Mar­ried & di­vorced by 30

DI­VORCE RATES IN AUS­TRALIA ARE HIGH­EST AMONG TWENTYSOMETHING NEW­LY­WEDS. THREE YOUNG DIVORCEES SHARE THEIR STO­RIES

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Carrie Bickmore - By KEL­LIE SCOTT

Did they re­ally give it their best shot?” There’s a stigma at­tached to be­ing a young di­vorcee. And Kim Kar­dashian’s 72-day mar­riage to bas­ket­baller Kris Humphries, the 55 hours Brit­ney Spears spent law­fully bound to child­hood friend Ja­son Alexan­der, and Nicky Hil­ton’s three months of wed­lock to busi­ness­man Todd Meis­ter didn’t do Gen Y’s rep­u­ta­tion for com­mit­ment any favours.

But the stats don’t lie: the younger we marry, the more likely it is to go pear­shaped. Cen­sus data from the Aus­tralian Bureau of Statis­tics shows young mar­ried cou­ples have the high­est rate of di­vorce. The data also tells us most peo­ple tend to part af­ter four years, and di­vorces with de­pen­dent chil­dren have de­creased sig­nif­i­cantly, in­di­cat­ing mar­ried cou­ples with­out chil­dren are “get­ting out early”.

Ex­perts say bow­ing out of a rocky re­la­tion­ship sooner rather than later has its ben­e­fits. Dr Belinda He­witt, from the Univer­sity of Queens­land, stud­ies mar­i­tal sep­a­ra­tion and says it can in­flu­ence fu­ture re­la­tion­ships pos­i­tively.

“It’s harder to be di­vorced older. Stud­ies show you’re far more likely to re-part­ner suc­cess­fully if you’re younger when you first di­vorce,” ex­plains He­witt. “By your late 30s, most peo­ple are taken – or are likely to have had a di­vorce or chil­dren. That makes re-part­ner­ship more dif­fi­cult.”

Mar­ry­ing in your 20s is risky. He­witt says un­der-25s who wed or live to­gether are five times more likely to break up. “The parts of our brains that con­trol our abil­ity to think things over, not be re­ac­tive, not en­gage in risky be­hav­iour, aren’t fully de­vel­oped for a lot of peo­ple un­til their mid-20s,” she says. “And most peo­ple aren’t fi­nan­cially ready [to marry] be­fore 25 – they’re com­plet­ing school­ing or en­ter­ing work.”

Re­la­tion­ships Aus­tralia Queens­land man­ager Va­lerie Holden says young cou­ples try coun­selling dur­ing times of change. “Of­ten, tran­si­tion times in re­la­tion­ships are when the wheels fall off,” she says. “For ex­am­ple, the birth of a child, a new home, chang­ing jobs.”

New tech­nol­ogy also plays a role in re­la­tion­ship stress. “So­cial me­dia plays a big part in trust is­sues,” she says. It’s hard when, say, “the ex-girl­friend is still able to creep into [a cou­ple’s] lives”.

Di­vorce in young peo­ple, how­ever, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily cre­ate a bit­ter feud. Sep­a­ra­tion spe­cial­ist Alvia Tur­ney from Ac­t4­to­mor­row says young cou­ples tend to split more am­i­ca­bly than older peo­ple. “They’re def­i­nitely more ac­cept­ing if the re­la­tion­ship isn’t work­ing,” says Tur­ney. “Es­pe­cially those with­out chil­dren; they want to cut their losses and move on.”

Tur­ney has as­sisted in sep­a­ra­tions for cou­ples as young as 23, and with mar­riages as short as eight weeks. She says older gen­er­a­tions are more likely to stay in troubled re­la­tion­ships: “Older peo­ple of­ten judge younger peo­ple, think­ing they don’t try hard enough. But why waste a mo­ment of your life?” At the age of 22, Me­gan Lus­combe mar­ried her long-term boyfriend be­cause “it’s what peo­ple ex­pected”.

Com­ing from a big fam­ily, Lus­combe says that, de­spite there be­ing a lack of com­mon­al­ity and sex­ual chem­istry in the re­la­tion­ship, she got hitched be­cause all her sib­lings had done so at around the same age. And her boyfriend was 10 years older, ad­ding an ex­tra pres­sure for her to walk down the aisle.

“I didn’t re­ally have the guts to speak up about how I was feel­ing,” the 29-year-old Mel­bur­nian says. “I just fol­lowed what I thought I should do and didn’t have any­one ask­ing if this is what I ac­tu­ally wanted to do.”

But af­ter nine years to­gether and less than two years of mar­riage, Lus­combe came out to her hus­band, whom she says was “more of a best mate”.

“I iden­tify as les­bian,” she says. “This is some­thing my for­mer part­ner and I al­ways talked about – he knew I’d been with women. He had this run­ning joke that I was ‘prob­a­bly a les­bian’. I think it was a cop­ing mech­a­nism for him – it must be quite con­fronting to be with some­one who hadn’t al­ways been with peo­ple the same sex as you.”

