Why January is the month when so many ny couples get divorced d
LETHBRIDGE’S VIEW I FEEL sorry for Jeff Bezos. I also feel sorry for his wife MacKenzie.
The Amazon founder may be the richest person in the world but $US137 billion ($A190 billion) doesn’t inoculate you against pain.
The Bezoses (pictured) may not have to sell their family home or navigate child support payments or argue over who gets the best wine glasses but they will experience the loss, loneliness and discombobulation of divorce just like anyone else.
It’s the same for senior Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese and his wife, former NSW deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt, who also announced the end of their 30-year relationship last week.
The Bezoses have four children aged between 12 and 17, while Albanese and Tebbutt have an 18-yearold son. He’s just finished school. Clearly, they waited to separate until he had finished his exams.
January has long been regarded as divorce month and it’s not just because couples have spent the stressful Christmas season together and suddenly realised they can’t stand each other. Most marriages flounder by degrees until finally all the distress and dysfunction becomes too much.
They can combust spectacularly – as appears to be the case with Sam Burgess and his wife Phoebe just weeks after the birth of their second child – or they can quietly occur after considerable thought, effort and soul-searching.
The fact this happens in January is generally because of the care couples take: they plan; they work around their children’s schooling; they see a new year as a natural
time to bring about change.
While divorce is undeniably sad, what’s heartening is the way we are divorcing. In the five years since Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin provoked scorn for “consciously uncoupling” – one commentator called it “sickly self-serving twaddle” – people are realising that reason rather than recrimination serves everyone better. Except perhaps divorce lawyers.
Cynics will sneer at the comment from the Bezoses that they feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for the years they had together.
“If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again,” they said in a joint statement. “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple.”
How wise, how refreshing, how grown up. But more than that, what a terrific road map they’ve given their children and others. What they seem to be saying is that life doesn’t always work out the way y ou planned but even finite love can be celebrated and cherished. Likewise, they point out that they “remain a family”. This is not confected damage-limitation spin – it’s a fact that children link couples forever. Every time a separated couple navigates their new status with kindness and dignity, they showcase to their kids the sort of decency and resilience which strengthens all of us. Unsavoury though it may be, compare the Paltrow/Bezos approach to the toxicity of the Stefanovic marriage. There can be no doubt that Karl and his ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn have suffered both personally and professionally, but they’ve both contributed to their split being an enduring spectacle. We didn’t need to know that their teenage son refused to leave the marital home after it was sold or that he and his siblings didn’t attend their father’s wedding – two pieces of information freely offered by Thorburn. More than two years on from their split, their lives are still of interest because they generate clicks. Close down the flow of information and interest wanes. Such a choice would also safeguard their children. Divorce lawyer Helen Ward, who acted for Guy Ritchie when he and Madonna fought over their son, Rocco, explained the difference between pain and damage.
“The pain and grief that children suffer when their parents divorce is an experience that may compel the children to mature and find resilience.” Conversely, she said the damage done by conflict – particularly when parents use their children as pawns – is “irreparable”.
Obviously, some marriage breakups – especially those involving violence – are horrendous. But how many more families might benefit from what I call a “slow, soft and shut up” approach. Witness Gwyneth Paltrow’s decision not to live with her new husband Brad Falchuk because, as she says, “with teenage kids, you’ve got to tread lightly”.
Sure it’s unconventional but it’s also a creative, slow and respectful solution. Why shouldn’t the kids’ needs come first?
Being soft, both with yourself and your ex, can also smooth things. A counsellor told me that many divorced couples found it hard to say “you’re right” so she encouraged them to say “fair call”. It also helps to let go of what I call your “victim story”.
Marriages end because people feel aggrieved but constantly repeating that story to yourself and others is emotionally exhausting and doesn’t propel you forward. As for “shutting up”, those kids you share will grow up to be adults who remember.
“I never heard Dad say a bad word about Mum after they divorced,” a friend once told me.
It’s my goal that my own children will be able to say the same.