Monthly Archives: March 2014

Love American Style


Did you see the pop culture Paltrow-Martin divorce announcement? It’s on a blog site called Goop – how appropriate.

A colleague pointed it out to me. The announcement isn’t very surprising. Sounds just like something from self-absorbed and disconnected Hollywood. You couldn’t write a better Robert Altman script filled with all the plastic stereotypes. Andy Warhol, where are you when we need you?

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  – Andy Warhol

What’s really interesting is the commentary after the announcement. Its authors are a husband wife team of doctors. He’s an osteopath. Looks like his wife is a dentist. Their commentary is all about the history, psychology and therapeutic benefits of divorce. Hmmm… They work in Hollywood and their books are recommended by celebrities.

They are introducing a new concept to the pop psychology jargon – “Conscious Uncoupling”

Here’s some of the statements in the blog post that struck me (you should read the whole thing):

The high divorce rate might actually be a calling to learn a new way of being in relationships.

Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct. 

To put in plainly, as divorce rates indicate, human beings haven’t been able to fully adapt to our skyrocketing life expectancy. Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four, five, or six decades.

The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone. In fact, it would be interesting to see how much easier couples might commit to each other by thinking of their relationship in terms of daily renewal instead of a lifetime investment.

It seems ironic to say that a marriage coming apart is the cause of something else coming together, but it’s true. Conscious uncoupling brings wholeness to the spirits of both people who choose to recognize each other as their teacher.

He’s an osteopath and she’s a dentist.

Are you sure this isn’t a Woody Allen movie?

I’m a doctor, but I can’t write prescriptions. I can explain history and culture. I think I can shed some light on divorce as a social phenomenon.

  1. Divorce is an experience that we understand and construct through interactions with others like our parents, family, lovers, children, and friends.
  2. The experience of divorce is social and cannot be limited to psychoanalytic self examination.

Perhaps divorce is what it is in America today because of our fascination with the self. “Conscious uncoupling” seems to just mean that we can talk ourselves out of feeling guilty about betrayal and dishonesty with our spouse and children. Do you think guilt might have a positive purpose for us?

A society that has created self-centering values in order to train up better shoppers will slowly fall apart because there is no longer anything sticky enough to hold it tight in the storm.

If you’d like to know more
Census figures on divorce – take a look at marriage and divorce rates on U.S. maps. Divorce is declining, not because we all decided it was a bad idea, but because we’re living together first, we’re waiting longer to get married (women) and (as adults) we’re still living at home with our parents.

Divorce is on the Decline!

The good news is that divorce in America has been on a steady decline. Most of my college students believe that it is a number that’s always increasing. They tend to be very cynical about marriage.

You ought to think about two other trends as well. The rate of marriage is on the decline in our country and the percentage of couples cohabitating is increasing.


National Health Statistics Report: First Premarital Cohabitation

The fragile economy, shifting job market, and history of divorce have all contributed to making marriage a frightening proposition for many college students. Typically, people who live together before they get married have a higher chance of divorce. The immediacy of experience seems to be a risk worth taking since so much of the future is a dark mystery.

Questions That Can’t Be Ignored

“Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply. “Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?” Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?” Wasn’t there any change?”   – Erma Bombeck

When Did Family Go Out of Business?

Nuclear Family Becomes Obsolete

I think what is being communicated here is that there’s still a chance for you and your children. Our society has decided to sanction (by de-stigmatizing) fatherless families, living together, and divorce (to mention a few). There are always causes and consequences. If we dismantle the family we will miss many of its taken-for-granted functions. Just because early and small studies indicate that the consequences aren’t that severe doesn’t necessarily mean that these are smart choices. Right?

What About Our Children?

My wife’s favorite television show is Parenthood. Often she is yelling at the characters on screen because of the poor decisions they are making. Don’t you talk back to your TV? What really bothers her the most is when parents put their own wants and desires ahead of the basic needs (emotional, spiritual, social) of their own children. What gets me talking back is the fact that in the television script this kind of behavior is portrayed as very normal, almost natural.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote that a significant transition occurred after WWII. Family stopped being an experience defined in terms of sacrifice and investment in others (spouse and children). Families have now been transformed into a place where the adults are supposed to find fulfillment – often at the expense of everyone else involved.

