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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Don't Believe It, Persevere. Don't Give Up.


When a spouse initiates divorce proceedings, the number of things that change are stunning.  Housing, banking, holiday planning, scheduling, friendships…it’s like a major seismic shift.  

One of the arenas of life impacted is often church life. 

In some cases, I have known individuals who find they are no longer welcome at their church.  Others find that worship at church suddenly feels very awkward, especially if both spouses are still attending the same church.  And the awkwardness appears in the strangest ways.  The place you have always sat together as a couple now suddenly now feels out of place, like you no longer fit there.  Worship had always been a shared experience, but now, walking in the door alone, sitting alone, attending small group alone…it can be a very challenging experience.  

I once even had an individual who had been divorced for a year or two share with me just how much they hated Christmas Eve services…because of all the services at the church, that one felt the most family oriented to this individual now sitting all alone.  All of this is one of the unexpected and unintended consequences of divorce.  There are parallel experiences for those who lose a spouse or other family member through death.  The empty space beside you can be paralyzing at times.  

What is the solution?  Sadly, for far too many divorcing/divorced people, the solution is to stop attending worship altogether.  Especially if they are still attending worship in the same sanctuary in which they were married.  Memories can be overwhelming.  This, too, can be the experience of someone who lost a spouse and then is faced with memories of the funeral and an open casket in the same space.  Simply too painful, too overwhelming sometimes, and it can drive a person away.

Sometimes simple shifts can make a huge difference. If attending worship is really bothering you, consider some alternative ideas.  If your church has multiple services, try some of the different service times.  Most worship attendees tend to sit in the same place week after week.  Simply moving to a different location on the other side of the sanctuary can make a big difference.  In most churches, if you pay attention, there are almost always individuals who are sitting by themselves.  Some of them would be appreciative of the companionship, if you are willing to sit with someone new.  

Perhaps your difficulty is when you attend the small group or Sunday School class you have always been part of, and now feel like you no longer fit in.  You may feel that way because the class is filled with couples, or it may simply be that the group has too many individuals who knew you as a couple, and it is hard to discern how some of them feel about you now.  You may end up considering a different small group, but at the cost of losing the close support network you have enjoyed in that group. On the other hand, it can give you a fresh start, a fresh identity, relationships and support that are all your own.

Some individuals find that none of these ideas are helpful, that any contact at their church just feels too awkward, too depressing.  For those individuals, I would encourage you to consider visiting some other churches in your area…you may find a new niche of your own.  That search may take time, but don’t give up.  In fact, that is the main concept I want to impress upon you: don’t give up.  Don’t abandon your church attendance.  It is an important priority, and if you start skipping now and then because it feels awkward, now and then becomes often, and eventually it becomes harder to attend, as you fall of the grid.  The healthy habit of regular church attendance can quickly become the habit of NOT attending…and that is not a healthy habit to have if you are supposed to be a follower of Christ.  

It may take a while for you to find that new niche. It may even take years.  Friends may not understand the trauma you feel whenever you attend worship.  It is easy to get discouraged.  It is easy to think you will never fit in anywhere again.

But don’t believe it.  Persevere.  Don’t give up.  

When those feelings start to overwhelm you, visit with the pastor to share your struggle. Odds are there is someone else in the congregation who has gone through a similar experience, and that person could be a good resource to help you through.  With patience, you will one day find that new niche where you once again experience God’s presence in worship.  But only if you don’t give up.  And if you don’t give up, I promise that one day, you will be glad that you didn’t.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Assumptions about Cohabitation

Have you heard the old story of individuals who work to put their spouse through medical school, law school or to help them get that chance at a career, only to find that once the goal has been achieved, they are dragged to divorce court while their spouse moves on with their lives with someone else?  I know people who have had that happen, don’t you?  

Well, imagine that same scenario, only this time, they did not get married, but only “cohabitated” (as the term goes).  The same breakup, the same broken hearts, the same person being taken advantage of and left high and dry.  But what is NOT the same, is that there is no legal recourse. 

There is no court to insist that the spouse deserves some financial support to compensate for all the years of sacrifice and commitment that were made.  There is no opportunity to make a case as to who should keep the house or the furniture.  If one person decides to try to hide away all the money, or unfairly take advantage of the situation, there is no recourse to make address any such wrongs that have been suffered, no judge to make sure that each person is treated equitably, because there is little or no legal standing to help. 

Beyond that, when a couple living together split up, it is unlikely that they will receive the kind of compassion, support and encouragement that sometimes comes to those whose marriage fails, because it appears to people to be not much different than a simple dating breakup.  But for those who have entangled their lives with another, the emotional baggage can be as devastating as a divorce.

Many people today ASSUME living together before marriage is the best way to go.  In fact, many consider it the norm today.  They often believe it will give them better success if they do get married, as it gives them a chance to test it out, so to speak.  But, as I regularly share during pre-marital counseling sessions with individuals who are living together, the facts are just the opposite:  those who live together first actually INCREASE the likelihood of a divorce, and more!  

Let me give you some sources and let you look for yourself.  Below I offer three webpages, easily found in any search, that explain what is real and what is not in terms of marriage, living together first, and divorce.  

I think it will surprise you.  

You can jump to the pages by clicking on the picture above the statements from the website.  I especially want to emphasize these truths to folks who have been divorced already, because very often, since they are already divorced, they can come up with a mindset that it really doesn’t matter, since they have been divorced before, or because of the divorce they are even more hesitant to commit.  I especially urge those of you who are in that situation to consider the information below very carefully.

First Things First

 First Things First:

This website lists the following, and explains that these are untrue beliefs:

Living together is an easy way to “try out” a relationship before committing to marriage.
Living together will give us a stronger marriage.
Sharing finances and expenses will make things easier on our relationship.
Your sex life goes downhill when you get married.
Marriage is just a piece of paper. 
It’s only temporary.  (60 percent don’t get married…39  break up and 21 just never commit.)

Love to Know

Love to Know
“A couple who does not live together prior to marriage has a 20 percent chance of being divorced within five years.  If the couple has lived together beforehand, that number jumps to 49 percent.  If a couple chooses to live together as an alternative to being married at all, the likelihood that the relationship will break up within five years is 49 percent. At the 10-year mark, a married couple has a 33 percent chance of breaking up.  For the unmarried couple who is living together, the likelihood of a breakup is a whopping 62 percent.”

The Spruce

“Living together is considered to be more stressful than being married.”
“In the United States and in the UK, couples who live together are at a greater risk for divorce than non-cohabiting couples.”  
“Cohabiting couples had a separation rate five times that of married couples and a reconciliation rate that was one-third that of married couples.”

The more you read on the topic, the more you realize that many people today are falling for a lie, and it is ruining their lives. Living together, without the honest commitment of a lifetime, in a relationship that still maintains “mine” and “yours” mentalities, or the option of a supposedly easy exit, does NOT accomplish what most believe it will.  In fact, it often undermines the very thing they are hoping for:  chances for a stronger marriage.  If you are considering this option, I advise you to rethink your plans.  And if you know someone else who is considering this option, you may save them a lot of heartache if you tell them the truth that nobody else is saying. God knew what he was doing when he designed marriage as a permanent cleaving together of husband and wife.  None of our supposed improvements are really improvements at all!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Is this true?


I ran across an article on Yahoo the other day that indicates the divorce rate in the U.S. has gone down some 18% from 2008 to 2016, and that “the trend has been driven by younger women, despite divorce rates among older women higher than in the past.”   It goes on to say that the marriage rate has fallen as well. 

Click on picture to access full article 
The Maryland professor who apparently did the study, suggests that marriage is becoming more selective and stable.  The article then quotes a psychologist who is pleased about the trend, since divorce is so painful and difficult, and speculates that the two people still likely to be getting married are those who deeply hold traditional values and those who have taken a lot more time to choose their mate.  

There are some interesting ideas underlying all of this.  For instance, one of the things that is also a trend that living together, which used to be the exception and relatively rare, is now described as “the norm.”  It also implies that, all along, those who hold strongly to the traditional values of marriage, and those who have taken time to think through their selection before getting married, have been the ones who were most likely to avoid divorce. 

Another unspoken issue is that now, as couples choose to live together rather than marry, when they split up (as they often do), their split is not counted in the divorce rate as it used to be when they got married instead.  Somehow, I think if one were to include those breakups, we would find that the rate of split is the same or even higher, since there is already a higher divorce rate among those who live together first than those who do not. (That topic will be addressed in a future blog.)

It also seems to me that the counselor who sees all of this as a good thing, (since divorce is an awful experience), has missed realizing that when a couple living together breaks up, that is ALSO a traumatic event…and perhaps even worse than divorce!  

Among those who work with teenagers, it has long been considered that the breakup of a long-term dating relationship is as traumatic for them as a divorce is for an adult.  If that is the case after merely dating, how would it not also be the case after a couple living together split?  In fact, I would suspect that it might be even worse in many ways….which I may also address in the future blog.

So while I agree that a falling divorce race is a good thing, especially if it means that people have developed such a high attitude toward marriage that they take time to think it through thoroughly before committing. But if that falling rate is attributable to the fact that the marriage rate is also declining, with people choosing to be refuse to really commit, and choosing to ignore the emotional and moral issues involved in choosing to opt out of making the choice of a marriage, I am not particularly impressed.  In other words, I think there is much more going on than meets the eye, and the pain and brokenness that comes with the dissolution of deep and meaningful relationship remains significant, whether the couple dared to take the risk of committing in marriage or to stop short of that.  Broken relationships hurt, and I suspect there are still a lot more of them than this study is suggesting.

Monday, October 1, 2018

It's a Messy World


With all the talk and arguments here in the U.S. over the border with Mexico and what should be permitted and what should not, it occurs to me there are other boundaries that exist in divorce where the lines of demarcation are not always so clear, and sometimes that can create real difficulties.

In Hollywood, the modus operandi is to show couples post-divorce talking together about the children, covering child care for one another in a pinch, and being happy for the other person when they “find someone.”  

Oh, not always is it depicted this way.  

Often one partner is shown to still be struggling while the other moves on.  But it is always so clean cut.  In real life Hollywood, however, we hear quite a different story, for the news is filled with high profile divorces battling it out over mansions, access to children, and whether or not a spouse can survive on a mere $1 million a month!  It isn’t nearly as pretty as the fictional depictions.

Although the fictional depictions are just that, certainly they contain some good things to aspire to post-divorce.  Things like moving on with life, or wishing the best for the other, or becoming friends who can work together for the children.  All of these are good and noble things, and things to aspire to or work toward, but they aren’t the practice quite so often. 

More often than not, one partner has moved on in such a way that he or she really does not want to continue to be entangled in the concerns and life of the other partner.  That distancing may come from a sense of guilt, as the partner who left the marriage may wrestle with a conscience that reminds him/her that the desperate situation the ex is in stems from the divorce, and wouldn’t be that way if only he/she had stayed to work things out.  Sometimes the distancing can come from trying to get disentangled from an overly-needy spouse from a highly dysfunctional relationship…in an effort to regain some sense of self and sanity.  Regardless of the reasons, or the situation, once a divorce is finalized, there seem to be endless questions about healthy boundaries (especially if there are children) that simply have to be sorted out.  

For instance, is it appropriate for an ex to have a key and walk unannounced into their former home to plop down on the couch and ask, “what’s up?” 

It happens, believe it or not.  

