I was desperate to divorce my husband! As it's revealed three million Britons have stepped back from the brink, one wife makes a confession
00:39 GMT, 25 September 2012
Anyone who’s been married for any length of time will understand that it is often the evenings when you least expect a row to erupt that turn out to put a bomb under your relationship.
For me, the moment I realised Keith and I were in serious trouble started with nothing more controversial than a takeaway and a night on the sofa in front of the television.
I can’t even remember what it was that kick-started the argument, but before we both knew it, I had uttered something unforgiveable enough for him to throw his fish and chips across the room before storming out of the house and slamming the door with impressive ferocity.
Shona Sibary with her family; husband Keith, daughters Flo, 13, Annie, 11, Dolly, 2 and son Monty, 9
It was what I did next that illustrates how close we were to divorce. Instead of fetching a dustpan and brush to clear the food strewn across our lovely Oriental rug (bought, ironically, on our honeymoon), I stretched out on the sofa without a pang of remorse.
Reaching for the remote control, I remember thinking: ‘Thank God he’s gone. At least now I can watch Grand Designs.’
I even dared imagine, in that moment, how lovely life would be if I wasn’t married at all.
This was eight years ago, in 2004 — our fifth, and very nearly final, year of marriage. If you had said to me then that we would still be together in 2012, I wouldn’t have believed you.
In fact, back then, I had so little faith in our chances of making it that I would regularly scour the local paper for alternative accommodation and fantasise about having every other weekend to myself, child-free.
I even wrote down the number of a local divorce lawyer, and once sat in the car outside his office. But for some reason, I never plucked up the courage to go in.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, to read in a survey that nearly three million married people in Britain have, at some point, felt exactly the same way.
The poll, which was commissioned by Resolution — an organisation for lawyers involved in mediation between separating couples — found that 13 per cent of seemingly happily married people had ‘seriously considered’ divorce and had even made private plans to go ahead, but had, in the end, pulled back from the brink.
Happily ever after Shona and Keith Sibary had to overcome a number of problems to make their marriage work
This greatly comforts me, because there have been many times — especially during that dreadful year — when I have thought about divorce at least once a day. Until now, I had no idea how normal that was. Fantasising about leaving your husband is hardly a conversation opener at the school gates.
So what went wrong And, ultimately, what went right Because I can honestly say that I never want to feel that way about my husband again. Today, I know how much I love him, and while we still have our ups and downs, I know in my heart that divorce is not, and never will be, an option.
But it has taken me another eight years of marriage, and the birth of a fourth child, to reach this point.
The truth is that, like many married couples, we were simply going through a bad patch. In 2004, we had three children under six and Keith had been made redundant. We were running out of money and his confidence was at an all-time low.
I was also still seething about a Slovakian au pair I had sacked a few months previously for taking an unhealthy interest in Keith, and my life in general. I felt fat. He felt unloved. We felt poor. All the usual stuff that can drive a marriage into the ground.
Most crucially, we didn’t yet have the tools or understanding to cope with this almighty onslaught from what felt like all sides.
But somehow we pulled through. I can remember, on Christmas Day at the end of that terrible year, our eyes meeting over our children as they happily opened their presents and both knowing what the other was thinking: ‘Phew, at least we’re all still together!’
The fact we survived this year-long blip must be down in some way to luck — and love — because the foundations of our relationship were hardly strong.
I met Keith in 1992 at a London publishing house when I was 21 and he was 25. Even then, I could see that we wanted different things. I craved security and a partnership, while he wasn’t ready to settle down.
But we had one huge thing in common. We were both children of divorced parents, and although it was affecting us in different ways — Keith was terrified of commitment and I was clingy and insecure — it also gave us common ground.
The first six years of our relationship were blighted by bad timing and misunderstandings. But when we were together, we were best friends and neither of us wanted to be anywhere else.
Then, in 1997, I got pregnant with our eldest daughter, Flo, forcing us both to take a long hard look at our relationship. At that point we were on one of our notorious ‘breaks’, and it took the nine months of my pregnancy for us to sort out our differences and decide to make things work.
