Divorce is the Most Important Story You’ll Ever Tell Your Child

DIVORCE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY YOU’LL EVER TELL YOUR CHILD

Kerry Lusignan

Nothing quite prepares you for what it’s like to go through a divorce when you have children. 

While the statistics say somewhere between 40-50% of adults will have to navigate this terrain at some point in their lives, when you embark on it, when it finally happens, your divorce can feel excruciatingly unique. Painfully individual. 

And it is. 

Rituals, rhythm, and rules. Your family is a microculture. The unique fingerprint of you and your spouse. The weaving of bones. Divorce, in turn, is the dissolution of such. The severing of a limb to save the tree. A metamorphosis that is characterized more by coming undone than by becoming. For the first time, you and your partner will have to venture into something together that is, by definition, designed to be done alone. You will go through divorce alone, together. 

In my work as a couples therapist, if a couple with children decides to divorce, I caution them that this is a time when they must be careful. I remind them that most likely, their bodies have come to recognize the other as the enemy and that given this, their heart rates will increase to over 100 beats per minute whenever they are in close proximity to the other. For many, this physiological response to threat will occur even at the mere thought of the other. Like a bulimic, whose body learns to regurgitate food without even the slightest touch of a finger, so too do our nervous systems learn to expel the other. 

And while these biological alarms may very well prepare you for war, they also come at a cost. Diffuse physiological arousal (DPA) is the amalgam of bodily stress responses. In addition to an accelerated heart rate, DPA is characterized by an increase in stress hormones. The result is an inability to think, communicate, or hear clearly. 

Not surprisingly, divorce is a time when you will struggle with periods of psychological, physiological, and emotional impairment. All of this occurring, while you are simultaneously called on to make critical decisions, single-parent, generate income, sell or relocate your home, and navigate the grief and loss of dreams. Your life is coming undone faster than you can rebuild it, and the seeds of regeneration have yet to sprout their tendrils.

According to John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, if you want to know whether a kid is navigating parental crisis at home, there’s a litmus test. It turns out that children exposed to “great marital hostility” have markedly higher levels of stress hormones than children of parents with stable marriages. 

Remember this when you’re seething in anger at your ex-to-be, and it threatens to overtake you. Your kid will excrete toxins of distress that their body cannot possibly metabolize. By a familial nervous system, you are all still interconnected on a subterranean level, and their body is screaming “stop,” even if they never utter a word to you.

Though if you listen carefully, they will and do tell you. And how you respond (or not) to what your child shares is critical. Their tummy may hurt at bedtime, or they’ll have an amorphous list of upsets that seemingly have no immediate cause (and therefore no remedy readily at hand). 

You’ll want to make it better, cheer them up, play a game. If they’re older, they might ask questions and even insist that you confide in them as a way to ease their angst. It can be tricky to discern who is comforting whom. Divorce is lonely, and even the best of single parents can experience the understandable tug to derive comfort at times like these. 

Tempting as it may be, try to refrain from responding to your child’s feelings by offering a distraction or cheering up. Such gestures, though well-intended, often come from our discomfort when we see our kid is hurting. We want to make it better—to offer relief. It’s natural to want to put a band-aid on an “ouch.” Unfortunately, divorce is bigger than that.

Instead, aim for what Gottman calls Emotion Coaching. To emotion coach, you must first cultivate an awareness of your child’s feelings. Notice their body language, their tone of voice, and their eyes. What do you imagine they might be saying (or not saying) in their actions and gestures? 

Be curious and avoid projecting your feelings and thoughts. Expand on such moments, listening more than speaking, validating more than fixing. Let them know you see they are struggling and offer to help them to name their struggles—encouraging them to use their words. 

Emotion Coaching can turn the mysterious case of a tummy ache or just feeling blue into a teaching moment from which your child derives comfort from feeling seen and understood. It will also offer them increased insight into their inner workings, allowing them to connect the dots between their tummy ache and their heartache.

The heartache of divorce is essential as air. Cultivating the ability to breathe through it and mourn is both the last and first stage of ending one story (your life as the family you were) and starting the next (your life as the family you are becoming). 