Lus­combe says she should have faced facts ear­lier, but it was too fright­en­ing. “It took me a lot of time to get the courage to ac­tu­ally do it. But when it did even­tu­ally hap­pen, it was very am­i­ca­ble. I was very for­tu­nate; he was amaz­ing and said, ‘You need to do what makes you happy. You shouldn’t live a half life.’”

Her fears around di­vorce were soon su­per­seded by fears of com­ing out. “My fam­ily were awe­some… [but] I lost some friends. Peo­ple weren’t able to say what they were think­ing, but I heard things. There might’ve been ho­mo­pho­bia.”

Lus­combe doesn’t see their split as a fail­ure. “The di­vorce was the first time I was call­ing the shots and do­ing what I wanted to do,” she says. “It was a part of my life I have fond mem­o­ries of – I learnt how I wanted to be in a re­la­tion­ship.”

Now en­gaged to her girl­friend, whom she met two years af­ter her sep­a­ra­tion, Lus­combe says she’ll wed again if same­sex mar­riage is le­galised in Aus­tralia. Leea Gilmour and her boyfriend of three years were more like friends than lovers. The 34-year-old, who mar­ried 10 years ago, says the pair made one an­other laugh, but lacked a sex­ual con­nec­tion.

“We al­ways had this great non­phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship,” says Gilmour, who lives on the Sun­shine Coast. “I knew mar­ry­ing wasn’t the right thing, but it was like a run­away train. It’s telling that we didn’t have sex on our wed­ding night. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Lit­tle things he’d been do­ing had been putting me off so much that I couldn’t even stand to look at him.”

Her hus­band’s debt was a source of ar­gu­ments, too, and the re­la­tion­ship wors­ened when Gilmour told her hus­band she had an eat­ing dis­or­der. “I said, ‘I’ve had bu­limia for nine months.’ He said, ‘F*ck­ing hell, Leea, you’re a pain in my arse.’ I felt so alone.”

Then an op­por­tu­nity for the cou­ple to work over­seas as crew on the TV se­ries Sur­vivor filled her with hope. “That was ex­cit­ing, and when we got back we were go­ing to start try­ing for kids.” But their new life over­seas didn’t save the pair.

While abroad, Gilmour sug­gested a trial sep­a­ra­tion, but it was all or noth­ing for her hus­band, so they agreed to split af­ter one year of mar­riage.

“I thought, I’m about to break his heart, but I can’t pre­tend to have a mar­riage for the rest of my life based on friend­ship but no re­spect. If I think I can go with­out sex for the rest of my life, I’m kid­ding my­self.

“Di­vorce is easy; it’s a de­ci­sion, a year and a day, and a sig­na­ture. The sep­a­ra­tion of your life – your house, your stuff, your travel mem­o­ries, your pho­to­graphs – that’s what can de­stroy you. You think you can’t do this by your­self, but you can.”

Gilmour has now found love with a new part­ner: “I have the great­est re­la­tion­ship. You couldn’t have told me when I was break­ing up with my hus­band that it would be pos­si­ble.” in Mel­bourne. As both were from tra­di­tional Asian fam­i­lies, they didn’t live to­gether dur­ing their four-year re­la­tion­ship – but she says that wasn’t the prob­lem. Rather, their shared goals shifted. “We talked about kids and our views changed. I wanted to adopt as well as hav­ing my own, but af­ter we mar­ried, he changed his mind about adop­tion.”

This caused ar­gu­ments that, along with their stub­born per­son­al­i­ties, led to Hong’s de­ci­sion to end the re­la­tion­ship. “It was a sur­prise for him,” she says. “We tried coun­selling, but I didn’t think he was be­ing hon­est dur­ing the ses­sion. If you’re not go­ing to put it on the line, there’s no point go­ing through ther­apy.”

So four months af­ter Hong said she wanted to leave, her hus­band agreed to sep­a­rate. “We’d only just got mar­ried, there were no kids, we hadn’t bought a house… it was very clean. The best time to do it was now, rather than wait.”

An­nounc­ing the split was tough. “When you con­sider every­one put so much time and ef­fort into the wed­ding, and all the money…” says Hong. “Com­ing from a tra­di­tional, strict fam­ily, I knew my par­ents would never go for it.”

She was right: her par­ents tried to talk her out of leav­ing. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, they came around.

Friends were quick to take sides, with many not sup­port­ive of Hong, some­thing she partly blames her­self for. “I in­ter­nalised a lot and dealt with it on my own, whereas he con­fided in friends.”

Af­ter a year of sep­a­ra­tion, Hong re­cently filed for di­vorce.

As for dat­ing, she’s tak­ing an “if it hap­pens, it hap­pens ap­proach”, while en­joy­ing a new-found re­silience. “This might sound a lit­tle corny, but I learnt how strong I could be.”

LIV­ING A LIE Me­gan Lus­combe, 29, re­vealed she was gay.

NO CHEM­ISTRY Leea Gilmour, 34, didn’t feel a sex­ual con­nec­tion with her hus­band.

DIF­FER­ENT VIEWS Su­san Hong, 31, wanted to adopt kids.

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