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Lauren Howard

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The Myth of the Amicable Divorce

Posted: 07/14/11 02:47 AM ET

You can divorce well or you can divorce badly and like with most things, there's a front and a back to both scenarios. How better to ameliorate our shame of our failure than to posture a divorce as a constructive motion toward benevolence? This is a lie you can't live with. In amicable divorce, someone is either compromising too much or they're hiding their animosity. "We've grown apart. No one's to blame." This is yet another lie. Growth, by virtue of itself, is new and different. It is neither predictable nor certain. You enter into marriage with the knowledge that you will traverse growth and navigate your changes as partners. Growing apart means you have stopped partnering. Someone has let go; lost their edge, and now the two parties are in a free fall...separately. So then, how can it be authentic for them to come to the business of divorce as one; unified and together?

When two people enter the ring of divorce with smiles on their faces and a song in their heart, the world around them is left confused and unsure as to what is expected from them. Lawyers can't do their jobs, mediators feel useless. Parents and children are completely bewildered and friends just want to fade away rather than manage this ambivalence. The divorcing couple wants an amicable divorce for the sake of the family, but they are actually making things harder for their families and confusing their children.

Some of the most damaging divorces are the most amicable ones, where the high ground respect and friendship of the Switzerland like ex-couple infiltrates both or either party's future and current relationships. These seemingly benign, friendly divorces create a hostility, jealousy and rancor that often percolates below the surface until it creates its own seismic shift in the landscape of any new, soon to be old, relationships; not to mention the current relationships with friends and families. The friendly divorce is too often based on the rejected party hoping to regain the love of the whistle blower. "I will always love him. He is the Father of my children." Is this meant to be consolation to families or a line of seduction to a prospective paramour? The fact that "the Father of your children" dumped you and gave seed to another woman's child while you were still under the illusion that the two of you were "working it out" is irrelevant. What you are clearly not "working out" is him out of your system, your heart and your rejected self. And until you do, you will be unlovable and unacceptable. You may be divorced, you may be unmarried but you are not available. You are just alone.

Except for your children, who are completely baffled by how their lives got turned upside down while their parents seem to be peachy keen. Taking the high road has taken on new stratospheric heights. Everyone is uncomfortable, except for the un-couple who bask in their "superior" amiability. How well children weather divorce has more to do with how their parents manage their conflict than the actual conflict or breakup itself. But it is simplistic to think that that means Mommy and Daddy should be best friends in order to insure the well being of their children. If they're such good friends, why didn't they stay married? What is marriage, then, is it not friendship? Is it not love? Is it really just about sleeping together? Because that seems to be the only thing that's changed in Mommy and Daddy's relationship. Is this the message about love and marriage that you want to teach your children? An honest relationship post-divorce is hard to attain but it is more important to self and others than any other aspect of the dissolution. Being best friends is not the answer any more than being arch enemies is.

No matter how or why two people come to the divorce table, one thing is for certain. At least one of the two are dissatisfied. And even if they both agree to disagree, in the words of Bob Dylan, "One of us cannot be wrong." There is a big difference between handling disagreement maturely and pretending there is no disagreement. Divorce does not have to be about hate, but it cannot be about love. Divorce is a business deal that is afflicted and compromised by the emotional instruments of the marriage. It is a beginning and it is an end. But it is not something that two people can accomplish while holding hands any more than it can be accomplished at gun point. You can't be afraid to be angry any more than you can be afraid to be kind. Marriage at its best is about love. Divorce at its best is about business. And while one is a union and one is a dissolution of a union, they are not opposites.