Shortly after my divorce, a well-intentioned Christian asked to meet with me personally. He had a heavy heart, and was very sympathetic to what my children and I were going through. He quoted a verse in the Bible found in the book of Malachi 2:16 which states that God hates divorce.
His insinuation was that I was disappointing God, and should have done more to save my marriage.
Christians who use this verse to instill guilt upon divorced people are really missing the point. God does hate divorce.
Because God himself knows what it is like to be divorced. In Jeremiah chapter 3, God “divorced” Israel because of her continued unfaithfulness worshiping idols. He was so hurt by that unfaithfulness, as you read the passage it is much like a spouse reeling from the death of dreams and a shared future.
Rather than insinuating the “wrongness” of divorce God was declaring the incredible, excruciating pain that divorce imparts. The God of the universe was crying out that his own people whom he had shown love and patience through centuries continued to give their affections to another, and he was devastated.
His heart breaks when he sees us going through a breakup. Because he knows what that is like. And that’s the reason he hates divorce…He hates the consequences.
In the same chapter, God says, “Oh Israel, my faithless people, come home to me again for I am merciful” (Jeremiah 3:12 NLT). God seems like a heart sick husband who longs for his unfaithful wife to return, and gives her the opportunity to do so.
Why would he do that?
Because nothing keeps God from loving. Nothing.
So God hates the pain caused by divorce. But make no mistake…God loves divorced people.
It is one of the most devastating times of your life. Your marriage is ending, you are getting a divorce. That which you thought would never happen is, indeed, happening. I have been there. I have done that. And I have one piece of advice:
Don’t go through it alone.
Divorce is the catalyst to depression, destructive habits, regrettable decisions, family division, and a whole host of pitfalls. The decisions you make at the beginning and during a divorce can set the stage for the remainder of your life.
When you go through a divorce there are three main issues that need to be addressed: Financial and legal issues, emotional issues, and family issues. A good lawyer and a good accountant can help you with the first set. However, emotional and family isues are beyond their scope. So where do you turn?
Therapists are fantastic at what they do, which is look at unresolved issues from your past. However, divorce is a problem in your present.
A good friend or family member?
While they will undoubtedly be an excellent support for you during this time, they may be ill-equipped to help you navigate the tricky waters of a divorce.
My suggestion (although, at this point it may sound completely self-serving) is to hire a divorce coach. He or she has been there, and worked with many others who have been there. A certified coach is trained and equipped in helping divorced people heal, and give you a strategy to move forward to a better outcome.
As a divorce coach, I help my client’s progress through four distinct steps…
The Initial Shock. When a marriage ends, it is a death. And with a death comes grief. Many describe the first few weeks like being in a fog. Waking up to new reality everyday takes some orientation. You need to take care of immediate needs while going through a very real grief process. Talking with someone who completely understands what you are going through will provide peace and strength.
Getting through the divorce process. The divorce process can be grueling. Hopefully you have great legal help, but a lawyer doesn’t have the time or the inclination to help you process your feelings. A divorce coach can help. Other issues come into play also: plotting a new relationship with my soon-to-be-ex, becoming a single parent, adjusting to new living conditions and finances, coping with major life changes. A divorce coach will take you by the arm and steer you clear of the mine fields.
Moving forward. Divorce is not only and end, it is a beginning. It is important to see it as a new opportunity in your life. A divorce coach can help you clarify your needs and your desires, set new goals, and plan a strategy to see those goals realized; to understand there is life after divorce, and to have someone encouraging you to look out the windshield instead of the rear view mirror. You realize there can be joy in life again.
Embracing a new life and new possibilities. As you heal, you’ll begin to embrace your new life and the new set of challenges it brings. Co-parenting your children. A healthy relationship with your ex-spouse. Dating again! Blended family issues.
The point is, healing cannot be left to chance. It is vital to recover appropriately. There is life after divorce, and your deserve it.
Sound good? Good. Let’s get started.
