We have certain expectations of presidential candidates during elections. Typically, the spouses, children, and other family members of opponents are off limits. We expect military veterans and their families – especially the parents of a dedicated soldier who died in service to the country – to be treated with respect. And we certainly don’t want to see even the suggestion of calling for the assassination of a political opponent.
And yet, with the Donald Trump campaign, we’ve had all of those “golden rules” violated in a matter of months. When we think of things that someone is supposed to do as a matter of general principle, of being what we sometimes call “being a decent human being,” we’re thinking of decorum.
And as much as most of us like to pride ourselves on maintaining proper decorum, it’s really hard to do that in a divorce! People going through divorce are tested emotionally and are unsure about their futures. When you initiate a divorce, you have time to adjust to the emotions a divorce brings before you break it to your spouse. But your spouse doesn’t see it coming. One minute, he or she thinks she’s in a functioning marriage; the next minute, he or she is feeling terror and anger and confusion and whatever else the intention to divorce brings. It’s hard, in those moments, to maintain civility!
But decorum’s necessary in divorce. When a petition for divorce is filed, there’s a set of standing orders that accompany it. Those standing orders lay out the decorum that couples should conduct themselves with throughout the divorce proceedings. They seem basic, and they spell out behaviors that would be inappropriate under any circumstance – and yet, the address some of the ugly, gut, emotional reactions that people at the ends of their ropes might engage in.
They also serve as a reminder that we want to be seen in a positive light, and we want to act in a way that will garner us respect, even in difficult circumstances. At the Democratic National Convention, I was particularly moved by what Michelle Obama had to say. A moving part of her speech talked about the various things being said about President Obama, and Michelle advising her daughter to rise above the level of those making such accusations.
One of the most powerful quotes from the speech was her saying, “When someone is cruel, or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level — no, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.” This inclination to be better is admirable, and it’s something that each of us should strive for in every moment of our life.
In divorce especially, though, some of us are tested like we’re never tested before, and it’s important to keep decorum in mind to help hold it together. Many have been critical of Trump – and certainly, we’re adding to that here – but there’s something to be said for the intense focus that a presidential campaign brings on a candidate, and it’s understandable that someone like Trump, who’s never sought public office before, is feeling the pressure that comes with that.
For many of us, divorce is the closest we’ll come to that experience. You won’t necessarily be perfect in it. The key, ultimately, is to try and do your best, but start with the kind of civil behavior that people will expect from you. That can feel like a low bar to aspire to, but it’s sometimes harder than it seems.