Three Paths on Your Journey Through Divorce
by Rob Horton
There is no doubt about it, divorce causes problems. It causes problems for the couple, it causes problems for the kids, it causes problems for the finances and the list goes on.
Divorce is much like an injury. When people first experience the breakup of a marriage the initial reactions are pretty universal. Just like a physical injury, some pain is inevitable and it’s no different with divorce. First, as many who experience shock in a traumatic injury, so too, with divorce, we initially deny the seriousness of that injury. some denial. After a period of denial, the pain sets in. We get angry, fearful, or some other intense emotion. As the intense emotions set in, we discover that we are at a crossroad with three paths to choose.
Repression Path- The first path we can call the Broad Way. This is the way of the quick fix. We attempt to stuff the feelings and just move on with our lives. Our friends will tell us “it’s been 2 months”, it’s time to move on. They are uncomfortable with our feelings and they really don’t want to be inconvenienced by our suffering so they tell us to go out, have fun and meet someone. Our society today believes in fast solutions and quick results. Everywhere you look, advertisers offer faster and quicker ways to loose weight, fight wrinkles, get healthy, get rich and the list goes on. We live in a microwave world and we don’t have time for crock pot problems.
Maybe they’re right… we think. We should just get back on that horse and ride again. We sign up for Match.com or any other social website and we begin the process of solving our singleness problem. This approach is like Novocain. Just numb the pain and never mind the healing. It may work for a while to minimize the pain but it also minimizes the healing and minimizes the importance of the marriage that was lost. We can also become vulnerable to a rebound relationship. Rebound relationships almost never work out well.
The problem with this path of rebound relationships and repressed emotions is that the damage is covered up. We loose weight, buy a new wardrobe put on our best face and “go for it”. But it’s like a new coat of paint and new carpet for a house that has a cracked foundation and termites. We may look good, but foundationally we are unstable. When we simply loop around and around on the repression path and we never actually deal with the issues that surround our marital loss. It’s important to note that the divorce rate for second marriages is higher than for first marriages. The reason for this is that many people never take the time to heal from the injuries of the fist marriage before they jump into a new relationship. When we choose the repression path, we are likely to keep doing the same things over and over again and getting the same results as a result. We’re not healing but we’re hiding. Hiding from our issues and heading for trouble down the road when this all comes crashing down.
Bitterness Path- If repression is the Broad Way then the Bitterness path can be called the Bad Way. With repression, we loop around and around. With the bitterness path, we keep spiraling down and down.
There’s no doubt about it, divorce is a bitter experience. Most people would say that they wouldn’t wish a divorce on their worst enemy. We have to be careful that this bitter experience does not make us bitter so that we always are blaming someone else for our troubles. Many people who are faced with a divorce did not ask for the divorce. They might find comfort with playing the victim role. They will tell their story of pain and injustice over and over and over again to anyone that will listen. Each time they tell the story they become more and more engulfed in blaming as they continue to spiral down into despair and bitterness. Most of us have been exposed to bitter people. They are negative, judgmental, angry and cynical. They are difficult to be around. Unlike the person who represses their hurt and tries to move on as if nothing has happened, the bitter person embraces their anger and depression until it consumes them and starts to effect their work life, their social life and their personal self esteem until they believe themselves to be in a world where there is no joy or goodness anywhere. When we continue to blame and justify our anger we continue to keep the wounds fresh and we never let them heal. The end result is years and years of depression, anger and until we become incapable to find any joy in life at all.
The Grieving Path- This path is the narrow path and the true path to healing from the injuries that we sustain when we divorce. I also call this the High Road to Healing. What makes grieving the preferred path? When we allow ourselves to grieve, we can reach the point of letting go of the losses and accepting a new life. But before we can complete the grieving process, we must allow ourselves the time to feel the sadness and loneliness that comes with loosing our marriage. It doesn’t matter whether we were the party that ended the marriage or the party that had the end thrust upon us; we still need to grieve the loss. Sadness and loneliness is not just associated with the loss of the marriage relationship but we also must grieve the loss of the intact family and the loss of the dream. Our sense of loss will also be directly proportional to the value we placed on the marriage in the first place. We will only feel sadness and grief if we have lost something of value. Otherwise we wouldn’t care. With that said, the more that we valued our marriage, the more time, effort and support it will take for us to heal from the injuries of divorce. So take the time and the effort to heal well.
We live in a society where we don’t want to see people deal with the tough stuff of life. Most of our so called “friends” tend to disappear when the going gets tough. People who haven’t experience divorce themselves, just don’t understand the magnitude of the loss we feel and they certainly can’t relate to the loss of a dream or the loss of the intact family. This is why we need to surround ourselves with friends that understand this process and will let us be sad and lonely without trying to cheer us up or fix us up on a date. (Notice that friends is plural and not singular. We need more than one friend because we’ll wear one friend out before we can finish this process) Support groups can be a lifeline during this time of need. They can offer tools and encouragement to help you cope with the issues of divorce as they occur.
Sadness and loneliness is not a fun place to be, but its necessary place to go if we want to effectively heal. (At Fresh Start, we refer to this place as the pit) As someone once said at a Fresh Start Seminar, “you have to feel it to heal it” It is when we are in the pit that we can reflect inwardly and begin to take responsibility for ourselves instead of looking to other people to perpetually blame. We ultimately want to get to a place of acceptance, a place where we are willing to let go of the hurt and sadness and embrace a new life of being content and fulfilled. The key to acceptance is allowing time to feel the hurt, loneliness and sadness instead of avoiding it. The reason this is the narrow path to healing is we must allow ourselves the time to grieve and we must tell the people around us to let us be sad. We can’t wallow in sadness and grieving forever but for a season we can make productive use of it so we can later move on with our lives in a healthy way.
As we grieve, we must be willing to intentionally reflect and take an inventory of our marriage; both the good and the bad. This is the way we see the truth about our marriage. With time and effort, our wounds will eventually become scars. The scars may never go away, but the pain will eventually subside and the scars become less noticeable until one day you will move on to a life of joy and contentment.
A final word about the high road to healing. The grieving path will also take us to a place of forgiveness. Forgiveness is another way we let go and move on. Forgiveness is a topic for another post. For now, put that away in your thoughts. Forgiveness is the best way to let go of the hurt that marital loss brings.
So these are the three paths we have to choose. The path of repression is nothing more than denial as we move from one quick fix to another. The path of bitterness is the path that leads to ultimate despair, skepticism and depression. The true path to healing is allowing yourself the time to grieve the loss, accept the loss and move on with your life in a healthy and productive way. My hope for you is that you will take the high road to healing and allow yourself the time to grieve the loss, let go of the hurts and embrace a new life full of contentment and new adventures.
Rob Horton and his wife Genie are leaders of the Genesis divorce ministry at Perimeter Church in Duluth GA. They both have personally experienced divorce. Rob is also a Fresh Start Seminar speaker. Genesis is an ongoing community that offers teaching and support for people dealing with separation and divorce. Fresh Start highly recommends Genesis to people in the Atlanta area who are experiencing a broken relationship. You can visit their website at www.genesisrecovery.org.