An Amicable Divorce ‘Can Be Done’

April 7, 2021

It is possible for a marriage to end amicably,  according to many people who responded to a recent ABC Life Matters series The Good Divorce

In the series, ABC news anchor Tamara Oudyn explored how couples can separate without unduly damaging themselves, their ex-partners or their kids. 

Reviewing the program on ABC Radio National, Life Matters reporters Sophie Kesteven and Maria Tickle wrote the series prompted listener Pete to tell about his own ‘good’ divorce. 

“There were no lawyers involved in our breakup,” he says. 

“We were so worried about our children’s futures and how they were feeling … that our little squabbles slowly died away and it became good. 

“We still go out to dinner together every week, all of the family.”

Staying calm

Talkback caller Terry says an amicable divorce requires self-control. 

“Something I had learned while I was breaking up was to control yourself, control your emotions, and not buy into the other party’s game, because there were children involved,” she says.

“You had to be very calm and measured about the actions that you take, particularly with very young children.”

Family therapist and author Katherine Woodward Thomas says it’s crucial to give yourself space when going through a separation, so you can be perceptive like Terry was.

“Terry took the reins in her own hand and said, ‘our kids are too important, love matters, I’m going to show up like the adult in the room and lead us forward in a healthier, more wholesome way’.”

Conscious uncoupling

Of course, many people who’d been through difficult separations were sceptical of the whole idea that a divorce could be ‘good’.

When asked “is a ‘good’ divorce possible?”, some simply reacted with “LOL”.

Katherine Woodward Thomas knows firsthand how a bad separation can negatively affect families, having lived through what she describes as the “ugly divorce” of her parents.

Katherine Woodward Thomas is the brainchild of conscious uncoupling. (Supplied: )

When a separation doesn’t go well, she says, and strong emotions such as anger take hold, even “the nicest person on the planet” may have the urge to “throw bleach all over” their partner’s clothes.

But, she says, separation doesn’t have to be combative.

Since going through a civilised divorce of her own, Woodward Thomas has gone on to develop a more holistic approach towards separating. 

“Conscious uncoupling was created as an alternative to the nasty, hostile, antagonistic breakups and divorces that we have all gotten fairly used to,” she says. 

Emily — a divorced mother who shared her story with The Good Divorce — says her separation was “absolutely” conscious.

She and her ex-partner continue to enjoy family holidays together, even after their divorce.

“We have aspirations for our family life, and we have a very clear vision for what we liked and what we enjoyed as a family,” she says.

“So when we separated, the idea was to retain those ideals of our family life that we cherished, while also giving ourselves breathing space as individuals, adults, to move on, mature, have new romantic relationships.”

Dealing with new partners

About one in three Australian marriages end in divorce.(Getty: Peter Dazeley)

It would be unrealistic to think that even the best divorces don’t come also without significant hurdles. 

ABC RN Instagram follower Merryn says she believes issues often arise when new partners come into the picture.

“Many new partners will not tolerate a happily divorced couple who are friends,” she says. 

“It only takes one new partner to create disharmony and undo all the good work.” 

But ABC Facebook follower Karrianne says she made friends with her husband’s first wife.

“They remained friends, and when he met me, she and I became friends,” she says. 

“We checked in on her regularly … when her second husband passed, and when she was ill, our daughter house sat for her and cared for her precious fur babies. And when she passed, she even left our daughter her car.

“It is possible to transition from marriage to divorce when you accept that life changes, your partner is a good person, just not right for you, and hanging on to the anger or grief is counterproductive to your happiness.”

Putting children first

Glenda was among many to say divorcing parents must put the welfare of their children first.

“Leave petty ego-driven squabbling at the door,” she says. 

“Young kids are imprinted by the language and behaviour during a divorce for the rest of their lives.”

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Janice says it’s important to keep the lines of communication with your former spouse open, especially when it comes to children.

“Make sure kids don’t play you off against each other,” she says. 

“If you have a problem with a child, ring your [former] spouse in front of the child. Hard to do but act as a mature adult.”

Sam says during their divorce, the “children were always our priority”. 

“We are now both happily remarried to other people and are able to all enjoy special occasion dinners, celebrations,” Sam says. 

“Multiple times we have all moved our children to new houses together. Our kids, now adults, love it.”

‘Our family just got bigger’

Being vulnerable can help you find love again, says Woodward Thomas. (Unsplash: Michael Fenton)

Woodward Thomas says after a divorce it’s important to make sure that you’re able to love with an open, free heart again in the future.

“Many people live lesser lives in the aftermath of a breakup,” she says.

If you’re a couple in the midst of a divorce right now, Woodward Thomas wants to remind you that you and your children will be living with the consequences of whatever actions you take now, for many years to come. 

“So continually strive to act in accordance with your ethics and with the highest wisdom you have within you, and to not indulge the petty feelings of wanting to get revenge or to punish the one who is hurting you,” she says. 

“What we want for everybody is to get to a place where you are actually at peace with somebody.”

Woodward Thomas quotes US author Merrit Malloy: “Relationships that do not end peacefully, do not end at all.”

Perhaps, people wanting a good divorce should try to draw inspiration from Mike, who says his ex-wife is still his best friend. 

“We chat regularly,” he says. 

“I get along with her new husband and she gets along with my current girlfriend. Our collective kids all seem to get along well. Our family just got bigger. 

“It can be done.”