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Monday, May 6, 2013

The Process of Divorce - Grief and Mess

Messy, Griefy Divorce--Reflected

I don’t know if you read the blog that has been featured on Paperblog of late, but I thought it had some really good thoughts, and I wanted to respond to and piggy back on various portions of the article.  The title of that article is “Divorced? It’s Messy and Grief is a Part of It” by Rhodainpittsburgh and one the first comments the author makes is:  “Divorced means you are wrapped up in grief because the dream of the family is lost.”  All of who experience divorce know what she means.  But I would like to suggest some fine tuning of the comment, specifically regarding the dream.  The dream of the family that she says is lost is, indeed, lost if it refers to the specific family whose relationships are now broken and strained.  There remains a dream of what a healthy, functioning family is, and that dream remains worth pursuing.  True, barring reconciliation it won’t happen with that original family.  But as one moves on in life, the dream can materialize in a second family, possibly tweaked by the reality of step children from a previous marriage.  In the midst of divorce it is easy to believe things can never be good again, which is not true; although they will be different.
 “Being divorced is really about having a whole new world view come into play. Just like grief, being divorced takes a good amount of time to recover,” is the next section for me to add my comment.  It is very true that a new world view enters life, much of which is an undesired world view, certainly nothing anyone would aspire to have.  That world view can become either extremely cynical, or one that is simply more realistic than the starry eyed idealism of youth.  And grief is exactly the right word…..the grief of divorce is the same as the other grief experienced in life’s losses, with the exception that after a divorce the “corpse” continues to interfere in your life, and he/she intentionally chose to leave and reject you, creating some significantly more intense dynamics in grief.  The hurt and sense of betrayal is far different from the grief of a death.  This difference may well add to the long process of healing the author refers to in her article.
Ms. Pittsburgh then goes on to discuss the perspectives of the dumped vs. the dumped upon, highlighting the shock and questioning about why.  She is, of course, right in the things she observes, including the rude awakening that can cause one to examine him/herself and one’s contribution to the problems of the failed marriage.  I remember my attorney and I discussing the fact that, generally speaking, the one who is filed upon faces a staggering learning curve to play catch-up with the spouse who has already begun the process of making plans and discovering legal as well as life options regarding divorce.  These things all combine to create such an intense shock that one can literally walk around in fear, desperation and the feelings of being overwhelmed.  It certainly is not the simple and easy process often depicted in movies.
As the author moves forward in her article, she begins to discuss the unhealthy ways the marriage got to the point of divorce, and the lessons that can be learned to avoid repeating the mistakes in the future.  As a pastor who has talked with many troubled couples through the years, the point she makes about avoiding problems and honest self-reflection could be expanded to include the admonishment that all too often couples are unwilling to face problems while they are still small, seeking help only after the problems have become almost unsolvable,  Or, what I have frequently seen as a cause of divorce is that, once a couple decides to work on their problems, the individuals are far too prone to focus on the problems they see in their spouse, and unwilling to do the hard work it takes to own up to one’s issues in a way that can lead to change and growth.  If you end up remarried, hopefully those words won’t describe you.
What lessons can be learned as one moves forward?  Rhodainpittsburgh makes several suggestions.  I would like to add a caveat to what is written:  what one really learns will be in the area of personal growth toward generally more healthy ways of relating and problem solving.  It is fairly dicey to take mistakes from a past relationship and try to apply correction to a future relationship, as each relationship is unique and each partner unique.  It is inappropriate to respond to a new partner in a way that is actually designed to avoid problems one had with a previous partner.  Those problems may not even apply in the new relationship!  It is more important to be, as the writer suggests, genuine and honest with yourself and your spouse, while open to growth and learning.  The example of silence she mentions in some cases may, indeed, be the stuffing of issues and attitudes, but others sort out their issues by means of silent reflection prior to speaking, while others still simply are quiet people who are more introverted and communicate more in nonverbal ways.  Again, the point is each person is unique and must be treated as such.
Further in the article, the writer speaks of reentering the world alone, without the partner you once had at your side.  Of course, she is right.  And that reentry can feel extremely uncertain and lonely.  On the other hand, it is also an incredible opportunity for a restart, the chance to choose a fresh way to live, to create a new kind of home environment, or even to be able to develop and express personality traits that had previously been left aside or long forgotten.  It is a wonderful opportunity to sit before God to simply ask, “What would you desire to do in my life and through my life from this point forward?”  Granted there may be some limitations, but there are also possibilities that did not exist in the previous troubled relationship.  I would encourage folks to never minimize the opportunity that the tragedy of divorce has created, though created in a terrible and very difficult way.
As she goes on to discuss loneliness and the opportunity to find yourself afresh, I would suggest that her point of rediscovering yourself is only part of the process, because you can also begin asking yourself, “But who do I want to become?  What do I want my life to reflect?  And, most important of all, what am I willing to do to get there?”  The loneliness, though absolutely overwhelming and often extremely depressing, does provide the solitude time to ask oneself questions such as these, without the constraints of answers imposed by a spouse with a different life agenda.
Rhoda warns one should not get lost in the loneliness and grief, seeking a balance instead.  In

fact, I would add an additional twist.  Not only the loneliness and grief, but don’t let even the divorce itself consume your life.  You are not merely a person divorced or divorcing.  You still are a unique individual, capable of making various contributions in the lives of those around you as a worker, a parent, a sibling or a friend.  Don’t allow divorce to somehow become your self-definition.  It is only one facet of the person you are. 
Yes, the process of divorce and life afterwards are complicated, messy and uncertain.  And no two are exactly alike...some couples manage to find ways to work it out well while others wage all out war for generations.  As a result, it is always hard to predict, or for specific advice to always apply.  But here are a few thoughts, partly suggested by Rhoda.  It is important to seek support and strength, but for that to be done in healthy ways and not in addictive or dependent relationships that can become very inappropriate and eventually more hurtful than the divorce.  And while there are common threads among those experiencing failing marriages and divorce, the truth is, most everything I said above cannot be generalized to fit everybody.  What is helpful for one person may be counterproductive for another.  What can bring healing to one might cause unnecessary hurt for another.  Just as couples in marriage must work out the particulars of relationship skills and tasks that work for them, so in divorce each individual has to find the direction that can lead them, over time, to wholeness and hope.  Personally, I do believe it is always best to process these things with God as your guide, hence the title of my book, Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce. But as Rhoda has so aptly demonstrated in her article, and as I seek to provide in my book and writings as well, sometimes it is simply helpful to make the journey through, as a shared journey with somebody who has gone through divorce previously who is willing to open their world, struggle and perspective enough to provide some tips along the way.  Maybe these articles can begin the process for some of you reading these pages.  At least, I hope so.

TL:dr  An insightful article about the struggles of divorce receives comment and input from Richard.

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