You are closing a critical chapter of your life and simultaneously embarking on a new one. There is also compelling evidence to suggest that the narrative you write, speak, and live from will have a profound impact on the adult your child has yet to become. How you make sense of memories, your past and the ways it has shaped you in the present, the answers you give to the fundamental questions of such, have the potential to pass down (or not) the same painful legacy that marred your early days.

Daniel Siegel, author of The Whole Brained Child and Parenting from the Inside Out, states that the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to their parents as children, but instead how their parents made sense of those childhood experiences. I want to go out on a limb and assert that how we as parents make sense of any significant experience, whether we’re talking childhood or adulthood, has the potential to shape the adults our children have yet to become and, in turn, our grandchildren and so it goes.

The telling of how your marriage came to fracture will evolve, and as it does, and as you begin to understand the role you played in it, it’s important to see yourself as neither victim nor villain. Similarly (although it can be hard) aspire to view your ex from an equally generous and compassionate lens. After all, not many embark on marriage hoping love will end, and very few of us have a baby wishing our family will shatter.  

Breaking up a family when children are involved is akin to pulling bones out of your body while you are simultaneously growing them. Aspiring to narrate the story of your divorce from a place of empowerment will inform every interaction with your child, from the day-to-day to the essential rituals of transition, including bedtime, pickups, and drop-offs.

Here is where divorce presents its most significant opportunity—a window of time where the stars align in such a way that you have a chance to shift the future. 

Create a constellation that serves as a map of where you have been, how you have gotten here, and where you wish to go in the days and years to come. It’s an atlas that will serve not only as a touchstone for you, but as a beacon for your children. 

Your story will become their story, so write it well.

The Lies of Lust: Promises That Never Deliver

THE LIES OF LUST: PROMISES THAT NEVER DELIVER

Noah Filipiak

The “Lust Trap” can reel you in anytime, anywhere. Its strong pull brings you in like a sci-fi tractor beam. The graphic imagery of Proverbs 7 describes it like an ox going to slaughter, a deer walking into a noose, or a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.

Most of us can relate to these metaphors. One moment you are minding your own business, the next you are caught up in an insidious trap, too late to be able to do anything about it.

The Lust Trap is a web of lies. Lies that we believe. Lies that make promises that never deliver.

Lie: This man or woman will make me feel whole and valuable.

The biggest lie that men and women fall into with the Lust Trap is thinking they will find wholeness and a lasting feeling of value from their lust. We typically think of full-blown affairs as the end result of chasing this lie. You think this person will make you feel whole and valuable, so you leave everything else and make your dream a reality.

But upon closer inspection, the dream, the pornography, lustful gazes, and mental fantasies all spring from the same breeding ground.

Try to zoom out from yourself for a moment. Picture the last situation you were in when you got sucked in by lust and observe yourself from an out-of-body sort of perspective. What is going on in your soul? What is going on in your deepest desires?

Some will argue that there are no deeper desires. They just desire the body parts and the physical feeling that lust brings. But I can almost guarantee that your lust, whether it was pornography or just a mental thought, was related to seduction. He or she had a seductive look, a suggestive pose or manner about them. Or, that’s what you were wishing for or picturing when you gazed upon this person.

If body parts are the engine of lust, then seduction and suggestion are the gas and oil.

The driving desire behind almost all fantasies is the desire to be desired—the want to be wanted.

We have a gaping hole in our soul that spews out feelings of inadequacy, failure, rejection, and so on. This hole was put there by our dads, our moms, the guys and girls we liked who rejected us, abusers, ex-husbands or wives, and any litany of harsh words and messages throughout life.

Some of this hole is there as the automatic byproduct of living in a culture that constantly exposes us to the top .01% of “beautiful” people in advertisements, movies, music, and television, and then tells us that we are failures if we don’t look exactly like them (and of course, if you buy the product they’re advertising, you will become just like them).

The hole in every person’s soul is unique from the next, but we all have it. And we all seek to fill it up. There are many ways to try to fill up this hole that are not sexual, but they all share a common characteristic: we need to prove our value.

Money, your job, your reputation, your popularity, your accomplishments, your family, your possessions, your physiological feeling of comfort, and your latest three posts on Facebook all make excellent attempts to fill the value-void we carry around.

I am valuable!

I am important!

I matter!

