This post will be a slight departure from my normal article topics. I’ve
been contemplating this post for quite awhile. I wasn’t sure how to write
it, but I’ve had conversations with enough people that I think it’s an
important topic and, if you’re Christian (but even if you’re not), it
absolutely has everything to do with following Jesus well. Before I proceed,
I want to give full disclosure. I am NOT a doctor, counselor, psychiatrist,
psychologist or social worker. My intent is not to provide medical advice.
Everything that I’m about to say and offer is built out on my own firsthand
experience and watching and walking with a number of people through the heart-wrenchingly painful process of divorce. This post, like all my others, is intended to prompt thought and conversation.
With that said, I want to be gentle here. My aim is not to hurt someone already going through a painful situation. I think where most churches and Christian fail in the area of counseling couples considering or going through a divorce is that, though true, they take the “God hates divorce, so you need to fight through this” stance. It is true that God hates divorce and I do agree that seeking reconciliation is always God’s heart, but that doesn’t always provide comfort or practical counsel for where the couple may be in real life. This post isn’t going to be that. It isn’t an attempt to encourage people to “make it work” or “give it another try.” I realize there’s a point in which one or both people decide they aren’t going to “try” any longer. So, as important as restoration is, it’s not this article. This article is intended for the couple that has already decided they can’t or won’t make it work and may be struggling with the idea of letting someone else into their life, on an intimate level, before the divorce is final. Let me just say, don’t. Don’t let anyone else in right now. It’s hard, but wait.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m divorced. I’ve been through it and dealt with this issue. It was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to navigate through; spiritually, emotionally, physically and legally. Thankfully, during that point in my life, I had people in my life that cared enough about what God wanted for me, my heart and the heart of my kids to be honest with me about the path I was considering. Since then, I’ve had similar conversations with at least a dozen people, some Christian, some not.
In almost every circumstance the person going through the divorce had the desire to seek intimacy with someone else or at least the impression that it would do them good. Part of the pain of divorce is the loneliness. It’s hard to go from being with someone 24/7 to not. During those moments the logical salve seems to be finding someone to fill that void. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple and typically doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. With that said, I know a number of couples that it did work for. It wasn’t perfect, but they’re still together and things seem to be good. I’m stoked for them, but they’re the exception, not the norm. There are a couple things, again, based off my own experience and multiple conversations, that are likely to happen when you start dating prior to finalizing the divorce. Here are three that
- It clouds your thoughts.
Divorce is already “cloudy” enough. There’s so many emotions, feelings, doubt, hopes and desires that come with divorce, not to mention the whole figuring out what “regular” life looks like after it’s done. When I look back at that time in my life, there are large chunks of time that are difficult to remember because of how clouded my thinking was. Adding a intimate relationship in the middle of all that only adds to the cloudiness. It may seem comforting and even euphoric at the time and might even distract you from the reality of it, but often times it complicates things far more. If you have children, it’s even more complicated. The best thing while going through a divorce is clarity, as much as possible anyway. Working through those thoughts and emotions is ultimately the best.
- It confuses the heart.
Inviting in another intimate partner before your heart is healed from losing one, isn’t a cure. In fact it potentially creates deeper hurts. It’s very likely that opening yourself to a new relationship during the time when your heart is trying to heal may actually deepen the hurt. If not given the opportunity to heal properly, your heart isn’t able to extend healthy feelings of connection to a new partner. If you’re Christian, even without having sex with them, you’re committing adultery. It’s a heart issue and your heart isn’t free to give away yet.
- It conceals the Holy Spirits direction.
For non-Christians you would call this your conscious. For Christians, like I already said, it’s adultery. It’s what Jesus was talking about when he talked about looking at someone with lust. It’s active sin to be in a relationship with someone prior to a finalized divorce. Living in active sin it conceals the voice of the Holy Spirit. Is as if all you’ll hear Him says to you is “Repent” and “Turn from your sin and return to me.” He doesn’t abandon you, He never forsakes us, but as you draw away from Him through active sin, you quit His voice and His call to return to Him becomes the cry of His heart.
Do you, first.
That means take the time to explore who you are. Figure out who you are. Divorce changes both people involved. There’s a lot of pressure to “get back in the game,” but that typically only complicates an already confusing situation. The thing that ended up being most beneficial for me, and others I’ve watched walk though this, was focusing on me. As I walked through the process, even in the midst of difficulty and hurt, I was able to figure out the kind of person I had become and the one I wanted to be, like a better father, a better husband (eventually), and a better friend, etc. I was able to focus on the relationships that were more important, i.e. with God, with my children, and other friends and family. And I was able to do it. I wasn’t perfect, but I had a better grasp on what it looked like to follow Jesus, to love my kids and even the type of woman I wanted to marry and the type of husband I needed to be for her, all without having to worry about building a relationship with another woman. Figuring me out became far more important to my well being than trying to eliminate the loneliness. In the process, I met amazing people and realized I wasn’t really that lonely. And, I eventually met the woman that became my gorgeous wife.
Take time to heal.
This is essential. One of the things that I’ve seen over and over is a relationship fall apart, between two people that otherwise seem like a good fit. What I’ve found to be the common denominator is that the one going through the divorce is still very hurt. Because they’re hurt, they cast onto the new person the same expectation of their ex-husband or ex-wife. They don’t intend to, but pain is sometimes blinding and hurt people, hurt people.
Typically it plays out like this: The new person does something similar to what the divorcing person’s ex might do, maybe work causes them to be late for a dinner date. Instead of letting this infraction stand as a single event, the divorcing person attributes it to the new person’s character and all of the sudden they’re just as undependable, inconsiderate and selfish as the ex. This may not be true at all, but the divorcing person can only see the new person’s actions through the filter of hurt that lead to and is caused by the divorce. After two or three of these types of interactions, the divorcing person ends the relationship and begins thinking things like, “All men/women are the same!” or “I’ll never find anyone that’ll be good to me.”
The truth is, if they took time to really heal, it might be easier to separate any new person from their ex. Because I’ve experienced it, genuine healing comes through Jesus. If you’re not Christian, I know that sounds foreign or possibly absurd to you. But, there’s a peace that comes with the healing that He offers. It creates wholeness in you. I understand the skepticism, so most times I’ll tell those I’m talking with to find someone that does pastoral counseling and be up front with them about not being a Christian. Even if you don’t “get saved” it can still be beneficial. If that’s too far out on the limb for you, then find a good counselor. Counseling has been invaluable for me, personally and in my marriage. However you do it, seek help so that you can begin healing. And not just while going through the divorce, but after its final, also. The finalization of divorce brings with it a whole new collection of feelings that may require help navigating through.
The last thing I’ll say is, be around people; don’t isolate yourself. Community is so important in providing a support network. It’s in community that you find wise counsel, encouragement, people to weep with you and people to cheer you up. Be with people.
If you’re interested theres a book called Healing for Damaged Emotions. It’s a great book.
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