Dawn French and Lenny Henry ending their 25-year marriage reflects the trend of couples divorcing after a lifetime together. But what should do you do if it happens to you?
Regarded by many as having one of the strongest marriages in showbiz, people were understandably shocked when Dawn French and Lenny Henry announced they were splitting.
After all, when a couple have been with each other for a quarter of a century and brought up a child, you think they’ll go the distance.
After weathering allegations of Lenny cheating years ago, their marriage seemed bullet-proof, which makes it even more surprising that Dawn, 52, and Lenny, 51, have decided to split now.
But experts say that divorce among middle aged couples, whose friends see as partners for life, is all too common. Statistics show that the average age for both men and women divorcing is in their 40s and this is a trend which is expected to grow. Once couples have brought up their children together – Dawn and Lenny’s adopted daughter Billie is now 18 – they realise they both now want something different.
“It is often a life stage thing – especially if you have children – to want to move on from your relationship if all is not well,” says Christine Northam, an experienced counsellor with relationship group Relate. Christine says that many of the couples who seek help from Relate come to the sad conclusion that they simply don’t want to be together any longer. Often there’s been a slow realisation that they have both changed and grown apart over the years. And it’s only when their children are older and more responsible for themselves that they realise it.
“Couples often disguise the problems in a relationship with the hustle and bustle of running a family. They’re preoccupied with the kids and not so focused on the other one in the relationship. “I always say to couples that the best thing you can give your children is for them to see a happy, working relationship which is stable and long lasting. And so you need to nip any relationship problems in the bud. Don’t let them fester away. “I think it is very, very important that couples give priority to their own relationship rather than just their children. Couples need to be investing in their relationship and keeping it alive as much as possible.
“Sometimes that means the kids have to take a back seat and I think in our child-focused society, we tend to find that really difficult. In a lot of my cases, the couples are more married to the children than to each other. “Couples need to ensure their relationship is a strong one and that keeps the whole family together. Carving out time and making your
relationship a priority is important.” But sometimes relationships cannot be saved and when that happens it’s time to be brave and move on. Although it may seem daunting for someone who has shared their life with another person for decades, and now they are considerably older than when they were last single, it can be seen as a fresh new start.
“Nowadays it’s not nearly so dramatic to be on your own at 50, because 50-year-olds today are usually healthier and wealthier than in the past,” says Christine. “And there are many other single people around who are the same age and in the same boat. It is the fastest rising age group in divorce statistics. “If you’re fit and active, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and have a good time. It’s all about confidence and if for 25 years you have been in the same place, then anything which will change that is nerve-racking. “It’s particularly frightening being on your own so you need to take your life in your hands and make sure you get plenty of support around you.” A mature and amicable approach to dealing with the aftermath of ending a long marriage or relationship – which Dawn and Lenny have vowed to do – is key, says Christine.
“The feelings of any children should be the priority. Taking a calm and non-confrontational approach to dealing with the relationship, even if you do feel anger or hurt, is the way forward.”