My Divorce Journal

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Chapter 1  End of my 21-year-old marriage – a storm brewing

I will be meeting the lawyer to sign the divorce papers soon in Sydney. The papers were issued by my wife.

My family has been based in the Sydney for the past five years due to my ex-wife’s work assignment  and I shuttled between Sydney and Singapore every few months – more to visit my daughter than anything else.

Perhaps the frequent long absence from each another  as husband and wife has exaceberated the cracks already found within the relationship since many years ago.

It will be an express divorce nevertheless meaning that the marital dissolution is almost immediate once the court acknowledged the documents.

I sense a storm coming my way…

It also ushers the end of a long 21-year-old marriage and I have thanked my wife profusely the past few days via text messages that I have cherished the relationship however tumultous it has been for the two of us.

I also asked for her forgiveness and not to bear grudges against me for too long as it wont be healthy for her as well.

Its a bittersweet feeling really and I am glad that all this happens in Sydney as I will have the time to grieve about the situation more freely than if it happens in Singapore.

There are memories that played on my mind these past few nights when I slept – some were good others sad.

But generally, its difficult to sleep and I woke up often in cold sweat as suddenly you felt that you have lost everything you cherished.

I always have this fear of spending the remaining of my life by myself and more worryingly not able to see my 18-year-old daughter growing up.

She has grown into a sweet beautiful young lady and I caught a few guys staring at her while we were out together.

I have difficulty talking directly to her about the divorce though I knew that she must have saw the inevitable coming.

It takes alot of courage talking about a family breakup to your own kids and I guess you don’t want to discuss such soapy stuff when you are out with them for fear that you will upset them.

But most importantly, you are unsure how discussing such stuff will upset you and whether you can cope with any emotional blow-up..

Will you cry in front of your own kids while informing them that you and mummy will not be together anymore? For young kids, it will be so much harder to tell them what has happened though personally I believe they are not so ignorant as adults think they are.

They will feel the difference, the constant shuttle between two homes and a absent other parent at times when their friends constantly have two parents around them. The difference will be glaring as they grow up to be teenagers and some embrace it with some personal shame whereas the difficult ones tend to rebel or sink into depression.

Anyway, back to my personal story, we were already separated for close to two years so divorce seems to be the next best thing to do.

Seldom do I hear of couples coming back together again after a separation.

Somehow, I felt that when you are separated, you are actually reiterating your stand that the marriage won’t hold out anymore or else why are you separating in the first place?

I remembered marrying my wife in a church setting 21 years ago pledging to be “for better or for worse and in sickness or in health”.

All this seemed so remote and long ago.

I am not someone who loves easily and being socially awkward it was difficult for me to befriend the opposite sex when I was much younger. I am someone who lacks alot of self-confidence and tend to over-impress a girl when out on a date.

I remembered this gal whom I liked alot when I was much younger and after getting a rare date from her after countless tries, I turned up on our first date in a over-sized long-sleeved shirt and office pants.

To my horror, she came out in a sports shorts, collarless tee shirt and slippers. We never went out again after that…

My difficult growing-up years as a kid also deterred me from trusting people easily and my impression of a family is often marred by abandonment, conflicts and unhappiness.

I grew up pretty much on my own and my parents fostered us out for a good 9 to 10 years before we went back to live with them. The feeling of being abandoned stays with me till this day.

I grew up hating them for abandoning my brother and I to another foster family but after I found Christ, amazingly the hatred disappeared almost instantly. Slowly, I took time to patch up with them till my mum passed away recently in 2016.

My ex-wife and I met as a church group playing games together after church service and soon we dated.

I was already 30 years old then after splitting with another gal whom I courted for 2 years. She was much younger than me and we fought alot so we splitted after 2 years of courting.

We were rather tight in cash after the wedding and couldn’t afford to go on a honeymoon as our HDB flat also arrived in the midst of our wedding preparation. It was a simple wedding of which my ex-wife has some issue with especially during the wedding dinner when the dishes were all very plain and unappetizing.

I felt really bad for a long while and brought her to Europe six months later for a make-shift honeymoon when my company sent me to Belgium for a training course. It was our first long overseas trip and we were both over the moon.

Subsequently, we went to Europe again twice on our own when our daughter was born and twice to the US. We love to travel and would do so for two to three times a year. It was also our way of bonding as a family and a reward for the times we spent so hard at work.

We had our differences of course like most couples but the real damage was the deafening silence when we don’t speak for months during the last few years of the rocky marriage. We also slept separately for almost 18 months while I was in Sydney and you can see the beginning of an end there.

Many who came to our support group also mentioned that their marriages deteriorated when they started to sleep separately due to various reasons. The physical separation is often marred by alot of emotional baggage and hurt and unless we can iron out the differences, any physical separation can only make things worse.

On our part, the move to Sydney five years ago was hopefully one way to escape from the maddening work culture back home and to give the stressed marriage a reprieve but it didn’t work. We have actually brought the same old baggage from Singapore over though the nice weather and vast space provided us the room to work things out on our own but we didn’t…the emotional cracks were too huge for any physical environment to mend.

Communication was still not there and once the mind was made up to throw in the towel by my wife – it was literally game over.

However, I do not want to entirely blame her for the divorce as the reasons to split should be shared between the two of us.

I also believed that if you love someone enough you must let the person goes if she or he wants out. For my part, it is more of a relationship that has lost much of the spark and romance the early years bore and I can safely say that we soldiered on more for my daughter than anything else.

My only worry is for my daughter to cope well with the situation. She is someone who speaks little and kept alot of stuff to herself – often the recipe for emotional disaster.

She is also having her HSC exam then – our A level in equivalent and I am pretty sure that she will be affected by our decision. I later realised she did well enough to enter into University of Sydney and graduated with a arts degree.

On my part, I will hardly have time to grieve about the matter in Singapore as I am busy caring for other people caught in similar situations.

Sometimes I find it a miracle that I can do that under the circumstances.

Yet, having experience the similar experience myself helps me to empathsize alot with my clients.

I must thank my group of supporters and counsellors/coaches who have assisted me behind the scene all this while.

I wouldn’t have make it so far without you guys – thanks!

Having such a group of people out there holding me up make the journey less painful to bear.

A friend Sharifah has encouraged me by showing me a drawing her daughter done for her when she experiences some marital issue herself.

It showed a door closed shut whereas there is another door that is wide open.

Thanks Sharifah for showing me that there is still an open door for me to walk through and live my life meaningfully.

Thanks again to all my friends and supporters who have uphold me all this while – it really makes the tough journey easier to bear.

Let us also try to care for many others out there who may have no one to turn to in their time of need.

Chapter 2. Grief worse than death of my father

My dad passed away almost 28 years ago from cancer.

Been a traditional cold-as-ice Asian father, he seldom talked to me and my brother.

However, during his last surviving year, he talked to me alot as I tried to keep him company during the torrid nights when he would literally grimace with the pain of his illness.

I didn’t cried at all after he died – but only once when I knew that he had cancer – I hid in the tiolet and sobbed for half an hour incontrollably.

I realised that your loved one don’t just die from your life and that over time you won’t forget about them much, they live on quite vividly actually in your memory. We remembered them through the experiences we had with them while they are alive and somehow though physically they are gone, they remained very much alive in our memory.

Of course, I was sad when my dad passed away when I was only 22 years old but we have more or less anticipated his death for almost two years after he contracted cancer.

I remembered the sharing we had while he was sick lying motionless in bed, what kind of funeral he would have, his dreams, aspirations, regrets and thoughts both as a person and dad.

I was glad that I spent an enormous amount of time getting to know him while he was dying in bed at home as I knew much more about him and that he is not a mystery to me after all.

It would be a tragedy if the only memories of my dead dad is a detached and aloof person of mystery.

My dad did not really had a wonderful relationship with my mum and they actually separated for two years before coming back together again.

Sometimes, the quarrels were so fierce that I wished they have divorced and gave my brother and I some peace in the household.

In my work with the divorced, I counselled many who cried in front of me when their world crashed right in front of them.

To those who are divorcing, its not only the departure of a person from their life but more significantly a loss of dreams, ideals, visions and fond memories. We all don’t marry to divorce and though the signposts are there for many years, when the actual axe comes down, we still feel the loss of something that we have for many years and some decades no matter how unhappy we are.

