Creating a healthy divorce recovery
For many, the most painful part about getting a divorce is when there is nobody who believes your story or who is truly trying to understand your pain. When there is a need for a compassionate ear or non-critical support, there may be coldness, distance and ostracizing. Unfortunately, this is often the truth among Christians who are getting a divorce. Some Christian churches have taught their congregants to be more judging and critical than loving and understanding. They whip out their misinterpretation of scripture and use it as a painful tool to ridicule and punish.
When a person is divorced, he or she feels as though they have been pushed into an ocean where the waters are too deep to swim. They struggle to survive, but are often abandoned or treated coldly by friends and sometimes relatives. Some divorcees will tell you that the church did not help either. Those Christians they thought would surround them with unconditional love and compassion were judgemental, critical, and distant. Isn’t that a paradox? Christians say that the church is a hospital for sick people, but they often shoot the “sick” in their feet. Let’s treat our divorced church members, friends and associates better.
The sermons each week from the pulpits about divorce only on the grounds of adultery is more damming than healing. The truth is that many spiritual leaders refuse to understand that there are other painful reasons for divorce than sexual infidelity. They have created a lonely, dark place of pain for many who have divorced or thinking about divorce. This article today is for those going through the experience of pain and loneliness because of divorce. I want to remind them that despite all of this, it is possible to have a healthy divorce recovery.
Clinical psychologist, Dr. Tom Whiteman, in his article “Divorce Recovery”, shares key elements that are required for a healthy divorce recovery.
Emotional needs: “During and after divorce most people feel as if they are on an emotional roller coaster, vacillating between desperation to get the spouse back no matter what and feelings of anger and revulsion toward the spouse. People who go through divorce are very vulnerable,” says Whiteman.
In my own counselling practice I can see the pain, frustration and vulnerability my clients experience when deciding what to do when a partner leaves.
“This vulnerability makes the divorced person prone to other hurts,” says Whiteman.
For example, it is common for divorced persons to feel rejected by family and friends. Others are drawn to anyone who gives them attention and “stroke the damage areas of their lives,” says Dr. Whiteman.
It is also important to note the people who have been recently divorced need to be careful about forming new relationships or making any major changes. They need a close relationship with friends or a counsellor who will help guard and protect them from making poor choices.
Time: When a person gets divorced, he or she actually goes through a grieving process and grieving takes time. Before getting emotionally entangled, divorced persons needs two to five years for healing.
“People typically go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression. The final stage of acceptance, is when they learn to be satisfied with the changes that God has allowed them to experience, and to move forward in a productive new lifestyle.”
Social needs: When someone gets divorced that often ends many other social relationships. This makes the divorced person very vulnerable to a “rebound relationship” says Dr. Whiteman.
Thus, they may need friends to help them through the trauma of divorce. Divorced persons should wait at least two years before entering a new romantic relationship. The emptiness in one’s soul after a divorce requires God’s healing and completeness apart from a romantic relationship. It may not be wise for a divorced woman to share her deep pain with a man, especially all alone in his house.
Spiritual needs: Most Christians who go through a divorce feel guilt and shame. These feelings says Whiteman “may be compounded by the reaction of others, and who in an effort to discourage divorce are afraid to minister to those who experience this brokenness for fear of appearing to condone divorce. Divorced people need to know that God loves then and forgives them and wants them in his fellowship.”
The need to forgive: If there is one great need important to the divorced, it is the need to forgive. It is not only forgiving those who caused them pain but forgiving others who might have hurt them also. Dr. Whiteman states that most divorced persons blame themselves, so healing includes confessing those mistakes and then accepting the forgiveness that God offers (1 John 1:9). The divorced person must be reminded that forgiving is more important for him or herself than for the one who actually causes the pain. While the one who has caused pain may or may not be aware of the frustration caused, the victim may become engrossed in an unforgiving spirit and experience feelings of sadness which may increase ones chances of getting physically ill. An unforgiving spirit can suppress the immune system of the body making one susceptible for illnesses.
Giving back: This is Dr. Whiteman’s final step to recovery. Following the teachings of Christ the divorced person is to focus on giving back to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). “Giving to others too early in the process will only lead to new pain. In the proper time, however, comforting with the comfort that has been received can give divorced people purpose, meaning and fulfilment,” says Dr. Whiteman.
For those who have divorced or are going through a divorce, know that you can have a normal, healthy life after divorce. It might be a new normal, but that is okay. Remember, you are not mentally ill, nor are you stupid. Have a healthy divorce recovery.
- Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist. Send your questions or comments to [email protected] or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit: www.soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980.