A trial separation is a step many struggling couples take to determine the future of their marriage. The basic goal of the separation is to give each other time to clarify thoughts and gain perspective, before being forced to share those thoughts and feelings with your spouse. However, trial separations can be one step closer to divorce if the intent is not clearly understood by both spouses.
I advise couples who are considering a trial separation to use a separation agreement. This way, each spouse has transparency in what they are seeking to achieve.
Clarity and understanding will help you both best determine the next steps in your relationship. So, in a spirit of cooperation, sit down with your spouse over coffee or lunch, and talk about these five items:
Clearly Stated Reason for Separation. Both agree that things are not going well and need to improve, and both agree that a trial separation is the next step, but it is helpful to have an agreed upon statement that clearly defines the reason for the separation. This well-worded statement will act as a mission statement for the separation, and give both spouses a sense of peace as to why they are taking this step.
Length of Separation. Most couples feel that at least three months is needed to begin to clear the mind and determine the future of the relationship. But it is important that you both agree on the time before the separation begins. Having conflict over the duration of the separation may undermine its effectiveness altogether, so it is important to come to agreement. Also, set a date and a place to meet at the end of the trial period to discuss the next step, whether is it getting back together or continued separation.
Set Clear Boundaries. How often you will see each other? What is the preferred mode of contact (phone, text, email)? Can we visit each other at our separate residences? If there are children involved, how do we navigate visitations and transferring children to the other parent? Agreeing on these matters will avoid conflict during the separation. I recommend that couples agree to not have sex during the separation, so that each person can stay focused on sorting out their own issues. If you remain intimate, it could cloud your thinking or be a quick fix to feeling lonely. Also, I strongly advise not to date anyone else during separation. Doing so would only add more complications to already existing issues, and make finding solutions to marital problems much more complicated.
Therapy and/or Coaching. In order to accomplish the goals of the separation, therapy or coaching is always a good idea, either as a couple or individually. A good therapist or coach will be able to help you clarify concerns and enact a suitable treatment plan to address those concerns. Also, a good therapist or coach can help you determine if the differences are irreconcilable.
Address Financial Obligations. During the separation, financial obligations need to be maintained. In addition, having two separate residences will probably add to the financial burden. It is important to decide how bills are paid separately or together so one spouse does not incur the brunt of financial obligations.
If the goal of a trial separation is to determine individual and marital issues and how they are to be addressed, a clearly defined separation agreement can help you avoid unforeseen pitfalls and help you achieve your goals. Hopefully, it can be a useful tool to help each spouse understand the challenges of the marriage.
Divorce is a life transition.
All of us have seen the pictures of tornado victims returning to their homes, or what is left of their homes, after the disaster. They grieve, they take inventory. And they begin the process of rebuilding.
Divorce feels like that. What was safe and familiar is now lying in a rubble. You look around and realize life will never be the same. But you know in your heart you must begin to rebuild.
When I coach divorced people, we deal with emotions and healing, yet the end goal is transitioning to a new life. To do this, I use a principle I call moving from WE to ME.
Marriage is a partnership where both parties look out for the needs and interests of the other. Even when the marriage breaks down and ends, we are conditioned to take the other partner’s interest and needs into account. This is a good thing in that it may keep the process from disintegrating into a contentious, legal landmine. However, it becomes a problem when it hinders you from making decisions for your own well-being.
To some, this may sound selfish. But the truth is, in order to heal, we must go through this transition for two reasons: First, you need to build a new relationship with your ex, emotionally detaching from “spouse” and moving to friend or co-parent. If you are still thinking as a couple, it will be difficult to emotionally detach and move on.
Secondly, you must begin to make decisions that will help you transition into the life that awaits you. How can you best parent your child? Will you have enough income to sustain your new life? Are there changes in occupation or environment you need to make? What are you plans for a future relationship or marriage? In order to get to these new chapters in your life, you need to close the previous one.
Of course, you need to be cordial and cooperative to the very best of your ability during the transition of divorce. Nevertheless, you are now a single person, and you are responsible for you. No one else is going to do it for you.
One of the best gifts you can give yourself is to move from WE to ME.
