Advice for the newly separated in France

When your relationship breaks down, how do you cope in France and should you stay?

Should you stay in France if you get divorced?
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How do you deal with a separation in France? Whether you have just split up or are going through a divorce, we talk to people who have made a new life alone in France – and thrived while doing it – for their top advice. 

Don’t take flight and flee 

Honor Marks, who split from her husband in 2015 after moving to France from the UK in 2007 says the “natural, knee-jerk reaction” after a split is to leave France, but she advises against it. 

“I always think people shouldn’t make a really big life decision after a shock, you need to let it sink in, whether it’s a divorce, a death, a separation, just hold on a minute, don’t make any rash decisions,” she says. “One step at a time.” 

Honor Marks, who hosts solo retreats for women in France. Photo courtesy Honor Marks.

Ms Marks, who had renovated an old barn into a thriving gite business with her husband, ultimately decided to stay in France. 

“I could have given up… my knee-jerk reaction was that I needed to go home, I can’t do this on my own. But then I thought, hang on a minute, I’ve created a business here, my daughter is at school here, we have friends and a lifestyle here, so I didn’t run home.” 

“You have to keep moving forwards,” she says. 

Read more: A guide to understanding divorce in France 

Stay in touch with family back home 

Deborah Bine, 78, moved to France in 2012, completely changing her life after a divorce from her husband of 49 years. She writes a blog about her life in Uzès, southern France. 

“In my situation, from a divorce, I didn’t have a bad divorce or hard feelings. It was a very cordial divorce. It was just two people wanting to spend the rest of their lives in a different way,” she says. 

Deborah Bine, who moved to France in 2012. Photo courtesy Deborah Bine.

Using technology to keep in touch with her sons and grandchildren back home continues to help her stay in touch, she says, and advises others to make sure they keep those family bonds after a split. 

“Right after I moved, I went to an art exhibition and one of the artists had a picture of a woman’s torso, head and shoulders and her head was in a box. I always called it ‘Grandma in the box’ because the box on her head looks like a TV screen or a video screen and so my grandchildren and kids have always identified with me being Grandma in the box,” she laughs. 

When she goes back to the US to visit, she always stays with her son. “It’s really nice to feel like I’m welcomed,” she says, noting she gets to spend more quality time with her family during visits than she might have done had she stayed in the US. 

“Grandma in the box”. Photo courtesy of Deborah Bine.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help 

For Ms Marks, asking for help was key to getting through the initial period post-separation. And whether that means reaching out to friends and family, or getting help on a more practical level, others should not feel ashamed to reach out for help, she says. 

“Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help and to get it. And it’s amazing how many people will help,” she says. 

She used websites such as Workaway to offer a cultural experience in exchange for practical help with her business. 

“I’m quite proud of being a solo businesswoman now and proud of the fact that I stuck it out and carried on,” she says. 

Read more: What happens to a joint French bank account during a divorce?

Do what is right for you

After a breakup, it is important to think about what you really want for yourself. 

“You’ve got to do what’s right for you,” says Ms Marks. “The only person who can take control and be responsible for your happiness is you.

“You have to take responsibility and think, I’ve built this, just because he’s going to walk out of it, I’m not going to walk out of it,” she says. 

Ms Marks says her responsibility as a role model to her daughter was also a big driver in staying in France. 

“It’s important to show her you can do this. There’s a lot more to just living abroad, it’s about empowerment and finding your own inner strength,” she says. 

Revel in your newfound independence 

Finding yourself suddenly single can serve as a new start, no matter what your age. And with time, it is important to embrace the change, says blogger Deborah Bine. 

“When the split is made, you need to just think about yourself and what will fulfil you, what is it that you wanted to do. Did you want to travel? Did you want to write? Did you want to raise animals? I don’t know… Do it! Try it! Don’t die without trying whatever it is that you wanted and that would make you happy,” she says. 

“You need to make sure that you’re doing something that makes you feel like life is worth living,” she says, adding that it was “curiosity” that drew her to France. 

“It was like, well why not try? And then you just take one step at a time, one foot in front of the other,” she says. 

Have a back-up plan

While Ms Bines encourages people to dream big, she also advises them to have an idea of what they will do if things do not work out. 

“You have to think, what's my escape? What if it just doesn’t work out? I always knew I could go back (to the US),” she says. 

“I think the main thing, especially for women, is if you try to do something that you feel is outside your comfort zone, just try to do it as safely as you can,” says Ms Bines. 

“Don’t make such a big step that you’ll fall into a quagmire. One step at a time, and it doesn't have to be a giant step.” 

Surround yourself with people who lift you up

Good friends can be key to helping you get through a split when you are away from most family. 

Five years ago, after a bad fall in which she broke her shoulder, arm and hip, it was friends who rallied around and supported Ms Bine, helping her to recover. 

Despite thinking she would move back to the US after the accident, Ms Bine ultimately decided to stay in France because of the close-knit group around her.

“It was frightening being by myself. But I made it through because of my friends,” she says. 

“Build a good network around you and you can conquer the world” 

“You’ve got to put good people around you and they will lift you up,” says gite owner Ms Marks, who channelled her experience into the business, setting up solo retreats for women and an online membership group to empower other women.

“I was 50 when this happened and it’s not what you expect to happen when you get to 50, you don’t expect the carpet to be tugged away from underneath your feet,” she says.

She realised women of a similar age were dealing with issues ranging from teenagers and empty nests to ageing parents and the menopause. 

The retreats, she says, are “for women who might actually be happily married, or divorced, or widowed, and it's just nice to know you’ve got a safe, supportive group of women around you… you just build a good network around you and you can conquer the world.” 

She says the women she has made friends with through her retreats and online community “have made me stronger and stronger”. 

“If my husband hadn't left me, none of this would have happened. And in doing so I’ve helped myself and, I’m told, I’ve helped many others,” she says. 

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