Dr. Foster.... Fact or Fiction?

Divorce can be challenging, even when it's your idea. Remaining child focused can be difficult when we are dealing with our own unresolved emotions.

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If you like me, loved Dr Foster, you’ll have been gripped by the concluding episode on BBC One on Tuesday. Spoiler alert… if you haven’t caught up with it yet, well perhaps you want to come back to this article later, but if you did see it, let me ask, ?are you surprised by how it ended? Suranne Jones, and Bertie Carvel were, in my opinion exceptional. And what about Tom Taylor who played Tom – his portrayal of the distraught son of the couple was fantastic! Whilst the season didn’t end in murder (put your hand up if you thought it would too), the ending was brilliant. 

As a divorce coach, the brilliance of Dr. Foster for me is blindingly simple. It focused on the central characters of Dr. Gemma Foster and her narcissistic husband Simon. And just like in real life, the subplot was the emotional impact on the situation on their young son Tom.  I say just like in real life, because well, many parents take their eye of the ball during divorce and what appears to be the central theme of the divorce – the children, is in reality, nothing more than a subplot. 

Well, none of my clients have ever dissolved their wedding rings in acid, but sadly as an experienced family mediator, the number of intelligent, well-meaning adults who get so caught up in the ‘fight’ to protect fragile egos, and protect unhealed childhood wounds at the expense of their children’s emotional well-being is huge.

Divorce is challenging. Even when it’s your idea, even when you are two rational people who want to do the best for your children, and you don’t have unresolved childhood issues waiting to blindside you.

Take Dr. Gemma Foster. Intelligent, beautiful, successful. A husband, large home on a leafy suburban street. A well-adjusted, and well-liked child. So far so good…. Then we watch her ‘perfect’ life unravel when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a young woman over 20 years his junior. Gemma is shocked. Devastated. Her mental health is challenged. But as we get to know Gemma and Simon, the clues begin to be presented. 

Gemma was orphaned as a teenager – her parents killed in an accident and she questions whether she could have ‘saved’ them. We learn that she meets Simon after University – Simon the player, the commitment phobe she ‘tames’.  Simon the guy with the grandiose plans who never quite manages to pull them off. Simon who was emotional abused by his father and was ‘relieved’ at his death. Two lost and wounded souls brought together and, for a time all is well.  

We see Simon for the weak insecure man that he is and we learn that the parents of his lover then second wife are wealthy and can help him move forward with his grand ambitions as a property developer. Whatever Simon does reeks of narcissism. Simon doesn’t care what he has to do or say to make himself feel better, and get where he wants to go. Gemma is lost and confused. Her anger, rage and sense of abandonment is out of control. Gemma has already lost the people she loved most, she struggles to watch Kate take Simon from her.  In the end, Gemma doesn’t want Simon but she doesn’t want Kate to have him either.

But what about Tom? We see Tom turn from the bright, happy well-adjusted boy that he once was to a nervous, withdrawn and angry shadow of his former self. Simon manipulates him and Gemma becomes terrified she going to lose the most precious thing she has left. Gemma too begins to try and influence Tom through fear and feelings of abandonment. Neither Simon or Gemma cover themselves in glory, but it’s possibly a pattern that is familiar to you too?

Emotionally damaged people have to work incredibly hard not to damage their children. They have to learn different ways of parenting from the ways in which they were parented in some cases, in others it’s about recognising the hurt and pain caused in childhood, and looking for a source of support and healing outside of the family unit. Other relationships and their own children are not, and will never be, the solution. Emotionally damaged people need to be incredibly aware during divorce.  The feelings of loss, pain, anger, sadness and abandonment can trigger old wounds to be opened. Instead of a rational adult, you’re dealing with a damaged child in an adult’s body. It’s never pretty. It’s often incredibly destructive and damaging to all those involved.  Just look at Simon and Gemma. Simon and Gemma found it impossible to put the needs of their son above their own emotional pain. It concluded in them both losing the one thing that they each counted on for their own emotional stability – their son.

Divorcing a narcissist is challenging. Hoping for calm family mediation, full disclosure and a child-centred divorce? The only child at the centre of a divorce with a narcissist is the one you’re married to. If you are married to a spouse like Simon, know from the beginning that this journey will be a difficult one. You need the support of a lawyer who understands the behaviour of a person who will do and say anything and portray you to be a bad or unfit parent. A spouse who may move money, spend money and run up debt – just because they can. When did Simon put Tom first? He didn’t.  It was all about him. And Gemma? Gemma got caught up in playing the game with Simon. Her own emotions totally swamped her and she became unable to see the reality of the situation she was co-creating by participating in the drama. Meanwhile, Tom became a pawn in a toxic game of chess. Sound familiar? If it’s happening to you, take a step back. Observe. See it for what it is. How ever much you try, you can’t change the behaviour of another person, so stop trying. Get the legal and emotional support you need. Ensure that you get emotional support for your children too.

Dr. Foster fact or Fiction? The Dr. Foster scenario is playing out in households up and down the country every day. Don’t let it be in yours. 

Emma Heptonstall

Divorce Coach, Family Mediator, Recovering Lawyer, The Divorce Alchemist

Hello! I'm Emma The Divorce Alchemist, best selling Author of How to be a Lady Who Leaves. I'm a former Lawyer with over 15 years experience. I now work as a Family Mediator, supporting couples through relationship breakdown, helping them make the best decisions both emotionally and financially for themselves and their children. I'm also a Divorce Coach for Ladies who Leave. Supporting women to make the best emotional and financial decisions on their divorce. I'm a believer in marriage - good marriage! When you want to leave, being able to do so with kindness and integrity is crucial. Divorce is a process. It's not about you as a person. It can be the kindest, most healthy thing you can do for yourself and your family. It can be done with dignity and it doesn't need to cost you a fortune either.