The program helping navigate separations

Divorce ‘detox’ retreats - the new trend in healing from a marriage breakdown

Australia’s first divorce retreat was held last weekend. What was it about and why do we need it?

People prepare for marriage with counselling, in order to learn how to be a better partner, but there’s nothing out there to teach us how to be better at divorce. Granted, no one thinks that their relationship will be the one to fail, but with around one in three marriages ending, there may be something to learning how to do divorce as smoothly as possible.

It’s why family dispute resolution practitioner, family lawyer and family law arbitrator Cassandra Kalpaxis founded Australia’s first divorce retreat. Detox Your Divorce was held near Sydney last weekend and it was a sold-out event, with another to follow in September.

The two-day weekend retreat consisted of a variety of workshops, including ‘Navigating divorce and your self-worth during separation’ by relationship expert Dr Lurve and ‘Healing through grieving’ with transformational coach and holistic counsellor Lenore Pearson.

Kalpaxis wants to teach people how to separate amicably, for their own mental health. It sounds simple in theory, but can be a minefield when you take into account the hurts, grief and resentments that people carry with them during a breakup.

“The retreat gave women who are wondering what the future might look like strategies they can walk away with,” Kalpaxis says.

“The traditional narrative around separation is that it’s a battlefield, that it involves costly legal battles and it’s easy to fall into the pattern of an acrimonious divorce. We only hear war stories and it influences how we separate today.”

In order to separate amicably, Kalpaxis believes it’s essential you put yourself in a position of empathy towards your former partner. And yes, she knows she is asking a lot.

“It’s very hard to do if you’ve been mistreated in a marriage, but studies indicate when people take a defensive position right off the bat, it becomes really difficult to navigate amicable pathways,” she says.

“An empathy mindset is difficult when hurting, but if you talk to a psychologist or counsellor, if you can do the emotional framework it will underpin the separation and then you can engage in the legal process in a better mind frame. The retreat is about getting people into the right mind frame post-separation, understanding how they can take control of their divorce and make decisions for their family and financial decisions for themselves.”

Jess Cummins, 31, from Sydney attended the retreat, describing it as ” phenomenal.”

“You can get so much out of learning how to communicate and approach every situation in a holistic capacity. I have a child with my previous partner and intend for our life to be as positive and possible. It takes time and work, but it’s my responsibility as mother and partner,” she says.

While her separation was amicable, she says the retreat helped her to see the importance of approaching difficult situations from a positive place rather than from an attack mentality.

“Even when things are amicable, there can still be difficult times. I’m going to be co-parenting for a really long time. Learning how to handle anxiety, stress and how to best approach communication is really important.”

She believes the tools she learnt will also benefit her current relationship.

From a personal perspective, understanding where I miscommunicated in our relationship, and how I can still miscommunicate now that we are not in it, was important. There are two people in a relationship and the weekend was also a mirror for myself,” she says.

“Learning about my part in how I handled myself in that relationship was difficult, but we need to acknowledge those things so we don’t repeat them. It’s really easy to turn around and victim blame – you did this, you’re an asshole – but both of us contributed.”

She admits that she works harder on her relationship with her former partner now compared to when they were together.

“It’s a lot of fu*king work. Having a positive, inclusive, family-centred relationship is what we want to do. If we didn’t have anything to keep us in each other’s orbit, I wouldn’t bother but it’s been the greatest blessing, we were forced to and it’s made us better human beings.”