Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forgiveness: The Key to Healing After Divorce

Divorce is one of the great epidemics of our society. It’s an experience that tears families apart. Family members walk away wounded from its immediate effects when a marriage ends. And for many, it takes years to recover. Some actually never even get over it and move on. It’s a gut-wrenching, traumatic experience that can really make or break people.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I went through a divorce over 10 years ago. I look back now with very little emotion about it. But at the time, every waking moment was like being tortured. That’s why I preferred to sleep during that time – my escape mechanism, if you will. I’d get up, go to work, come home and sleep. Not the healthiest approach, I know, but it was my way of coping.

Dealing with the legal system, custody issues and all that came with the entire ordeal took so much out of me that I was of very little use elsewhere in my life. My work productivity declined. My appetite disappeared, resulting in my losing 30 pounds in the first month after the process started. What I’m saying here is that it was simply the worst experience of my entire life. And believe me, I’ve dealt with some difficult issues – including the death of close loved ones. Nothing quite compares to the experience of divorce, in my view.

Today, I’m happily remarried to a really special and wonderful woman. My daughter, who was 3 at the time of the divorce, is now a well-adjusted pre-teen who lives with us. And the icing on the cake is that we have a handsome little bundle of joy – an 11 month old son. Things may not be 100% perfect but I can tell you that true love has turned our house into a home.

How did this all happen? How did a nightmare become a beautiful dream? In this post, if you learn nothing else, please learn this: forgiveness is the key to a healthy recovery from divorce. It might sound like a cliché but really, that’s what it is. There’s no magical formula – just simply learning about the act of forgiveness and acting upon it.

Shortly after my divorce, I was in such turmoil that I didn’t know what to do. I felt hurt and disappointed in the way things turned out. I lost everything – I mean everything. Well, I did get to keep my car, my clothes and college textbooks. But the entire house and all its effects were all gone. In addition, my credit was ruined. And seeing how the family court operated was a big eye opener. Through it all, I just remember thinking that, at least my daughter is ok because all else from that marriage was gone.

In the midst of the turmoil, I reached out to a gentleman who had been through a similar experience. He shared with me that, in order for me to move on effectively, I needed to choose to become better instead of remaining bitter. That simple concept has guided my life since then. I even wrote two blog posts about it: To Become Bitter or Better? The Choice is Yours and Bitter vs. Better Part 2: How to Become Better.

He told me that I needed to forgive my former wife and myself if I wanted to make a full recovery. And looking back at that conversation now, I can tell you that it was that brief chat the started me on the path that I’ve been on since then. It’s an inflection point to which I can trace the origins of the Upbeat Dad organization.

After that brief conversation, I knew there was some work to be done and I was determined to do it. I had lunch with my former wife shortly thereafter. Believe me, it wasn’t easy to initiate that contact but it was necessary. I told her that despite the fact that it was a messy divorce, we needed to come together for our daughter’s best interest and for our mutual benefit. Then I said, “For the wrong that I did during the marriage and throughout the divorce process, I’m asking you to forgive me.” It wasn’t easy for me to do so but I did.

I won’t even tell you her response but suffice it to say, it was less than favorable. But guess what? That was ok. I was trying to move on and, in my view, that was a necessary step. The next thing I did was forgive her for ways in which I felt I was wronged. I won’t even get into the discussion of “who did what” during the marriage and divorce. 

The fact is that we were married and the marriage ended. No matter how right either of us may have felt, no one was 100% innocent and no one was 100% at fault. The demise of the marriage was a shared responsibility.

I had to acknowledge wrong-doing on my part and that’s what I did. I forgave her and asked that she forgive me. Regardless of her response, I was no longer held captive to the emotions of that chapter in our lives. I was now free to move on from the experience. The only remaining obligation I had from that relationship was to continue being a loving father to our daughter.

It was so long ago, in hindsight, but I cannot emphasize to you enough how much healing took place after that conversation with her. I cried privately because I was so overcome with emotion. There was nothing that changed in an outward, tangible way after talking with her but I felt my heart becoming whole again. The sun was starting to shine in my life and I just had a new attitude.

The key to forgiveness is this: the power does not lie with the other person – it lies with you. By that I mean, the other person is free to forgive you or not. They’re also free to ask for forgiveness. But when you’re the one asking for forgiveness or actually forgiving the other person, you’re in total control. So then, you can be your own emancipator, if you will; you can be held captive by the wrong you feel was done against you, or you can choose to forgive and move on.

If you make the choice to forgive, you remove the possible ill-effects of harboring a grudge. Did you know that refusing to forgive and holding on to the hurt can literally make you sick? Ask your doctor. It can lead to high blood pressure, ulcers and all kinds of diseases. It really can.

If you find yourself at a crossroads today, dealing with a divorce or the ending of a relationship, I challenge you to put these words to the test. It doesn’t matter how bad things may be, forgiveness is the key to moving on and letting go of the hurt. If you’re dealing with heartbreaking issues such as domestic violence or infidelity, it doesn’t matter, it really works.

I can’t promise you that you’ll see tangible results overnight. A million dollars won’t necessarily appear in your bank account the next day. But what happens is that you become free of the baggage that comes with the bitterness that results when we don’t forgive. For me, it didn’t happen overnight but one thing that started almost immediately is that I learned to see my former wife in a different light. 

Things got so messy when the divorce became a reality. But I learned to remember the good in her that caused me to want to marry her in the first place. And she was the mother of our beautiful daughter. So without her, our daughter would never have been born. That’s why, to this day, I am glad that we got married – a precious child still remains long after the marriage has faded.

I hope that these words have spoken to your heart. If you need to make that special phone call to make amends, then please do so. If you need to shed some tears, then do so as well. All of these things are normal and dare I say, very necessary, if you are to move on from a past hurt.

Seeking and extending forgiveness and making apologies doesn’t indicate weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of strength. You become empowered by such acts. Now, I have to struggle to recall all that happened during our divorce. If I remained bitter and chose not to forgive my ex, I’d leap at any opportunity to say negative things about her. 

But believe me, it’s much better the way it is now. She’s moved on and I’ve moved on and each of us is much better as a result. And more importantly, our daughter is just fine – a well adjusted, happy pre-teen.

Now I have a wife who loves me unconditionally and I have 3 children that really light up my life. Life isn’t perfect with us but I can tell you honestly that it’s never been better. That didn’t happen overnight. When I made a conscious choice to forgive my ex and forgive myself, the wheels were set in motion for the life I live today.

I look forward to hearing of how things change for the better as you make your own choice to forgive. Believe me, it’s better that way. Don’t rob yourself of the benefits that forgiveness can give. You deserve the best that life has to offer. Please don’t let anyone or any situation ever cause you to become less than you’re capable of being.

Promise yourself that, starting today, you’ll forgive, forget and move on. In doing so, you’ll reap more rewards than you could imagine. And you deserve nothing less.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad