Cassandra Thorburn refuses amicable split with Karl Stefanovic

Cassandra Thorburn

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There’s a reason celebrity divorce stories do well in tabloid media – and it’s not just salacious devouring of plastic-coated pain. There can often be some comfort in watching the realities of our own lives play out in the lives of public figures. We can see we’re not alone and maybe even take strength from the strength we find in strangers.

Despite all the sexist guff about her appearance and the immeasurable financial advantage she has over most single mothers, Cassandra Thorburn’s interview with Woman’s Day about how she felt after the end of her marriage to Karl Stefanovic is eminently relatable.

Karl Stefanovic breakup: What we know

The breakfast TV veteran has reportedly split from his wife of 21 years, Cassandra Thorburn. (Vision courtesy Sunrise)

Thorburn articulated the anger, grief and betrayal most of us feel when a marriage ends. But it’s interesting that she refused to toe the “amicable split” line.

“The children still have a father but I don’t have a husband. He really is dead to me and no, we won’t ever be friends again,” she said.

Like Joss Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole before her, Thorburn has unapologetically demanded acknowledgement of her contribution to her ex-husband’s professional success and denied him the protection of her silence. Again, like Cole, she will undoubtedly be criticised for declining the traditionally approved role of the long-suffering ex-wife.

She is not alone.

Every year in Australia about 50,000 couples divorce. The average age of divorcing couples is early 40s and the average duration of the marriage is 12 years. Nearly half those couples have children. Some manage an “amicable split” (tabloid speak for “we won’t trash each other in public for the sake of the kids”) but thousands of others end up in bitter family court disputes.

Even if there’s no abuse, the end of a marriage can be traumatic for everyone involved. The emotional labour of easing children through devastating change and smoothing over the edges of torn relationships with friends and family falls mostly, as it so often does, on women. And they shoulder this burden along with all the financial and domestic inequality of divorce.

When we marry, we do so in the expectation that our spouse will be the most significant person in our lives. Our best friend, our only lover, our closest confidant, the one person in whom we confide our deepest fears and share our every success. A spouse is supposed to be both a romantic ideal of sexual completion and a prosaic partner in the daily minutia of our lives.

We also change our perceptions of ourselves in marriage. Not only have we chosen, we have been chosen. The beloved other sees us as their only partner and lover. We have both found and become The One.

The end of a marriage therefore is no longer just the end of a partnership. It’s the end of a perception of ourselves as loved by the person we deemed so special. And we lose not only a spouse but all the people that spouse was supposed to be for us.

Unlike Thorburn and Cole, most women also carry significant financial loss after divorce. While it has a negative financial impact on both men and women, men tend to recover within five years. Divorced mothers rarely do.

More than 80 per cent of single parents in Australia are women, and one in five newly divorced mothers can’t afford school clothes, fun days out, or school trips for their children.

This compares with only one in 50 newly-divorced fathers. Long-term prospects for income, superannuation, home ownership and financial security are significantly lower for divorced mothers than divorced fathers.

Caring for others amid such desolation is asking a great deal. Asking it of someone who has been betrayed or abandoned by the person they loved may be asking the impossible.

And yet, this is something we routinely expect of women. Cassandra Thorburn’s refusal to protect her ex-husband from public opprobrium is a significant step away from the so called “dignified silence” we expect from women as they watch the father of their children cavorting across the gossip pages with their nubile replacement.

And the digital age means celebrity status is no longer required for such images to spread out before us, our children and our community. The benefits of mutual friends and tagging on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram give us all a window through which to watch our ex’s new romance play out in real time.

Perhaps these celebrity divorces, dismissed as tabloid fodder for privileged white women, might be an unheralded sign that men should no longer assume they are entitled to the protection of women’s silence.

And outside the carefully stage-managed world of the rich and famous, the consequences for assuming women’s obligatory emotional labour carries on after divorce might hit harder. As indeed it should.

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