Divorce on TV

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across the sitcom, Happily Divorced, online.  I vaguely remember hearing about the show before it aired.  Intrigued by the title, I watched a couple episodes.  The gist of the show is simple:  husband confesses after many years of marriage that he’s gay.  He can’t afford to move out due to the economy, so they continue to live together while moving on after their divorce.  I wasn’t impressed, and it wasn’t just Fran Drescher’s voice that turned me off.  I thought there were too many jokes and not enough realistic struggle.  Of course, I only watched 2.5 episodes… it might have gotten better as the season wore on.  If anyone knows for sure, please tell me in the comment section.

Another “divorce” TV show that was popular for many years was Reba.  Again, I only watched one or two episodes (years ago), but I liked it.  On Reba’s show, she played a divorcee and mother of three/grandmother of one.  Her ex-husband left her for a younger woman and he and the OW were very much involved in the lives of Reba and her children.  That one gave me a few genuine laughs.

My favorite (I think.  For now anyway.) TV program featuring a divorced couple is The New Adventures of Old Christine.  This one featured Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a divorced mother, living with her younger brother (actually, her brother lives with her) while her ex-husband has moved on with a younger “New Christine”.  Admittedly, I probably like this one the best because I watched it the most.  I appreciate the humorous way Christine blunders about in the dating world as well as the mommy circles.  I like the obvious connection that remains between Christine and her ex.  It’s all very genuine as well as amusing.

Of course, I appreciate all of these entertainment options because they display a respectful and cooperative relationship between exes, even on the heels of a betrayal.  The children on these shows enjoy presence and positive relationships with both parents.  They aren’t coached to hate, they aren’t asked to pass notes.  It’s beautiful.

Ani Difranco once said, “Art may imitate life, but life imitates TV.”  As divorce gains more exposure in our society, I hope this statement holds true.

So… what TV programs did I miss?  I know there has to be more out there that are set in the wake of a separation.  What’s your favorite?

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Healing Words of Truth

Earlier today I was listening to an interview between Cheryl Richardson and Iyanla Vanzant* and I heard something that caused me to hit the pause button and reflect for minutes on end…

They were discussing the concept of “no sacred cows” and stating that respect is always necessary, even in relationships with family members.  Iyanla was recounting a personal story involving a conflict with her grandson and she stated, as if she were speaking to him directly:

“I love you very, very much.  I love you.  And I have given you everything that I could.  Please forgive me if I wasn’t who you needed… I’m still gonna love you.  But I’m complete.”

Her sentiment struck me with a force I wasn’t prepared for.  My vision blurred with tears as I felt the sting of old wounds, awakened by her words.  How appropriate for separating couples, I thought.

Pain and anger so often drive us to declare war.  And what purpose does that serve?  Regardless of what side of the door you’re on, the truth is the same:  Love, though present, is not enough.  And we don’t need another person to make us whole.

