Psychotherapist Neil Wilkie suggests children can sense when there’s unhappiness in a relationship.
Adele has opened up about her divorce in a wide-ranging interview with Oprah Winfrey.
The 33-year-old singer said she was “embarrassed” about her split from ex-husband Simon Konecki, with whom she has a son, Angelo.
“I’ve been obsessed with a nuclear family my whole life because I never came from one,” she told Winfrey.
“From a very young age I promised myself that when I had kids we’d stay together and we would be that united family and I tried for a really really long time. I was just so disappointed for my son; I was disappointed for myself.”
Even though Adele admitted she felt “very uncomfortable” about “choosing to dismantle my child’s life for my own”, she also said: “I was ignoring my own happiness… And I knew that, as an adult, Angelo would be livid with me for doing that.”
Adele and Konecki are still on good terms and live across the street from each other in Los Angeles.
Relationships expert and psychotherapist Neil Wilkie, founder of online couples therapy programme The Relationship Paradigm (relationshipparadigm.com), understands Adele’s feelings of embarrassment and disappointment, saying these emotions are “very common”.
“Nobody teaches us how to have a good relationship, but we are expected to have great relationships,” he says. “We arrive in them by accident by falling in love, and the expectation is that love is going to stay regardless. When it doesn’t, when couples drift apart, when they divorce – that [can be] seen as a real failure.”
When faced with unhappiness in a relationship – particularly when children are involved – Wilkie says people need to think about three potential outcomes: “One is for them to stay together and put up with things. The second is to separate and say, ‘This relationship has met its end and we need to part amicably’, or the third is to say, ‘OK, we’re now in a very different place to when we first met – we can’t put a sticking plaster over the old relationship, but can we create a new and better relationship from where we are right now?'”
Often, Wilkie finds people decide to “put up with it and hope it gets better of its own accord”, he says, “until something significant happens, like all the children leave home, or one of them has an affair”.
If you are unhappy, Wilkie urges couples to “face up to the fact the relationship isn’t good” because “everyone deserves to have a great relationship”.
He understands why parents might be nervous about splitting up. “They’re worried about the impact on the children of the break-up – two parents in separate places, having disagreements over who sees the children and when. They think that’ll be just too much for the children to bear. But the reality is, children – even at a very young age – pick up intuitively the unhappiness in a bad relationship. They can see and feel the lack of love, the lack of support, the lack of communication.”
Staying could potentially have a knock-on effect. “Often children feel it is their fault,” says Wilkie. “[They think] if only they behaved better, if only they went to bed at the right time and ate the right stuff, their parents would be happy.”
For Wilkie, one of the most important things is for parents to model what a great relationship looks like for their children, he says. “Because the relationship their parents have will have a huge impact on the relationships they will have in the future.”
If a couple ultimately decides to split, Wilkie suggests the real impact on the children will hinge on how the separation is handled. It could be positive “if the parents are able to separate and remain on good terms; remain good co-parents for the children”, he says – but if it becomes a “war between them for who has access to the children and who has access to the money, then it’s going to have a hugely negative impact.”