Clinical psychologists estimate that 80 percent of those who encounter divorce also experience severe emotional trauma as part of the marital divide. The first couple of years following a divorce, therefore, are an especially important time frame to find healing and support. Unfortunately, it’s a natural tendency for many during this tender transition period immediately to seek out unhealthy romantic relationships that end up compounding the hurt and pain instead of approaching it as a season of recuperation and spiritual strengthening.
Dr. Harold Ivan Smith, a pioneer in the divorce recovery and single adult ministry movement, has experienced divorce himself first-hand and offers some valuable advice about the readjustment period accompanying the end of a marriage. The following is excerpted from Dr. Smith’s book “Singles Ask: Answers to Questions about Relationships and Sexuality” (Augsburg, 1998):
“As a divorced single adult, I know some of the struggles of readjustment. Here are my suggestions for successfully readjusting:
FIND A GOOD COUNSELOR. It’s too easy to play district attorney or martyr — to arrange the facts in such a way as to convince the jury (your peers, your family, your lawyer, work colleagues) of the wrongs and indignities your former spouse inflicted on you. A skilled counselor will help you reflect on the facts and deal with your feelings.
ACCEPT YOUR FAIR SHARE OF THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE DIVORCE. Every divorce has two sides. That’s one of the reasons our judicial process uses the adversarial system. Unfortunately, that same system often goads people into bitter, one-sided views of their marriages and poisons their views on future relationships. Meanwhile, the lawyers laugh all the way to the bank. You may be 5 percent responsible or 55 percent. Whatever it is, own up to it. Your healing and your chances for a healthy recovery and possibly a good subsequent marriage will be enormously increased by fully owning your contributions to the failures of the marriage. But don’t lay claim to more than your fair portion of the blame.
RESIST BEING A MARTYR. It will be tempting to conclude that you have the world’s messiest divorce. You don’t! Someone, somewhere has it worse. If you take on the martyr’s role, you will delay — if not sabotage — your recovery. If you take on the whiner’s role — “Oh, poor me . . .” — you’ll drive away people who could help you as well as someone who could love you.
LOOK FOR A HEALTHY DIVORCE RECOVERY GROUP. In your community find those support groups for people surviving divorce. These groups exist to help people grow through the experience. You will find affirmation for your courage and for your progress. You will find a place to trade readings of the divorce roadmap. You will discover caring people who have “been there/experienced that!” and who will be there to help you grow through this loss experience and thrive because of it.
DON’T FAST FORWARD YOUR GRIEF. Grief is a normal part of the divorce process, especially if you have been blindsided. I’ve seen people shrug off the pain, pour themselves into their work or children, and try to ‘Lone Ranger’ their way through the whirlwind of divorce, humming ‘I did it my way!’ A few made it. Others, unfortunately, didn’t. It’s OK to be angry! Mad! Depressed! Sexually frustrated! But it’s not OK to ignore or camouflage your feelings. Grief can be a great tutor.
DON’T RUSH INTO ANOTHER RELATIONSHIP. Give yourself enough time (years — not weeks or months) to heal and to reconcile with the loss. By waiting, you increase your chances for a healthy remarriage. Avoid looking for love in all the wrong places; a premature marriage is a wrong choice and will only give you the chance to walk into your lawyer’s office and say, ‘I’m back.’
GUARD YOUR HEART. Beware of the one who volunteers: ‘I know just what you need: Me!’
STAND BEFORE THE MIRROR AT LEAST ONCE A DAY AND SAY: ‘Nothing could be more threatening to you than a premature romantic relationship!’ Invest in your future: give yourself time to heal.”
Second marriages end at a higher rate than do first marriages. Third marriages have an even greater failure rate. And one of the primary reasons for failed subsequent marriages is a lack of healing from the initial marriage. Instead of entering new relationships in a healthy and spiritually nourished state, oftentimes those who have experienced divorce carry the hurt and baggage from the failed relationship directly into the new marriage.
So take Dr. Smith’s words to heart. He speaks from a wealth of experience, both professionally and personally. Setting aside ample time to nourish yourself and to heal from the broken relationship will be time well spent!