MANAGING LIFE AFTER DIVORCE
When divorce comes, we lose not only a mate, but...hundreds of other dreams once shared.
-Sue Richards & Stanley Hagemeyer
A toe-headed six-year-old sifts through an old chest in the attic. Amidst old letters, hats, yearbooks, and a band uniform, she unearths the treasure she's been searching for - a pair of ruffled sheer Pricilla curtains dating back to the 1940's. Her grandma had passed them down to her mother to adorn the windows of her newlywed apartment. Now they lie buried among other castoffs of a past era.
The tiny girl quickly pulls the long curtains out of the tangled mess, slams the lid, and runs down the steps where a neighbor boy is waiting to play.
"I found it!" Excitement mounts in her voice. She wraps the curtain around her head and shoulders while the remainder cascades behind. Grabbing a bunch of garden flowers from her mother's vase on the hall table, she singles out a rose and stuffs it in her friend's shirt pocket.
"There," she says, giving her friend a pat on the chest and stepping back to admire her prince. "Now we're ready to get married."
"Wait a minute," the groom says. "We need a preacher! We can't get married without a preacher."
The girl looks around. Spotting the dog sleeping on a mat by the front door, she says, "Corky can be our preacher!" Right, Cork? Yeah, sure you can!" She takes her friend by the arm and they begin a long slow walk down the hallway.
Corky, coached by his little friends, leads the couple in an exchange of vows and the marriage ceremony is complete.
The boy runs to the kitchen, grabs an apron, and thrusts it at the little girl. "Time for lunch, dear. Fix me a hamburger, fries, shake, and for dessert--chocolate cake!" the boy orders. "Oh, and by the way, this place is a mess! Maybe you could vacuum a little." He walks to an easy chair in the living room, plunks down, and props his feet on the table.
Miffed, the girl turns and heads for the kitchen, not to cook, but to get her purse. She grabs her hat, dons over-sized heels and clops to the front door. Peering over his comic book, the boy asks, "Where are you going? And where's my lunch?"
"I'm going to have my hair done. The food is in the fridge." With that, she slams the front door and trips down the sidewalk.
EXPECTATIONS GONE AMUCK
We each took our turn playing bride and groom as children. What began as a childish game full of hopes and dreams of the happily ever after led to an "I DO" at the marriage altar as adults. Before God and many witnesses, we committed our undying love and fidelity to one another. We believed our marriage would work. Then reality set in.
We enter marriage with all kinds of expectations, some spoken, most unspoken. Divorce or separation occurs when an expectation has been violated. Some expectations are God-given mandates as set forth in Scripture, such as keeping oneself free from adultery or not defrauding one another (1 Cor. 7:5). We have a God-given right to expect fidelity within marriage. Other expectations are personal preferences, such as how many children to have, how to budget the money, or which in-law to visit over the holidays. In a healthy relationship, couples learn to verbalize expectations, discuss desires, and compromise.
DEVELOPING A SUPPORT NETWORK
In order to cope with the trauma of divorce, a support base must be in place. God designed each one of us with a need for relationship. You will turn to someone. If you do not, you will turn inward and begin to shrivel as a person. You may turn to your kids for emotional support, but this will only add more stress on them. They are already dealing with self-blame and are fragile emotionally.
In a majority of cases, extended family who is close geographically can provide an initial buffer and help you weather the storm. Two or three trusted friends can offer a listening ear. However, be careful that the friend is not merely agreeing with you about how terrible your ex-spouse is. Nothing productive can come out of such a conversation. Look for a friend who will not only listen, but will also point you in the right direction for additional help. Most often, a divorcee needs professional guidance to unravel all the tangled issues. A good support system then would incorporate trusted friends, family, a professional ear, and a support group, all working together to help you reestablish your life and set boundaries for yourself.
When the divorce is final, it is important to establish guidelines for a new relationship with your ex-spouse. This step is critical for mental and emotional stability. Since the marital union has been severed, you must not allow your ex to define and direct who you are and what you do. You must be in charge of your own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors. With the help of your counselor, you need to communicate your boundaries to your ex-spouse. One woman was having trouble with her ex repeatedly calling her on the phone and asking her to come to his apartment to discuss remaining financial matters from the marriage. When she would arrive at his place, he would pester her to have marital relations with him. Clearly, she needed to set appropriate boundaries over their relationship. I urged her to reserve communication with her ex for the phone and only about the financial matter.
Setting boundaries does not mean you are selfish or angry. Boundaries are a healthy way of gaining control over our own lives and fulfilling what we were created for--love. Even though the marriage is over, you can learn to love your ex as God loves you. Part of godly love is refusing to take responsibility for your spouse, thus keeping him in an immature state. With healthy boundaries you accept that you cannot change your ex; only God can do that. But you can change yourself with God's help.
Setting appropriate boundaries may be difficult for you if you never learned to communicate effectively in your marriage. That is why it is so important to have professional guidance to walk you through the healing journey. Setting boundaries is also essential to guarding your children's hearts during this rough passage.
GUARDING THE HEARTS OF YOUR CHILDREN
Children are usually the most wounded and most neglected victims of a divorce. They may have heard their parents arguing over them, so they assume they caused the split. Blame is so common in children that it can lead to serious depression and even suicide. Your kids will deal with this loss as they have other losses. If they talked openly about past losses, they probably will talk about this one too.
If they don't confide in you or someone they trust, get outside help. Watch for changes in eating patterns, moods, behavior, friendships, and school performance. Some troubled kids will withdraw from society or exhibit rebellious behavior. Be alert and attentive to your children's emotional needs, even as you work through your own.
Your kids love your ex even though you may not. Don't berate your ex in front of the kids. If at all possible, encourage the kids to stay in contact with the ex-spouse.
Taking the time and energy to walk through the loss divorce creates, developing a support network, setting boundaries, and guarding your children’s hearts can put you on the right track to managing life after divorce.