LIVING AGAIN AFTER DIVORCE
Richard (Dick) Innes
Like a biting arctic wind, Roger’s note stung bitterly and cut deeply into Ruth’s heart. From outward appearances, Roger and Ruth’s 28-year-old marriage seemed to be reasonably happy and secure. One afternoon, however, after a seemingly pleasant lunch together, Ruth returned home, to find this note on her pillow:
“Dearest Ruth, you have been a wonderful wife and mother. I could never have asked for anything more.” After more flowery compliments, Roger continued, “But I’m in love with another woman. I’ve left home. You will hear from my lawyer very soon.”
Ruth was devastated. It took several days to get over the initial shock so that she could even cry. She pleaded with Roger to come home, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. She was left with divorce papers, shattered dreams and a broken heart. Sadly, Ruth’s experience is being repeated many times every day. Every year in the United States there are two divorces for every four marriages.
Divorce is one of the most painful experiences any family can experience. It’s not only the death of a marriage but also the death of dreams and hopes. It cuts at our deepest fears of being abandoned and unlovable, and it destroys years of invested love and caring. Divorce can be even more painful than the loss of love through physical death which at least has a finality to it and may often have been unpreventable. Where children are involved, divorce has even wider devastating effects.
“A broken arm takes several weeks to heal.
Broken hearts take much longer.”
Of one thing we can be sure, however. Even though God hates divorce (as well as everything else that is harmful to people), he loves divorced people and families and wants them to be healed and made whole. Recovery may not be easy but it beats staying in the valley of despair.
As one recently divorced mother told me, “I didn’t even know where to begin. I had to rethink absolutely everything in my life—my home, a job, my identity, my friends, my relationship with my children, and my relationship with God. I had to start all over.” If you have experienced the tragedy of divorce, you can take several steps to start working through that difficult experience and, in time, you may even find that God has used that trial to make you a healthier, happier person.
First, acknowledge your loss. After the initial shock it’s tempting to go into denial by refusing to face the reality of what has happened or by burying your feelings of hurt, anger and grief. The first step to recovery is to face the reality of your failed marriage and be truly honest with how you feel about it.
Second, accept your pain as normal. Don’t run from it. Pain is God’s way of telling us something is broken and needs fixing. Whether a broken arm or a broken heart, the pain reminds us that we need to take proper care of ourselves.
Third, realize that this, too, will pass. If you have recently gone through divorce you may think that life is over and that you will never love again. But if you commit yourself to getting through it, in time the pain will pass and you can become a healthier and more mature person—able to love and trust again if that is God’s will for you.
Fourth, don’t waste your pain, invest it. Put your pain to work and allow it to motivate you to grow and become a healthier person. Then, once you have progressed, you may be able to support others who are going through similar experiences. Help them see that they, too, can survive and become happier, healthier persons.
Fifth, give yourself time to heal. It takes time to face your pain, to begin again in single life, and come to understand what went wrong. A broken arm takes several weeks to heal. Broken hearts take much longer—but not forever. It usually takes at least a year to make significant progress in working through the impact of divorce. However, if you haven’t resolved your pain after say two years, chances are that something is keeping you stuck. If this is the case, I suggest getting professional counsel to help you resolve your loss and work through the recovery process.
Sixth, do your grieving now. With all losses there are many emotions: hurt, depression, anger, guilt, and grief—all of which need to be understood, faced and resolved so they won’t become a permanent pattern. Find a safe person to share your thoughts and feelings with. Don’t put walls around your negative feelings because that will block out your positive feelings as well. A vital part of the healing process is to weep and even sob out your grief. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, NIV)
Seventh, forgive to be free. It may take a while, but you need to be growing toward forgiveness of your ex-mate. Failing to forgive keeps you bound to the past. As another has said, “Failing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” We can’t rush forgiveness and you will need to work through your hurt and anger before you are able to forgive. But ultimately it is imperative that you forgive if you are going to recover fully. If you don’t, you will take your negative emotions into all future close relationships. It also helps to hand your failures over to God and ask his forgiveness for your part in the marriage breakup. Only then can you profit from your difficult experience.
Eighth, let go of the past. I’ve worked with people who were divorced as long as twenty years ago and were still hanging onto the fantasy that their ex-spouse would return—even though he or she had remarried. You cannot move ahead with your future life until you let go of your past.
Ninth, guard against a rebound. Rushing into another romantic relationship too soon can cause you to avoid dealing with your pain and the causes of your marriage breakup. If you marry too soon, you are almost destined to repeat your past mistakes. You need time to mourn your losses well and begin to grow in a positive direction before you start another intimate relationship.
“If you marry too soon, you are almost
destined to repeat your past mistakes.”
Tenth, get into a support group. At times of loss, none of us can make it alone. We weren’t meant to. We need to be connected to safe, supportive, accepting, and non-judgmental people. We were hurt in hurtful relationships and are healed in wholesome, healthy relationships. The Bible says, “God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6, NIV) He does this through other people and sometimes the closest thing we can get to a healing family is a small support group.
Eleventh, realize that failure is never final and that the only real failure is the failure to learn and grow through our past difficulties.
Twelfth, let God teach you. Any failure, including divorce, can be “God’s wakeup call” to show us that we need to make some major changes in our lives. Pray especially that God will show you the truth of what you contributed to your marriage breakup, why you were attracted to the person you married in the first place, and what you can do differently in the future. What we don’t resolve we are destined to repeat.
Finally, remember that no matter how difficult your situation, God loves you and wants to make you whole. As his Word says, “Whenever you face trials of many kinds … you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4, NIV) Be patient with yourself and know that with God’s help, time, the support of safe friends, and working through the recovery process you can find healing from your hurt and a greater measure of spiritual, emotional and relational wholeness.