We lost our identity as a husband, father, partner and soulmate. We don’t really know how to live anymore and personally I felt a sense of loss the very first year of my divorce. You have to adapt from married life to singlehood, from a daily dad to a weekly or for my case a yearly dad as I only visit my daughter once a year. You literally take your meals alone and you have the whole bed to yourself for the first time and somehow you miss someone sleeping next to you.

You lost the dream of a home that you have set up to build during the marriage and grimace that all the sacrifices you bore for the family is now all gone.

I disagreed with many that the aftermath feeling from a divorce is like the experiences of someone close-by passing away.

Though the five-steps grieve process is still the same, the intensity is actually ten times worse as your family is still around but they have chose to leave you out of their life. That feeling is worse than anything in the world…

The self-rejection feeling is very intense here and more so I guess if your spouse has left you for another person.

That is probably why many divorcees felt so rejected and very low in self esteem. The depression and sad feelings will pass by quickly but the rejection and self-questioning mode tend to linger on far longer than we desire.

It is also the number one focus of our 5-week support group services held every quarterly now.

We realised that if we don’t address this properly, the person can go into a bottomless pit of depression and even turn suicidal.

Rejection is a killer as it questions our self-worth as a person, how we view ourselves and whether we have done enough during the marriage to save the marriage. Unless we tackle this matter appropriately, we won’t be able to live life fully after a divorce.

I will write on this more in another chapter.

Psychologists have identified the grief process into five categories and most of those who experience grief will roughly go through the different stages:-

1.Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance

You also experience other negative emotions of rejection, disappointment, bitterness, self blame, guilty, among others.

of course, many people undergoing divorce wish to jump into the acceptance phase so that they won’t need to suffer in misery.

The trouble about emotional healing is that there is no short cut here – one has to go through all the five stages of grief and sometimes one will hop back and forth ensuring that the whole process is well immersed.

Healing will probably take place sooner if one is patient enough to go through the whole five processes and not take short cut.

Of course, it will be painful, tough and emotional challenging.

To many, it will be the most tragic period of their life but without pain there won’t be healing.

The pain and depression are actually nature way of preparing ourselves for the grief associated with our loss.

During this period, many people also tear easily and some even have to hide in the tiolet and cry themselves out occasionally.

During this period, its good to inform your boss about what has happened in the family so that they will understand when you could not perform competently at work.

Most bosses are sympathetic people and some may have even experience a divorce themselves!

Its also human to express ourselves out in tears when the grief is too much for us to bear internally.

This may take a few days to weeks depending on how much losses you have to bear with an impending divorce.

There are two kinds of losses: abstract and concrete.

Abstract losses are harder to bear as it touches on the intangible e.g. dreams, self esteem or affection.

Concrete losses are measurable such as the loss of income, a house or a car.

Some clients have related to me that they felt stronger after going through the healing process of divorce – it strengthens their emotion alot and they could find the inner strength to do stuff which they do not think they could do prior to the whole experience.

The pain however can be so excruciating that some decide to end the pain than going through the raw emotions of a physical separation from their spouses.

I guess women and men react differently on how they grieve during a divorce.

Women will cry alot, tend to internalise their pain and will seek out friends for support and to talk about how they feel to their friends.

I always marvel at how women can easily group themselves for support and solace – even though they only know each for a few weeks.

It is as if they have this ready inner bond within them and they don’t hesitate to reach out to one another during their time of need.

They will also likely seek out the assistance of a counsellor to soothe their pain.

Men on the other hand tend to isolate themselves during a divorce and cope by external means e.g. taking to the bottle, womanise or turn to gambling.

Men by nature do not like to be out of control – thus many often cope by numbing their pain and resort to a rebound relationship so that they can move on quickly without having to go through the gruelling process of the five grief stages.

Personally, I isolated alot by myself when my wife decided to file for divorce.

I kept to myself alot in a rental room in Sydney – it was my way of mourning over the loss of a 21-year-old marriage.

We ought to give ourselves time and space to mourn as short-cutting it will only do ourselves more emotional harm.

I know that many people after a divorce will seek out a rebound relationship to ease off the pain from their broken marriage.

Moreover, whoever files for divorce will face up to a long period of hurt and pain.

Its obviously wrong to assume that the one who initiates the divorce has the easier end of the stick as more often than not, they felt very guilty especially if they have children.

They bear alot of the hurt and pain from the divorce as well and more so if they thought that they are the ones who bring hardship to their children by terminating the marriage midway.

Personally, my wife took almost two years after our separation before she decided to file for the papers here in Sydney.

She must have been a very brave woman as I don’t think I have the guts to do that – no matter how tumultous the marriage has being.

Maybe I am a coward when it comes to facing the matter squarely and calling it quits when enough is enough. I would rather endure the mental anguish than chopping it out totally. I can live with a unhappy and incomplete marriage but divorce seems cold, uncertain and negative.

Many people rather stay on a familiar routine of mental and physical abuse than risking it on something that is alien and unheralded. We tend to avoid change no matter how tormented we have being in a relationship.

A client has told me that it’s easier to divorce someone if the person is cruel and did something unforgiving towards you like having an affair.

In fact, people who are hurt by their loved ones especially in a extra marital affair often is ambivalent about leaving their spouse. They are willing to give chances especially if it happens to be a loving wife who over-depend her needs on the wayward husband. Some even felt guilty for not treating the husband better resulting in him seeking out a third-party relationship!

If you are those who love your family alot or the idea of having a family unit as your ideal lifestyle, the blow will be crushing and devastating. It will be far worse if you have sacrifice alot for the family all along and the loss will be much more devastating and deafening.

When someone dies, he is gone and life somehow moves on for those who are grieving. We all will die some day and we try to soothe ourselves by saying he is in a better place than suffering on earth with pain and sicknesses.

However, when you divorce, you experienced much more conflicting emotions of which there are no right words to describe. You can be alright today but the next day you are in the doldrums of sickness.

You kept pondering whether you can make amends and hope that things will be back to normal…but it is not meant to be.

Chapter 3. A commitment to live on meaningfully – despite the adversity

I guess those who are facing a divorce situation feel like as if life has being completely suck out of them.

There is this perpetual feeling that living on is a torture and how can there be any more meaning to life after that? Many people we saw during our counselling sessions or support groups revealed that they felt frightened, lonely and painful and often all at the same time.

I have heard how some of our clients committed suicide because their marriages failed – reiterating how dejected one can feel during a divorce situation. So far, none has died on our watch so far and through the good work of our counsellors and volunteers, we managed to pull many out of the jaws of depression.

Many have successfully move on with their life after a crushing divorce whereas others have found another life partner.

When I face the same tsunami a year ago when my wife wanted a divorce, I felt an extreme chill and uncertainty enveloping my whole being – for a long while.

I saw a storm brewing but didn’t know it’s devastating power and sheer negativity. The days were dark and there is no end in sight. You wish for it to end soon but the depression is unyielding and merciless. It is no wonder many are tempted to end their own life I thought.

The last few days in my home at Sydney, before my departure back to Singapore, were both tortuous and miserable.

You knew that every living minute was precious as you won’t be staying there anymore as a family member…I guess my daughter must have felt the same way as me and I saw her taking pictures of me now and then.

I could not eat nor sleep well and negative thoughts haunted every living minute. I laid down alot during those days – unable to do much except for the basic stuff like eating and going to the tiolet. When I was unemployed for 18 months back in 2001 I felt about the same but this time, the emotions must be at least mutiplied ten fold!

I knew that I am in deep trouble as I am rather energetic kind and can’t sit still for too long but this thing has kept me lying down weak for a long while.

“Is there anything else that is worse than dying?” I asked myself.

There is also this omnipresent sadness that hung around me like a everlasting shadow and it proves difficult to shake off. I found some temporary solace in my daily hour-long jogging routine and though the feel-good  lasted for a day or two I clung on to the exercise routine like a miracle drug.

I won’t know how I can make it through that dark period if I didn’t know the powerful wonder of endorphines rushing through me after a good run…

Though I could find some relief through talking with a church friend, I could not do it too regularly as I found that I have to keep repeating the same thing all over again. It also made me feel powerless and dependent – something that I am not too comfortable with. Especially for men, I don’t really find much comfort from talking out our problem like women and most men would agree with me that they prefer to work it out on their own.

