Love & Loss (and Divorce) Stories with Some Truth

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

Drama—in literature, the theater, TV or movies—finds no better subject than family. Without a son’s ambition, the scheming of a wife or brotherly jealousy, we’d be without some of the great works of the Western canon. Relationships, with all their joys and heartaches, are perfect material for fiction.

In fact, one problem with the desire to escape our relationship problems by watching TV or movies or even reading is precisely the fact that much drama and comedy is all about love and loss. Of course, it’s sometimes fun to spend time ruminating on the relationship problems of others, and forgetting about our own. Look no further than the seemingly endless draw of daytime soaps and romance novels.

But sometimes there are useful lessons in the stories we digest.

This week I sat down with renowned professor, author and expert Dr. Deborah Tannen. She is the University Professor and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University and author of many books and articles about how the language of everyday conversation affects relationships, best known for You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, which was on the New York Times best seller list for nearly four years.

The Special Relationship of Sisters

Alcott’s Little Women is a virtual petri dish of sister and mother relationships. And there’s a reason it’s considered a classic. The attention to these sisterly relationships—the betrayal, the anger, the love, the jealousy, and the joy—truly encapsulates the entire spectrum of human emotion. And this is precisely the relationship Dr. Tannen focuses on: the sometimes overly invasive closeness of sisters and mothers. While it can be helpful, it can also be suffocating, limiting and create a negative thinking pattern.

Sisters (and friends) can also demand too much. Checkov famously wrote of the over-reach of sisters in Three Sisters, in which boredom leads them to interfere in each other’s lives. This is a real concern for women going through divorce, and part of why they sometimes pull back. According to Dr. Tannen, friends and family can be a “Greek chorus,” offering advice, but also feeding off the ugly details and encouraging us to stay focused on the negative. That’s exactly where you don’t want to be if you hope to move forward.

Silence Always Means More Than “No Comment”

Books can also tell us a bit about the silent treatment. Books like Little Women are full secrets, suspicion and betrayal. But that’s fiction, right? The problem is, says Dr. Tannen, is that friends (and sisters) don’t always respond well to silence. Instead, Dr. Tannen advises, friends and sisters should be open about not wanting to discuss something. A simple comment can help buffer the blow and keep sisters and friends feeling like they’re “in the loop” and helping you.

Fiction—in books, plays, movies and television—is full of stories about sisters and mothers. In real life, I believe that, despite the drama, we can find a happy ending.

If you’re considering divorce but would like to try an approach that might mean a brighter future, call my team to schedule a confidential consultation.

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