The key to Peace is to find your Self and release the other person from your expectations.  Accept what is.  Breathe, love, forgive and move on.  You are complete.

~~~~

*If you’re interested in the full interview, you can listen here.

And please excuse my ego for just a moment as I remind you that you can now follow my Facebook page for updates, blog posts and more.

Compassionate Acronyms

Quick, think of the person you dislike the most in the world.  Do you have a name in mind?  Has this person hurt you?  Hurt your family?  Said awful things to/about you?  Did this person lie to you?  Stab you in the back?  Steal from you?  All of the above?

How do you feel when you think about this person?  What thoughts or emotions get stuck on “repeat” when you hear that name?  Are you livid?  Seething?  Broken?  Are you wondering, How could you? Or, Why would you?  Do you feel powerful?  Powerless?  Do you feel hateful?

I whole-heartedly believe that compassion is the antidote to all of those unpleasant emotions.  I also know that, when you’re upset with someone, you don’t want to be compassionate towards them.  And even if you do, it’s freaking hard.

To make this easier, I started using a new trick- it involves turning the person’s name into an acronym.  Wanna try one?

Let’s pretend the name of your nemesis is “Laurie” (my apologies to all Lauries.  This is nothing personal, it’s just an example).  This woman might be your ex, your ex’s partner or your partner’s ex.  She could be a cantankerous coworker or a feisty family member.  And it might be entirely true that Laurie is Loud, Angry, Ugly, Rigid, Immature and Egotistical.  However, that’s not a very compassionate perspective (although it is incredibly easy, isn’t it?).  Let’s be a little more sensitive to Laurie’s predicament and try again.  The next time you think about Laurie, try seeing her as someone who is…

  • Lost (perhaps Laurie is at a bad place and she’s having a hard time finding her compass)
  • Anxious (anxiety is a crippling affliction to live with)
  • Un-secure (maybe she can’t pay her rent or she doesn’t feel loved by her family)
  • Ruined (Financially? Socially? Spiritually?)
  • Ignorant (she doesn’t know the extent of the anger/anguish she’s caused you)
  • Exhausted (like the rest of us, she’s fighting a great battle)

I like this exercise because it shifts the identification from That Person to a person.  No longer is Laurie the woman who [insert crime here], she’s now a human being whose vulnerability we can identify with.  Under such circumstances, the juices of empathy flow more freely.  Thus, we are freed from the animosity that otherwise holds us captive amidst sixty shades of darkness.

“Compassion compels us to reach out to all living beings, including our so-called enemies, those people who upset or hurt us.  Irrespective of what they do to you, if you remember that all beings like you are only trying to be happy, you will find it much easier to develop compassion towards them” -The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

What do you think?  Have you been able to redefine the object of your enmity?  Do you feel any different towards him/her?  Do you prefer another tactic?  Tell me about it…

Conflict Doesn’t (Have To) Mean “Carnage”

I once was told that children should be read lots of fairy tales.  The idea is not to teach children that the Good Guys always win, but rather to teach them that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

After much consideration, I’ve decided I have a problem with this.  The older I get, the less I believe in The Good Guys vs. The Bad Guys.    It’s not always that simple.  And, did you ever realize that *your side* is always the *good* side?  I wonder if most of us understand that our opponents are just as certain that they’re the ones who are *right* (Religion is the easiest example.  Divorce is another good one).

“If you’re not my friend, you’re my enemy.” –spoken by someone I regard as neither my “friend” nor my “enemy”.

Why do we so often simplify our conflicts to say it’s Us vs. Them And We’re Correct?  I suppose it has something to do with our needs for certainty and significance.  Nobody wants to be wrong and everyone craves validation from others.   When faced with a conflict we automatically assume that one side is right/good and the other is wrong/bad.  We pick a side and scream, strategize, draw swords or go silent.   Fairy tales have further encouraged this recipe for response.  Too bad such behavior is horribly unproductive and promotes further stress.

In the case of evolving families, the War Mentality leads to all those things that everybody says they never want (at least, not in the beginning):

  • Impossible communications
  • Excessive lawyer involvement
  • Higher costs
  • Longer processes
  • Alienating behaviors
  • Children’s loyalty conflicts
  • Conflicted friends
  • Petty arguments
  • Severed family ties
  • And more

When faced with a conflict, the last thing most people want to do is listen.  And yet, it’s the easiest and most important tactic for resolving the problem.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” (I first saw this on a bulletin board in the classroom of my seventh grade English teacher)