Don’t get me wrong, we should seek out someone to share our problems with but I guess it’s not how a man will particularly turn to when they want to resolve an issue. They may talk to a counsellor or friend at their lowest point but unlike women, they don’t like to do it too frequently.

A support group may be more helpful for men I feel as they can find peer support from one another without having to talk too much in a one-to-one session. Man likes a buddy concept especially if they know that the whole group is going through a similiar issue.

I later read that the depression is nature’s way of shutting down our body so we can reserve our energy to tough through the down period. Imagine having to go through a busy day like before when we are still coping with our loss. The body and our emotions need to shut down a little so we can embrace the depression better.

However, we knew of some who took the short cut way by trying to jump into another relationship or worse turn to the bottle or engage in unhealthy ways so they can completely side-track the down time and find some temporary solace. More men than women tend to take this short-cut method and though they can temporarily escape from the depression, in the long run, it will not help them as the emotions are still stored up somewhere within them. It is unresolved and can be unhealthy to run away from one’s own emotion however ugly it is as over time when we have tacked them head on it will help us to recover better over the long haul.

I later realised that the depression won’t go away for quite some time and I try to manage the depression the best I could – with my own way.

I am actually mourning the loss of a 21-year-old relationship and more significantly the eventual loss of a dream that has gone very wrong. The depressive feelings were far worse than the loss of my dad as I have mentioned. The rejection feelings were also massive as here there is someone who wanted you out of their life effectively trying to say that you suck and are not good enough for the family unit that you have contributed to set up for the past years and decades. You can’t say no to that and for a guy that is a huge thing as we prefer to have control over our own life than letting someone ending it for us.

Many psychologists have written that it would take at least 2-3 years to shake off the adverse effects of a divorce and depending on how one approaches the situation, the effects may linger on much longer for some.

For every 7 years of marriage, it would take one year of recovery so for my 21 years of marriage, I would need 3 years to recover. This is my fifth year of divorce, so I can safely say that the psychological theory of a year of recovery for 7 years of marriage does have some truth though I must add that with each passing year things do get better over time. There are trigger points of course like Christmas, new year and Chinese new year and sometimes I wish those happy festive occasions will pass by quickly so life can go on normally.

There are ironically plenty of courses and seminars on how to have a good marriage but nothing much on how to handle a divorce when you are faced with one.

There is also an amazingly lack of local resources here on this topic and I read mostly foreign websites on how to cope with a divorce.

Subsequently, I decided to start a website for those who are struggling with martial issues but later have to revamp it to one that supports those who are suffering from the emotional hiccups of a divorce as most of the emails I received belonged to people who are divorcing or already divorced.

I believed that our support website is the first of its kind in Singapore!

That probably also explains why our website name is steadymarriages still as our original mission is to help troubled marriages but we subsequently shifted our attention as there are simply too many emails requesting support for their impending divorces than those trying to mend their marriages.

However, we make it a point to persuade couples to go or marital counselling if we feel that divorce is too prematured so that they at least have given counselling a chance before deciding whether to divorce or not.

This has being our motto all along as we felt that divorce should be the last option when all else fails…it is better to spend more time to plan for a difficult marriage that needs some help than a divorce that some may regret later on.

As for myself, after I returned to Singapore five years ago with a divorce noose round my neck, I decided that I must live on meaningfully despite the adversity. It is easier say than done of course.

I also asked myself this crucial question – “How can I turn this tragic situation around?”

I know that the marriage is as good as gone but how then can I use my pain to good effect?

I am a believer in sowing well so you can reap the benefits and knew from experience that there are two sides to every adversity.

You can either embrace and fight or run away and sulk in silence.

Either way, you still need to suffer the consequences of your grief so why not bravely step up and face your adversity head on?

So in the beginning of 2012, I started support groups for those who are divorcing or face a marital predicament so that they have a place to share safely among people of similar predicament.

We have so far conducted 14 batches of support group activities and counselled more than a hundred people who have written in asking for our support. We have also referred many to our legal assistance group though there is a fee to the consultation.

We have also beefed up our counselling team from four to six counsellors though many of them are happily married. We wish that we can have one or two counsellors who are divorced so they can empathsize better with the grieving clients.

Unfortunately, we have so far seen a majority of the women seeking support from us and wish that more men will put aside their ego and do the same.

70% of our clients are women and most of our support group participants are also women.

Where are all the men? Surely you suffer too…

We know that men by nature preferred to solve their own problem so that they don’t look out of control and weak. Ego is a mean thing and can deter many men from seeking help.

However, a divorce is something out of the ordinary and carrying on the lonely burden of resolving a very difficult situation is really unhealthy and unnecessary.

Personally, I also believed that it takes a stronger man to tell himself that it is alright to seek help as we are not always capable to resolve an issue on our own.

We all have our own limitations.

That is probably why many men sadly take to the bottle on their own to numb their pain or seek out a rebound relationship so that the grief can be shortened.

Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) has saw the benefit of gathering together to support one another and many alcoholics have actually gave up the bottle when they saw how others have successfully done so.

I decided to use my adverse experience to good effect and many who have written in probably felt that I understood them and many began to pour out their painful stories to me.

Studies have also shown that when we help others, we have this wonderful feel-good effect when other people feel better through our efforts.

So I urge those suffering from a divorce to try and volunteer through your church, a certain voluntary welfare organisation or any programme that reach out to others who are less priviledged.

Its difficult to focus on our own issues when we are busy helping others – even if its for just an hour or two.

The effect has rippling benefit as we are experiencing the blessing of helping others who are less fortunate and the feel-good repercussion is really addictive and wonderful – especially when everything around us is so bleak and miserable.

This is also one of the way I overcame the rejection feeling I had immediately after the divorce. When I felt good helping others, I feel less rejected as a person and my own self-worth grew. Though I may lapse back sometimes especially during the dreadful festive season, there are often ample opportunities for me to stock up on my own self-worth barometer.

It’s also good to seek out at least one or two close friends to confide in though do be careful who you share your deepest innermost stuff with. Some may not really understand what you are going through and they may do more harm than good. So choose your friends carefully when spilling out your darkest secrets…

There will be long bouts of loneliness afflicting those who are divorcing – especially on the first few years.

I will be writing more on this in the next chapter…

*********

Chapter 4. Overcoming long bouts of loneliness during the weekend – stays busy but avoid a rebound relationship

One of the worse affliction of a divorce is the long bout of loneliness faced by the divorcees.

Once used to be able to return home to the warmth of a family environment, the divorced – usually the men, has to shift out by law when the wife has taken out a annulment order.

We have heard from a few men who have emailed us saying that they are having problem getting accommodation as they were shocked by the sudden divorce announcement. Some were even caught by surprise as if they don’t see it coming.

Though we are glad to know that many could return and stay with their parents i.e if they have a spare room available, some still need to look around for lodging outside.

Of course, it will definitely be better for your emotional health if you can stay with your parents during this very rough period of your life.

At least, you are staying in a familiar environment with people who have your welfare at heart.

When I was separated last year, I have to rent a place referred by a colleague friend.

My mum was staying with my married younger brother and there isn’t any spare place available.

Fortunately, the landlord whom I was staying with is also divorced and somehow we have a common topic to share about.

I lived almost a hermit’s lifestyle during that period and was not prepared for the frightening sense of insecurity associated with the lonely feeling of separation.

I missed the social gatherings that my family usually have during Friday evening and the weekend and longed for their companionship.

I must admit that lonely period was one of the hardest spell I have to overcome.

Moreover, when Friday’s evening came, I began to feel very uncomfortable as that means I have the next two days on my own and minutes crawled like hours when you have nothing to engage you.

I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner alone mostly on my own these days and must have watched at least 200 movies by myself – more to kill time than really enjoying the movie. Most people who are divorced are unprepared for the long period of nothingness and that probably explains why many begin to look for a partner very quick into their divorce.

In our support group sessions, we always advised people especially men from seeking out a relationship too soon after a divorce. The replacement feeling is more strong for men than women as perhaps men over-depend on women for emotional support and once they lost that they will feel very bewildered and detached.

It is also not easy to live life on your own and I wouldn’t want to completely rule out the replacement relationship as some who did we saw could cope rather well after that.  As for me, I had a failed 4-month-old replacement relationship during my first year of divorce of which I was ill-prepared to cope with. I felt bad for leading the lady on and it must have hurt her alot when I pulled out midway.