When I coach a married couple, most of the time I am very optimistic about the outcome. Most marriages just need both parties to refocus or reprioritize to see positive results. Usually, it is small adjustments that render big results.
However, there are times when the presenting issues makes me cringe. There are simply some problems that wreak havoc on a marriage…so much so that the marriage is on life support.
Here are what I call four marriage killers. I am not saying that a committed couple cannot overcome these four challenges, but in my experience when one of these four challenges happen the marriage has taken a huge hit.
KILLER #1 ADULTERY
A marriage is built upon the values intimacy, honesty, communication and trust. Adultery destroys each of these values in one fell swoop. Maybe that’s why Jesus made adultery a qualifier for divorce in Matthew 19.
Marriages can overcome adultery, however, it takes much work. In addition to complete severance of the adulterous relationship, full disclosure and honesty is a must. Months, even years of trust and intimacy building are required. Many marriages simply do not survive it.
KILLER #2 ADDICTION
Addiction is another killer of marriages because it too destroys the values mentioned above. Addiction is a disease that consumes a person, and there is little left over for anyone or anything else. Many spouses hold on in the hopes that the person they love will change. However, there is a fine line between loving and enabling a person, and that fine line can be blurred.
With proper treatment, prayer and grace, addictions can be overcome. But left unchecked, it will definitely take its toll on a marriage.
KILLER #3 ABUSE
Abusive relationships are wrong, period.
Marriage needs to be a safe place to land. Safety and security in knowing that you are truly known. Adam and Eve displayed that kind of vulnerability with each other when they were “naked and not ashamed.” The goal of marriage is to love and be loved, accepting each other for who you are.
Abusive relationships are one sided. One spouse is coddled, or pleased, while the other spouse is subservient. This environment kills vulnerability. The abused spouse may live in fear, or in denial, but neither provides an atmosphere of growth and respect.
If you are in an abusive marriage, please seek help. Now.
KILLER #4 ABANDONMENT
By abandonment, I mean a spouse who is emotionally detached. You might be thinking, should this even be on a list of “marriage killers?” I would contend that although this killer is subtle, it is just as deadly.
Emotional detachment happens when we stop caring about the condition of our marriage. We don’t seek answers, confront, or challenge our spouses or ourselves to solve issues. Things fester and develop into resentment. And pretty soon we find that we no longer care.
Many who go through divorce realize their spouse has been emotionally detached for months, maybe even years. To the detached spouse, divorce makes sense because they haven’t been “in love” for quite some time, while the other spouse is blindsided. Marital neglect has taken its toll.
Let me end on a note of hope. The Bible says that nothing is impossible with God. I believe that. When a couple meets their biggest challenges with forgiveness, honesty, hard work, and commitment, that which is severely broken can be restored. They real question is are both spouses willing?
Research shows that divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can experience. Check out this recent article by Reuters:
I ran a divorce recovery group for our church for two years. We had a wonderful group of people who helped each other heal through their difficulties. I remember one woman who came for just one session, and did not return. Her name was Alice. When the group members began to share, Alice was quick to speak up and desired to talk about her ex-spouse. She wanted everyone to know what a horrible person he was, how he had left her, and married another woman. He did not meet her needs during their marriage, yet she had stayed faithful to him, however, he did not return the favor. She was enraged at him, and struggled with that rage every day. After she spoke, I asked her how recent her divorce was. The answer was fifteen years.
Every time I think of Alice, I feel for her pain. I am also saddened that she has carried the bitterness towards her husband for so many years.
Hebrews 12:15 says “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
As this verse explains, bitterness can become a deep root in our hearts and souls. The soil for this root is unprocessed hurt and pain. Bitter people never let it go, they become identified through the pain. Every aspect of life is seen through the filter of what has happened to them as they victimize themselves (“How is your day going?” “Well, it would be great, if my husband hadn’t left me fifteen years ago for a younger woman!”)
The fruit of the root is poison. Bitterness poison’s every aspect of our lives. We cannot feel joy, we cannot have peace, we cannot fathom happiness. And that poison “corrupts many.” Family members and friends taste our bitterness, because we wear it like a badge of honor.
