“I felt as though I had fallen off a cliff. Your life is going along fine, and then all of a sudden, you have nothing.”
—MARK, * divorced for one year.
“My husband had an affair with a woman who was our daughter’s age. When we divorced, I was relieved to escape his bad temper, but I also felt humiliated and worthless.”
—EMMELINE, divorced for 17 years.
Some people get divorced hoping to make their life better, while others want to remain married but cannot make their spouse stay. Yet, almost all who divorce find that life afterward is harder than they expected. In fact, if you have recently divorced, you may find it to be one of the most stressful events you will ever face. It will be useful, therefore, to consider some practical advice from the Bible that may help you to cope successfully with the challenges of divorce.
CHALLENGE 1: NEGATIVE FEELINGS.
Stress related to money problems, parenting, and loneliness can be overwhelming, and the feelings do not always go away quickly. The late psychologist Judith Wallerstein found that years after getting a divorce, some still feel betrayed and abandoned, believing that “life is unfair, disappointing, and lonely.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Grieve over what was lost. You may miss the companion that you still love. Even if your relationship was miserable, you may grieve because you do not have the joy that you had hoped for in marriage. (Proverbs 5:18) Do not be ashamed to set aside “time to weep.”
—Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4.
Avoid isolating yourself. While you need solitude for mourning, prolonged isolation is unwise. (Proverbs 18:1) Use upbuilding speech in conversation with friends, since frequent complaints about your ex-spouse, even when valid, could push others away. If you must make important decisions soon after your divorce, get objective help from someone you trust.
Care for your health. The stress of divorce often brings physical problems, such as high blood pressure or migraines. Eat well, exercise, and get sufficient sleep.
Remove things that rekindle anger toward your ex-spouse or that you do not need, but keep important papers. If items such as wedding photos bring pain, box them up and save them for your children.
Fight negative thinking. Olga, who divorced her husband after he committed adultery, said: “I kept asking myself, ‘What’s she got that I haven’t got?’” As Olga later realized, though, repeating negative thoughts could result in “a stricken spirit.”
Many people find that writing down their thoughts helps them to clarify and control their thinking. If you do this, try to come up with a new, positive thought to replace the negative one you are fighting. (Ephesians 4:23) Consider two examples:
Old: My mate’s unfaithfulness is my fault.
New: My flaws did not give my mate the right to cheat on me.
Old: I wasted my best years with the wrong man.
New: I’ll be happier if I look forward in life, not backward.
Let hurtful comments pass. Well-meaning friends and relatives may say things that are painful or even incorrect in your case: ‘She was no good for you anyway’ or ‘God hates divorce.’ * For good reason, the Bible advises: “Do not give your heart to all the words that people may speak.” (Ecclesiastes 7:21) Martina, divorced for two years, says: “Rather than dwell on words that hurt, I try to see things from God’s viewpoint. His thoughts are higher than ours.”
—Isaiah 55:8, 9.
Pray to God. He encourages his worshippers to ‘throw all their anxiety upon him,’ especially when they are in great distress.
—1 Peter 5:7.
TRY THIS: Write down Bible verses that you find helpful, and leave them in spots where you will see them often. Besides the scriptures already cited, many divorced people have benefited from these verses: Psalm 27:10; 34:18; Isaiah 41:10; and Romans 8:38, 39.
CHALLENGE 2: YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR FORMER SPOUSE.
Juliana, who was married for 11 years, says: “I begged my husband to stay. After he left, though, I was furious with him and the woman he moved in with.” Many who get divorced remain intensely angry with their ex-mate for years. Yet, they are forced to communicate regularly, especially if they have children.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Maintain a civil relationship with your former spouse. Focus on necessary matters and be brief and to the point. Many have found that this approach contributes to peace.
Avoid inflammatory speech. Especially when you feel under attack, the Bible’s wise advice applies: “Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge.” (Proverbs 17:27) If you cannot steer an unproductive conversation back on track, you could say: “I need to think about what you’ve said and talk with you later.”
Separate your concerns from those of your former spouse as much as you can, including legal, financial, and medical records.
TRY THIS: The next time you speak with your former spouse, watch for signs that either of you is becoming defensive or inflexible. If necessary, ask for a time-out or agree to use e-mail to discuss the matter.
CHALLENGE 3: HELPING YOUR CHILDREN TO ADJUST.
Maria recalls what it was like right after her divorce: “My younger daughter cried all the time and started bed-wetting again. And while my older girl tried to hide her feelings, I could see the difference in her too.” Sadly, you may feel that you lack the time or emotional energy to help your children when they need you the most.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Encourage your children to talk to you about their feelings, even if this seems to produce “wild talk.”
—Job 6:2, 3.
Maintain proper roles. While you may long for emotional support and your child might seem willing to provide it, it is unfair and unhealthy to ask a child to help with grown-up problems. (1 Corinthians 13:11) Avoid making your child your confidant or letting him or her act as a mediator or messenger between you and your ex-spouse.
Keep your child’s life well structured. Maintaining the same residence and schedule is helpful, but even more important is keeping a good spiritual routine, including Bible reading and family worship.
TRY THIS: Sometime this week, assure your children that you love them and that they did not cause you and your mate to divorce. Answer their questions without casting blame on the other parent.
You can move forward with your life after divorce. Melissa, who was married for 16 years, says, “When I got divorced, I thought, ‘This is not how I wanted my life to turn out.’” Now, though, she has found contentment despite her circumstances. She says, “Once I gave up trying to change the past, I felt much better.”
^ par. 2 Some names in this article have been changed.
^ par. 18 God hates a deceitful, treacherous divorce. But if one’s mate commits fornication, God grants the innocent one the right to decide whether to seek a divorce. (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 19:9) See the article “The Bible’s Viewpoint
ASK YOURSELF . . .
Have I really allowed myself to grieve over the divorce?
How can I let go of any resentment I still have toward my ex-spouse?