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Straight Talk About Divorce

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Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT

Dear Father,

“I don’t know why I’m writing you. I suppose I just felt a need to write someone…. It’s been eight years since my divorce, but I’m still not certain I made the right choice. We were married for eleven years, when we decided to end it. We had been growing apart for several years, and the only common commitment we had was to the children…. One day we started talking about our unhappy marriage. We both agreed we weren’t happy…. When I look back, I think that conversation got us both thinking about divorce…. It wasn’t long before the idea ‘to end it’ grew into a serious consideration…. I started consulting friends and family to get their opinions. Most supported my thinking…. Before I knew it, attorneys were involved, and we were caught in a process that seemed impossible to reverse…. It’s now been nearly eight years since my divorce and way down deep I still have some regrets and doubts….”

E-mail Respondent

I’ve received several e-mails like this one from both men and women over the past few years. Each respondent speaks with mixed feelings about their divorce. Some messages are more emotional than others. Almost all describe a similar scenario unfolding. “We weren’t happy when we decided to end it…. Friends and relatives supported my decision…. The idea grew into a serious consideration until it gained a momentum that seemed as if it couldn’t be reversed…. It’s been X number of years and I still have regrets.”

When two people find themselves in an unhappy marriage, its not long before they begin hearing messages such as the following few. “You deserve more…”Life’s too short…. If you’re not happy, then maybe you should end it…. You have your whole life ahead of you…. You’ll be okay…. The kids will get over it.”

We live in a Divorce Culture

Do these messages sound familiar? I’m not surprised if they do. After all, we live in a culture that considers divorce a legitimate option when spouses are unhappy with their marriage. However, what we don’t hear as often is some of the information that’s now emerging from respected researchers who’ve been studying divorce in our country. Here’s a sampling of I mean.

  • Researchers suggest that two thirds of the divorces that take place are between spouses who are only moderately conflicted. They also suggest that many of these marriages could likely have been saved.
  • Research also indicates that 80% of moderately conflicted couples who choose to remain together report higher levels of martial satisfaction within five years.
  • Research also suggests that many people who choose divorce, are likely to experience ambivalent feelings about their decision years later. That’s because many discover that divorce is not the panacea it’s made out to be. In fact, in most instances, divorce creates more problems than it resolves.

Help From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA)

Because of the pervasiveness of divorce, the GOA has started several initiatives. These include a Web site that answers questions for individuals, two books - one for couples and one for priests and lay leaders - which deal with marital problems. They also include articles such as this one in the, as well as the development of a Department of Marriage and Family ministries.

Don’t Give Up

As a result of the negative, long lasting effects on both divorcing spouses and their children, many researchers, psychotherapists and government officials are beginning to rethink the merits of divorce – especially in the case of moderately conflicted couples who report low levels of marital satisfaction. So long as there isn’t any emotional or physical abuse occurring, many experts are now beginning to argue that a substantial number of moderately conflicted marriages can be saved.

The fact is, many couples who determine to find ways of reclaiming the happiness that they have lost, successfully do so. That’s because, researchers now know what factors promote healthy marriage, and this information has been translated into programs that help two committed people reclaim their marriages.

If you’re currently caught in an unhappy relationship, for many of the reasons I’ve indicated above, and for many that I couldn’t include in this short article, let me encourage you not to give up. If you’re interested in reclaiming the love, intimacy and happiness that you’ve lost, please know that it’s possible. With an unswerving commitment and some prayer and the help of some marriage building strategies and techniques, you can turn an unhappy marriage around. I’m not saying it will be easy. But it is possible, if you’re committed enough. I know, because I’ve seen it happen numerous times.

If You’re Divorced and Experiencing Mixed Feelings

Conversely, if you related to the respondent’s remarks at the beginning of this article, here are a few suggestions. It may be that enough time has not passed. Many of us know that we can obtain a civil divorce in about a year, but we’re rarely informed that it takes people about five years to reach emotional closure. If you’re still struggling to find some closure, you might consider the following suggestions:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, consider obtaining a Church Divorce. This process will assist you in finding some spiritual closure. That’s because this process can prayerfully repair the separation that has occurred between you and your faith background. For example, you may have never processed through the circumstances surrounding your divorce with God. One individual comes to mind whom I once assisted. In paraphrased form she stated, “It took mine five years to ask for God’s forgiveness, and to experience His comforting tender mercy. Getting a Church Divorce lifted some lingering regrets and burdens off my shoulders.” Whatever the special, unique circumstances, a Church Divorce can facilitate spiritual closure and this process can have a positive impact on your efforts to find some emotional closure.
  2. If you’ve obtained a church divorce without experiencing the spiritual closure I’ve described above, then you might consider confession. Confession can help you some spiritual and emotional closure.
  3. You might also consider obtaining some counsel – either from your priest and. or a professional counselor. In either case, speaking to a caring individual who has good listening skills can help you process through some of the lingering regrets and doubts.

Trust in God

Whether you are currently in a conflicted marriage or have exited a conflicted marriage, please know that God can help you. If you are in a loveless relationship, God can help you reclaim the love and intimacy that compelled you to marry. If you’ve divorced and have lingering regrets, God can help you find some emotional and spiritual closure. In either instance, remember what the author of proverbs states. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov 3:5-6).