Kelly Flannigan Bos: The Relationship Rescuer


Relationships with Integrity: Honour, Duty, and Downton

Have you ever had to choose between your own happiness and your responsibilities to your spouse and family?

Lady Sibyl: Oh, Granny, even the English aren't in control of everything.

Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess: Well I hope we're in control of something, if only ourselves.


The fifth season is in production. The fans eagerly await. Who doesn't love Downton Abbey? The show has drama, scandal, and characters with substance. It is faithfully watched for so many reasons: the period costumes, the love stories, the sense of occasion, the fascinating perceived and actual differences between the classes and of course the sense of honour and duty.

What I find most interesting as a therapist is this idea around honour. Obviously this trait is both admirable and at times highly flawed in its execution throughout the narrative of the show. And although people fight for country, marry for duty, turn down opportunities for the good of the family, I believe these choices are definitely seen as archaic in this day and age when the individual ranks higher than the collective. Where fame is sought for fame's sake and all press is good press.

I realize the public shaming, the snobbery, the divides are not something to strive for, however, I do believe some of the depictions of true honour and integrity both upstairs and downstairs when it came to families, work and country are something to be admired.

I have met with clients in my counselling room who have been struggling with decisions. They come to a crossroads where their ideas around happiness and what will fulfill them conflict with their commitments and responsibilities to their spouses and to their families. This leads to difficult conversations about doing the right thing. For many this can come at a personal cost—sacrificing a pursuit because uprooting the kids would be too difficult, reconciling with an in-law for peace at an upcoming reunion, distancing from an inspiring co-worker when the connection and feelings are starting to verge on the inappropriate, etc. And the choice becomes clear—to sacrifice and put others first.

It is also a good time to reflect on identity. What type of person do you want to be? And how does that person react to or engage in the circumstances presented? What will you decide when things are difficult? Selfish pursuits, like affairs or putting money or fame ahead of the family's well being, stand in opposition to the honourable choice.

George Washington once said that “Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”

So perhaps there is something to this.

These tough choices need to be acknowledged and celebrated, recognized that they can bring their own brand of happiness to your life. In John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America he said “we value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.” We need to celebrate the many people making tough choices to live out a life that fits with what they value and honour and then take encouragement from it when the tough choices present themselves in our lives. Celebrate the Bates over the O'Brien.

Cue the Downton theme song.

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