None of it is ever enough.

Life becomes a constant sprint on the hamster wheel of trying to prove these things.

While drugs give a high feeling that numbs the pain, sex gives a high feeling that includes human embrace and acceptance, something no drug can offer. It’s no wonder we chase sex with such abandon. But we all know the harsh reality: the brief feeling of value and acceptance that sex gives us quickly fades away, just like the high from a drug.

There are two options at this point. You can either do more and stronger drugs, or you can reject the lie and embrace the truth. I beg you to choose the latter.

Truth: I am whole and valuable as God’s beloved son or daughter.

When you feel the Lust Trap pulling you in, identify what it is you are really after. It’s not the temporary hit of endorphins, it’s the deeper state of wholeness, acceptance, approval, value, comfort, etc. (add your own words that fit you best).

Saying “no” to lust isn’t enough; we have to say “yes” to something else. We can’t just stop the tractor beam. We have to turn and run into the arms of someone else.

That someone else is Jesus. And I don’t mean the Sunday school, pixie dust Jesus, or even the Jesus that merely gets you into heaven. Not that’s a small thing, but it really only scratches the surface of all we have in Jesus and the healing he longs to bring to our day-to-day aching, lonely, distracted souls.

If you have put your faith in Jesus, Romans 8:15-17 tells you that you are a child, a son or daughter, of God.  It also tells you that you are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ. What Jesus gets from the Father, you get. Romans 8:4 and Colossians 1:22 tell you that when God sees you, he sees perfection, because of what Jesus accomplished on your behalf.

He doesn’t say, “You don’t measure up.” He says, “I love you so much, and I am so pleased with you.” The Father spoke to Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17 and said, “This is my son, whom I love, whom I am so pleased with.”

Because Jesus paid for your sins on the cross, making you a new creation, you are now a co-heir with Jesus. You get these same words from our same Father. You are my son. You are my daughter. Who I love. Who I am so pleased with.

This is what the Father thinks of you. Any other voices you hear are lies.

This is our healing truth. This is the embrace we run to when the Lust Trap comes knocking. This is real, compared to what the Lust Trap can only cheaply imitate.

Your healing wholeness is found in knowing these truths and reminding yourself of them over and over again. Write them down over and over again. Pray them over and over again. Read them in Scripture over and over again. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak them into your heart over and over again.

This wholeness is also found in being in community with others who affirm this truth about who you are.  People who accept you and love you as a beloved son or daughter, the way the Father sees you. Not as someone mired by shame who doesn’t measure up. God designed the Church to be his hands and feet, his very body on earth (1 Corinthians 12).

I’m not going to tell you that church small groups are perfect, but they are a starting point. Look at the brothers and sisters in Christ that God has put into your life and pray and ask God which ones you can go deeper with. Then take the risk and go deeper.

The Lust Trap is a never-ending spigot of lies, and thankfully our God is a never-ending fountain of truth. Reorient your whole life around running toward him and his truth.

His love never fails.

10 Phrases You Should Never Say to Someone Experiencing Betrayal Trauma

10 PHRASES YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY TO SOMEONE EXPERIENCING BETRAYAL TRAUMA

Beth Denison

Discovering the sexual betrayal of a spouse is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can suffer. There are so few people with whom the wounded spouse can confide. Imagine this devastated individual mustering the courage to share the story with a close friend or family member only to receive comments or advice that inflict further damage. How tragic!

Knowing what to say to someone who has experienced a loss is difficult for most people. I believe there are many well-meaning, loving individuals who truly want to be helpful to a wounded spouse but are simply ill-equipped in that situation. What should be said at such a time?

The Bible tells the story of a man of God named Job. His life was filled with prestige and possessions, but God allowed him to be tested and he lost his ten children, all of his livestock, and even his health. In the midst of his misery and devastation, he had three friends who came to comfort him. The Bible says,

“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12-13).

Wow! What great friends. Unfortunately, whatever comfort Job felt by their presence quickly ended when they opened their mouths and began to speak.

If you have an acquaintance, friend, or loved one who has experienced sexual betrayal, one of the greatest things you can do for him or her is just show up. Most people going through such trauma feel alone and isolated. Your presence, at that time, can be a gift. Silence is okay.