Why don’t we want to solve the problem?  Because conflict is empowering!  It gives us something to fight for.  When our sense of certainty is shaken (as is the natural state during divorce), we seize the opportunity to get angry and feel justified.  Why?  Because we don’t want to appear weak and we don’t want to be wrong (wow, I’m really lovin’ the italics in this paragraph!).  If you haven’t already seen Brene Brown’s first TED Talk about Vulnerability, I highly recommend it.  Her second speech is pretty good too.

The fact is that not everyone who disagrees with us is an evil, ignorant idiot.  And the truth is that you probably didn’t marry an evil, ignorant idiot because that would make you at least an ignorant idiot, right?  So let’s remember that.  When conflict arises with your ex (or your children, boss, friends, etc)…

  • Remind yourself, “His/her ideas aren’t wrong.  They’re just different.”
  • Stop talking and listen.
  • Find some common ground and build from there.
  • Communicate with compassion and clarity.

War is ugly, stressful and results in tremendous loss.  Fairy tales are full of outlandish atrocities.  Is that what you want for yourself?  For your family?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  And even if you’re dealing with someone “on the warpath”, you don’t have to meet them there.  Our internal programming may have come from biology and freaky fiction.  However, our brains have evolved beyond the us/them-fight/flight mentality… it just takes a little extra time to access that logic and reasoning.

I said it here and here:  Fairy tales are poisonous.

Book: Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall was written by Patricia MacLachlan, published in 1985 and awarded the Newberry Medal.  The thin paperback was part of my book collection for more than 25 years before I finally plucked it from the masses and started turning the pages last weekend.  I suppose it was fate- I hadn’t read it until I could understand a different aspect of it.  And now I can share it with you.

I wonder how many stepmothers have read this book.  Of those, I wonder how many were shocked to find that they weren’t as well-received as Sarah, a mail-order bride from Maine who was eagerly welcomed by her new family in the midwest.  I think that was what struck me the most:  the children in the book had endured the death of their mother and they wanted a new one. They were passionately curious about Sarah and delighted when she decided to visit.  Immediately, they loved her and wanted her to stay.  In modern-day real life, it doesn’t happen that way for most stepmoms.

But I didn’t start writing so I could slam the book for being unrealistic… it is what it is, and that’s what it’s supposed to be.  Furthermore, it’s based on a true story from the author’s family history.  And that’s awesome.  And Sarah is awesome…and I thought I’d point out why:

She didn’t assert herself as The Mother.  Sarah indulged the kids’ curiosity about her and she responded with genuine interest in them.  She didn’t push the relationships, she let them naturally unfold.

She had a cat.  In general, Sarah loved animals.  Animals build bridges between individuals who might otherwise have a hard time getting along.  Their presence relieves stress as they give us a focal point away from our problems.  They teach us how to love and they give us a commitment to share.

She stayed true to herself.  Sarah didn’t stop being Sarah in order to be a midwestern wife and mother.  She wore men’s overalls and helped repair the roof.  She insisted that she be taught to drive the wagon so she could travel to town by herself.  She didn’t kill the chickens that were given to her “for food”.  She brought a little bit of New England to her new homestead and her family respected and appreciated her for it.

Of course, I’m oversimplifying… but it was a really short book and I’m not Wednesday Martin.  The point is:  Stepmoms, keep your heads up and keep rockin’ it, Sarah-style 🙂

Do People Change?

Many years ago, I dated someone whom I’ll call “Don”.  He drove a sporty coupe and worked at a grocery store.  Back then, I wore short shorts and had a somewhat catty relationship with his ex-girlfriend.  Don and I ate at cheap restaurants, spent many evenings at the movies and engaged in a lot of “experimental” activity.  We were young and in love and… you get the idea.

Nowadays Don is married with a bunch of kids.  He’s a medical professional and owns a vehicle with four doors.  I’m sure it’s been a really long time since he vomited tequila and macaroni and cheese on someone’s bedroom floor.   Blue eyes aside, he barely resembles the guy who affectionately referred to me as “Boo Boo”.

Did he change?

It would be so easy for me to say “yes”.  I think most would agree, it’s often difficult to recognize our ex as the same person who was our partner.  It’s easy to point to things s/he has or does and assert, “[My ex] didn’t do that/want that!  This is a different person!”