How do we get rid of bitterness? By letting go. Releasing the pain and releasing the offender.
We have a choice to make, focus on the incident or focus on the rest of our lives.
The only way to get rid of bitterness is to kill it with forgiveness. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32) The bitter root poisons us, not the offender. Letting bitterness remain is like drinking poison so we can spit on another person.
The person who hurt you may not deserve forgiveness, however, forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. When we release the offense, we can finally have peace.
As you take an assessment of your life, is there anything you regret? Mistakes from the past, misguided financial decisions, career choices, risks taken or not taken; there are a many experiences in life that can leave us with a feeling of profound regret. However, problems develop when we let regrets from the past hinder our present or future.
What are the feelings associated with regret? Guilt, shame, embarrassment, grief, anger, hurt? These predominant emotions can be disabling as we continue on life’s journey.
Everyone has regrets. The primary difference is there are those who let regrets hold them back and those who keep regret in proper perspective. Regrets are inevitable, but they are also forgivable. Looking back at the past is not a productive way to face the future. That’s why windshields are much bigger than rear-view mirrors.
The Apostle Paul once said, “I forget what is behind, and I run towards what is ahead so that I may win the prize.” That’s great advice!
He uses the word “forget,” not as a form of denial of the past, rather, an embracing of the past. Only when we embrace it can we let it go. Our pasts mistakes and decisions have worked to mold us into who we are today. Learning from our past is a sure way to a better future.
We also need to evaluate the present. What is our current trajectory? Do we need to look at where we are right now and make some hard choices? Every minute is a new opportunity to better ourselves. The late Joan Rivers once said, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a blessing from God–that is why it is called ‘the present'”.
Finally, we need to press onward. One of the reasons we roll out of bed in the morning is a purpose for the day, and excitement about what lay ahead.
Do you have a vision for the future? What is holding you back from that desired future? Maybe it’s the regret of the past, or a lack of direction. Both can be overcome by an inspirational vision.
That vision can begin to develop today. With goal setting and proper planning, you will look back at this day with delight.
Making positive changes in your life is not always easy. Studies show that of those who make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% are successful in achieving their resolution.
Did you know that making positive changes in your life is a process? Change includes five stages, and it is possible to get stuck in the process. The end result is you are stuck and frustrated that once again your goals and desires evade you.
Five Stages of Change
The Five Stages of Change is a Motivational Interviewing technique used in Person Centered Therapy developed by William Miller and Stephan Rollnick in the early 1980’s. As you examine these five stages, think of a positive change you wish to make, and ask yourself these two questions: Where am I in the process? What is keeping me from moving to the next stage?
Let’s use the example of Josh, a middle aged man who has put on twenty pounds over the last ten years.
Pre-Contemplative: At this stage in the process there is very little in the way of awareness that any change must be made. For instance, friends and family may be making observations and comments that Josh has put on some weight, but he doesn’t see it. Josh continues his current eating habits and lack of exercise, and is unaware of the change that needs to be made. He has no intention of making a change.
Contemplative: One day Josh looks in the mirror and notices that his face is fuller and so is his belly. He recalls some of the comments friends and family are making, and begins to entertain the idea that they may be correct. He is aware a change needs to be made, but has not yet committed to bringing about action to make the change.
Preparation: Josh determines to do something about his weight gain, although he is not sure what steps to take yet. He hires Seth, a life coach, and they begin to talk about Josh’s current situation and his desired future. They both begin to research eating habits to lose weight and exercising to get fit, and also examining Josh’s weekly schedule. Now, the makings of a plan start to form. At Seth’s request, Josh stops by a gym that happens to be on his route home from work, to inquire about membership. Now, he is intentional on following a plan and making a change. Josh begins to take some small steps towards putting an action plan in place, and sets up weekly meetings with Seth to be accountable to the plan.
Action: At this point, Josh is making it happen. He has a plan and is following it. Working with Seth, he has set a target weight, a date to achieve it, and every day is taking positive steps to modify his behavior to achieve those goals. He watches his calories, and exercises at the gym three days a week. Once a week, he has a session with Seth to evaluate the plan and report on progress. He is beginning to see results and feels great about it.
