Every divorce is different and thus it is important that you determine what parts of that which follows applies to your circumstances. Even the best intentioned advice may be misplaced or even harmful, depending on your particular circumstances. In some cases, emotional or psychological problems or conflicts are so pronounced that professional help is required or advised. With those limitations, the following is offered in the hope that you may find it helpful.
Divorce is often an emotionally charged experience because bright dreams have been shattered; love has soured and turned into something that is often ugly. Memories may create strong emotions and it is natural to feel some pain. The first step to recovery is to acknowledge the reality that divorce is painful. Seek professional help if the pain becomes unbearable. There is nothing wrong with going to a doctor for physical pain; just as there is nothing wrong with going to a counselor for pain caused by the divorce process.
Recognize that the process of divorce has its high and low moments. There will be times when you feel like it is too much, other times you will feel that this is opening a new and better chapter in your life. The process may unexpectedly change course and you may be feeling fine and then something comes along and you again feel the pain. You should attempt to ensure that slowly, but steadily, you move in the right direction- toward a new life with low points that are not quite as severe.
Now may be the time to examine spiritual issues. Too often modern man lives as if the temporal and physical define life. The threat or reality of divorce may be the crisis leading you to a productive reevaluation of life’s priorities. If you wasted too much time, perhaps chasing after money, cheap thrills, or otherwise unrewarding sources of happiness, now may be the time to consider what really counts. Reevaluating life’s priorities may lead to a spiritual awakening. If you live in the Holland, Michigan area, I can provide you with referrals to spiritual counselors who would be happy to meet with you.
Healing often happens indirectly or serendipitously. One way to reduce your pain is to reduce the pain of your divorcing spouse by making your spouse feel listened to. You do it, not out of debt, because you don’t owe it to him or her. You may do it solely because it may be the right thing to do. In attempting to reduce the pain by listening, it helps to keep a few things in mind:
a. God gave you two ears and one mouth. To effectively listen, remember to listen more than you talk.
b. Get your spouse to talk and make him/her feel listened to. Regardless of how much your spouse has wronged you in the past; your spouse feels pain. By listening to your spouse’s pain, you may reduce your own pain. Do it because it is the thing you chose to do; you are taking control of your life.
c. In order to keep your spouse talking, don’t be defensive. If your spouse says something mean or insulting, don’t respond. Just get your spouse to keep talking. If you can agree with something he or she says, then you might do so. Improving communications will often reduce conflict and pain.
d. If your spouse really opens up, they may feel that you have changed drastically. If you try this several times, something may happen. That something may be a miracle.
Your behavior doesn’t have to be a simple stimulus-response reaction. Between the stimulus of your spouse’s behavior is your choice as to how you will interpret the behavior and your choice as to how you will respond. It may be easier to blame your behavior on your spouse, but, you have a choice to reflect and decide how you will respond.
Decide to make things better. At the appropriate time and after having lived with the pain and have sorted through many feelings, examine what you can do to actively minimize the pain in the divorce process. Some people become too comfortable living with the pain. You can choose to examine and attempt different coping mechanisms and psychological strategies intended to lead to increased health and happiness. In effect, you can choose to get on with your life.
Choose to be healthy. Reaching the point when you can choose to be happy can be a haphazard product of time or it can be a product of choice whereby you choose to live in a psychologically healthy way. In any event, don’t be too hard on yourself. Choosing to live in a healthy way doesn’t mean that you won’t occasionally do something stupid or counter-productive. You are aiming for improvement not instant perfection.
Be physically active. Simple physical exercise can be a refreshing temporary alternative to spending too much time considering your divorce or predicament. One psychiatrist once said that over 25% of all mental illness could be avoided with physical exercise and most people would agree that exercise can be therapeutic. An exercise plan does not have to be elaborate- a half hour walk per day can be a good start to both physical and mental health. Discover what works for you: walking, bicycling, lifting weights, swimming, team sports, even being outside in the sunshine – find something that is distracting and that reduces your stress and maybe even gives you a sense of accomplishment. You might find a variety of activities assist you in dealing with the stress of divorce.
Don’t increase the pain. Some divorces are much more painful than they need be. There are several ways to make an event more painful. Don’t think of the situation as being worse than it is, it is bad enough without blowing it up. The first way to increase the pain is by a subtle form of justification. After making a decision it is natural to search for and stress facts that support your decision. Psychologists refer to that as reducing cognitive dissonance – which in a divorce situation may mean repeatedly convincing yourself how bad or rotten your divorcing spouse really is. When those internal conversations go on too long, you can almost talk yourself into a depression or more commonly convince yourself that the marriage was much worse than it really was. In either event, you are making things worse than they need be. You don’t need to justify your situation by making yourself miserable. Accept the fact that both you and your spouse made mistakes and occasionally did things that shouldn’t have been done but the past is history. You are now living in the present and working towards a bright future.
Don’t be too responsible. You are not responsible for your spouse’s behavior and you shouldn’t attempt to control what you spouse is thinking or what he/she is doing. You are responsible to attempt to act in a manner that does not disgrace your name or make matters worse. If divorce is inevitable, let your spouse go. At the same time, also let your anger or need to control go. Learn forgiveness. Some things simply need to be forgiven. Your spouse hurt you and you feel the pain. When you are psychologically ready, you can choose to forgive. Sometimes forgiveness is not only the right morally but also psychologically. As Lewis Smedes the author of Forgive and Forget, Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, points out, the failure to forgive often is more hurtful for the person who refuses to forgive than the person who has not been forgiven. The refusal to forgive and forget pain can lead to a destructive bitterness that can cause more pain for you than for your spouse.
Don’t be a victim. Today’s popular culture worships victims and too often we seek to be perceived as victims in as many situations as possible. Don’t allow the victim label to poison your emotions and prevent you from some level of success and happiness. Just because your marriage wasn’t eternally happy doesn’t mean that you must remain a victim or that you must remain 100% unhappy.
Don’t generalize the failure of your marriage. Some people feel that because they weren’t perfect in their marriage, they must be a failure in all of life. That is a cognitive distortion which David M. Burns, in his book Feeling Good, calls all-or-nothing thinking. It is related to the distortion of over generalization, which sees a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Just because you are getting divorced doesn’t mean your whole life is forever ruined. This too will pass.
You are in control of your emotions. Solely because your spouse may hate you, doesn’t mean you have to hate yourself. You should attempt to take control of your emotions. As Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper point out in their book, A New Guide to Rational Living, you must dispute the belief that you must feel loved or accepted by every significant person. You must also reject the hypothesis that human misery gets externally caused and that you have little or no ability to control your depression or self pity. Don’t buy into the notion that you are not responsible for your own emotions. If you want to feel sorry for yourself, do so. But when you get ready to be happy, be happy or at least a little happier almost every day. That can only come about if you make the decision to turn forward and to make the best of a bad situation.
Following the above advice is sometimes not easy. You must choose the path toward happiness that works best for you. That may include a combination of spiritual growth, reading good books, seeking psychological or spiritual counseling, vigorous exercise, listening to good music or joining a support group.
When the whole process is over, remember you still must be able to look at yourself in the mirror. Be sure your behavior meets with a reasonable standard of morality and decency. Don’t allow your emotions to cause you to do things which you will later regret or of which you will have reason to be ashamed. Codes of conduct and laws regulating behavior also apply when you are upset or disappointed. May God bless you as you attempt to do the right thing.