Dr. Wall writes that too many people jump right into new relationships right after a divorce. He suggests taking time to heal instead.
So….what do I do now?
A newly single female client
This is a great question and one that I get asked quite often. After divorce or after breaking up from a cohabiting relationship or an engagement or a serious dating relationship, there is a lot of pain. Pain is no fun. We want it to go away. But give it time. Sadness and regrets are God’s great motivators to help guide our lives. There’s nothing wrong with learning lessons the hard way. Let’s just make sure we learn them. The statistics on second marriages and third marriages and beyond are frightening: people in second marriages divorce at higher rates than second; third marriages higher than forth and so on. People who cohabit and break up have even higher risks for relationship failure in the future than people who divorce (see my recent articles on Cohabitation by clicking the link at the left or here.). The more breakups, the more likely future relationships will break up. Why? We are creatures of habit and unless old habits are broken we will make them again.
So lets use this relationship failure as a learning opportunity. Here’s a couple of pointers to get you started on the right path:
Give yourself time to heal. What’s one of the first things people do after a major breakup? They get on the relationship hotline. Friends and family give advice and introduce them to this person and that person. Or they jump on the internet or hop over to the bar and BOOM! Just like that, they get involved with someone else. AHHHHHHH!!!! Stop it!!
NO! You don’t need someone else to make you feel better. That was one of the problems that got you in divorceland in the first place, right? You were unhappy because your partner wasn’t all you wanted him or her to be, so you complained or moaned or pouted or withdrew or got angry or mean or indifferent. React. React. React. Your partner wasn’t God and neither were you! Crap. Divorcee: heal thyself! You need to be in a good mood because of you! If you need another person to give you a sense of destiny and purpose and meaning and to define you and make you whole, then I have a perfect place for you: it’s called a MENTAL INSTATUTION. You are in training. STOP IT ALREADY!
I don’t advise people to date for 2 years after a divorce. Why? Because it takes a minimum of two years for persons to put themselves back together, so they aren’t total basket cases that need others to put them back together. Someone else can’t put you back together. That’s the point. Only you can. People often jump right back into the relationship market after a breakup, some even hooking up before the divorce is final. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t do this! Hey, it hurts to divorce!!! It is Okay to mourn and grieve and be mad and hurt and frustrated and doubtful and uncertain and lonely and horny. It is fine. It isn’t fun. But it’s fine.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
What is the number one reason future marriages break up at faster rates than earlier marriages? Because people in second marriages give up quicker than people in first marriages. Their resilience is gone. Their stictuativeness is gone. Their perseverance is gone. They give up. They’ve been hurt before. They don’t want to be hurt again. If they jump right into new relationships, the new partners become an ambulance to rescue them. Then, a couple of years later, they’ve healed and don’t need the ambulance any more. It’s just a piece of junk to discard. Then they break up again. Great. Welcome to serial relationships, which, like I said above, is perfect training to help you on your road to becoming a COMPLETELY CRAZY PERSON!!!!
Give yourself time to heal so that you will have the resilience to withstand future heartache. You need perseverance! You get that by doing the down and dirty work of actually feeling your hurt and working through your hurt ON YOUR OWN IN YOUR OWN TIME not by burying it in a flurry of relational busyness.
And NO! DO NOT DATE OR GET RELATIONALLY INVOLVED WITH ANYONE GOING THROUGH ANY EARLY STAGE OF RELATIONAL BREAKUP!! NO! NO! NO! If you do this, you will become this other person’s relational and emotional ambulance and then it’s only a matter of time before he or she doesn’t need you anymore and you get dumped! Hang out with healthy, healing people. Broken people need to figure out how to put themselves back together. You aren’t a relational social worker. It takes a Masters Degree and 3000 hours of face to face therapy contact to become a social worker and if you think because you’ve been through a divorce, that now you can put together your future mate, you will be of all people most miserable (For the number of the nearest state hospital, contact XXX-XXXX.).
Spare yourself. The last thing you need is a project or to become someone else’s project.
