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Can Affinity Ever Trump Allegiance?

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The story is all too familiar: A break up, a separation, a divorce occurs. Battle lines are drawn and social networks consolidated. A consequence is a sister prohibits a sister from remaining friends with her ex-husband who is now an ex-brother-in-law. A man is bothered by his family staying in touch with an ex-wife or seeing her when she's visiting from out of town.

Just as no one can dictate to another whom to love -- especially when good sense appears to have vacated the premises -- does one person have the right to dictate to another adult who and when they can consort with and under what conditions? What happens if platonic bonds form between people when the people who introduced them are no longer close? Should romantic affection arise in the mix, well that dimension is tricky, and a topic for another blog.

Let's look at the word allegiance. Its origin is rooted in later medieval history which was marked by violence and upheaval. Seven hundred years ago the Plague had peaked in Europe and killed approximately a third of the population while cultural shifts and technological developments ushered in the early modern period.

Allegiance originally referred to the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or king which may be necessary for survival during tough times. Antonyms for allegiance are treason or treachery. On a more personal level, loyalty refers more to devotion to and exclusivity from a person, group or cause.

Within a family that would translate to huddling together while under threat. Is there some middle ground between ostracism of those who feel dangerous while maintaining a connection to the 'others' or newly minted outsiders that does not equal disloyalty?

Affinity is an equally old word and defined a couple of different ways too. It's a rather archaic legal term that refers to a relationship governed by marriage. But there is also a meaning that came to the fore in the 1600's that speaks to a sympathy marked by community or interest, a kinship that goes beyond legalities or formal bonds.

In common usage, affinity is thought to involve an attraction or natural liking -- a connection -- that causes people to enter into and remain in contact. Does universal dislike and aversion automatically spread through and infect the extended family and the surrounding community in the aftermath of marital or relationship dissolution? Must this disconnect be an all or nothing ultimatum?

Shock and disruption are the hallmarks of divorce, at least early in the process. At first what is apparent is the feeling that this is a highly unpredictable time of failure, break down and vulnerability. Inter-connections come under scrutiny and may not survive the panic that amplifies negativity.

Over time the possibility that the old system can fail gracefully and the new one does not take down everything in its wake. New allegiances and affinities emerge to manage and organize our common life. Sometimes the new order can incorporate the old or parts of it. In the hierarchy of allegiances, is it more important to preserve a blood bond over a friendship?

So if you're psychologically hardy and find successes and failures are teachable moments you are by definition resilient. When there are no children involved it may be less important to remain in contact and therefore affinities may be easier to continue differently but without much disruption.

One can argue though that when children are involved the stakes are higher and the need to remain in contact with, as one family law attorney mediator Diana Mercer, calls "outlaws" makes sense. Think about the protective value of cousins. If children are denied access to one parent for any number of reasons, the children may also lose contact with the next generation - their own - not to mention aunts, uncles and grandparents.

What is revealed about the maturity of the person demanding no contact for others? These are all very interesting questions to me. Dear readers I am very interested to hear your thoughts on this subject.