I could not handle the commitment part after a failed marriage and perhaps the fear of another failed relationship scares the wits out of me so I chickened out when I could. I didn’t date aggressively afterwards for the past 5 years though there are the occasional dinner dates here and there but nothing serious.

The fear of commitment and more significantly fear of another failed relationship have put me out of the dating game though there are women who are keen to go further than a casual dinner appointment.

On my part later on, I managed to kill quite alot of time preparing for my marathon run and thankfully reduced a large chunk of my unoccupied time. I still run thrice a week for the past 20 over years and the exercise regime has being one of my saving grace so far. Though I struggle with loneliness at times, having a regular routine helps me to overcome some part of it.

So if you have a busy schedule to occupy your time during the week ends, go for it as it beats staying at home brooding over your divorce.

Plan out your week end as its going to be quite torturing if you have nothing to occupy your time other than staying in your room and play with your phone.

The week days will be easy to clear as you will probably be working very hard in the office so time passes by quickly.

Its the weekends and public holidays that you have to pay some attention to so do plan your time wisely, Join a hobby group or sign up for a course if you can so you have things to look forward to.

The key is moving forward despite the pain of a divorce and the one who starts to plan his life tends to move on faster – positively too!

You will also need to make some new friends as during this period your mutual friends may avoid you because they feel uncomfortable going out with you as all along they have seen you together with your spouse. They also feel strange meeting you alone in a group setting so be prepared to lose some mutual friends in the process.

More significantly, you also may feel uncomfortable going out with them if its a all-couples group – you will definitely feel left out even if they welcome you to their fold.

A recently-divorced young man of 32 with two young toddlers told me how he spent his time learning pottery-making on Saturday afternoon for two hours.

He did it for ten Saturdays and is contemplating going for the advanced lessons.

Besides spending time learning a new hobby, he also mixed around with the other participants and made some new friends in the process.

Another young divorcee spent her time learning scuba diving during the weekends and she has also made some new friends in the process.

I encourage the newly-divorced to plan out your weekend properly as this will be one major problem area if you leave it to chance.

If there are support group activities, sign up for them so that you can learn something and hopefully in the process make some new friends.

During this lonely period, one can get vulnerable and caught up with a unhealthy rebound relationship so its best to stay away from one. You want to save your best for a wonderful girl whom you can dedicate your life to – when you are more ready.

So, to conclude, do plan out your weekend properly and prepare for a change in lifestyle if possible. Learn to eat out on your own without feeling lonely. Learn to enjoy your own company as it definitely will improve your own self-esteem barometer.

Many people find it difficult to take meals on their own but it has never being mine as I have learn to enjoy my own company all these years. I also travelled alone on my own mostly after the divorce and have been to Scandanavia, middle east and S E Asia.

If you are like me who depends quite alot of emotional support from the family, its time to look out for some same-gender friends to hang out with – or else the loneliness will drive you crazy!

Same-gender friends are also safer as they prevent us from going into a possible rebound relationship and this can be damaging if it goes sour – which is often the case if one is unprepared to give to a relationship.

Rebound relationship is a direct replacement of someone whom you have just lost through a divorce and more importantly, we are not mentally or emotionally prepared for another relationship shortly after a major divorce occurrence.

Imagine going through another relationship when you are still grieving from the loss of a recent one and though you may find solace in someone’s else arms and support temporarily, there is also the very high chance of it going to pieces as you are still coming to terms with your own loss.

Counsellors have recommend one year of wait for every 7 years of marriage i.e. if you are married for twenty years and face a divorce, you should lay off another relationship commitment for at least 3 years.

Of course, you can date socially and have outings singly with the opposite sex but if you sense that the relationship is getting more serious you should lay off for a while.

Go for a date when you have successfully manage your emotional pain, the divorce is already finalised and you are ready to commit to one.

Nevertheless, its easier say than done as there is this great need to be supported emotionally and so I recommend that recently-divorced singles socialise more with the same gender to prevent the complications of a rebound relationship occurring – at least for the first twelve months when emotions are still raw and vulnerable.

Someone in my recent support group series called it a “double hurt” feeling when a rebound relationship goes awry and I agreed with her utterance.

I find that many men want to enter into another relationship hastily as they want a quick resolution of their emotional pain and of course to meet a physical need.

Man by nature is uncomfortable with expressing out their emotions unlike women and will always try to find short-cut solution to their problem.

Most people do find extreme relief from the support of another relationship immediately after their divorce as it blocks off the pain and trauma associated with the failed marriage.

More importantly, there is also this exciting feeling that you are loved again by another person – especially if you are the one being rejected by your spouse through a extramarital affair situation.

Most women who are divorced because their husbands have affairs face a torrid time trying to rebuild their torn self image and in some extreme cases, some could not even go on a date with another man without suspecting him of his motive and faithfulness.

Moreover, for those who are involve in a rebound relationship, it is more commonly found between two persons undergoing divorce at roughly the same period.

The understanding and solace shared in the relationship initially is often riveting and magnetic and thus it is understandably so easy to get involved emotionally after a period of emotional opening-up.

That is probably why we try to encourage same-gender befriending and even support group activities whenever possible as we realised that in a mixed setting, there is always complication arising from the possibility of a rebound relationship.

Simply put, when we have a mixed group of people caught up with emotional pain and sharing their guts out, sparks are going to fly…sometimes unconsciously.

Having say that, women on the other hand are more cautious after a bruised relationship and will hold on for a while before they commit to another relationship unless they have known the person for a long time.

I have also knew of some recently-divorced men getting involved within the first month of their divorce and some even try to marry the girl on the second month! Those who have another relationship already on standby when their marriage is on the rocks tend to tie the second knob quickly to rebuild their life afterwards.

Perhaps, this explains the reason why divorces also rank high on the second marriages.

In the US, at least 70% of second marriages failed underscoring the fact that many second marriages are in fact rebound relationships taken out when the divorced need a quick fix to their pain.

Roughly 20% of our marriages are re-marriages here reinforcing the belief that many Singaporeans have accepted divorce readily and more importantly they want to tie the knot again in another search for marital happiness and love. Its a human need to be in the company of another person and hopefully a divorce won’t deter them from seeking out a second chance at marital blissness.

So, if you are thinking of entering into a rebound relationship right now with someone else after your divorce, think twice and if possible explain to your partner that you may need more time to resolve your emotional hurt and both of you can still remain as platonic friends before taking the emotional plunge later on.

I have taken more time on this topic as I have seen so many newly-divorced getting hurt all over again by the failure of a rebound relationship – even before they could find healing from their failed marriages.

I am sure that you don’t want to go into a double-pain situation…

Chapter 5 – Lawyer, maintenance and custody issues – moving beyond the pain

Judging from our work with the divorced community in Singapore for the past five years, we found that maintenance and custody issues remain the two top-most legal concerns of those affected by divorces.

Our email-a-lawyer free service remains the only one available in Singapore and we receive an average of three emails a week from readers seeking online free legal advice. Unfortunately, we have to cease the service due to legal issue but we can still recommend our legal team to you if you don’t have one ready.

Do not anyhow settle for a lawyer – shop around if possible for someone whom you feel comfortable with as he is going to represent you on important issues that matter for a life time. One wrong legal step may land you in a life-time of pain and trouble.

We have seen many readers who regret in their hurry to sign on the annulment papers after failing to get a good lawyer to represent them. Many simply want to get on with the divorce and did not properly go through the legal contents of the divorce paper.

Some of the decisions made after signing on the papers can ruin a person for a life time eg maintenance payment as it will last till the child reaches adulthood at age 21 years old.

We have also seen how a reader regretted signing away his entire house to his ex-spouse and visitation rights limited to an hour a week as he was in no mood to engage a lawyer and fight for his right during the divorce proceedings. He simply signed away on the paper prepared by a lawyer acting on the interests of the wife. No lawyer can be impartial and act for both parties unless both of you have already settled the terms amicably but this is often an exception and not the norm.

When a person wants to change the terms of the divorce eg visitation rights to a longer period, he has to go through so much hassle to file for another family court hearing. He also has to pay a lawyer to act on his behalf and is often costly up to $3000 for a court hearing plus filing of the amendment papers.

If you feel that your current lawyer is not up to your mark in representing you, do not hesitate to fire him on the spot.

