Angela Mol­lard

Why Jan­uary is the month when so many ny cou­ples get di­vorced d

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS - Twit­ter: @an­ge­lam­ol­lard

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

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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.


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