Admittedly, these are not the best ingredients for a marriage. And we have often joked that more than half the people at our wedding reception sat there quaffing free champagne while privately betting that we had no chance of making it through till death us do part.
But I think it’s precisely because we were both so determined to prove everyone wrong that we threw ourselves into married life with a gusto that was unsustainable.
Another daughter, Annie, was born a year after our wedding, followed by our son, Monty, just 22 months later. In this time, we moved house twice and spent a fortune on furniture.
We had everything to prove to the world — and we went all-out to show we were making things work. But the reality was that we had never been married or properly lived together before having children.
Keith had no idea how much I need an ordered house to feel my life is in control. I had no idea how little he cares about events like birthdays and Christmas. He had no idea I could be such a bitch on occasion. I had no idea he needs eight hours’ sleep in order simply to function.
The first six years of Shona's relationship with her husband were blighted by bad timing and misunderstandings (stock image)
These are all things it would be helpful to know before walking up the aisle with someone.
So we learned all this and more on the way, with the demands we had created for ourselves getting bigger and bigger. Then, in 2004, our house of cards came crashing down.
Looking back, I can see that it was all too much for a relatively young marriage to cope with.
For starters, there was the fact that Keith was at home, job hunting. It was easy to be supportive in the beginning, but the weeks dragged into months. He would start DIY projects then abandon them days later — leaving bits of wood and piles of screws around the house.
I grew to hate the sight of him in jeans. Actually, I grew to hate the sight of him at all. I wanted him in a suit and out of the house so that I didn’t have to spend my life clearing up after him and three small children.
I began to believe, for the first time, that it’s possible for a married couple to have over-exposure to each other.
With very little money, there was also no escaping the escalating stress. We stopped laughing and we stopped having sex. I became convinced that Keith was still in touch with that wretched Slovakian au pair, even after I’d sacked her for being over-familiar. (She would put make-up on when he came home in the evening, for heaven’s sake!)
It was terrifying how fast things deteriorated. I can remember writing a For and Against list of reasons to stay married.
The top line read: For — father of my children. Against — I don’t love him any more. And I truly believed I didn’t.
I don’t think Keith loved the woman I became in that year either.
With little money, there was no escaping the escalating stress which could have led to divorce
I remember on our fifth wedding anniversary, in August, we attempted to go out for dinner. On the way, I made a comment about how fast he was driving and he told me to ‘shut up’. At some point between starter and main course, Keith put down his napkin and said: ‘We should probably get divorced. But we can’t afford to.’
I remember feeling utterly floored — even though I had thought it myself on numerous occasions —that Keith had spoken something so awful out loud. It was the first time he had admitted his true feelings and it terrified me.
Perhaps if we hadn’t had three children, we may have gone down that route. Certainly, the results of another survey earlier this year by break-up and bereavement support website HealBee revealed that one in ten married couples stay together just for the children.
Is this such a bad thing What if, for a while, our children became the only thing holding us together Without them, we were both struggling to find any other reason to save our marriage.
But save our marriage we did — whether it was persistence on our part, or simply the fact that life improved (Keith found another great job, our finances improved and the future seemed rosier).
We didn’t have counselling. I just think we shunted ourselves through until our luck changed — because we both believed there was no other option. After that it was a knock-on effect. A few months later, we had reasons to smile again, reasons to be nice. Quite simply, it became easier to be happy.
It’s so exhausting to be miserable with each other all the time that it was almost a relief to find I liked my husband again. We even managed a weekend away to the French Alps in February 2005 and it was just like old times. We were even able to talk openly about how isolated and lonely we’d both been feeling.
Today, I’ve got a much better understanding of what it is that keeps our marriage going. Quite simply, we want to be married in 30 years’ time — not just for our children, but for our grandchildren too.
We want to be that doddery old couple turning up — together — on a Sunday lunchtime with a pocket full of fivers and hearts bursting with pride. We want, in a nutshell, to finish what we’ve started.