Healing Our Way Through Divorce
Last month's feature article by Richie Begin gave
some good advice to parents going through a
divorce. He asked us to prioritize the needs of out
children over the impulse to keep fighting with an
ex-spouse. Since reading it I have been reflecting
on the many feelings I have heard expressed by
divorcing parents. While anger is often what comes
out toward each other, more vulnerable feelings
often surface in the safety of a therapy session.
Identifying these underlying feelings is important
in the process of healing the pain of a
To start with, divorce is really scary. Here are
some of the fears divorcing parents have
- I'm afraid people will judge me as having
failed in my relationship.
- I'm afraid to tell my family.
- I'm afraid my friends will side with my
- I'm afraid other families will back away
from me and my children.
- I'm afraid my divorce will traumatize my
- I'm afraid my children will get divorced
when they grow up, since that is what I'm
modeling for them.
- I'm afraid my children will miss me terribly
when I'm not around.
- I'm afraid my children will be mad at me for
- I'm afraid my children will stop caring
- I'm afraid to surrender my children to the
care of my ex-spouse without me around to help
- I'm afraid my ex-spouse will spoil my
- I'm afraid my ex-spouse will neglect or
abuse my children.
- I'm afraid my ex-spouse will try to stop me
from seeing my children.
- I'm afraid my ex-spouse will try to turn my
children against me.
- I'm afraid my ex-spouse will desert us.
- I'm afraid a step parent might get closer to
my children than I am.
- I'm afraid I won't be able to parent well on
- I'm afraid no one else will want to be
with me since I: already have children,
- am older now, can't seem to be able to make
a marriage work.
- I'm afraid of dating.
- I'm afraid of sexually transmitted
- I'm afraid of not having enough money.
- I'm afraid of having to get a job.
- I'm afraid my ex-spouse won't pay the child
support I need to raise these kids.
- I'm afraid of having to work all the time to
pay for a family I don't even live with.
- I'm afraid of lawyer bills.
- I'm afraid I'm not asserting myself enough
to get what I really deserve in our
- I'm afraid I have to either fight or get
- I'm afraid of judges having control over my
- I'm afraid of having my gender determine
what role I play in my family.
If you are divorced perhaps you can add to this
list. Identifying which fears are most pertinent to
you can help you begin to deal with them directly.
Each of these potential problems can be faced and
overcome. Some of them take a lot of courage,
though. I guess that's true of life in general.
Under the fears lie even more vulnerable
feelings, those of grief. Divorcing parents face
the loss of whatever their dreams for their family
were. This may involve grieving the loss of: our
marriage, the promise of love for a lifetime.
someone to sleep with.someone to make a home with.
the vision of ourselves as old people looking back
on our life together. the pride we felt about our
marriage before we knew it would end. the respect
others might have offered us had we stayed
together. the chance to share the love we still
feel for each other, even if we know it wouldn't
work to get back together.
- the picture of mom, dad, and children, all
living together happily. the illusion that we
might just be the perfect family.
- daily contact with our children.
- knowing what our child's week or weekend
away was really like for them.
- talking about what we see in our children
with someone we know is just as
- interested in them as we are.
- the house we all lived in.
- the nest egg we were building.
- the friends we had together.
- someone who could step in if we really
Grieving isn't easy. You have to breathe deeply.
You have to think about what it is you cherish that
you are losing. You have to feel the energy in your
belly, your chest, and your throat. You may have to
cry or yawn. Maybe a lot. But grieving is not as
hard as not grieving. Life gets too stuck and
joyless when grieving is put off. The anger that
covers our grief can consume us for years. It
actually hurts more to hold the grief at bay, than
to let it out. But sometimes it is hard to get
started. I never cry at the low point of a movie,
when everything is getting worse.
It is when something beautiful happens that my
tears begin to flow, when there is some triumph of
human spirit in the face of adversity. There is a
reason for every divorce. And while the process may
bring on a lot of fear and pain, there is also the
hope that something better will arise. In every
divorce there is some vision of life being better
somehow than this marriage has been. Perhaps the
vision is of freedom, or passion, or compassion, or
respect. Perhaps the choice to divorce was not
yours, and you have been rudely awakened without a
plan for the new day. Still, as Joni Mitchell sang
to me when I was a teenager, "Something's lost, but
something's gained, in living every day." It seems
to me the gain comes when I have the courage to
feel my fear and grief, and find myself anew.
© 2008, Tim
Other Father Issues,
* * *
Your children need your presence more than your
presents. - Jesse Jackson
Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family
Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He
specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples
Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached
at 831.464.2922 or through his website:
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