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Divorce self-help group offers practical support

A couple who set up a government- funded network of divorce recovery self-help groups in the UK are establishing a similar scheme in France. They say any Connexion reader still struggling from issues from a divorce or separation is welcome to get in touch.

Jim and Annette Wheeler founded the Aquila charity in Crowborough, Sussex in 1992 after going through painful divorces and being asked to talk about their experiences in a group organised by their vicar, who was writing a book on marital break-ups. Even though it was 10 years after their divorces, they found it helpful and decided to set up similar groups for other people.

Groups became so popular they gave up their jobs and ran the charity full time until their retirement, when they handed it over to younger people.

Now, although in their mid-70s, they have been persuaded to start a similar charity. It came after the pastor of the Evan­gelical Church at Loches, Indre-et-Loire, they attend and helped set up, told them there was no equivalent body for French adults and it could help people.

Called again, Aquila, they ran a successful pilot course this year and were encouraged to continue with future self-help courses for French people during residential weekends, which will allow participants from wider areas to attend.

Mr Wheeler says there is no reason it could not be offered to English-speakers if there is enough interest to justify organising expat residential weekends.

“We have about 10 people at a time,” said Mr Wheeler.

“We are not trained psychologists and what we run are self-help groups which go through a number of themes we find are useful to people.”

He said there was a gentle introduction, a chat about the emotional issues and healing, looking at yourself and your part in the breakdown and on how to forgive. “We talk about children and practical issues, as often people are suddenly faced with hardship.

“We also give advice on new relationships as it is well known that a very high proportion, around 70% of second and third marriages end in failure.

“We touch on our faith and explain how it helps us, but without wishing to convert anyone else. Our sessions are open to all people of all religions and persuasions. It is not just for divorcees. We have also had people from same-sex relationships who have split up.”

Mr Wheeler added: “We have three children each from our first marriages and one child from our marriage.

“Annette and I met because our exes were having an affair and they are now together. This year we all met up in France for a holiday, where there were about 30 of us. We can all get on socially and it was important for the children we could do this and shows how much healing can take place.”

He said the first sessions with the vicar had helped as he had not realised how bitter he still felt. “It was a revelation. I had always blamed my wife, but I had my part to play too.”
Contact the couple by email:

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