When you still love your spouse in the midst of divorce and can’t bear to let go, you feel crazy, pathetic, and powerless. This page (designed for the left, not the leaver) is all about learning to celebrate the good things about your marriage, to accept the reality that it’s ending, and to move on. It hurts, of course, but you need to do this grieving to deal realistically with your divorce.
This process may seem neat and orderly as you read about it. In reality (as you probably already know if you’re dealing with divorce), you will find it maddeningly erratic. Remember, that’s sort of your job right now, to dart dramatically and unpredictably from one state of grieving to another. It will probably get worse. Then it will get worse. Then it will probably get better.
You can get through this if you take your time. Don’t rush yourself. Take time to linger over each stage, and don’t be too frustrated if you return to an earlier stage after you thought you were ready to move on. There’s no substitute for the help of a caring friend as you move through this process. I encourage you actually to write down your reflections as a way to give them more validity.
Why is it we expect people going through divorce to see only the problems in their marriage? Doesn’t work. You’re a smart person, and there were some really neat things that attracted you to this person you married. Here’s where you can take some time to reflect on them. Celebrate what they meant to you in the past and what they still mean to you today.
- What made you fall in love with him/her?
- What are the things about your spouse that you really admire?
- What does your spouse do (or did your spouse do in the past) that made you feel really good, that made you know you were complete?
- In what ways does your spouse, or did your spouse know you and understand you better than anyone else?
- What do you like (or did you like) about yourself when you were with your spouse?
- What will you miss the most when you and your spouse are no longer together?
First, you need to make sure it’s ending. Is there a realistic chance of saving your marriage? If there is, you don’t need to be on this page. You need to be reading Can I Stop the Divorce? and all about Counseling.
If you’re not going to be able to save your marriage, it’s time to give it up as gracefully and quickly as possible. Here’s what you can do:
Tell your friends
There’s no substitute for telling your friends, your family, and even yourself that you are getting a divorce. Not “we’re having a little trouble now” or “I don’t know if he’s coming back” but “we’re getting a divorce.” Just hearing yourself say the words is part of the grieving process, and you need to do it.
Stop trying to hurt your spouse
Of course you’ve wanted to hurt your spouse. Your spouse has hurt you more deeply than you ever thought possible, and you’ve wanted to fight back. It won’t help. Give it up. As long as you’re trying to get even with your spouse, you’re locked in this failed relationship, and you’re keeping your spouse in control of your life.
Tell your spouse goodbye
In the privacy of your own home or apartment, with the help of your friend (with your spouse nowhere near), tell your spouse what he or she has meant to you. Tell them how much it hurts to let them go. It’s okay to get very specific about how the divorce is hurting you. Then tell them you accept that they are leaving and that your marriage is ending. Tell them they are free, and so are you. To make sure this is clear, this is an imagination exercise. I don’t really mean for you to tell this to your spouse. Just pretend that you are.
Give up responsibility for your spouse
It’s built into the process of divorce that your spouse has done and is doing things that you think are wrong, perhaps stupid. Understand that you cannot control your spouse, and you’re not responsible for what your spouse does. If he wants to keep drinking, you can’t stop that. If she keeps spending time in an adulterous affair, you can’t stop that. You’re going to have your hands full taking care of yourself; let your spouse bear the responsibility for what he or she chooses to do.
Give up your spouse’s responsibility for you
Just like you’re not responsible for your spouse, neither is your spouse responsible for you. It’s your job, not your spouse’s, to see that you have what you need to get through the crud and live after divorce. It’s your job, not your spouse’s, to focus on what you need in the way of property division and support. Often your spouse will want to take responsibility for you. We men are bad about this. Just say no. Your spouse needs to focus on what he or she needs, and you need to focus on what you need.
Set some goals
This is not about planning the next 20 years of your cash flow. It’s about committing to get up tomorrow morning by 7:00, take a shower, and shave your legs. It’s about making at least three calls about jobs in the classified ads or about calling three friends to tell them you’re getting a divorce. Make sure your first goals are short-term, specific, and attainable. You want success.
Clarify who you are without your spouse
This is the time for you to ask the question “What kind of person do I want to be now that I’m going to be divorced?” This is a wonderful opportunity for you to reinvent yourself. You may want to be thinner, or funnier, or more spontaneous, or firmer. Describe who you see yourself becoming now that you are going to be single, and think through your plan for how you will change. Maybe you want to live more simply.
There’s a great site dedicated to helping people divorce as friends, operated by a former divorce lawyer in Houston, Bill Ferguson. The name (logically enough) is www.divorceasfriends.com Here’s the link to it.
There’s a good program that many churches offer to help Christians move through the pain of their divorce and begin their healing. It’s called DivorcCare.