Grace Woodward, 45, a creative consultant based in Hertfordshire, was married to Ken for 10 years. Then, shortly after they split, lockdown was announced…
There wasn’t a specific moment that caused the breakdown of my marriage to my husband Ken, but there was a bleak period, just before we split up in December 2019, when I felt like I couldn’t go on with my life as it was.
Mentally, I was all over the place. I’d gone from going out every night, having a thriving TV career working as head stylist on The X Factor and a judge on Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model, mixing with glamorous people and wearing fabulous clothes – to being at home chasing around after a preschooler. I’d taken a step back from my career to raise our son Larkin and we’d moved out of London. My whole identity was taken over by being a wife and mother. Meanwhile Ken’s career, working for a technology company, hadn’t changed.
I’ve suffered with depression and crashing low self-esteem on and off over the years. Ken found it difficult to talk about emotions but until then I had been surrounded by other people I could turn to. Suddenly I felt lonely and stuck in our marriage.
We first met on my 31st birthday; I’d thrown a fancy dress party and he’d turned up as Michael Jackson. I could barely see his face under his wig but when we started chatting, we clicked. As he said goodbye he touched my face gently and brushed my lips with a kiss. It was so sweet and intimate, I fell in love then and there. But when I asked our mutual friend for his number, I found out he had a girlfriend. I was gutted. Later, when I heard Ken was single again, I got in touch and we went on a date. Eighteen months later, we moved in – and a few weeks after that, I suggested we get married.
Ken planned the most incredible honeymoon, driving around Italy in a convertible. I got pregnant three months later, a surprise.
But looking back, cracks appeared almost immediately. Before we got married I was going through a tough period in work and maybe the wedding was my next project. After Larkin was born, I was exhausted as the birth was traumatic, requiring an emergency C-section. Eight weeks later, my mother died and the grief compounded my stress.
Ken was a good husband in many ways but I found him emotionally unavailable. We tried marriage guidance counselling but he struggled to open up. When I tried to tell him how hard I was finding things, he focused on practicalities, which made things worse. I suppose I just wanted a hug.
One day I contemplated taking my own life – and in that moment, I knew something had to change. My GP prescribed antidepressants and finally I felt able to face discussing splitting up.
When I put it to Ken, during a walk, he didn’t seem surprised; we hadn’t laughed together in so long. The problem was how we’d afford a second home for one of us to move into – and we were still working this out when the first lockdown was announced in March 2020.
At first, I panicked about being stuck together. But surprisingly, I was never more grateful for Ken’s calm, steady outlook. We prioritised Larkin, then seven, and making cohabiting work for his sake. Ken worked in the loft during the day while I homeschooled Larkin downstairs. It was a testing time, but the bonding time with Larkin got me through. Ken and I also slept in the same bed but we adjusted to being there together without any deeper dynamic.
We only had a couple of arguments, though looking back, it was surreal, and we functioned like zombies. In February 2021 I finally moved out. I knew I wanted to keep things stable for Larkin so I bought a house three minutes up the road.
I felt incredibly unsure stepping out into the world alone. But since then, I’ve started working on a photographic project, Body of Work, which helped remind me that I have an identity aside from being a wife and mother. It still breaks my heart that Ken and I couldn’t make it work, but I’ve no regrets.
Living under one roof for a year after breaking up was far from ideal but we made the best of a difficult situation. It helped show me just how different Ken and I really are. Our split also helped me realise that I would rather be alone than lonely in a marriage. Even so, Ken will always be someone I admire and, thanks in part to that extra time living together, our relationship today as co-parents is strong and amicable.
As told to Georgina Fuller