You want a conscientious lawyer who tends to your need and see that you get what is your legal right and not frequently asking you to settle for less especially when it comes to child’s visitation rights.

Most lawyers will charge an upfront fee of $500 initially for an hour of consultation and will include that fee into the whole package when you have confirm him to represent you in the divorce case.

Most lawyers charge between $4000 – $6000 for a non-contested case.

I have heard of lawyers charging  $3000 for a simple uncontested divorce so its good to shop around to save money. More importantly, you must feel comfortable sharing with him your needs and that he is acting in your best interests.

Big company  law firms may not look as good as it appears as many are busy with several cases at one go and may not be as dedicated as you want them to be.

You can also appeal for your ex-spouse to share the legal fee with you or even share the same lawyer if the divorce is simple and uncontested. Some housewives without any income have also successfully ask for their legal fees be paid by their sole breadwinner spouses.

If you need a Private Investigator report to be included into your divorce filing, many have successfully asked that the fees be included in the cheating spouse legal expenses. PIs are charging sky-high fees now and five-figure sums are commonly heard as their services are highly sought after.

SMSes, emails and other social media forms are not to be legally used as evidences in a extra-marital divorce filing as the court only relies on the professionalism of PI reports.

To facilitate ease in settling the important auxilliary affairs of your divorce, try to settle with your spouse first so that your lawyer can simply facilitate the legal part.

If not, any court appearance to settle auxilliary matters will be costly and emotionally sapping.

We have heard of high five-figure legal bill for those contesting auxilliary matters in court and more significantly, it sapped you emotionally and lengthen the full recovery of the divorce. Some court cases also take years to complete further exaceberating the whole divorce process.

There is also value in a give-and-take divorce settlement for both parties as this leaves the door open for future negotiation especially when it comes to the contentious custody and maintenance matters.

I have accompanied men to the family court who could not pay up their maintenance promptly and were sued by their ex-wives for payment.

Fortunately, none of those cases I saw ended up in jail as the family law here is rather strict and unbending.

However, I could see that the court appearances have stressed up those who are implicated by the system and understandably they do not get to see their children as much as they want. That is probably why there is the current mandatory counselling sessions for those with young children.

Children already lose a parent at home after a divorce so let’s make things easier for them to see daddy without any blockage which is happening rampantly now.

Most people thought that after a divorce, it means that they will have nothing further to do with the ex-spouse but this is further from the truth.

Because of custody matters, you will need to iron out pick-up arrangement with your ex especially when you have young children. You may have to see the school teacher together during the school’s student-teacher review unless you don’t bother much about your kid academic progress and certain schools also require both the parents’ signature before any school outing.

You also want your ex to be understanding on visitation rights when the children are having exams or when they are going on holidays with you. So, the misconception that once you are divorced, the person will be out of your life entirely is further from the truth.

By now, we should have heard of how nasty custody court cases have forced some children to be picked up from the police stations or family service centres during shared assisted custody meetings presided by a trained social worker.

When both parties are trying to settle their auxilliary matters, they should place their children as the foremost in every decision that they have make.

We have also seen too many tragic cases of young children’s failure to have regular access with their fathers due to deliberate attempts by the care-and-control mothers to alienate their children from the other parent.

Its a common complaint of which the family court so far has being unable to properly resolve. Many mothers flout the court order but so far none has being brought to court and properly penalise.

To resolve a possible parental alienation attempt, the other parent has to file an affidivate in court which could cost up to $1000. The court hearings if represented by a lawyer could set him back by another $2000 to $3000 more.

We also detected that most fathers also have less than three hours per week of access though we are glad that increasingly, the family court is trying to increase the access hours of the other shared-custody parent.

If possible, try to negotiate for over night weekend access i.e. Saturday morning to Sunday late afternoon so that you have time to bond with your children.

You owe it to your young children to spend whatever time you have with them as our children are innocent parties to the failed marriage.

We also advocate that you do not represent yourself if there is going to be a court-case appearance as the procedures will be energy-sapping and emotionally draining.

Seek out free legal aid if you can’t afford the costly professional legal service so that you are properly represented in court.

I have accompanied a few self-representing divorcees to court and found that they could not prepare themselves adequately before the family court and thus miss out on their proper legal rights.

As for some other extreme cases, they have spent a large chunk of money on legal fees fighting for the estate and custody of their children during a divorce.

Some even required their children to write affidavit and push them to take sides in a nasty legal battle to bring down the other party.

We realise that a divorce can turn a person into someone monstrous especially if the other party has an affair.

In the bid to make the other party suffers and pays for their mistake, they will go through all means to either bankrupt the person or become very unco-operative during the divorce proceedings.

A long-drawn legal battle is not only money-wasting but emotionally sapping and more significantly it will affect your own personal recovery process.

You cant really focus on your recovery properly if at the back of your mind, you have to always plot the next court battle against your spouse.

Unfortunately, we saw how many men do not want to see their children again after a nasty court battle as they are always reminded them of the unpleasant encounters with  their ex-spouses.

I still met up with my ex-wife especially during the initial years when I visited our daughter. We went out together for dinner and many would have thought that we are a happy family. I found that going out with my ex-wife is in itself a healing process as it means that we have forgiven each other and could still remain as casual friends.

It also pleases our daughter to see us cordial and respectful of each other despite a failed marriage. It would have also help to speed up her own healing process as a child within a dysfunctional family setting.

This is especially so when the other parent has re-married and started their own family unit.

Studies have shown that young children will benefit alot from regular visitations with their fathers as this will help them to feel that they are not being abandoned.

There are just too many emails from my readers – mostly men, who are being alienated from their children either intentionally or not.

A marital dissolution is bad enough and if you add on the stress of not being able to see your children regularly, its like pouring fuel over a pot of fire.

I urge mothers to allow your ex-spouses to have regular visitations with your children – however bad he may be when he is your husband.

Children tend to miss their dads alot especially when they are very young and fortunately they can also forgive easily – unlike adults.

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Chapter 6 – Spending Father’s Day with my daughter in Sydney

I spent Father’s Day with my 18-year-old daughter in downtown Sydney when I visited her recently.

Unlike Singapore, Father’s Day is a big thing in Sydney – its like a national event.

Shopping malls all give discount to shoppers and restaurants mostly have Father’s Day meal offers.

The national papers also dedicated quite alot of pages to fathers and the radio stations allowed listeners to ask for songs to be played for their dads.

I find that Singaporeans only dedicate attention to mothers on Mother’s Day – leaving fathers much to the sidelines.

Its no wonder fathers seldom feel that they are appreciated for the role they have played within the family.

I have heard of many missing fathers within the family hierarchy here and maybe one of the reasons is that fathers seldom feel appreciated for the role they have played within the family – however minimal it may be.

Anyway, my daughter and I ate a $10-steak at one of the Chinatown restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised to receive a gift from my daughter – her first Father’s Day present to me.

Our family does not really like to celebrate any special occasions and sometimes I felt that this lack has taken out some of the warmth and love within the relationship.

Of course, I am not asking that we spend lavishly on such occasions but a lunch celebration or a small gift will really add alot of spice to the relationship.

This would also be my last formal celebration with my daughter before I return to Singapore – as a united family.

In future, I will see her just as a dad and no longer as the husband of her mum.

I will also see her much lesser due to the distance and divorce.

Its a sad and weird feeling really.

The divorce has curtail alot of our time together and that ironically has also cement our daughter-dad relationship.

I realise that she is treasuring whatever little time we have together and indeed the slogan absence makes the heart grows fonder rings very true here.

Previously, we dont really speak much to one another at home and will do our own stuff.

Sometimes, you will only treasure someone when he is not always there or if he is not around forever…

My daughter has grown to be a sweet pretty 18-year-old and though I cant see her

grow up on a daily basis – I will cherish whatever time we have together.

I also try to plan out what to impart to her whenever we met up so that the time spent together will be meaningful and life-changing.

Nevertheless, I still find it difficult to talk to her about the divorce without first choking and then chickening out.

Maybe another time – there is always an excuse whenever I wanted to bring it out to her.

Perhaps, its the fear of a positive response from her or that I am not composed enough to bring it out to her in the first place?

I know that most children are able to understand what has happened when their parents split and more so when my daughter is already a young adult but bringing the topic out in the open is really tough.

