistress

By Ruth Purple

The mistress, you can’t hate her enough. If you can skin and burn her alive, you know you would. You can’t help but be overwhelmed with anger.

But stop, pause and ask yourself- is all that hatred and anger worth it? “When a wife gets into all kinds of trouble to get even, she is only acknowledging the mistress’ role. The mistress feels recognized, accepted. It’s kind of twisted when you think about it, but a mistress feels fulfilled in some way when a wife confronts her. The moment you face her, she feels triumphant…” says a Sandra, a former mistress. “Never exhaust your energy on the mistress you are only wasting it…” she continues.

Sandra tells all…

“I was a mistress for three years, until I got really hurt.

At first, I was in it for the fun and excitement. I was really attracted to him. I knew he was married for 10 years, but he said it was shaky and he was not happy anymore. During that time I really felt sorry for him for being trapped in a lousy marriage. When we were together I can see that he was having a time of his life. As time went by he told me that his wife was starting to suspect and that we should lay low for a while. We saw each other under his terms… only when ‘it’s safe.’ Believe me, it was really frustrating.

I felt used. This is just one of the thousands of disappointment I had to endure.
When you are a mistress you:
• Can’t go out on public with him.
• Can’t be with him during holidays.
• Can’t help feeling jealous when he dates his wife.
• Have to get used to broken promises.
• Can’t help feeling used when he leaves you and go home to his wife.
• Can get tired of the sneaking and fear of getting caught.
• Can’t totally trust him.
• You can’t call on him but he can call on you anytime he wants.
• You are the first one to go when finances are tight.
Somehow I learned to cope with this. But what really broke me into pieces was when he sent me a text message telling me that his wife knew. ‘I can’t see you anymore. I’m really, really sorry. My wife is going to file for divorce when we continue to see each other. I can’t afford that to happen. I am really sorry. Goodbye. Please don’t reply.’ This was his exact mobile message.
I was so pissed off that I called his house asked for his wife and spilled everything about the affair. But I was stunned and shut to silence when the wife laughed and answered. ‘I’m sorry, dear. I have a husband and children to take care of. Have a nice day …’ she put the phone down and never heard from them again. I never felt disgusted in my whole life.
If you are attracted to a married man- forget about it! If you are planning to have an affair- don’t! If you are in an affair- get out now! You will always be disposable. Value your life- find a good man. Never allow yourself to get used. If you are in an affair now, don’t think that your relationship is anything special, because in the end you still end up alone… and relationships are not supposed to be that way.”
Ruth Purple is a Relationship Expert who has been successfully coaching individuals and couples in their relationships. Get A Copy of her sensational ebook on Winning Over Infidelity. Experience a Happier Love Life.  You can read more from Ruth at

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