Maintenance: Josh has achieved his goals of weight loss and feels better than he has in quite some time, however, he realizes that his efforts cannot stop here. He and Seth have developed a plan to maintain his current weight and have discussed the triggers leading to relapsing into old habits. They have worked out a maintenance plan that fits his goals and lifestyle, and they meet once a month for encouragement and accountability.
So, change requires a plan that moves you through the stages so you can achieve results! Perhaps the reason positive change has been difficult is that you do not developed a plan and get stuck somewhere in the process. As you can see, a life coach is great support to come along side through the stages and hold you accountable to your plans.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult subjects in Jesus’ teaching arsenal, yet the concept is so very important for us to wrap our heads around. It is virtually impossible to heal without forgiving.
Forgiveness is both a decision and a process. You make the decision to forgive, yet you continue to deal with feelings.
When we are wronged, there are two paths we can take: one leads to healing and the other leads to bitterness. Bitterness occurs when we chose not to forgive, we stay in the pain. A bitter person allows their pain to spill over into every other aspect of their lives. The good news is we have a choice: stay bitter or get better.
The difference between bitterness and healing? The hard work of forgiveness.
There are many misconceptions about forgiveness. Dr. David Stoop in his book, “Forgiving the Unforgiveable” lists four myths about forgiveness.
MYTH #1 Forgiveness is supposed to be quick.
Sometimes we think that forgiving quickly is a sign of maturity. We remember when Pope John Paul forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him while he was still recovering in the hospital? While those instantaneous acts of forgiveness are inspiring, we need to remember that forgiveness is a process that takes some time.
Forgiveness is cancelling the debt that is owed. First, you make the decision to forgive, but dealing with the feelings of hurt, pain or betrayal is a process. And dealing with the pain takes time, which may include ample time to grieve. Working through that process doesn’t happen overnight.
Forgiving minor offenses is easy. Someone accidently bumps you in the hallway and says they are sorry. But what if your spouse has an affair, and asks for forgiveness? That process takes time.
MYTH #2 Forgiveness condones the offense.
Sometimes we think we cannot forgive because that person will be “getting away with it.” Not true. We can still be direct about the pain that has been caused without doing revengeful acts to retaliate.
There are consequences to actions that forgiveness does not dismiss. God forgives us, yet we still deal with the consequences our sin brings. When God forgives, he does not turn evil into good, rather He redeems the evil for our good. He doesn’t rescue us from the consequences, He is our companion to deal with the consequences.
The same concept is echoed by Paul in Romans 6:1 “Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more of His wonderful grace? Of course not!” (NLT) Forgiveness is not issuing a free pass to do whatever we want without consequence. Rather, it is taking the important steps to bring about the healing necessary to move on from consequence.
MYTH #3 Forgiving is forgetting.
Saying we must forget after we forgive is a falsehood. We need to remember. We learn from remembering. There is always something we can learn from our pain. As a matter of fact, the most effective growth comes from the most painful circumstances. I have heard many who go through extremely difficult circumstances say, “I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, but I am so thankful for what God showed me through it.”
God told us that He not only forgives but He forgets. That is one of the most assuring qualities of God’s grace. However, we need to understand that giving up our right to retaliate doesn’t mean we forgo our right to learn from the experience.
MYTH #4 We can’t forgive unless we reconcile.
Hopefully, forgiveness leads to reconciliation, and both parties have a relationship that is restored. However, forgiveness is not dependent upon reconciliation; they are two separate processes. Reconciliation may not be possible, you need to forgive anyway.
Reconciliation involves both parties, the offended and the offender. Forgiveness is something I do independently. A divorced person needs to go through the process of forgiveness even though reconciliation with their former spouse is no longer possible. Forgiveness is necessary to move on. Reconciliation is desirable, but not always possible.
Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. It allows you to move past the offense and get on with life. It is releasing the anchor that holds you back. It is choosing to be better.