Divorce Is Not the End
Allow me to contradict myself right away… divorce is the end, at least of some things. Most notably, a marriage. Whatever you might think of your former spouse, that’s an ending, a loss, and after a great loss it’s easy to focus on that loss, to indulge in a bit of self-pity. What better time for it, really?
It’s tempting, it’s even easy to justify, but with this attitude you’ll always find more reasons to be miserable. When you start to focus elsewhere, on the blessings you’ve maintained and that can’t be taken away from you, that’s when healing can truly start. So, here’s my list of things that don’t end just because you’ve experienced a divorce:
1. It’s not the end of your chances for a good marriage.
We hear the statistics all the time. I won’t quote them to you, but I’ll gladly tell you the thoughts that were running through my mind as the reality of my own divorce settled in. I thought about people I knew, people close to me, who experienced one nasty divorce after another. That scared me.
At the time I couldn’t imagine a worse fate, and it’s that kind of thinking that can rush you into another relationship as you try to answer that fear. It’s also that kind of fear that can sap your desire to start dating again at all. A divorce sometimes feels like a brand, one that will hamper your chances for attracting a mate and then hamper your chances for keeping her/him.
You can’t let that fear control you though. Try to forget all the ways your marriage went wrong, and remember the reasons you wanted to get married in the first place. I promise you, it wasn’t and never will be wrong to try and start a family; marriage is a good and noble goal, a laudable one. If we could pick which efforts in our lives ended up succeeding and which ones ended up failing, I doubt any of us would choose our marriage or our parenthood for the chopping block.
If you have to fail at something, though, I suspect I’d rather be part of a failed marriage than part of a failed Ponzi scheme. It isn’t the failure that makes a thing wrong, so don’t regret having tried to do something good just because it blew up in your face. Don’t let failures define you and your future efforts. You have just as good a chance at a successful marriage as anyone if you learn from past mistakes, let go of past failures, and understand the difference between the two.
2. It’s not the end of family.
However your divorce turned out, you ended up losing some family. You’ll miss them, and you might wonder if it would have been better never to have had them in your life.
Still, you had a family before that one, and that hasn’t changed. Just because one love that was supposed to last forever didn’t, doesn’t mean that the love of your parents, the love of your siblings, the love of your friends, your co-workers, and everyone else who cares about you is going anywhere. When one relationship shatters, it can actually strengthen the relationships you have with your family and friends, if you let it.
I once thought a lot about the possibility that my divorce would give friends and family close to me an excuse to start thinking about divorce as an option for their own marriages. That’s a dangerous way of thinking, not only because it’s simply a shame-motivated excuse to avoid loved ones, but also because it’s kind of self-centered.
Statistically, yes, one couple getting a divorce increases the chances of divorce for other couples in their social group, but your friends and family aren’t the statistical average (if they are, I apologize). Their marriages will rise or fall on their own merits; if they choose to use your divorce as a catalyst for their own, there were bigger issues there to begin with. Honestly, you’ll strengthen your friends and family more by letting them be there for you than you would by insisting on privacy while you bathe in the cesspool of your own misery.
3. It’s not the end of dreams.
Divorce is the ultimate wrench in your efforts to plan for your future. Before, all your dreams were shared. Now, all of a sudden they’re not. It’s like they all have big, gaping holes in them. This might be an excuse to discard a few of them in exchange for newer, better ones. Or, it might be a reason to start really focusing on a goal or dream that you’ve been putting off in deference to your former spouse and his dreams, or her dreams. It might be time to try something you’re afraid of, or something that challenges you on a deep and meaningful level.
Only you can know what that would be. For me, it was to drop out of my online graduate program and start applying to some new programs, ones where I could actually be in a classroom and learn through teaching the subject. That’s my dream, now revitalized and refreshed because suddenly, it’s more possible, more doable. And, in a way, I need it more.
On that note, it’s important to realize that old dreams don’t have to die, even if you have to change them a bit. You don’t have to throw away your entire set of life plans to face this new challenge. If anything, this new challenge might give you the strength and presence of mind you need to take those plans more seriously, to focus on them with more clarity. It’s up to you really, but take your time. Divorce can challenge your very identity, so do some pondering and prayer before you run off and join the circus.
4. It’s not the end of happiness.
This is important, even though it’s kind of obvious until you’re actually there. Divorce challenges your most basic assumptions about who you are and what matters most to you. It really does feel like a rug being swept out from under your feet; someone you relied on for support is suddenly gone, and even if they weren’t much a support to begin with, that hurts.
You can find yourself thinking about things that upbeat regular you might not think about. You might find yourself with less energy than normal, less desire to do things. You might even find yourself lashing out, and then, of course, regretting it. These are normal, and human. They’re understandable responses to a depressing situation.
Divorce is depressing. Just thinking about it is depressing, actually, so it’s important to get busy and get doing things, to fill your life with work and play and friendships and service and any good thing to replace the moping and self-pitying you’d otherwise fill your time with. This won’t make the pain go away, but it’ll fill your life with other feelings that broaden your emotional experience and keep you from focusing overly much on the sad stuff.
Most importantly, be patient with yourself. You need time. Your loved ones will give it to you, God will give it to you, and you need it give it to you too. Time to mourn, to sorrow, to adjust to this great shift in the way your life is lived. You’ll hope again. You’ll smile again, and mean it. In fact, keep forcing those smiles until you do, and keep crying for pain until you don’t have to anymore. Sometimes you just have to let yourself feel, and that is fine. Feel away.
5. It’s not the end of God’s hand in your life.
I don’t expect everyone who reads this blog to be religious. In fact, if you aren’t religious I hope you’ll keep reading anyway, even if this part doesn’t matter to you. It matters to me, and it might matter to many people you know who have to go through a divorce too.
Divorce can challenge your spirituality, your relationship with God. If you’ve ever thanked God for your spouse and your marriage, you can see why this would be the case. We attribute all our blessings to Him, and when something like a divorce happens it’s easy to question why God would withdraw such an important blessing as a marriage, something He generally approves of.
I can’t answer that question for you, any more than Job’s friends could answer his questions for him. If you trust Him though, I can promise you that He’ll help you find answers. It will take time. It might be years from now before you start to understand why a divorce of all things was important in God’s plan for your life, what fruits ultimately came from it.
As Job or Moses or Moroni or Christ Himself could tell you, bad things sometimes happen to good people. I think they’d also tell you, though, that God can make good things come from even the worst things that happen to us. He can even make good things come from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others, if we have the faith to see our trials through and put those mistakes behind us. Learning to forgive, not just a former spouse but a former self, is an important part of life as a disciple of Christ. We have to trust in His power to make up the difference.
If I had to choose just one piece of advice for recent divorcees, I’d say pour yourself out in prayer to God. You need to say it, and He wants to hear it. He wants to help you, and He can do that through the special experiences He gives His children during prayer. Any trial you have to endure will go much more smoothly if you keep praying fervently throughout the experience. Prayer opens channels to God’s power that can comfort the human soul like no other.
In conclusion, I’d just like to say that hope is your ally. Without it the future is dreary, but with it life becomes brighter, more worth living. Some hopes fail, some dreams crumble to dust, but keep that feeling of hope alive. A positive attitude is to the mind what water is to the body. So turn those endings into beginnings, and don’t ever, ever, lose hope. Divorce is not, or at least it shouldn’t be, the end of hope.
Jeremy Higley is a preschool teaching assistant and a writer who lives in Denver. Right now he’s working on a blog, a novel, and a graduate school application.