The label doesn’t help: Divorced.
All of a sudden your entire identity is pressed through this meat grinder and what comes out seemingly doesn’t look very appealing. Not only that, you don’t feel very appealing. There is both an internal and external stigma to divorce; no other life experience can really relate to this ordeal. It is often said that divorce is “the death of a relationship.” The problem with that analogy is that most people aren’t accused of killing their loved one, whereas in divorce, there is the perception that everyone is thinking that. The question of who’s at fault gets tossed around like a hot potato by participants, family members, friends and colleagues and the stigma associated with being the one “to blame” doesn’t sit well nor is it entirely accurate.
Divorce is an unintended consequence of brokenness. We are all broken. It cannot be said that all divorces are bad and without merit. Such black and white thinking dismisses the complex brokenness and infidelity of human beings. For some, divorce can be a life-saving ordeal, freeing them from an abusive spouse. For others, divorce is an escape from an unhealthy relationship destined for failure. It behooves me, for those not experiencing remorseless abuse or physical violence, to seek help in repairing or rekindling a broken marriage, but such endeavors for reconciliation will be fruitless ventures if both are not on board to work through the mess. And it is a mess.
Whether you initiated the divorce or you are on the receiving end of it, the experience leaves one feeling a wide range of deeply disturbing emotions. Only a psychopath can go through the process of divorce and not endure some incredibly powerful and, at times, contradictory emotions. Maybe the worst part of divorce, emotionally, is the ambivalence. You cannot simply have one set of complimentary feelings, either good or bad, to deal with throughout the process—they have to shift and change and you feel tossed about like the old man and the sea. One minute you’re feeling the some semblance of acceptance and the next you are reeling from the incredible anger and hurt.
Even when a divorce is understandable and biblically grounded, the road for the initiator is not an easy one. Shame and guilt are probably the two most prevalent emotions, but those emotions can be mixed with relief, sadness, resentment, bitterness, doubt, and anxiety. Depending on what happened during the marriage and the reasons for the divorce, those emotions, if not processed and dealt with, will follow that individual into the next marriage. This is one potential reason for why divorce for those married a second time jumps from 50% to 60%.
The Journey for the recipient is a rollercoaster of fear, anger, anxiety, depression, and abandonment and rejection. For some, building a wall of resentment and blame for the divorce provides cold comfort, but for those longing for future companionship any future relationship will be viewed through this lens of hurt and pain which will not go unnoticed. In other cases, maybe those taking full responsibility for the divorce, will live life a shattered individual feeling inadequate or unworthy to try marriage again. Roughly 53% of divorced individuals attempt marriage again.
Everything gets questioned going through a divorce. It’s the uncommonly strong individual, or the sociopath, who doesn’t question their faith, value system, mental wellbeing, or personal choices while going through a divorce. How can a good God let this happen? How could I have married such a person? What have I done? I can’t believe this is happening to me! How did I screw this up? What’s wrong with him/her/me?
What about the kids? The best case scenario for divorce is that there are no kids forced through this relational demolition. The roles of husband and wife may be over; the role of parent never ends. The problem with human emotion is when it is flooding our bodies, we become incredibly egocentric. It’s self-preservation. Kids don’t see it that way. Often they feel left by the wayside by parents who seem too preoccupied with their own situation and affected emotions to deal with the kids’. in order to reduce the damage divorce does to the children parents should be aware and seek out how the children are doing emotionally. Simply asking about their day and getting them to soccer practice won’t cut it. Parents need to engage the children on how their feeling, reassure them, validate their feelings, and help them feel as comforted as possible. Remember, even if divorce is ultimately a good thing, change is never easy and straightforward. Children handle divorce in different ways at different ages. Being able to meet the child where they’re at developmentally is essential to helping them cope. This is making the best out of a bad situation. Unfortunately, no one escapes the collateral damage.
The divorced make up a greater percent of the population than the widowed in the 21st century. This is a relatively new phenomenon. For millennia, death was the most common reason for marriages to end. Today, it is divorce. Divorce should not have to be something you go through alone. There is hope and there is help for those experiencing the collateral damage of divorce. In an upcoming series of blogs, I hope to offer insights, perspectives and resources to help you in working through recovering from the heartbreak of divorce.