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Voices: Paddy and Christine McGuinness can teach us a lot about break-ups

Voices: Paddy and Christine McGuinness can teach us a lot about break-ups

Is it ever possible to be friends with an ex? If Paddy and Christine McGuinness are anything to go by, it’s not just possible – but entirely welcome.

The couple recently announced they were splitting after 11 years of marriage, a decision that Christine talks openly about in a new documentary detailing her diagnosis with autism: Christine McGuinness: Unmasking my Autism.

“I felt like I said in the film I didn’t want my family to ever fall apart. And that’s why I stayed married,” she said. “As an autistic woman, I like to stay where I am comfortable. I like things to stay the same. And so that’s something I suppose I chose to do... But sometimes change has to happen.”

And now Paddy has said he’s “very proud” of his ex-wife Christine after her documentary aired last night.

Paddy shared a photo from the documentary on Instagram and wrote: “Very proud of Christine for making this new documentary highlighting autism, particularly in women. It’ll be a massive help to our daughters in years to come along with our little lad. #unmaskingmyautism#awareness#acceptence.”

The couple still live together in Cheshire, and are co-parenting – and they seem to be doing an excellent job of dashing the myth that break-ups are always acrimonious. Far from warring factions, bitter words and taking sides, the pair are maintaining one crucial element: respect.

I understand how that feels, and how it can work – I’ve seen it. Those who maintain happy, co-parenting relationships with their exes are the enviable ones. The impact on kids of the split itself is minimised – because some couples work so hard to make it so.

It may not be the way you start out hoping life will turn out, but it comes close, and we are all the better for it. Just look at Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling” model – isn’t that more desirable than a bitter horror-split where you drop the kids off at the doorstep on alternate weekends?

In my experience, many of the problems which occur when couples split seem to come not from those inside the break-up, but from people outside it.

When you break up with someone, others are champing at the bit to take sides. It brings out a sort of gladiatorial divide: people seem desperate to bitch and pick the other person apart, to prove their love for you, perhaps, by harvesting hatred for the other. But when nobody is at fault (I’m also a firm believer in the fact that it’s on us all to “own our part”), why are we so desperate to see acrimony?

Never has Sartre’s “hell is other people” seemed more apt – half the time, I am convinced, the reason people who split from partners and spouses can’t “get along” afterwards is because of everyone else chipping in. Often, it’s a lack of understanding about why you wouldn’t want to hold a grudge. Sometimes, I think it’s about projection – and fear. People don’t want to think that what has happened to you, could happen to them; not least when research shows that you’re statistically more likely to get divorced if those in your social circle are, too: a phenomenon known as “divorce contagion”.

Who cares if Paddy and Christine’s break-up doesn’t fit the mould of the classic “couple who hate each other’s guts” – isn’t the fact that they apparently remain loving and mindful of each other, even in the wake of something as painful as the end of a marriage, something to celebrate?

So-called social boundaries, in my opinion, are entirely subjective – what works in terms of closeness for one person might be a suffocating nightmare to another, and vice versa. The only thing that matters is individual happiness, and the happiness of the children.

It also doesn’t have all that much to do with “luck” when you manage to maintain a healthy bond and co-parent brilliantly – people deserve more credit than that. It takes calmness, patience, forgiveness, strength, communication and a lot of hard work.

If it were me, I would infinitely prefer to be with a man who treated his ex-wife with respect and tenderness than contempt and abuse. It would be a major red flag if there was a terrible relationship between the two of them – obviously all circumstances are different, and people do get hurt – but I would be asking myself why they weren’t doing more to make it better for their children. Anything less than civility just seems... well, selfish.

If you’re tempted to sneer at Paddy and Christine’s amicable split, ask yourself why. Think about what it says about you. They’ve earned this happy break-up – let’s let them enjoy it.