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Healing from Divorce

Written by: Alice D. Hoag, Ed.D.
Healing from Divorce

The old Greek poet named Menander said, “Time is the healer of all necessary evils.” More modern authors have altered the proverb, “Time heals all wounds.” Just because something is a proverb does not make it true.

Some researchers have determined the average time it takes during midlife to recover from a divorce is 2 years or more, while other researchers suggest it can take up to 6 years for optimal recovery. For divorcees younger than 33 and for Christians, the shame and self-judgment tend to be more severe, thus taking longer to heal.

Time alone, however, does not heal or spur on recovery from the shame, stigma, and devastation of divorce. For genuine healing from the dissolution of one’s marriage, there is a combination of factors that need to be addressed. It is the work of recovery done during the time after one’s divorce which heals and restores, and it is resilience and hope which facilitates the work. So how does one increase resilience? Some of the top strategies involve getting support from others who can genuinely understand, learning and finding meaning from one’s experience, and practicing healthy self-care.

One essential part of healthy divorce recovery involves forgiveness. Just for clarity’s sake, forgiveness is not saying everything was or is all right, it is not saying you are OK with how things unfolded, and it is not forgetting. (By the way, forgetting is a sign of cognitive impairment, not of forgiveness! God can choose to forget because He has nothing to learn; He knows everything before it happens. We, on the other hand, have a lot to learn to move forward in a new direction in life safely and confidently.) So, what then is forgiveness? Forgiveness is choosing to accept the circumstances as they unfolded regardless of how painful they were; they are unchangeably written in our history. Forgiveness is choosing to no longer remind ourself or others about the wrongs that were done to us; they are done and over. Forgiveness is letting go of the dream of revenge, vindication, or evening the score, and it’s letting go of the bitterness and resentment we hold toward another person. Forgiveness is choosing to put our minds and energies on other more impactful, worthwhile, and uplifting thoughts and actions.

Disentanglement is another aspect of healing from divorce. Disentanglement is simply a fancy word for detaching emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually, socially, and in every way from one’s spouse and gaining an objective perspective of one’s divorce and life. Sometimes there are unavoidable and lingering obstacles to fully disentangling, like ongoing shared custody and child support, but even then, former spouses can detach emotionally from one another and refuse to use their children to preserve lingering emotional entanglements. Those who have higher levels of disentanglement from their spouse tend to adapt more easily and positively to their divorce.

One more major task in divorce recovery, and an aspect of improving post-divorce resilience, is re-defining oneself as a worthwhile individual (regardless of marital status) and overcoming the sense of shame inherent with all the labels associated with being divorced. To navigate the trials of divorce well, individuals going through a divorce need to redefine their identities as independent individuals, worthy of living a meaningful life, and capable of developing and pursuing their own personal goals and dreams.

Finally, social involvement is an integral key to resilience and healthy divorce recovery. For men, the most helpful type of social involvement was found to be friendly encouragement with physical companionship and activities. For women, the most helpful type of social support was found to be emotional encouragement with practical advice.

Summit will be starting a new divorce recovery group in a couple of weeks (begins Tuesday, January 17) for Christian women either going through the final stages of their divorce or after their divorce is final. We will be exploring several strategies to improve resilience, increase the level of detachment from your former spouse, eliminate the shame and other labels associated with divorce, learn to view ourselves as valuable and worthwhile, interact with and gain support from others who have also experienced divorce, and most importantly, understand and practice self-compassion. All these will be explored in a Christian context rich with Scripture and Christ-focused meditations.

If you are interested in joining this women’s divorce recovery group (limited to 6 women), please contact me directly by email at ahoag@summitcounseling.org. We will set up a short meeting to discuss any questions you may have, and together we will determine if participating in this group would be a good fit for you.