Divorce Without Despair

Terry Top

June 24, 2013

God’s original design for marriage is that it should be life-long; “until death do us part.” But, because we live in a sin-filled and broken world, sometimes those relationships end in divorce. 
If children are involved, what is best for them needs to be at the forefront of every divorcing couple. Children benefit from maintaining the familial relationships that were important prior to the divorce. They also need their parents’ relationship to be supportive and cooperative.

Many couples get caught up in their own anger and hostility towards their ex-spouse. Children get stuck in the middle of this conflict causing even more stress. It is especially harmful if children sense that they need to choose sides. Remember that parents need to show their children that they love them more than they hate each other. Cooperation with an ex-spouse may be challenging, but it is essential for the children.

Establish healthy rules

Because unresolved resentment can be the biggest problem, here are some good rules for divorced couples to adopt:
  •  Keep parental disagreements between the two of you.
  • Keep disagreements nonviolent verbally and physically. 
  • Manage disagreements by setting limits on them including time and place. 
  • Spell out what is essential to discuss and what is not.
  • Separate spousal issues from parenting issues.

Challenge negative assumptions

Whether parents are divorced or not, studies have shown that kids thrive in a healthy, safe environment. So reframing your assumptions about divorce, can benefit everyone:
  • Divorce does not end your family, it only redefines it.
  • Divorce does not ruin your children. Children in binuclear families can be as healthy as children in nuclear families. 
  • Divorce does not mean total failure. A well managed divorce can minimize damage to everyone.

Establish goals

Next, you need to establish goals during the divorce  transition. Focus on honoring God in your interactions and pray for God to give you wisdom. Resolve to keep your family a family. Recognize that compromise is absolutely necessary, avoiding an all-out war. Stay in charge of the divorce and construct a vision for your new binuclear family. You also need to make new rules for how the two households will be linked.

Give it time

Often different members of the family are at different stages of acceptance regarding the divorce. Adjusting to the changes takes time, especially for children. Children adjust best when they have regular and positive contact with both parents that is encouraged by both parents. Lean on God to bring his healing.

Process the loss

Finally, integrate divorce into your life in a healthy way. Take time to “sort out” the separation, heal the hurts and resolve your personal issues. If a divorcee bypasses this process, and jumps into another relationship too soon, it’s only a matter of time before the same painful issues will resurface in the new relationship. Remembering the good as well as the bad parts of the past relationship is important, and may help you face the losses without drowning in the pain. Seeking the help of a professional counselor, a support group or a church-sponsored program such as DivorceCare can be helpful in facilitating healing.


About the author — Terry Top

Terry Top, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Illinois and Indiana, has worked at New Leaf Resources for 27 years and also serves as the Executive Director. His areas of interest include marital, family and relationship issues including blended families and divorce situations. New Leaf Resources is a nonprofit counseling center with offices in Lansing, IL, Crown Point and Wheatfield, IN. For more information, call (708) 895-7310 or visit www.newleafresources.org.

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