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COLUMN: Divorce – Let it become a ‘growing experience’

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By John Lapp

Well, with a topic like this, what is this columnist going to write that hopefully encourages those who already have been, or are currently going through, the often painful factors of again being single?
Having been in the practice of mental health and marriage and family issues with thousands of families over the past 45 years, I hope and pray that whatever is presented today will offer some hope, not hype, that there is life after divorce. In fact life can develop in a positive fashion with application of some basics.
Many emotions develop during and after one has gone through divorce. Emotions such as being dazed, blitzed, empty, cheated, dumped, shocked and, of course, differing levels of anger. Most of these marriages began with obvious optimism, hope, happiness and plans for “our” future together. But now it’s “my” future, all by myself. And now I should see this terrible event as a possible growing experience.
Well, let’s start with: It is necessary to admit openly “this is really happening to me,” that this situation you are currently in really exists, it is not a bad dream from which you will wake up and everything will be okay.
Now, you might say, “That’s silly. I know what is happening, I am not in a dream world about this.”
However, I have often heard many of my clients who deny the reality by even withdrawing from friends and normal social contacts, often rejecting potential positive help and open acceptance from family and friends. Often there is a measure of guilt expressed inwardly with “how did I let this happen to me since I never thought that this could ever happen?”
This happens at the beginning stage of divorce because what was once, in your mind, a relationship that was going to happen for a lifetime has unfortunatly now ended.
By the way, to interject a sad note at this time, too many churches where this couple has been an active and viable part of what is commonly called a “couples class” (only for married couples) now is no longer a place for the once married person to continue in fellowship with others who are still married. Often, the divorced person does not feel comfortable in that group of people although more often than not many friends in the class extend a warm and friendly invitation to stay. But the divorced person no longer senses total acceptance in the group. And, to add to that, when the divorce is finalized, she may be seen by some of the other members to now be a “threat” to the stability of some of the other couples’ marriages who may currently be struggling to hold onto their own marriage partner.
After the phase of the initial shock, and the subsequent feeling of being dumped, there is the period of “acceptance,” which may be shorter or longer than anticipated, depending on many factors, not the least of which is the support system of family and/or friends.
This can also be accompanied by a time of painful mourning similar in content to the same factors when one has experience the physical death of a family member or friend. Mourning for some may be more extensive than it is for others, also allowed for and even encouraged by caring family and/or friends. One of the worse factors associated with divorce is when the mourning seems to never stop, even years after the divorce has been finalized.
When people go through divorce, what they do not need is a “slap-on-the-back” kind of person who may mean well, but tries too hard to help the person get past the pain, by pushing that person to get over it, when maybe she hasn’t even completely gone through it yet. Compassion requires a measure of empathy, a sort-of vicarious sense of “I’m with you, my friend, I care for you ... really care.” That is a pure form of comfort, especially when also not accompanied by “I know how you feel,” even if the one stating that has also experienced a personal divorce, but, in fact, maybe has never experienced the emotional pain of the other person.
The period of adjustment one goes through during a divorce has been explained by some as similar to how long it takes to assemble the pieces of a large puzzle. Don’t try to put the pieces together too quickly because that will probably be impossible and may even be detrimental in the overall recovery necessary to finally get back into life as it was once lived. Also, some of the pieces may never be found, and all of them may not be necessary in order to completely recover. Now again as a single person, it will take time to develop the new pattern which is a necessity for life to again have some measure of health, a new form of health especially having had the married form disrupted. This may take months, many months, and perhaps in some lives, a year or more.
Finally, a fair warning: don’t believe that the best thing that can happen for you is to establish, as soon as possible, another relationship that hopefully leads to your next marriage.
A multitude of marriages begin too quickly after the divorce, without sufficient time to develop through the healing process. This is often seen as a “rebound marriage” and usually does not work for the hoped-for reasons, including “I just want to be happy again.” You can be happy again, and maybe you will again get married and hopefully it will be a happy marriage, but marriage is not the sole place for you to again find happiness. Hopefully you will be able to again find true happiness, even though you may have gone (sometimes again) through a divorce.
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