Pastor, counselor share advice to move on
Society leads us to believe that love is a gushy feeling that will keep us happy for a lifetime.
The expectation of marriage is that the outcome will be a permanent relationship, but the United States leads the divorce rate with 50 percent, according to Kathleen O'Connell Corcoran, Ph.D.
Pastor Leland Crawford of First Baptist Church-Minden, believes that love is not just a feeling or emotion, but a choice to love a partner and either nurture the marriage or not.
Divorce is defined as the painful loss of a relationship, marriage and life that has been built.
"To me, it's almost worse than a death because with a death is a finale, but divorce there is not, if you share a child," Crawford said. "You have to be connected to that person, in some way for the rest of your life. There is no way that you can say, 'I am going to wash my hands of that part of my life.' You have to learn to deal with it in other ways."
William Harley, Jr., Ph.D. and author believes that when people are in love, their emotions help meet each other's emotional needs. They provide instincts that may not have even been known that they possess – instincts to be affectionate, conversational, honest and admiring.
When people fall out of love, everything that will help the marriage may seem unnatural.
"Spouses don't recognize what the two of them have become ... obviously, people need to change," Crawford said. "It's our hearts that need to change and usually it's both partners in some way or another that need to grow and change."
Nancy Tracy, MS, LPC (Master of Science, Licensed Professional Counselor) explained that with the initiation of the divorce – whomever wants it – both spouses go through the emotional stages of divorce, either before separation as an emotional divorce, or after.
The stages of divorce can be the same grieving stages as with a death, she said.
"Knowing the many stages doesn't lessen the pain or negative feelings but it can help to make sense of them," Tracy said.
She continued to explain that transitioning through one stage and regressing to another is common.
The stages include shock, pain, grief, denial, anger, bitterness, desperation, frustration, depression, guilt, despair, determined and acceptance.
Shock is the initial realization that the marriage is or might be beyond repair.
Pain occurs when one spouse first hears of their spouse wanting a divorce.
"There is no sense in the early stages that you can convince someone that everything will be okay because they can't see it," Tracy said. "So, at first, the most helpful thing is just to let them vent, talk and feel all of their feelings and not deny them their feelings.
"If you run from your pain, it is going to come back," she continued. "You have to deal with your feelings."
Crawford suggested keeping life as normal as possible.
"I tell people that when your whole life is falling apart and you don't know what to do, then you get up the next morning and you do the right things," he said. "So, even if you don't know what direction to go in, if you go to work and take care of your family, then eventually God will direct you in other directions."
Grief occurs when you mourn the loss of what your life and future were supposed to be like.
"Don't quit living, even though it's painful and even though it hurts," Crawford said.
Denial follows grief.
"(They) may have a feeling of powerlessness that decisions of their life have been taken away from them totally by someone else," said Tracy. "They have to cope with the loss of the dream of having a lifetime with someone. It can leave you shell-shocked."
Anger may be expressed and mask hurt, fear or frustration.
Bitterness usually follows. This is usually blaming the other spouse for their wrongdoings.
Desperation comes next when a person realizes their spouse is serious and really does want a divorce.
Frustration sets in at the realization that things are not going to change.
Depression may come when the realization hits that "this is the end." It may be fueled by fear of being alone – fear of not being able to survive without a partner or fear of the unknown.
"Don't give into your depression," Crawford said. "Don't lock yourself away. Don't isolate yourself from people. Force yourself to be around people – go to church, be around people and do the things you need to do."
Guilt may be experienced if the person feels they did not do enough to prevent a loss.
Despair is left, along with more pain.
"In the first year, there will be a lot of reminders – first holidays, children's birthdays and their wedding anniversary," Tracy said. "It knocks people to their knees all over again. They need a good support system. They need to be able to talk to someone."
Determination is to move beyond the bad feelings and see change.
Acceptance finally comes by moving beyond the many hurtful feelings and pain.
"It's easy to point fingers. But (they) need to be honest with themselves," Tracy said. "Look at yourselves and take ownership and responsibility for your part in the demise of the marriage whether you asked for it or not. You need to ask 'Where did I fail?' This can be very healing.
"Whether I leave or if I was the one left behind, I have to look to see what needs to be changed about myself, so I don't repeat the past," she continued. "Until your issues are worked out, you will take the same issues to the next marriage or relationship."
Tracy suggested each individual, "get to know 'Who am I?' and get to know themselves. Don't rush out into the next relationship. Call up old friends or get some new hobbies, some things to do that are healthy."
Through the process, something bad and difficult can be turned into something positive.
"Come to church and be in public and you will see people that have lived through it and they are okay," Crawford said. "They put their lives back together. They are happy and fulfilled. They did find another relationship and all those things worked out."
FBC offers a weekly meeting, Celebrate Recovery, that helps people deal with life issues.
Crawford explained that it is not just for addicts. It is for people dealing with things such as grief. He believes the church should teach couples how to divorce-proof their marriage, but if it has come to the point of divorce, then he believes the church needs to support and minister those individuals.
One of the ministries FBC will be offering, beginning next month is "Divorce Care" led by Sherry Rumby, LPC.
"I don't believe there is anything in our lives that God can't help us recover from," Crawford said. "The experience can be a testimony to others going through the same thing, but being willing to work on yourself is the key."