A year since no-fault divorce was introduced to England and Wales in April 2022, the number of divorce applications have risen by 15 per cent. There were 89,123 divorce applications in a nine-month period compared with 77,449 in the same period during 2021.
For many, the breakdown of a marriage is a gradual process, but others who have experienced it say they can pinpoint a moment when they realised there was no way back: i spoke to four people about that painful, thunderbolt moment of clarity.
Lara*, a 39-year-old teacher from London
The turning point came when my 40-year-old husband of almost nine years said to me: “I love you and want to stay married to you, but I don’t know if I want to have sex with you anymore.” We had been in separate bedrooms for a year in our two-bedroom flat, a fact I had found really sad, and concerning. He justified it to me that because of our contrasting schedules, we’d get better sleep this way.
During that time, we had still occasionally had sex, maybe once every few months, but then it just stopped entirely. I had forced myself to bring up the topic with him and suggested we try harder, maybe go on a trip together, get some therapy.
I bought new, insanely uncomfortable, sexy lingerie and surprised him when he came back home like a cliched pop singer from a 1990s music video. He smiled at me, said “gosh” with some uncertainty, and then went to turn on the TV. I felt so idiotic and after another two months of that loneliness, I confronted him properly. He said he didn’t know what was wrong with him, that he loved me, but he didn’t want to have sex with me, and wasn’t attracted to me, but perhaps it was just a phase.
I knew at that moment something that perhaps he didn’t realise yet: that he didn’t actually want to be married to me anymore, but he wouldn’t say it. I realised that ambling along any longer in this marriage of companionship was no longer good enough for me, and I had to get out.
Karen Angelico, a 51-year-old author of novel Everything We Are, living in Suffolk, with her four sons.
I knew my marriage was over when my unhappiness became greater than my worry of how I would cope alone. With four children, I was aware of how tough it was going to be. We all have an inherent need for stability, which can blur the lines between what we want to do and what we are capable of doing. It took me a long time to find the courage.
My husband was working overseas. We had lived abroad as a family for a couple of years, but when I’d fallen pregnant with my fourth child, I’d needed to come home. I repeatedly told myself we had a great marriage, even though I used to joke with friends that it was a miracle we’d had four children. Underneath I felt sad and alone. But didn’t all married people have infrequent sex and feel alone sometimes?
The moment of no return came when we went on holiday to France. Our youngest was almost seven months old then, and still breastfeeding. I hadn’t spent much time with my husband since the birth, as his job was incredibly demanding.
On the flight over to France I felt especially tense, although I was looking forward to our time away as a family. It will be just what we need, I thought. Then I felt a pain in my breast. I struggled through the next feed, thinking it was just the excitement of going away. But by the time we landed, I was in agony. When we arrived at the villa, I was burning up. We found details of the local doctor in the welcome folder and drove down the hill to the village. The doctor (who spoke very little English) gave me a prescription for strong antibiotics, told me I wouldn’t be able to feed the baby any longer. My husband bought some formula and bottles from the supermarket. He couldn’t understand why I was so upset.
That week, I recovered on the sofa while the older children played in the pool. My husband went off for lots of walks. I felt as if I was grieving, an intense sadness that was like falling into a hole. It felt disproportionate to the sudden end of breast-feeding, but I couldn’t climb out. I’d done well, I kept telling myself. I’d managed alone with three children and a baby. I’d reached a great milestone. I’d only planned on breastfeeding for a while longer, anyway. Why was I so upset? Hormones, I decided. Later, I realised I had been grieving for the end of my marriage.
Alex Limanowka, a 34-year-old former divorce lawyer, now therapist-in-training
It started with my spouse and I spending less time together and developing different interests, hobbies, and friends. As the distance between us grew, we stopped fighting and I began to feel resigned and peaceful about what was happening. The moment that it became clear to me was on a trip. We used to enjoy biking trips with picnic as a common activity. During our last trip together, I realised that we no longer shared the same passion for it. It was at that moment that I knew things had changed, and it served as a metaphorical wake-up call that our relationship was coming to an end.
It was then that I asked myself a crucial question: what were we together for? While I was aware of my tendencies to avoid this question due to fear of potential consequences, I knew that I had to face it head-on. Answering that question was the most significant moment for me as it made me realise that my marriage was essentially non-existent.
James*, a 36-year-old IT specialist from the East Midlands
I knew it was over when my wife of three years missed our anniversary dinner because she had lost track of time drinking with a man from work. She had been talking about this guy – who was also married, by the way – with more excitement than she spoke about anything else, and kept telling me I’d “love him”, and he was “so funny”.
I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly jealous person and she has male friends, just as I have female friends. I figured that maybe she was just enamoured with him because he was shiny and new, and that it would pass.
Yet after months of her coming home late from drinks with him and telling me so many stories about him – often referring to him being married, as if that was supposed to ease my fears – she forgot about the dinner I’d cooked her to celebrate our relationship.
I realised then that she didn’t love me the way I loved her. It was awful, but I’m glad I had that clarity sooner rather than later.