I guess it takes lots of courage and affirmation to bring out such a difficult subject to your children and if you have successfully done so – my kudos to you!

Amazingly, my daughter has asked me to sign on the divorce papers last week – perhaps at the urge of my wife as I have being delaying the processes for quite a while.

Nevertheless, as I return back to Singapore soon, I know that even though I cant see her every day, she will remain forever in my heart…

Chapter 5 – How to over come depression, suicidal thoughts and low self esteem – focus on moving ahead one step at a time

Depression, suicide and low self esteem are common enemies of those who are facing a divorce situation.

The loss of a spouse, familiar environment and a comfortable home can be devasating for some and moving on seems impossible.

Its good to look for support during this tough period and try not to be alone for too long.

The grief process takes about 2 years for a long marriage of more than 15 years and probably a year or slightly more for those who have a shorter marriage.

A good way to judge whether you are progressing well is that you are able to function normally as before except for some odd moments and you are able to speak about the marriage as something that is of the past.

If you keep lamenting about the loss based on the current time frame, then it is obvious that you are still suffering from the pain of a divorce.

The ability to forgive the spouse for the failure of the marriage is also one good indicator whether you have move on or not.

If you are always blaming and scolding the spouse for all that he has done to you, chances are you are still trapped in the pain of the divorce and need more time to heal.

Some people just need more time to recover and we all react to adversities differently.

During this tough period, seek out counselling and support group activities and learn to make new friends if possible.

Its worse if you are facing a divorce situation all alone by yourself.

Many people also find that they could not return to their old friends for support due to the social awkwardness as they are previously out with them as a couple and now that they are single they find it difficult to treat them the same favour as before.

Mutual friends also tend to take sides and we have heard how divorced couples could not return to their same circle of friends anymore without feeling awkward and unwelcomed.

Though friends may still welcome you back to their circle, many divorcees found it tough to go back to a familiar circle which may bring back fond memories of social gatherings with your ex.

Depression can also hang around like a plague for the newly-divorced and those awful moments are not ready to leave anytime soon…tormenting quite alot of people suffering from divorce in the process.

I have yet to see a truly happy divorcee – even though some may have chose to leave a tyrant and abusive spouse.

We have also seen some who have attempted suicide when they are extremely depressed and often in the initial phase of the divorce but fortunately none has so far died in my watch.

However, the good news is that most people will survive a divorce and could move on rapidly when they have managed to cope with their emotions.

Managing their yoyo emotions is key to surviving a divorce and it is something that most people can do.

Those who have allow their emotions to spiral out of control will really need to take careful steps to better manage their grief if many people have managed to recover from the trauma of their divorces, so can you…

I will detail some of the stuff that I did to alleviate those awful feelings of depression and self-depreciation during the period of my separation and divorce.

I must also add here that what you are feeling right now is not wrong and in fact pretty common.

You have just came out of a extremely traumatic situation whereby you have experience a serious loss and it will be inhuman if you don’t feel sad and emotional.

Allow yourself to grieve but if the experience has overwhelms you and you felt depressed for a long period without feeling the ability to function again properly, its time to seek help…

Signs like you can’t eat or sleep well for many days continously is a good gauge that you may need to seek medical assistance before things get worse.

The important thing is to prevent your emotional state from slipping into a dangerous state of deep depression and prolonged suicidal thoughts.

There will be those who want to wallow in self pity and misery for as long as they want to justify the anger levelled at the other spouse.

Chances are if you are quite positive all along and have a good self image, you will be able to handle the pain of divorce better.

Fortunately, I have turned quite positive during the past few years – due perhaps to a better self image related to some successes running the non profit organisation Transitioning.org – a NGO supporting those who are jobless.

Being a counsellor also helps as I know what to do to get myself out of the muddy waters of depression.

Volunteering to help people suffering from divorce has also hugely help me to get out of the emotional rut as what good will I be if I am sucked up by depression myself?

On the other hand, I tried to use my own negative experience to help many others suffering from the similar plight.

This way, I felt that my own personal suffering was not in vain.

I also tried to replace my negative thoughts about the situation with positive ones.

For example, I tried to remind myself that after the divorce, I can do what I want with my life and that means charting a whole new course for myself without having to care for the concerns of my spouse.

All along, I have to think of my wife’s concerns before I attempted to do something for the community as both of us are not in psyche with one another.

There are many things that I wanted to do but couldn’t as I don’t want to displease her.

Now, there is no such blockage anymore and I can do what I hope to achieve with my own life – uninterrupted and charging ahead full steam.

Of course, I am still human and sometimes negative thoughts will flood my mind again but I chose to acknowledge that it is not healthy thoughts and I don’t want to entertain them for too long.

I either go for a jog to refresh myself or read a good motivational book.

But you may ask: what if I am those who are rather negative and get depressed easily?

Don’t fret – there is hope for you…

To gain a better self image for yourself, aim at developing little successes along the way.

For example, in order to improve my own self image, I signed up for the Standard Chartered half marathon many years ago and when I crossed the finishing line, I would revel in the occasion and even pampered myself with a small gift at having achieve something for myself.

I have so far ran close to ten half marathons and two of these are done abroad in Sydney.

You can also sign up for a educational course as doing something progressively worthwhile often provides one with the feeling of having achieve a goal or target.

Volunteering also helps alot in boosting up one’s self image as it provides us with the all-important altrusive feeling that we are doing something that helps another person without seeking anything in return.

I must add here that my full time voluntary work among the jobless and divorced community has provided me alot of meaning and satisfaction and this has in turn drove up my altrusive quotient.

I also don’t have much time to wallow in self pity as I am busy helping out those who are suffering.

What better way to stay positive when you have to reach out and touch others caught in a similar situation as you!

It has allowed me not to focus too much on my own problems and by maintaining an outward stance, it has also help me find meaning in my own sufferings and provide me an outlet to help many others caught in a similar plight.

Of course, I am not asking everyone to follow my example but truly if you can reach out to others despite your own personal pain and help someone else to be better, you will find real solace for yourself.

You can also volunteer with those who are physically or mentally disadvantaged, the children staying in orphanages or our many half-way shelters for those caught with drug addiction.

Do not sink deeper into depression by staying at home to cry and totally isolate yourself from the world.

Learn to seek support and if possible talk to a counsellor on a regular basis about your feelings.

I find that women here have a distinct advantage over men at handling pent-up emotions as firstly our women folks are not shy to seek help and secondly they are more in tune with their emotions than guys.

This is reflected in the many emails that we received almost on a daily basis – more than 70% of those who have written in seeking support are from women.

I hope that our male folks will look out for support more readily and this is not a sign of weakness.

In fact, it is a sign of courage as you are acknowledging that you are not perfect and will not be able to cope well on your own.

To make matters worse, even our divorce support groups are attended mainly by women and our third series’ participants were incidentally all women!

Research has shown that women take to divorce badly during the initial phase as biologically they feel the pain of an emotional event much more than men.

Their initial reaction can be an overwhelming loss of self and some may attempt suicide during this awful period as everything seemed so bleak, hopeless and dark.

Friends and family members who have someone undergoing a divorce situation initially need to stay by their side regularly and if possible check on how they feel.

After feeling down for a while during the initial period of their divorce, women tend to feel better over time with proper care and support.

You can say that all the processing of emotions through their tears and verbal expression have helped them to move forward better than men.

Because men tend to bottle up their emotions, they recover slower over time and some men could even feel the effects of their divorce a few years after it has happened!

I have seen men looking for support group activities two years after their divorce whereas women will start to look for support one month after their divorce.

Besides seeking support from others, writing out your own feelings on a regular basis helps alot to process those meshed-up thoughts cringing inside you.

You can either write to a counsellor or simply put up a journal for yourself to read.

If possible, do not email the journal to your spouse as she will most likely not reply you which may further antagonise you – especially if you are expecting a response.

Pouring it all out on a journal is not only therapeutic but also provides you an outlet to let loose what is tormenting inside.

If you have not try this journal method, do consider writing out your thoughts on a regular basis.

As a counsellor, I am also concerned with the physical health of our clients.

If you are expecting a storm to come your way, you should be equipped with the best shelter and raincoat.

You don’t leave it to chance.

I have seen some clients losing weight by the weeks because they can’t sleep and eat well.

They look haggard and hardly in the best physical shape to push on to the next leap.