Attend the classes for divorcecare.com. This 13-week program is offered by area churches on a regular basis. I searched their web site today and found 4 churches in the Des Moines area offering the program. The class consists of watching a 30-40 minute video on one of the 13 topics (such as loneliness, anger, healing, relationships, sexuality and forgiveness) by leading experts in relational healing. After the video group members dialog about the topic and share from their own experience. Hooking up with other group members as couples is prohibited (People who disrespect this boundary are kicked out of the program) and meeting together outside of the class is discouraged unless there are 3 or more in the group. I’ve had a number of clients tell me that this class was foundational in their healing. Some people take the class more than once. The divorcecare website also offers a bookstore with books on recovery after a divorce and a daily email for encouragement. One of the biggest benefits of a class like this is realizing that the feelings one has after a divorce are common. Realizing one is not crazy can be very encouraging! Many who take the class are so appreciative that they help lead the class later for others. This can be one of the most healing things a divorced person can do.
Emotions take time to heal. When you break your leg, it takes several months to heal. We may not like it, but we accept it. Healing from emotional, relational and spiritual pain takes time, too. Let’s say, that on a scale of one to ten, during the last months of the breakup and divorce and going through the court battles and whatever else, you are at a 1: a total emotional wreck. If you do your homework after two years, let’s say on your healing journey, you are a 6.5 or a 7. Not bad. You’ve come a long way. Your life still has some quirks, and you have occasional moments of self-pity and despair, but mostly you are doing fine. You may not have all your ducks in a row, but compared to someone going through the throes of divorce, you are a PRO! You have something to offer other people who are just starting out on their healing journey. If you are committed to the healing process, you will be able to help others in their healing process. Being involved in a program, such as Divorcecare, as a leader can give you a sense of calling and mission. You are now helping others survive the pain of divorce, because you know what it is like. As you give your heart to others, you will help yourself heal all the more. The best freshwater lakes are those that have an inlet and an outlet. Don’t just take in; have a way to give your life away. A lake without an outlet becomes a pond and then eventually a swamp. It’s more blessed to give than receive, right? So give yourself already!
Let’s compare the two suggestions above: After a divorce or relational breakup, trying to put together a romantic partner is a NO or having another broken person put you together by you being emotionally and relationally involved with him or her is a NO. Helping others heal as part of a ministry in a formal setting (like divorcecare) is a GO. You will need appropriate boundaries here to be a mentor, not a romantic partner. Did you get that? Good. Because if you do, you will save yourself a lot of grief.
In sum: The first two years after divorce: NO relational, emotional, or sexual involvement with anyone of the opposite sex. Nun. Zero. After you’ve healed a bit and gone through divorcecare yourself, you can be a leader or mentor for others in their healing. But outside of formal ministry or counseling settings, stay clear of trying to be a mentor to someone else who is going through a breakup, who is of the opposite sex and it’s just the two of you working on it together. NO!
Whew! Did you understand all of that? Okay. Do you know how many people actually take my advice on this? About 1 in 10. Most look at me like I’m from outer space and tell me there is no way that they are going to waste two years of their life doing what I suggested. They are impatient. The clock is ticking. They think they can’t be a whole person without another person in their lives. They hook up with somebody else who needs a person to become god for them, too. Both of them are needy. Both of them have empty tanks with no fuel left over for anyone else. Both are insecure. Both of them are struggling with trust and relational issues and pain and agony. Both have X’s that they both hate. Now they both hate the other person’s X’s. If theor new partner has kids, they have a hard time bonding with their new partner’s kids because of their own emotional pain. They don’t have anything to give yet. Or their X tempts them back or they tempt each other and they go back and forth and their new partner is now hurt with “I can’t trust you.” Or “You don’t love my children.” It’s all just crazy, crazy, crazy.
It keeps me in business, I suppose.
Our thanks to Marty Wall for the cartoon drawn specifically for today’s blog. Marty’s other cartoons can be seen here. Check him out.
Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473. For more information about Dr. Wall click here.
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