The winner takes it all — why Abba has it all wrong (and why that’s great news for your divorce).
Over the years, pop sensations Abba have given the world many gifts: guaranteed floor fillers at every wedding ever, the dulcet tones of Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia, and an excuse to wear the occasional jumpsuit (shiny Lycra completely optional). But there's one legacy I personally could have done without:
The idea that, when it comes to divorce, the winner takes it all.
Nothing sums up the heartbreak of divorce like Agnetha's sorrowful face as she sings Abba's 1980 hit "The Winner Takes It All". The song, written by her ex-husband Björn, charts the apparently fictional tale of their split and in two simple lines encapsulates everything that we've come to believe about divorce:
"The winner takes it all,
The loser has to fall."
And while the track might be 40 years old this year, it's an attitude that seems to have stuck.
TV shows and movies are rife with characters that've been through a divorce and lost everything; their ex got the house and all the savings and they've been reduced to eating ramen in a roach-infested apartment. There's a winner and a loser.
And we all know a distraught parent who only gets to see their kids every other weekend and never for the holidays. There's a winner and a loser.
So when you experience a breakup — or any other type of conflict for that matter — you're primed to believe that there's only one sensible course of action: it's time to fight. Because there's always a winner and a loser and you were never a fan of ramen.
Naturally, no one wants to enter the ring solo, so you engage a lawyer who most likely perpetuates the idea that you need to do whatever you can to "win".
The problem with winning.
The problem with this version of winning, though, is that it's illusory. One party may appear to have got what they wanted but it almost always comes with a hefty side order of stress, anxiety, expense, further conflict, and often a whole load of guilt.
In fact, whenever we approach any conflict with the notion that there'll be a winner and a loser, that someone's going to get everything, and someone else has to fall, no one ever truly emerges a winner.
It's time for a new paradigm.
Now, I'd hate to mess with classic pop music culture, but I'm calling Björn out on this one — we're a long way from 1980 and happily, there is a much kinder, fairer, and less divisive way to settle conflict.
No one has to fall!
When we take a collaborative approach to conflict by moving it out of the courtroom and into the mediation room, we introduce a new paradigm of winning — one that benefits everyone. We can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to talk, to be listened to, to be understood, and to have their needs met. We can create an atmosphere of reduced tension and increased trust.
We can find a solution in which everyone can feel like a winner, because we've changed the very definition of winning.
That alone is an outcome worth working towards, but its benefits reach far beyond the mediation room walls.
You see, when we move away from the idea that if we want to succeed someone else must fail, we begin to cultivate an attitude of collaboration over competition, of community over ego, of kindness over ruthlessness. Not only does this attitude improve our direct relationships and help us resolve our conflicts with far less trauma, it ripples out into the wider world too. It reaches into our workplaces, our communities, and the very fabric of our culture, eventually creating a kinder, more peaceful, and more equitable world for everyone.