And in some respects, that’s true.  I used to be a lovesick teenager, and I’m not anymore.  There was a time when I wanted to have children, and I don’t anymore.  Once upon a time I uttered the vows of matrimony, and now I’m divorced.  That’s a lot of flip-flopping— yet, I still feel like the same person.  And I think my closest friends and family would agree:  I’m still me.

There’s a difference between doing and being.

What we do changes quite a bit as we adjust to new hobbies and the different roles we play in life.  The Student behaves much differently than The Parent.   The Karate Expert dresses in contrast to The Rock Climber.  Yet, the Student, Parent, Karate Expert and Rock Climber can all be the same person— even on the same day.

And that leads me to being.  It’s easy enough to change what we do but it’s much more difficult to alter who we are.  Thoughtful Introverts don’t suddenly morph into Impulsive Extroverts (at least, not on a permanent basis).  Although they might be caring parents, Warriors don’t become Nurturers at heart.  Such inherent qualities remain with us, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.

There’s also a difference between what we look at and what we see.

To further complicate matters, let’s not forget the filters that our circumstances provide.  How is a warrior perceived by another warrior vs. a nurturer?  Sensitive individuals might cling to brutal offensive tactics when they feel threatened.  If she cheats with you, she’s a goddess… if she cheats on you, she’s a whore.

It’s kinda confusing… but at the same time, it’s not.

Present-Day-Don doesn’t act like the guy I used to frolic with on his college campus.  However, under the surface, Don is still that humorous and highly intelligent individual who loved (loves?) Scattergories as much as I do.

All of this makes me think… it makes me think about the qualities (not the activities) that truly make humans compatible.  It makes me think about the lenses through which we view our partners and our exes.  It makes me wonder what it is we’re looking for when we’re disappointed by what we see in another.

Do you have any thoughts to share?  Reflections on personal experience?  Opinions about whether or not people change?  Please, comment…

Guest Post: Being Blood-Related Doesn’t Preclude a Family Bond

Today’s post is brought to you by Jenny Ellis, who contacted me a few weeks ago with a request to write something for Relative Evolutions.  After some discussion regarding content, Jenny agreed to write a piece discussing the bonds that can exist between family members who aren’t related by blood.  As Stepmother’s Day approaches, I thought the timing was perfect.  Here’s Jenny…

They say that blood is thicker than water, indicating that blood relations trump any and all non-blood related relations. And it’s easy to see why a lot of people may think that, may even tout it as an unwavering fact. On the surface, being bound to one another by blood represents the deepest type of relationship you can have with someone. You share their DNA. However a blood bond isn’t always the have-all, end-all when it comes to relationships. In actuality it depends solely on the person.

Adopted children can be just as close to their parents

Just because someone is adopted doesn’t automatically make them less likely to be close to their adoptive parents as a natural-born sibling. Adopted children can form such a thick bond with their adoptive parents that it trumps a bond with their blood-related parents. For instance, I have a friend who was adopted by her step-father after he married her mother. Their marriage didn’t last, however the bond he formed with his adopted daughter did, and to this day she is still closer to him than she is to her birth mother. Blood doesn’t define everything.

Blood-related siblings can break off all ties

In the aforementioned marriage between my friend’s mother and step-father they also had a son together. That son is her step-father’s flesh and blood, and yet he has cut off all ties with his family. He doesn’t speak to dad, he rarely speaks to his mom, and he has no contact with my friend (his half-sister). While his half-sister chose a relationship with her adoptive father, he chose a relationship with no one, proving that a blood relationship doesn’t always mean an actual relationship.

Non-blood related siblings can be close

After her step-father remarried he had two kids with his new wife. They have zero blood relation to my friend, however all three of them are constantly in contact and have no trouble calling each other “brother” and “sister”. The lack of a blood relationship doesn’t impact their feelings toward one another as siblings at all. None of the siblings have any relationship with their aforementioned half-brother. Blood isn’t the only type of bond.

While blood may run thick with some families, it doesn’t run thick with all of them. You can have a close knit family with no blood relations at all, and those families can be closer than others that are untainted with divorce, adopted children, step-children or half-children. As colloquial of a phrase that “blood is thicker than water” is, it’s just that – a phrase. Blood doesn’t define everything.

Jenny Ellis is a freelance writer, and a regular contributor for aupair jobs. She welcomes your comments at: ellisjenny728@gmail.com.