MAKE NICE THE NEW NORMAL
I hope that you are watching the show “Splitting Up Together,” on ABC. If not, please do. Its depiction of a family going through a divorce while choosing to remain friends is poignant and funny, and addresses a lot of hard issues.
The issue that was highlighted last week stuck out to me because it touched on a topic my daughter and I were recently discussing. She and I were talking about my message that divorce doesn’t need to destroy a family, and she said, “Yes it does! It’s divorce!” I stopped her and said, “You are proving my point EXACTLY! Everyone EXPECTS destruction, but families can CHOOSE a better way. Just because that’s the way it was done in the past doesn’t mean that’s the way it STILL needs to be.” She just rolled her eyes at me and went back to her teenage girl cave.
“Splitting Up Together” addressed this expectation this past week when the couple’s adolescent daughter was complaining to her guidance counselor that she was struggling because her parents were getting divorced, but they seemed to get getting along more “like a couple” than ever. The deliberate attempt to be NICE to each other and WORK TOGETHER was causing confusion in their daughter. So could the daughter accept her parent’s divorce more easily if they seemed to hate each other? Are our children trained to accept the destruction of their family as a necessary consequence of divorce? The show highlighted how deep our social belief of divorce as destructive is, and how UNUSUAL it is for couples to work together through the process.
THE EXPECTATION SHOULD BE THE EXACT OPPOSITE. We need to be moving towards shifting the social norm of what divorce is from one in which all parties, including the children, expect destruction, to one in which parties EXPECT collaboration and cooperation as the family morphs into a new form. There will be new routines established and perhaps new traditions made, but children should feel like both sides are cooperating on how to create the framework for the new family.
In order to change the social norm of divorce, we need to be willing to de-stigmatize it. While certainly no one advocates that divorce is a good thing, if we acknowledge that it is simply a fact of life, then society needs to support those going through divorce by fostering an expectation of cooperation. At the moment, divorce remains a taboo topic, something to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. Immediately when a couple announces a divorce, the neighbors try to figure out “whose fault it was.” We have all been indoctrinated by decades of a “fault” based divorce system, to expect that someone must be to blame. As society becomes more enlightened to the idea that individuals continuously grow and evolve as they move through life, than it should make sense that no one needs to be blamed for divorce. The reason people will divorce will be as numerous and unique as each couple is. However, the most fundamental answer to why people divorce is that the relationship is not allowing them to be the best version of themselves. This answer should be sufficient for society. And if society, in 2018, truly embraces each person’s right to reach their full potential and be true to their inner-selves, then we have to accept that divorce will, unfortunately, be part of that process.
It makes sense then, that the way divorce is done must be changed to support the FAMILY, not just protect the financial interests of each spouse in a battle of adversaries. The paradigm needs to shift so that our children expect a new form of family to emerge, one in which they feel just as supported and loved as in the “traditional” family. Then they won’t be confused when their parents are nice to each other. “Nice” will be the “new normal.”