The reality of splitting up: What we know about modern divorce

James Cracknell and Beverley Turner
James Cracknell and Beverley Turner split after 17 years together Credit: Andrew Crowley

This week, hot on the heels of the news that new legislation will allow no fault divorce, we have had an outpouring of truths courtesy of Beverley Turner and James Cracknell. 

To cut a long story short, after seventeen years of marriage Bev has had enough. For the past eight years, Crackers – as he is affectionately and, apparently, accurately called – has been a hard person to live with, having sustained a personality-altering brain injury. So far, so very sad. But Beverley admits that even before the accident he was the man who spends three hours in the gym on a family beach holiday; that he was always incredibly driven; not much of a communicator; continually looking for the next challenge, irrespective of how it affected her or their children. 

The final straw was when he upped sticks to Cambridge to do a Masters and compete in the boat race (as we know the Cambridge crew won, a feat his estranged wife describes as “an absolute dereliction of parenting and marital duty but even I can admit that it’s nothing short of super-bloody-human”). 

There it is, laid out for all to see: single-mindedly following your dream doesn’t work for marriages and families. Boring routine works. Compromising. Being there. You can’t always get what you want and if you try you might find others get hurt. Beverley Turner’s honesty has torn up the laminated divorce brochure (Opening para: Welcome to the Club You Have Done Nothing Wrong You Are Wonderful) and exposed it for what it is - a glossy rebranding bankrolled by celebrity donors. 

In the past few years, we’ve gone from divorce as a reason for celebration (sticking it to the patriarchy) via divorce as the inevitable consequence of personal growth, and arrived at a place somewhere between ‘Face The Fear Because You’re Worth it’ and, ‘Interesting People Don’t Have Pedestrian Lives, so Deal With It’. This brochure has been selling us divorce as the ultimate mind-body-soul experience (yes some pain, so much gain). And now along come the Cracknells to tell it like it is. “Marriage is one of the hardest things in life, rowing is easy by comparison,” he said this week.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin

From now on, with any luck, we can abandon all that positive divorce propaganda and get back to dealing with the reality. Because there is no-one - with the possible exception of Gwyneth Paltrow - who doesn’t recognise that divorce is one of life’s bad patches. If it hasn’t happened to you, you’ll certainly have had a ringside seat at someone’s marriage breakdown (‘uncoupling’ is what doves do after sex) and you will know, as any sane person knows, that divorce is zero fun for everyone. It may be the right thing, it may be much better than staying together, but it isn’t some life-enriching rite of passage. And if you are having a totally pain free divorce, then you can be sure that several other people in your orbit aren’t. Could be your ex’s mother. Could be your best friend. Could be - will be  -your children.

They’ll get over it, with any luck, but they won’t look back on it fondly; they won’t want to call their Dad’s new wife ‘Bonus Mum’ (a recent cracker of an idea from the Gwyneth for ‘reframing’ divorce); they won’t be really chuffed that they are bussed between two places for Christmas and are never again allowed to do absolutely nothing, because everyone wants Quality Time when it’s their turn. There’s no sugaring the pill of divorce - there is just the pill and doing the best you can.

The Cracknells have the modern divorce that you would hope to have if it had to come to that. There is no animosity, their families remain as close as ever, but there is no pretence that it has not been heartbreaking for all concerned. Let’s go with that, shall we?

Read more: James Cracknell: ‘It wasn’t my accident or the Boat Race that ended my marriage’