Is This The Way We Want to Live?

Students in my classes consistently vote for divorce and the hope of happiness rather than sacrifice and the health/well-being of children. Perhaps they are only reflecting their own experiences and youthful interpretation of the frightening world around them. I’m still not sure they understand the consequences of their choices.

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.” 
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Who Needs a Family?

As our family structure undergoes dramatic changes – are we just looking for excuses to be selfish?

Nuclear Family Becomes Obsolete

As our society is evolving do we still need a family? Are there other social organizations like the school, church or government that can provide the basic functions that families always have?

  • Will one day the state be feeding all our children three meals each day?
  • Is the public school the right place in which children should first learn basic norms about right and wrong?
  • Is the local church the only group we can count on to take care of the psychological support that people need as they are growing?

There are two ways of approaching this question. Both are important. One way is to look at what families provide to us as individuals – how do they “work” for each and every one of us. Where would you and I be if we had some other mechanism to “raise” us?

  • Basic physical skills, like potty training, that we have to learn
  • Emotional support, someone who will always love and accept us
  • Spiritual guidance that helps us to find answers to essential questions

The other way of looking at this question is to wonder about our entire society. How does having families as a basic structure help us to create and sustain our civilization? (That seems like a daunting question).

  • How would our culture work if there were no system (family) to instill basic values into members of society?
  • Other integral social institutions like work, school, religion and healthcare depend upon families to create and prepare members of society who can fully participate in essential tasks like attending classes or having ambition.

I think that we probably take family for granted. Once it’s gone we are devastated to realize how dependent we really were on it to keep us whole and functioning.

“Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason.”  – George Orwell, 1984

What Can Graham Crackers Tell Us About the Family?

biracial family

What can we learn about the Modern American Family from a graham cracker advertisement?

The Commercial Version of the American Family

The headline for this online story, “What the Modern American Family Really Looks Like”, is a political statement don’t you think?

Here are the facts…

Households and Families 2010

According to our latest census figures most Americans still live in a household with a married mother and father. Same sex households remain rare. The numbers still haven’t climbed above 1% despite the destigmatization in our culture. What other facts don’t seem to match the claims of this ad campaign?

The ad campaign is smart – it has us all talking about graham crackers! Genius!

The Future

Shared on Flickr by Kate121012
Shared on Flickr by Kate121012

“The quiet sense of something lost”
– Alfred Tennyson

I’m just starting so there is some catching up to do.

I’ll post a number of significant research reports that will help to explain what the future is going to look like based on current trends.


All of these reports are from the Pew Research Center

Education, Marriage and Parenting
A widening gap is developing between educated and less educated segments of our population. There is a significant relationship between education and marital status (divorce, single parenting, and fathers living with children)

Mom as Primary Provider
In 1960 just 11% of mothers were the sole breadwinner, today it’s 40%

Marriage On The Decline
Putting off marriage until after college, finding the right job or living together means that now only 51% of adults 18 and older are married. In 1960 72% were married. This same trend is occurring in other developed nations as well.

Americans are Confused
When it comes to rendering judgments about the changes taking place in our family arrangements Americans are divided evenly between accepting, rejecting and skeptical. Take a look at some of the survey results on several key issues.

What’s a Family These Days?

Shared on Flickr by Keith Kelly
Shared on Flickr by Keith Kelly

“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”   – Erma Bombeck

Our culture is in the process of enlarging the definition of family. There are a lot of reasons for this ranging from economic circumstances to personal choices. As early as 1995 marriage and family textbooks in college were using definitions like this for the family:

One or more adults related by blood, marriage, or affiliation who cooperate
economically who may share a common dwelling place and who may rear children.

(Strong, B. and C. DeVault. 1995. The marriage and family experience. Wadsworth)

Do you see how my students sitting in class read this and start to wonder if they and their roommates are now considered “family” according to this definition? This sort of definition is so wide that almost any arrangement fits and then, of course, it stops being useful. It is the business of society to define itself and its institutions. You and I are society. We create our culture. Marriage and family are the oldest social institutions that remain. We are now living in a period of time in which significant and rapid redefinition is being undertaken by our courts and law making bodies.

Here goes an attempt to provide information that will help you to understand what’s really going on in our society when we come home to our marriages and families.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

– Soren Kierkegaard