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some who seek to inflict pain on their ex, by finding trivial things for which to call the police in on them, or by making their financial world more difficult than it need be as they refuse to make court ordered payments.  

Sometimes, an individual may seek a divorce and long for independence…until something around the house needs to be dealt with that used to be the job of the ex…balance the checkbook or fixing the garbage disposal for example. That individual may call the ex, and ask if they would be willing to come take care of the problem for them.  

Is going to help out a sign of a good friendly relationship that sets a good example for the kids?  

Or is it getting sucked back into the dysfunction? 

Is refusing to help being mean?  

Or is it setting appropriate boundaries?  

Or is it allowing the individual to experience the consequences of the choices made when he/she sought a divorce? 

Actually, it could be all of the above.

In some ways, these seem like such stupid questions.  But they are questions that can make a lot of difference in whether the parties are able to accept the realities of the divorce, to move on in life and to heal.  I have known of individuals who have been willing to help out with problems in the old house because they felt that it was impacting the well being of their children. I have known others who were willing to help out, because they hoped that the call was a sign that their ex was finally realizing that they needed their spouse and the divorce was a mistake. 

It can be so messy!  Messy, because there are not hard and fast rules to follow, no clear steps that fit every situation.  Each person in each relationship has to sort out what works best for their situation.  All too often, however, they make those choices out of hurt, anger, revenge or even fear.  It could sound like this:

“If I don’t help her and it turns into a mess, it serves her right…she wanted the divorce in the first place!”

“I know I can’t do this by myself, but there’s no way I’m ever letting HIM step his foot into this house ever again!”

“If I help him this time, it will give me a chance to see what’s really going on in that house, and then I will have more evidence to use in my court battle for custody!”

“I’m not going over there, I know exactly what’s wrong with that disposal, I had the same problem for years, and it only takes resetting that little button on the bottom.  But I’m not going to tell HER that!  Let her suffer!”

“If I don’t respond to the request this time, how will he react? Will he blow his top and make things worse?  Will he try to break into my house some night to trash it or worse?  Having never stood up to him before, do I really dare to do so now that I’m on my own and in such a precarious situation?”

The process of establishing new boundaries, a new home, the start of a new direction of life, is a very challenging one in the best of circumstances.  Depending on the emotional state of yourself and your ex, that process can be a healthy and useful experience, or it can be one filled with confusion, anger, frustration and pain.  You have to determine based on your own situation what will work for where you are in that process.  For those of you struggling with these questions, I would offer a few suggestions.

1)     Respect.  Do your best to maintain a sense of respect for your ex’s right to make their   own choices and for the boundaries they establish on their side of the relationship. Without respect, nothing else is going to get very far.

2)   False impressions.  Be very careful that as you set boundaries, or allow those boundaries to be crossed, that you are not sending false signals (ie, the example above of the individual hoping the need means the ex realizes they made a mistake).  State clearly your expectations and what your intentions are.

3)   Avoid entangling behaviors. Assess each boundary question with an eye to whether the choice you are making is leading to a dysfunctional enmeshing that is counterproductive to your own stability and health.  Divorce sets you on a path of your own.  Bouncing back and forth between that new path and the old only creates confusion and instability.  If the disposal needs fixed, call the plumber, or develop friendships with others who may be able to provide assistance when you need it.

4)   Avoid making decisions based on anger, hostility and revenge.  Feeding anger’s appetite only creates a bigger anger, and starts another cycle of battle.  Step away and gain control before making decisions that you may regret in days to come.

5)   Aim for civility.  Choose to do your best to take the high ground in any decision.  That may or may not mean you go help balance the checkbook, but it may impact how you say, “no” and the alternative suggestions you might make.  

6)   Lastly, develop some transparency with a wise friend who has some degree of impartiality, or even better, with a qualified counselor who can help you sort out the best boundaries for your situation.  

It’s a messy world, creating the next chapter after a divorce. You may not always get it right, but you can at least be heading in the right direction.