Some have even told me that they lost 10kg within a 2-month period!

The more serious ones contracted a serious illness which have put some into the hospital…

I would advocate that to better prepare yourselves for a long tough journey ahead, plan out how you can stay in tip-top physical health as if you are running for the marathon.

I am fortunate that in this aspect, I have an added advantage as I have being running for the past twenty over years on a regular basis – rain or shine or snow.

I have ran when I was teaching in China during winter a few years ago and the snow was piling up on me.

I have also ran more than ten half marathons so far and clocked up a mean 2 hours and 30 minutes for the attempt.

Exercising also helps me to feel good about yourself on a regular basis as feel-good endorphines are released within my body as I sweat it out.

It has also helped me kill alot of those free idle time I have when I was separated and on my own.

If you want to start on a regular exercise programme, do seek the medical advice of your regular doctor before doing so.

Chapter 6 – Signing of the divorce papers – forging a new life ahead full steam

I have just signed on the divorce papers in Sydney to end a 21-year-old marriage.

Strangely, I felt relieved and it was like a huge chunk of rock taken off my chest.

Of course, I felt sad but really the relief has been overwhelming and quite surprising.

I have told some friends later on that if I knew it would felt that way I should have sign on it sooner.

I have actually put off the signing for two weeks as I wasn’t prepared to do so – both emotionally and mentally.

It was tough ending a long relationship with so much memories and moments that even though it is not something that you really want in the end, you also don’t want to finish it off just like that.

That paradoxical feeling must be something many of you are facing right now – should I end the marriage or keep it despite the ups and downs?

Is there still hope to maintain the marriage however traumatic it has being? I guess this is a personal issue which only you can answer…

I can’t ask you to end your marriage and neither can I say to hold on as you are the one going through the fiery furnace right now.

Nevertheless, the long separation has somewhat helped to soften the blow for me and thankfully we also don’t have much auxilliary matters to settle like many whom I have heard.

I know that the divorce will be ten times worse for many of you here as you have to settle the house, custody matters, maintenance issue among others.

We have sold our house a few years ago and as my daughter is already 18 years old, there is not much custody or maintenance issue to address.

We have also done what we could to save the marriage but to no avail…

We have seen a counsellor here in Sydney several times and talked over the matter for a few years many times.

We separated and came back together several times and you can say that we tried our best under the circumstances to savage the marriage.

Knowing that we have tried very hard to salvage the relationship also means that when you are ready let it go finally, you felt ready and safe to end it without any lingering regret of not doing anything to save it.

Iwas also fortunate to meet a church friend for lunch after the signing and shared with him about the matter for a few hours.

I wonder how it would go if I am alone by myself after ending a 21-year-old marriage with a few strokes of my signature?

Would I walk through the city streets of Sydney in depression – head down and feeling all emotional?

Moreover, the lawyer is also divorced and most cordial and understanding of my predicament – he is also my church lawyer who knew us both.

Am I blessed or what!?

As I return to Singapore soon and starts to get busy again with my work among the jobless and divorced community again, hopefully what I have experienced will help me to empathsize more with the many people who have seek us out for support.

You are never alone…and I have being there before.

Chapter 7 – Forgiveness – the key to full recovery

A divorce often brings forth bitter memories of who is right and wrong.

Of course, for the one who receives the long end of the stick, its much easier to lash out in anger at the erring spouse.

One needs to forgive himself especially if he is the one who is in the wrong – the spouse who has an affair will often feel doubly bad as he blames himself for causing the marriage to fall apart.

Not surprisingly, many people whose spouses have affairs felt that they are in the wrong also as they believed they have contributed to the problem.

There are alot of self reflection going on during this period and though some are helpful others can be really destructive especially if it causes too much self condemnation.

The key to commencement of a full recovery stems from the ability of the person to forgive the other spouse – even though it is not justified.

How can you forgive someone who throws away a family and engages in a unrepentant full-blown affair with an office colleague who is also married?

To forgive is really divine…as humanly we will only hate and loathe when the opposite party is at fault.

Most normal human beings can’t easily forgive especially when the other person is at fault – its the written law of the universe.

We are taught to give an eye for an eye when we are being wronged.

However, to achieve full recovery, one needs to forgive our errant spouses and this is really tough.

It also feels good to bash our spouses and we felt justified in doing so.

A 63-year-old male client told me he felt lousy for a full four years as he wanted to feel justified in blaming a spouse for throwing him out of the house.

To him, he wanted to be angry as he found justice there but deep down inside he is hurting and grieving.

During these four years, he went out almost every night partying and having fun.

He also took to the bottle like water and never return home sober.

He lost the whole house to his ex and had to pay a massive maintenance for the three young kids.

Chapter 8 – Volunteering yourself out of depression? 

Much has been written about the benefits of volunteering and I couldn’t agree more.

I have known of a few divorcees who volunteered with various voluntary outfits and they all enjoyed the experience.

One tried to volunteer with a hospice but the experience was too overwhelming for him.

I told him to volunteer with others that are not so depressive.

More significantly, when you volunteer and help someone in need, more often than not, you will feel good as what you did help someone felt better about themselves.

I have volunteered full time with my own non profit organisation for the past five years – helping those who are unemployed back on their feet again and felt the intrinsic value of my efforts.

Though there is no fixed income for the works that I have done, nevertheless the feel-good effects of my efforts more than compensated for the lack of security the job entails.

Its more like a hobby to me and going to work is no longer a 9am-to-5pm druggery.

More often than not, its more like going to meet the needs of someone down and out and the feeling is like out-of-the-world!

From a small independent blog meant to reach out to the jobless community, we have expanded into a community outreach programme that has ten volunteers now.

I have six counsellors and four coaches on my voluntary team – not bad for someone who could barely survive on his own for the past five years.

Most of my volunteers have being with me for more than three years and I am sure that they feel the same as me while helping those who are hit by the blues of unemployment and divorce.

I have always encouraged divorcing clients to volunteer with their own charities of interest to get out of their own depressive state.

It will also help you to focus more on others than on yourself and knowing that your simple efforts could impact others positively are thereupatic enough for your own self-recovery.

However, it will be tough to do it when you are all emotional and all hung up on your own divorce.

Do it only when you have emerged out of your sorrows and you could go around normally again.

I have known of divorcees filling their schedule to the brim with mindless activities in the hope of emptying out their thoughts so that they won’t have to think about their pain..

Thought by doing that, many hope to escape into endless fun-filled activities but I am afraid to say that such replacement can only be temporal as they have not own up to their pain and sufferings properly.

Activities can only replace our pain temporarily and a short-cut form of escape.

Seek out a therapist for a proper way to recovery as he can help you process your emotions and suggest ways to a healing journey.

Back to the voluntary efforts, you can help out with a few non profit organisations to get a feel of the work so that you can narrow down to one or two that you think you can best contribute your efforts.

Remember that if you are not comfortable volunteering then stop as you may not be ready to give out again.

You must also be ready to give out a bit of yourself to the less fortunate.

The efforts are certainly worth over arranging all those fun-filled activities to musk out our pain…

Chapter 9 – Dating after divorce

I can’t really provide much dating tips as I have not being dating since my divorce three months ago.

Like many newly-divorced, I am not ready to enter the dating scene again for fear that I will be hurt,

One don’t trust the opposite sex again especially if your marriage is wrecked by an extra marital affair – I reiterate that mine is not.

I do go out on the rare occasion with the opposite sex for a meal or drink but never really want to explore dating all over again in the search for another companion.

I do fancy some women friends but didn’t really go out to pursue them.

Maybe I fear that they will reject me if I date them or perhaps I am not ready for another relationship?

But there is this loneliness in me that crave for companionship and it is really tough to resist the emptiness.

Maybe I am a a coward or a social recluse but frankly dating is not my best virtue…I am low in self esteem and never a good conversationist in front of the opposite sex.

I stammered alot in front of someone I fancy and felt devastated if they reject my dates.

I remembered entering the dating game very late into my adult life – at 27 years old as my parents were giving me the bad example of a marriage.

They quarrelled often and I told myself that I won’t marry unless I find the perfect girl – but how do you find a gal when you are always at home on a Saturday night?

I flipped through my telephone book and there were really not many numbers to call…

There are colleagues of course who gave me the extra eye over and some have even courageously asked me out on a date.

