THE last straw in Claire Lodge’s marriage was not discovering her husband cheated – there had been no blazing rows or secrets.
In fact a friend told her she should be ‘grateful’ her husband had not strayed and was not addicted to gambling.
Claire made the decision to end her marriage to David*, when their daughter was aged seven, despite everything seeming fine.
But six years on and with the divorce finalised last October, Claire says it was the right decision and has made her a better mother.
The 46-year-old communications manager from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, urges other women to follow their hearts if they are trapped in unhappy marriages.
Claire says: “I had been thinking about ending things for at least two years before I did it, but I kept fighting it because I didn’t want to hurt my husband or my child.
‘Spark was gone’
“Then one Sunday, I physically couldn’t function. I knew what I had to do but didn’t have the energy or strength to deal with it. I could only lay in bed.
“Eventually I did get up, as I’d promised, to give my parents a lift. But I was on the verge of a panic attack.
“My heart was pounding, I had pins and needles shooting up my arm. I could hear my parents laughing and joking in the back seat of the car, still so happy after 40 years of marriage, and thought to myself: ‘That’s all I want, to be like them.’
“I dropped them into Leeds and as soon as I got home, I told my husband I was ending our marriage. I didn’t want to but I had to.
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“There wasn’t anything awful which had come up — we weren’t one of those couples who constantly argued, we still got on very well and could have a laugh.
“But the spark was gone and I was deeply unhappy, feeling trapped and panicky all the time.
“When I broke up with David, he still wanted to make things work but he was very calm.
"He probably thought I would change my mind again, but I knew that wouldn’t happen.”
For the first six months after the split, Claire and David, 50, still lived together, while selling their house.
Claire says: “It was painful. We moved into separate bedrooms. Christmas was so hard. But we muddled through for the sake of our daughter.”
Claire then decided to move into her own flat and slowly started to rebuild her life.
She says: “I felt incredibly guilty, that it was all my fault.
“I was blowing our lives apart and my daughter wasn’t going to have a family home any more.
There wasn’t anything awful which had come up — we weren’t one of those couples who constantly argued, we still got on very well and could have a laugh. But the spark was gone and I was deeply unhappy, feeling trapped and panicky all the time.
“But then I felt intense relief.”
Claire is telling her story in ‘divorce month’ — when marriage break-ups spike each year by more than 300 per cent.
In fact, 25 per cent of divorced couples began planning their split in January.
Claire was 27 when she married David in April 1990 — after three years of dating, having met through mutual friends.
Prior to their split, the couple, whose daughter is now 15, had already survived three brief separations.
Claire says: “They were instigated by me but David was very good about it and would move out to live in his friend’s flat.”
But she would always return to the marriage, assuming things would be better.
Sadly, they never were.
Claire says: “We went on holidays, we got work done on the house, and we even tried for another baby, but nothing worked.
“If I could’ve gone on autopilot until my daughter was older, I would’ve, but I just couldn’t.
“My mum and sister always say if an old photo of me pops up on Facebook, it makes them sad because I looked so unhappy.
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“I don’t know who I am in those photos, I can’t connect to that person because I was so numb at that time.
“I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack and had extreme anxiety from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep.
“I knew deep down my problems were linked to my marriage.”
To cope with her anxiety, Claire “anaesthetised herself with food and wine” and piled on weight, going from 11st to 14st.
She says: “I didn’t bother to look after myself. I thought: ‘What’s the point in taking care of my appearance? That’s the least of my worries.’
“I don’t own a pair of scales now but I know I’m a lot healthier than when I was married.
“I really hated myself for being unhappy during my marriage, because I felt like I shouldn’t be.
“Now I hate the thought of other women who need to leave but can’t because they feel they’re being selfish.
"That’s why I’m telling my story. I want women to follow their heart and their gut, because things will work out.
“As women, there’s this insinuation you should be ‘happy with what you’ve got’.
"I remember someone saying to me, ‘He doesn’t gamble, he doesn’t have affairs, so what’s wrong with you?’"
Renewed love of life
“I thought: ‘Should that be the height of my expectations?’
“Women are expected to put up with feeling unfulfilled or unhappy more than men are.
“It’s harder to walk away as a mother, too.
“There was a lot of pressure to stay together for the sake of my daughter, but it was pressure I was putting on myself.
"You feel like you’re letting the side down and becoming yet another statistic.
“It’s never easy financially to walk away, but I knew it was important to make a fresh start so I rented my own place.
“Because there was no bombshell or resentment, it was easier to be separated initially.
“Eventually I thought: ‘Gosh, we’d better do this housekeeping now’ and did the paperwork to make it official.
“But there was no desperation to be legally divorced, because we’ve always got on quite well and there was no contention around finances.
Women are expected to put up with feeling unfulfilled or unhappy more than men are. It’s harder to walk away as a mother, too.
“We didn’t feel that sense of urgency that lots of other divorced couples feel.”
Today, Claire has dyed her dark hair flame-red. She has a renewed love of life, a gym membership and absolutely no regrets over how things played out.
She says: “Once I got over the initial few months of feeling horrible, I immediately became a better mother.
“I joined a gym, got healthier, started looking after myself and enjoying life.
“Finally my daughter could see me living life to the full.
“I don’t know what she saw when she looked at me aged seven, but I hope she was too young to realise how unhappy I was.
“I’m right where I’m supposed to be and I’ve forgiven myself.
“I tried for a long time to make it work — nobody could say that I ended my marriage lightly.”
Although Claire has dated, she has been left terrified of commitment.
She says: “I joined Tinder and Plenty of Fish but they were both awful.
"I deleted them two years ago, after four years of trying, and won’t go back. I’d rather wait to meet someone in real life.
“I’ve got a big fear of being trapped in relationships.
“I get this awful panic, thinking, ‘I’m going to really hurt him’, like I did my ex-husband.
“But it’s been a long time now, so I’m hoping when I meet the right person I’ll be able to be happy.”
*David is not her ex-husband’s real name.
- Follow Claire's Instagram here
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