7 lessons in surviving renovations—divorce
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance told me, “We need to change the way we treat people going through a divorce.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, so she went on.”When someone’s spouse dies, people flock to the home. They stay with the person left behind, they help with the kids, and they bring food. But when I got divorced, it was the loneliest time of my life. If anything the opposite happened. People avoided me. Long-time friends just dropped me. Divorce blew my family apart, and I was grieving over what I had lost just like it was a death, but I was . . . alone.”
Why had I never looked at it that way before?
A divorce strikes at the heart of the family home in dramatic, heart wrenching fashion. In fact, the healing that follows a death can often come faster than after a divorce, for when someone dies, our human nature wallpapers over the little irritating things about the person who has died, and we remember the good. But with a divorce, the person is still right there with all their mistakes and human weaknesses and foibles.
I’ve never been divorced and, God willing, I never will be, but I resolved to show more compassion for those going through the process of renovating their lives after the bomb blast that is divorce. The lessons that help them through the process follow the same pattern as my previous two posts.
Lesson 1: Decisions, decisions
Sometimes the biggest decision is the first one: should there be a divorce? Sometimes the answer to that question is a long and painful time coming. Once the decision is made, though, it is the first of many. Who will live where? What about the kids? How will we pay for everything? The intense emotional swamp of divorce can sometimes be a breeding ground for bad choices. People do things they would never do under other circumstances. Decisions born out of anger, bitterness and resentment will lead to more of that. It takes considerable personal fortitude to rise above all that and take the long view. Compromise and openly talking out all the decisions helps to smooth out the process.
Lesson 2: Be patient
I am lucky enough to know many beautiful family divorce stories. I know parents who cooperate maturely to raise their children with love and stability. I see pictures of extended families sharing holiday meals and hugs. I know older children of a first marriage who dote on new baby brothers or sisters born to parents in a second marriage. But in all these cases, the comfort, the joy, the love did not happen seamlessly or immediately. All of these cases have histories of hurt, confusion, or anger somewhere along the way. Be patient. Healing will come.
Lesson 3: Practise acceptance
Rarely do spouses come to the decision to divorce for the same reasons at the same time. Seldom do they mutually and easily accept that divorce is the right path for both at that time. Divorce can be a one-sided affair. Often it comes out of the blue with the brutal reality of an affair attached . For every beautiful family divorce story, there are other stories of people who allow divorce to embitter them, holding on to anger and resentment for life. The lingering animosity makes every family affair a juggling act. When life is not working out according to plan, unprocessed anger and resentment hurts everyone, but it hurts the person doing the holding the most. Strive to make things work as well as possible, but to accept what happens.
Lesson 4: Appreciate mayhem
Whether it happens slowly over time or abruptly, divorce means big change. Children accustomed to settling in at one household might have to learn how to manage life in two. Everything from the CD collection to the household plants must be considered and divided. There’s all the legal work. It is messy. Mayhem is unavoidable, so the only thing to do is to sit down wherever you can and drink wine out of beer glasses.
Lesson 5: Change involves an emotional roller coaster
And divorce is a doozy. The whole family needs to rebuild, to renovate their lives on a new and different kind of foundation. There will be grief over friends lost, financial changes, or upset children. There will also be new possibilities, or maybe even a sense of freedom. Ride the emotional roller coaster and know that it is part of what needs to happen.
Lesson 6: Look for the joy
Those little glimpses of joy along the way keep us going. The first night a child has a good night’s sleep, a new paint job in the kitchen, or the first time you are able to be alone and enjoy the solitude. Look for the joy at the end of the tunnel.
Lesson 7: Friends help you through it all
You could do it alone, but why? Friends are the best resource for child care, a place to store a few things for a while, or a cup of tea and a laugh—or a cry. Friends make coping with everything just a little bit easier.
Any renovation is renewal. When the current of life stirs up the stagnant waters, just hang on and ride those rapids for a while. Just know that after every set of rapids awaits a calm pool.