If you do speak, here are ten things best left unsaid.

1. “Things will get better.”

This person’s life has been shattered. How can you possibly know things will get better? Unfortunately, things may get a lot worse. Certainly, the wounded spouse can pursue and achieve healing, but that does not mean the circumstances will get better.

2. “You just need to forgive.”

Such a comment is callous to the pain this person is feeling. There are many things someone who has been betrayed may need, such as testing for STDs, counseling, self-care, safety, a support group, and healthy boundaries.

While forgiveness will eventually be in this individual’s best interest, to suggest this initially may imply that there should be no consequences for the offending party, regardless of current behavior. This, in turn, may pressure the wounded spouse into granting a false forgiveness before adequately processing the devastating emotions that naturally accompany betrayal. This can lead to confusion and delayed healing.

3. “It could be worse. At least he didn’t                  .”

Any comment that minimizes the behavior or the pain is hurtful. Betrayal is betrayal, regardless of the method. Period. To say such a thing is as insensitive as saying to someone who lost a child, “At least you didn’t lose both of your children,” or saying to an amputee, “At least you still have your hands.” The fact that someone else may have it worse does not lessen this person’s pain.

4. “If I were you, I would leave and get a divorce.”

You’re not. Job’s friend made the same mistake. Eliphaz said, “But if it were I, I would… (Job 5:8). The reality is that you cannot know what you would do if you were that person. You only have a perspective based on your own experiences.

5. “Have you been meeting his physical needs?”

Any comment or question that implies fault on the part of the wounded spouse is not helpful. Most are already feeling some sense of guilt and shame. Job’s friends also made that mistake. They assumed that he must somehow be responsible for the suffering he was experiencing. There are no perfect spouses because there are no perfect people. Nothing justifies a partner sexually acting outside of the marriage covenant. There is always a choice.

6. “You deserve better than this.”

This kind of statement usually comes as a result of strong feelings for the individual, which may cloud the judgment of what is actually best. In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul was told by a prophet that he would suffer and be imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem. “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12). Paul went anyway because he knew God had a greater plan that would result in furthering the gospel.

It is unsettling to see someone you love suffering. But, it is important to remember that you may not be able to see the big picture and all that God can accomplish through the difficulties.

7. “Everything happens for a reason.”

Is this really true? Does God have a grand design that only allows for what he wills? If my husband repeatedly cheats on me, is that God’s will? No. It is not God’s will for us to sin. He knows how destructive that is for us. But he has created us with free will. We are not created as robots with no power to choose. When a person is overwhelmed with grief due to the sexual betrayal of a spouse, God grieves, too. We live in an imperfect, fallen world.

The good news is that what God allows, he redeems.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

8. “I know how you feel.”

Though you might have lived through a similar experience, you can never know exactly how someone else feels. No two situations are exactly alike. We all have our own unique experiences and perspectives.

9. “Just let it go.”

This is akin to “get over it,” or “just move on.” This is easily said by someone who is neither married to the individual nor emotionally attached to the situation. The reality is that the choice to stay or leave is incredibly difficult and not one that can be made quickly or lightly. There will be pain and complications either way. Seldom does anyone “get over” such trauma, though he or she will eventually get through it. Such flippant statements fail to acknowledge the depth of grief the wounded party is feeling.

10. “God wants you to                  .”

Be very, very careful about speaking for God. Job’s friends spent considerable time representing to him what they were convinced were God’s ways. In the end, the Lord spoke to Eliphaz and said, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7). Even if what you plan to say is biblically accurate, are you sure this is the right time to say it? Saying the right thing at the wrong time is still wrong.

What should we say?

With so many things we shouldn’t say, how can we know what we should say? “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). When someone you care about is suffering due to betrayal trauma, show up and focus more on listening than speaking. Will Rogers went straight to the point: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

Before you do speak, ask God for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Offer practical assistance. When Jesus was dying, he asked his closest friend, John, to take care of his mother. The Bible says, “From that time on, the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27). You can help by bringing a meal, taking the kids for the afternoon, giving a gift card for a massage, or anything else that might relieve some of the pressure your friend may be experiencing. Jesus’ example of love was in deed, not word. We can’t go wrong when we follow his example.

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