Three key divorce phrases to rethink and replace – #divorcelifestyle
Words matter, and changing your vocabulary can actually change your life. Don’t believe us? Here are three key divorce phrases that are more dated than “on fleek” — and the positive, modern terms that you can use instead.
Broken home. Divorce might break a person’s heart, but it doesn’t break their home. The dated, negative connotation of “broken home” implies that there is a right way, and a broken way, to raise children — when in reality, there are all kinds of wrong ways to raise them, and all kinds of right ways, as well. The flip side of this phrase — intact family — is equally as bad. My heart may have broken, but my home is stable. My family is still a family. And my children shouldn’t be told that their parents, their home, their lives, are less than that of married parents.
What to say instead? Neutral, descriptive language that does not connote a “right” or “wrong” lifestyle is the best bet. I can say that my children are raised by divorced parents, that their father and I are divorced, that they live in separate houses, or are being raised in one-parent households. Choose one that fits.
Custody. This is the legal term to refer to the persons who: (1) have decision-making powers (legal custody), and/or (2) have the obligation and enjoyment of providing a home for the child, and for the child’s physical needs (physical custody). Again, this is a legal term, and while we appreciate an attorney’s ability to use such terms with precision, we also have the right to adopt a friendlier term for our own use. Like a doctor describes your common cold as “acute viral rhinopharyngitis,” let’s allow the professionals to have their terms while adopting a more colloquial language for common use. Particularly in this case. You know who is in custody? Criminals. Not children! Stop using language that presumes that you own them, and that they need to be locked away.
What to say instead? Parenting. As with all involved parents, divorced spouses are parenting their children in two contexts: (1) the decisions we make about our children’s health and welfare, and (2) the acts we perform in their everyday lives to provide for their physical needs. When spouses “share parenting,” it invokes a collaboration — both spouses working to ensure that the children’s needs are being met. When spouses “share custody,” it implies that their children are chattels to be shuffled between them. The next time someone tells you they’re divorcing, don’t ask if they share custody with the other parent. But if you must ask, please phrase it nicely: “how are you sharing parenting?”
Ex. This is the biggest semantical problem with the easiest solution. Doesn’t “ex-husband” or “ex-wife” sound negative? The preface “ex” connotes a person we are removed from, a person we are without, a person who is no longer a part of our lives. While all of this may be true, “ex” also fails to convey any respect, honor or gratitude.
What to say instead? Former. In military and government terminology, the word “former” applies to a person who has served in and been honorably discharged from, a post or position. A former spouse is one who served (even, engaged in battle), but at the end of the term was mutually and honorably discharged from ongoing service. Former president, former Secretary of State, Former Naval Officer, Former spouse. It’s polite, honorific, and — who cares if you don’t feel that your spouse deserves an honorable discharge — is a much kinder, respectful and more appropriate honorific to describe the person you were married to.
One bonus word we’d love to see eradicated? Permanent spousal support. The final agreement or determination of spousal support does not last forever and can be changed in the future, so calling it permanent is misguided. Plus, the word may create a misplaced sense of entitlement for the supported spouse, or a misplaced sense of doom for the paying spouse. Instead, you can refer to this final support determination as “post-judgment” or “long-term” support.
Take on some new language and see how it changes your life. And, let us know what words you are using to create a happier #divorcelife on twitter at @_splitdecisions.
For more detail, see our live conversation on the topic: