Divorce on the Silver Screen

Divorce on the Silver Screen

Divorce on the Silver Screen

They say art imitates life, so it’s no wonder there are so many compelling movies about divorce. I thought I’d reflect back on some of the best divorce movies of all time, and share what I think their most important lessons might be. (If you haven’t seen these, check them out!)

Best Divorce Movies of All Time

This Melissa McCarthy comedy features a heartbroken suburban mom shocked by her husband’s announcement of divorce after they drop off their daughter for her senior year of college. Trying to rebuild her life, she decides to finish college herself, and enrolls at the same university as her daughter. What ensues is a coming-of-age journey for a midlife woman who reconnects with her inner and outer passions and realizes she has a lot of life left in her.

A sweet, fun film starring Meryl StreepSteve Martin and Alec Baldwin, a long-divorced couple with three grown children find each other tantalizing once again and sneak around to have an affair until their children discover their secret liaison. Both in new relationships, they rediscover what was always wonderful about one another long after their marriage fell apart. It’s hard to root for an extramarital affair, but the story is so endearing you do just that.

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play divorce mediators who make the rounds of weddings uninvited just to meet and hook up with bridesmaids.

Of course, these silly shenanigans end up leading to love and a reckoning of sorts, as the pair rethink their perspectives on love and marriage.

Robin Williams and Sally Field star as ex-spouses in this funny but sad film about a family divided by divorce and a father so pained to be away from his children that he impersonates a nanny to be near them. It was celebrated at the time it was released, but I remember feeling conflicted about liking the timeless humor of Robin Williams, as it masked the pain of the father character at the dissolution of his family.

This tragicomedy featuring Michael DouglasKathleen Turner and Danny DeVito was inspired by a 1981 novel. It’s about a wealthy couple whose marriage disintegrates, and they battle bitterly over their material possessions and grandiose home. The title is a double entendre referring both to the couple’s family surname of Rose and English Civil War battles during the Middle Ages. It’s funny and at the same time devastating to see two people who once loved each other literally tear their shared life to shreds.

This throwback film starred Ryan O’NealShelley Long and a very young Drew Barrymore. In this film, the child decides to divorce her parents, choosing her nanny to become her legal guardian. The reason? Her parents are too self-focused to pay their daughter much attention. This movie is more a sad commentary on the missteps we make when we don’t realize how full and wonderful our lives truly are.

Another film-based-on-a-novel, Kramer vs. Kramer features Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in a story about a couple’s divorce and its impact on their son. Released at a time when divorce was still relatively taboo, this movie explores topics such as the psychological impact of divorce, women’s rights and the rights of fathers, and how parenting changes once parents split.

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Resolving Conflict: It’s All in the Details

Resolving Conflict: It’s All in the Details

Resolving Conflict: It’s All in the Details

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BBYO: Learning from Mediation Skills

Recently, I facilitated a workshop on conflict resolution for youth leaders through BBYO, a Jewish youth group. We spent an hour and a half at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, learning from mediation skills how to resolve conflict in everyday life, whether at work or amongst teens in their BBYO chapters.

It was a fun and productive workshop. I love presenting and empowering people to create effective communication and diminish conflict whenever possible. And, it was fun to present alongside Barrie Seigle, a social worker who works with BBYO.

When we began, I asked the group what they hoped to get out of the workshop.

Their Answers:

  1. Learn not to react to conflict with emotion
  2. When a hard topic needs to be brought up that is confrontational, learn how to work it out
  3. Different conflict resolution strategies
  4. If I’m a sensitive soul – hoping this will help ease anxiety when entering conflict
  5. Not jumping to conclusions
  6. Get better results
  7. How to deal with multiple egos (2 strong personalities)
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Barrie Seigle and Alisa Peskin-Shepherd

Stories Make It Relatable

I always begin by sharing stories that people can relate to. I shared one about a couple where the husband didn’t want to pay spousal support/alimony because the wife initiated the divorce. I reframed the issue of spousal support by asking the husband what the most important thing was to him. His answer: consistency and stability for his children.

Because the wife initiated the divorce, the husband felt she could work full-time and he shouldn’t have to pay her any money.

He was defensive.

He was hurt.

I steered the conversation away from the emotional and focused in on their shared values: the children.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Then, I asked questions: What period of time do you feel is appropriate for this transition for your kids? What contributes to their stability and consistency?

When you frame the issue in a way that is likely to lead to resolution by incorporating the other side’s perspective, you can create a better outcome.
By reframing spousal support in terms both parties agreed on – stability and consistency for the children – the husband was able to see that paying some amount to his soon-to-be ex-wife would be ok. In order to give the children stability and consistency, the parents made changes over time as everyone acclimated to the new situation.

Compassionate Negotiations

Even facilitators can be emotional. Did you ever see the movie, Life of the Party, where Melissa McCarthy plays a mom who returns to college amid a divorce, and ends up a student alongside her daughter at the same college? There is a mediation scene where the facilitator says to direct all comments to her. They get pretty vicious, but all comments are directed to the mediator – even when they’re cursing at one another and insulting each other.

Yeah, there are times when it can be really hard to be the mediator amid all the conflict!! You have to know your emotions in order to identify issues and neutralize emotions.

When I lead a mediation, I ask participants to lay ground rules. They buy into it more if they have some skin in the game.

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Some other tips from the workshop:

Listen. Listen to each other. Facilitators need to find commonalities and learn what is underlying the stated positions. What interests, needs or desires must be addressed?

Use I-messages. “I” instead of “You.” Take ownership by beginning a statement with “I believe, I feel, I think…” Beginning with “You…” puts the other party on the defensive.

Reflect back emotions. Begin sentences with “So, what I am hearing you say is…” Let them know they are heard.

Listen to each other…what interests, needs or desires must be addressed?

Mirroring. Act with respect to gain respect. How you treat your co-advisor affects how teens behave. If you use a calm voice, they will mirror you. Attorneys can’t personalize issues with other lawyers. If both attorneys remain neutral and calm, the parties will be calm during proceedings.

There are times you won’t come up with a solution or resolve the conflict. But don’t worry about it. You have not failed. It may be time for a break or a time-out. Or the issue may go deeper than you realize.

To reduce tensions, always consider the other side’s perspective. Brainstorm ideas on how to resolve the conflict. Write down all ideas – good AND bad. Look at which ones are agreed upon, which ones need further discussion, which ones are workable. The conversation goes much better when everybody’s ideas are on the table without judgment.

Location-location-location. It makes a difference where you resolve conflict. Choose the right time and place to talk about difficult matters. Sitting at a round table makes the conversation easier than if you’re at opposite ends of a long table. During mediation, I use a round table so each person is seen and can feel heard.

Last notes…

As a “facilitator,” you are not a direct party to the conflict or dialogue. You are there to ensure that every party understands each other, with the ultimate goal of finding a mutually-agreeable resolution to conflict.

  • Facilitators may serve to simply ensure a group of individuals engages in fruitful discussion. Sometimes, full resolution is not the goal.
  • Make your primary goal creating a safe, respectful, and friendly atmosphere.
  • Make sure everyone around you feels comfortable speaking up.

Role-Playing for Real Life

The workshop ended with break-out groups role-playing, and participants said they gained new skills that they felt they could incorporate into their own real-life situations. They said they were leaving the workshop feeling more confident in how to handle such situations going forward.

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Alisa leading a group discussion with BBYO youth leaders.

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