Facing an unwanted divorce

We were sitting in Starbucks, sipping coffee and talking about everyday events. After a short lull in the conversation, my friend blurted out, “Dave wants a divorce.”

Tears welled up in her eyes, and her expression fell, revealing the pain she had been trying hard to mask for the past hour.

“He says he’s fallen out of love with me,” she said. “I knew we were drifting apart with his work stress and me running the kids around everywhere, but I had no idea he was thinking divorce! He won’t even consider counselling. He keeps saying, ‘I’m done.’ ”

Throughout life, we all experience bumps in the road – some predictable, others out of the blue. Few of those bumps are more distressing than an unwanted divorce. If you’re facing this heartbreaking situation, you know firsthand the devastation an unwanted divorce brings. Your emotions vacillate from anger to guilt to despair, and few people know how to comfort you. Your situation is probably made worse by the social isolation; perhaps you feel too ashamed or overwhelmed even to let others know what you are going through.

You need help

Divorce is a death – the death of a marriage. Most experts agree that the grief surrounding divorce is much more complicated than the emotions following the death of a spouse. Friends and family can be insensitive or hurtful after a divorce. The tremendous anguish of losing the security of marriage is compounded by shame and feelings of failure and rejection.

Because an unwanted divorce is so complicated, you need support from people who understand your situation. You may find an ally in your pastor, a professional counsellor, a trusted friend or a Christian support group such as DivorceCare. Give yourself time to recover from this tremendous loss. Research suggests that it takes about five years on average to adjust to a divorce.

Remember that although God hates divorce, He loves you through it. He embraces you in the midst of your pain and confusion. Don’t fall for the lie that God helps only the picture-perfect family; Scripture reminds us that Jesus lifts up those who are broken, rejected, downhearted and desperate.

Maintain your integrity

To get through this difficult process, you will need to remain faithful to God. Although your marriage may be failing, you can still be in His will, honouring Him through this tremendous difficulty. No matter the outcome, maintain your integrity as you lean on your Saviour for strength.

Walking with integrity includes following Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Applied to your situation, this means you must do whatever you can to resolve the underlying problems leading to the divorce. Honestly ask your spouse, your pastor or your counsellor, “How have I contributed to this? What do I need to change?” Confess how you’ve wronged your spouse, and forgive the wrongs he or she has done to you. The crisis of an impending divorce can uncover long-standing wounds and issues that you may not have been aware of.

As my friend walked down this road, she discovered that her husband had been angry with her for years, yet never expressed it. With the help of a counsellor, he communicated how hurt he felt that his wife saved her best for the kids, the church and her work, leaving him the leftovers. In her efforts to be a great mom, my friend had inadvertently rejected her husband.

She was faced with a choice: she could defend her actions (after all, her motives were right, and Dave had done his share of neglecting her), or she could take responsibility for her part of the conflict and ask for forgiveness, opening the possibility of rebuilding intimacy.

Set healthy limits

Notice that in Paul’s teaching, he included the phrase “as far as it depends on you.” This implies that you cannot take responsibility for the choices of your spouse, nor should you force the marriage to stay together. Pursuing peace does not mean begging your spouse to stay. This behaviour feeds into destructive and even abusive patterns. If he wants to leave, let him leave.

Also resist the temptation to ignore destructive behaviour for the sake of the marriage. If your spouse has been unfaithful or abusive and remains unrepentant, it’s unwise to turn a blind eye.

Don’t lose hope

Another aspect of integrity is remaining committed to your marriage, even if it appears to be over. Unless your spouse has remarried, the possibility of reconciliation always remains. Many couples have remarried even decades after their divorce. While there are no guarantees, you can continue to pray that God would someday restore your marriage.

Finally, remember that you are not on God’s “plan B.” God’s blessing is not just for intact families, but for all who remain faithful to Him. The Enemy will try to convince you that God can no longer use you, that your divorce is the “scarlet letter” that puts you in a lower class of Christians. In contrast, Scripture promises, “. . . in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Keep loving Him, and never lose sight of your calling as His child.

Dr. Juli Slattery is a psychologist-in-residence at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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