Friday, December 17, 2010

Coping with Divorce ... by Russ Beck

Case Study

Mary,* a pleasant woman in her mid 40s came in feeling depressed and unsure of herself. She spoke of her 20-plus years of marriage to Bill as having been a struggle from the beginning. She said she even had doubts during the wedding ceremony all those years ago.

Mary expressed regret over everything except her three children: one married, another on a mission and the youngest, a junior in high school. At that point, what should have been a glorious time in her life—preparing to become a grandmother—was instead spent preparing for a divorce, going back into the workforce, and dealing with financial struggles.

Understandably filled with sadness, Mary came to me with questions about her future and her role as a Latter-day Saint woman.

At the heart of Mary’s dilemma was the self-doubt enveloping her. She doubted her ability to ever have a meaningful relationship with a man, she questioned if she was correct in pursuing a divorce, and she wondered if she could go to heaven when she died, because she didn’t “stick it out.” More importantly, Mary felt she was responsible for the pain her children were feeling due to the divorce.

Mary said Bill had been okay as a husband, but he never provided sufficiently for them. He moved from job to job and seemed satisfied at only earning minimum wage. According to Mary, Bill usually left a job because of some perceived wrongdoing by a manager. Mary reached her limit and insisted that he either provide for them or she would divorce him. Bill responded by berating her abilities as a wife and insisted she should sustain him, which according to him meant she should stay by him in all things. He further told her that she was causing the children to suffer and if they fell away from the church, it was her fault.

Mary cried several times as she related this story. She indicated maybe she should just resign herself to going back to Bill and living a miserable life because any other course of action would bring spiritual condemnation.


Mary continued for over twenty years in a bad relationship, hoping for it to improve. The great comfort in her life was her children. Now, however, the kids were starting to head off on their own and she was looking at living as an empty nester with Bill. This caused the lost hopes and dreams of the past to rush in on her as she came to the realization that he was not going to change. Bill felt happy with the status quo. He did not see any reason for change and believed Mary showed a lack of faith. In reality, Mary has endured her suffering for a very long time and it had finally reached a breaking point.

I asked Mary if she believed God loved her. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know. I hope so.” I then asked her if God loved her children. To this, she quickly responded “Yes.”

It is often easier to see the good in others. Our intimate knowledge of ourselves causes us to view our faults and mistakes as if looking at them with a magnifying glass.

Mary told me that she had involved God in her decision. She believed He agreed with her decision and in fact that is what gave her the strength to move ahead with the divorce. Even with this knowledge, her critical life decisions were hard and required perseverance.

Real Life Applications

Living with a divorce or any other major disaster in our lives is a difficult experience comprised of numerous complex issues. We fair much better when we follow a few simple guidelines.

Include God in the Decisions: Any crisis will test the limits of what we can endure. We must put our faith into action by calling upon God to assist and guide us in our actions. Then, we must follow His will with trust and resolute firmness. We do not see the “big picture” of this life, but we can be certain that God does. Mary had the conviction of her heart that God was with her, yet she continued to doubt. Eliminating this doubt was the key to her future happiness.

Allow Family and Friends to Help: Mary’s children agreed with her decision and her son on a mission sent letters of support to her. Yet, Mary persisted in the belief that the divorce would ruin their lives. By worrying so much about that, she ran the risk of missing an opportunity of gathering the children close and forming deep, interpersonal ties that will bind them together forever.

Prepare a Plan for the Future: Now is the time to consider many options. Perhaps going back to school is an option? Maybe starting a business? Think outside the box, as we all have abilities and talents beyond working at a burger joint. The plan isn't just for the short term, but for the long haul. In this case, Mary's children were older and two were out of the home. She needed to consider that in her plans.

Visit with a Professional Counselor: This offers the chance to work through feelings and emotions in strict confidence. It also give the opportunity to gain objective viewpoints on future plans.

Recognize the Strength Within: Remember, life isn’t fair. We really should be glad for that, because in the unfairness comes an opportunity for growth. We are so much more than the mere flesh and bone we’ve become so accustomed to. Within, we are dynamic beings capable of miraculous achievements. Tapping into this knowledge enables us to navigate the rough seas of divorce, death, or other tragedies.

Until next time …

~ Russ

* Names have been changed.

-----© Russ Beck-----

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