Constance Ahrons, lawyer for “good divorce”, dies at 84

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Constance Ahrons, a prominent psychotherapist and mediator who challenged negative stereotypes about divorce and sought to show couples how they can achieve what she called a “good divorce” – a concept which also provided the title of her most popular book – died on November 29. at her home in San Diego. She was 84 years old.

Dr Ahrons was diagnosed two months ago with an aggressive form of lymphoma and had little time to live, his daughters, Geri Kolesar and Amy Weiseman said. They said Dr Ahrons, an active member of the Hemlock Society, ended his life through the process established by California End of life option law, in the presence of a doctor, nurse and family. She was a firm believer in choosing how you live and how you die, they added, and she wanted people to know about her choice.

When Dr. Ahrons (pronounced as “Aarons”) began his career in the late 1960s, divorce was still deeply stigmatizing. No-fault divorce, now recognized by all states, was not yet in fashion, which meant that either husband or wife had to be blamed for bad behavior, which only exacerbated resentment and shame.

A twice divorced herself, Dr Ahrons was one of the early champions of collaborative divorce, in which both parties agree to disagree; they continue to collaborate in the education of children and avoid going to court. It wasn’t a new concept, but Dr. Ahrons had researched to confirm it and helped popularize it with his provocatively titled 1994 book, “The Good Divorce.”

Written not for academics but for the mass market, the book has proven to be immensely popular, has been translated into several other languages, and has led Dr. Ahrons to frequent appearances on talk shows and conferences.

“The good divorce is not an oxymoron,” she writes. “A good divorce is one in which adults and children emerge at least as emotionally as they did before the divorce.”

A divorce could be fixed and could be better than an unhappy marriage, she said, if the couples were doing well – if they didn’t hurt each other’s children and if they worked together to meet the demands. emotional and physical needs of children. . “In a good divorce,” she writes, “a family with children is still a family,” even as the parents and children reconfigure themselves in different homes with new people in the photo.

She has become a lightning rod for some conservative and religious organizations, which accused her of promoting divorce and contributing to family breakdown.

But Dr Ahrons insisted she was not “pro” in divorce. On the contrary, she said, she wanted couples to understand that there were ways to minimize the upheaval. And she wanted society to understand that divorce was as much a social institution as marriage, a shared experience rather than a deviant, and that it could have beneficial results.

“Connie wasn’t trying to tell you what to do,” Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Washington, said in an interview. “But once you decided what to do, she wanted to help you do it in the best possible way.”

Dr. Ahrons’ research, which included a longitudinal study that began in 1977 and spanned 20 years, found that not all divorces were acrimonious; in about half of the cases, the couples were friendly.

She saw language as an important tool in helping to de-stigmatize divorce. She coined the term “binuclear” to designate two separate households linked by family ties and to replace pejoratives like “broken house”.

“The Good Divorce” was followed by “We’re Still Family” (2004), in which Dr. Ahrons studied how adult children view their parents’ divorce.

A member of numerous professional organizations, Dr Ahrons was among the founders of the Council of Contemporary Families, a nonprofit group of family researchers who used peer-reviewed academic research to provide an alternative to ideologically-oriented think tanks.

“A true scientist-practitioner,” Eli Karam, professor in the Couples and Family Therapy program at the University of Louisville, described her in an email.

Through her “revolutionary model of research and clinical training,” said Dr Karam, “she pioneered both the art and the science of working with divorcing families.”

Constance Ruth Ahrons was born April 16, 1937 in Brooklyn and raised in Somerville, NJ. Her father, Jacob Ahrons, born in Russia, and her mother, Estelle (Katz) Ahrons, born in Poland, owned and operated a home appliance store. in Somerville.

Connie, as she was called, was the first woman in her family to attend college. She went to Upsala College in East Orange, NJ, and got married at 19, in her second grade. She had her first child at age 20 and dropped out of school. Soon she was spending her days washing clothes, raising two children, and seeing a psychiatrist, who put her on tranquilizers.

Then she read “The Feminine Mystique,” ​​Betty Friedan’s 1963 manifesto on the women’s movement.

“It slammed in my face,” Dr. Ahrons said in “A Strange Stirring” (2011), a book about the influence of Ms. Friedan’s book by Ms. Coontz, Professor Evergreen.

Dr Ahrons said “The Feminine Mystique” was a revelation to her about the forces in society that oppress women. “Now I could name the problem and know it wasn’t from my own psyche,” she said. When she finished reading it, she threw away her tranquilizers and returned to Upsala, where in 1964 she obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

She then received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1967 and her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology, also from Wisconsin, in 1973.

After graduating, she taught at the university’s School of Social Work for several years and co-founded the Wisconsin Family Studies Institute, where she worked as a therapist.

She began teaching sociology at the University of Southern California in 1984. She became director of the university’s marriage and family therapy training program in 1996 and professor emeritus in 2001.

His marriages to Jac Weiseman, lawyer, in 1956, and Morton Perlmutter, therapist, in 1969, both ended in divorce. She often said that the first was contentious; Ms Kolesar said the experience helped persuade her mother to devote herself to “changing the trajectory” of other divorces.

Besides Mrs. Kolesar and Mrs. Weiseman, Dr. Ahrons is survived by four grandchildren; one brother, Richard Ahrons; and her longtime partner, Roy H. Rodgers, with whom she wrote her first book, “Divorced Families: A Multidisciplinary Developmental View” (1987).

Louisville professor Dr. Karam recently interviewed Dr. Ahrons for an upcoming episode of a podcast he hosts on the themes of marriage and therapy. He asked how she would like to be remembered.

She said her goal had been to give families a positive role model of how divorce could be done with minimal harm, so that “children can grow up not free from the divorce, but not mentally ill from the divorce. divorce “. She also said she was happy that her work and the term “binuclear” had become part of the culture.

“A good divorce,” she said, “has been a popularized concept.”


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