One has even resigned when I rejected her overture!

Of course, I always used the Christian-only-marry-Christian tactic to fend off some over-zealous gals but really I wasn’t ready for any relationship even though I was already 27 years old.

I finally hooked up with a church friend who is both gorgeous and kind-hearted.

I could not imagine how a pretty young gal would enter into a relationship with me especially when there are many other better-looking guys going after her and I felt proud I could land her.

I thought that the reason why I courted her was because she would be a solid trophy for me…

We parted after 18 months of tumultous relationship and I was depressed for the whole year after the break-up.

I later met my ex-wife and married her after a year of dating.

I have known many people who joined the online dating website immediately after a divorce but frankly i would advise against it.

Online dating is a front for many people who want companionship and you will never really know the person unless you have spent a lot of time with them.

I would encourage newly-divorced to abstain from online dating immediately after the divorce as you are still not ready for any relationship with the opposite sex.

Why not cultivate a healthy relationship with the same gender and I am not talking about lesbism or homosexuality.

There is more women cultivating the right relationship wit the same gender than men and truly men need to foster a better rapport with their own gender.

They say that men can’t really live without women and I found some truth in that after my divorce.

Its really tough to foster a good rapport with male friends as after a while some people might say that you are gay!

Man also confide more to women than their guy friends and I guess that is natural.

When I speak with my guy friends over dinner its always about stuff that do not matter e.g. football, work and movies.

When I talked to my women friends its always about my feelings, worries and stuff that matter alot.

Moreover, when can you find a group of males going out together on a trip to somewhere?

Our support groups have female participants going for trips together and they have enjoyed themselves tremendously.

But you can’t say the same for our male participants who are left on the sideline…

I guess why many male divorcees tried to re-marry early is because they could not survive on their own like many women divorces would.

Men are by nature a social recluse in their own right and is not much of a social creature like women.

How often do you see a woman eating dinner on her own whereas man does that all the time.

Yet, man will always prefer to have someone by their side to uphold and support them in their life journey.

I guess if you are either a guy or gal, we are after all a human being first and all of us need the social interaction and support in order to live on purposefully.

The important question to ask is are we ready to date again immediately after a divorce?

Chapter 10 – Selecting the right counsellor

We received almost an email a day from the hurting married community with many asking for marital or divorce counselling.

I feel that many came to us when the marriage is already very strained and almost on the verge of divorce.

Perhaps, many decide to resuest for counselling as a feeble last-ditch effort to mend their broken marriage or they feel that they have done their best by going for counselling and later file for divorce.

However, if both the couple decides to attend marital counselling, there is every chance that the marriage can be salvaged especially if there is no third party complication and they have children.

I am not saying that marriages with spousal infidelity are unsalvageable but when one party has someone else emotionally attached to, the situation can be complicating.

If you decide to seek marital counselling support, do check out if the counsellor is married or not.

It still baffles me that single counsellors still continue to counsel people with marital problems.

I have heard that family service centres now only allow married counsellors to counsel couples with marital issues.

It is only right as how can a single person understand the frustrations of a married couple?

The same goes for a divorced counsellor who is trying to counsel couples with marital problems as what kind of support can he provides to the couple when he himself is divorced and apparently fails in his own marriage?

I don’t counsel couples as I can’t see myself gaining the respect of the people I counsel – I will pass them on to my married counsellors.

While looking out for a counsellor, its important tat you feel comfortable with him as you are going to listen to his counsel for the next few weeks and somehow it will determine the future of your marriage and that of your children especially if you are the one who want to file for a divorce when counselling fails.

Most couples who approached us for marital counselling prefer a male counsellor and this is understandable as most husbands prefer a guy counsellor to a female one.

There is this perception that most female counsellors tend to side with the wives especially if the guys are the ones committing spousal infidelity.

We have three male counsellors and two female counsellors and the males tend to have more counselling request than the women.

Men generally feel better talking to a male counsellor as doing so otherwise make them look bad and out of control.

There are of course more women seeking counselling support from us than men.

We wish more men can lower their pride and seek help but looking for support is something that is very un-male here.

Men don’t like to seek help as it makes them feel weak and their ego takes a deep stab when they do so.

They will often only seek support when things are going very bad for a long while and they feel hopeless.

A counsellor usually charge between $70 – $100 per hour though rates of $150 – $200 are common now especially if the counsellor has alot of relevant experience and credibility.

I feel that many counsellors here have quite good relevant qualification but lacking the clinical experience.

However, having say that, the mere fact that you and your spouse decide to seek help for your marital problem is already a very big step forward to restoration and of course much of the effort has to be made by both of you – the counsellor’s job is simply to point the way.

Chapter 11 – How to  forget your ex spouse after a divorce?

I recently met up with a few divorced friends who told me that they still couldn’t forget about their ex even though all auxiliary matters are settled and the divorce papers properly filed away.

They felt a tug in the heart whenever they are in places that they frequented with their ex and the memories came flooding back.

I told them that they may not be able to completely erase the memories of their ex entirely though they can slowly diminish their impact and moreover how can you forget someone whom you have shared your life with for the past ten or twenty years together?

I remembered I hate to go to Bedok area on my own as I stayed there for a good part of our marriage and spent many fond memories there.

The whole family would take a bus outside our home and ate many memorable happy dinners together at Siglap area.

Till date, I could not muster up the guts to visit Siglap Centre again as it was like a weekly favourite outing for us for many years. My fear is that those mixed feelings would come flooding back to me again and how can I handle them?

Would I shed a tear or two lamenting over  these  fond memories of the past or block them out completely from my emotions which I am quite capable of doing nowadays?

We frequented the many nice little coffee hang outs there together and sipped ice lemon tea – laughing over silly jokes and wishing that time would stand still.

Are this are but  cherished memories now but it would be forever imprinted in my mind – meshed with some bitterness and sadness for sure.

I told the small group of men that it would be difficult to forget those sweet loving memories together with the ex and though it is difficult to bear, they would be with us for the rest of our lives.

It would be tough to completely to block these memories  out  and we shouldn’t as they remained part of our lives – for good or bad.

If the memories are good – I felt that we should sometimes go through them in our mind for a while and though we are sad we knew that we have spent these good times with someone we love.

I remembered how tough it was for me to walk through our Sydney rental unit whenever I visited my daughter annually in my visit.

Ironically, my family still hung those baseball caps I bought when we were still intact facing the front of the main entrance. There were three of them there and I always wondered why my ex-wife never brought them down from the wooden panelled board.

She has literally thrown away most of my stuff – even my insurance trophies and most of my clothes.

My daughter told me that she helped her brought a few bags of my stuff to the rubbish chute area. It must be a difficult period for both of them and I must salute her for bravely soldering on throughout all these years as she is the innocent party having to embrace all the fall-out of our failed relationship.

I guess my ex wanted to erase all the memories of me but I knew that it must be difficult to do so. How can you delete a person entirely from your life having sleep, live and eat together for the best part of your 20 years? Its almost impossible and the best we can do is probably try to retain the happy memories of a marriage that went sour without letting the worse moments stop us from living on meaningfully. Many people we know is so damaged from a tumultous marriage that they could not function properly afterwards. Our divorce legal system is also so twisted that often after a acriminous divorce proceeding, nothing is the same anymore and everyone is adversely affected once the case goes to the court.

Afterall, you can throw away all the person’s stuff but you can never erase the person completely from your mind – those happy moments will forever be there and of course the bad ones as well – but I chose to remember the good times. Life is too short to let a bad relationship completely ruin you…

Chapter – Caring for your children after a divorce

3 comments

  1. hi gilbert,
    i don’t get it. first you said your wife took almost two years after your separation to file the divorce papers and subsequently you mentioned you were separated last year. so what’s the real truth?

  2. I really like you sharing, especially when you said ” To those who are divorcing, it’s not only the departure of a person from their life but more sgnificantly a loss of dreams, ideals, visions & fond memories.

    I am in the process of getting a divorce after finding out my husband cheated on me and I really feel that the future plans and dreams with him are now all gone. Strangely, memories that flashes through were all happy times together.

  3. I am new at this. I need some outlet for my feelings about my soon to be divorce situation. I have 2 teenage girls and I have had enough of husband being unfaithful. Too many lies. I can’t go on lying to myself. I am hurting so much now and I need help…….

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