Q&A About Separation and Divorce
About the Guest
On the broadcast today, Laura Petherbridge, author of the divorce recovery guide When Your Marriage Dies, answers some of your most common questions about separation and divorce.
On the broadcast today, Laura Petherbridge, author of the divorce recovery guide When Your Marriage Dies, answers some of your most common questions about separation and divorce.
Q&A About Separation and Divorce
Bob: A divorce can be like some kind of a natural disaster hitting your home, and when that happens, people have to pull back and say, "What do I do first?" Here's counsel from Laura Petherbridge.
Laura: When people ask me what's the best thing a single parent can do? I say "Stabilize, stabilize, stabilize." The more stable you are, the more stable your children will become. So even if that other parent is doing behaviors that are destructive to the child, they will always know, "Gee, you know, when I went to Dad's house, it was stable there. That's where I went and found peace."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 11th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll offer strategies for single parents today who didn't want the marriage to end in the first place.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know when a marriage ends, people are left with a lot of questions, trying to figure out, "How does life work from here?" You know, something that we thought was going to work didn't, and at that point you go, "Okay, now what do I do and how does it work and what are the rules and who's got a – has anybody got an owner's manual for how life works after a divorce?" That's a tough place for people to be.
Dennis: It really is. In fact, let me read the foreword to a book, "When Your Marriage Dies, Answers to Questions about Separation and Divorce," by Laura Petherbridge and, Laura, by the way, welcome to FamilyLife Today. I'm about to read from your book. I thought I ought to go ahead and let folks know you're joining us here.
But, as you know, Steve Grissom, who is one of the leading experts on divorce care and divorce recovery in the country, wrote the foreword to your book and, Bob, just the way you started today's broadcast, I think you'd find this interesting.
He writes, "One of my daughters is the consummate question-asker. From the day she began forming even the simplest words, she has posed a constant stream of the why, what, and how questions. Even though I love her deeply, when I get tired, distracted, or just overwhelmed with the nonstop pace of her questioning, you know what happens. I tune her out.
Mind you, this is not a good parenting technique, and I do my best to avoid it, but it helps me illustrate something you'll go through if you are facing a separation or divorce." He goes on to say, "You, too, will become a fountain of questions, even if you are not wired like my daughter. Important questions, profound questions, urgent questions, imponderable questions."
What I want to do today, Bob, is I want to hit some of these questions that people have who go through separation or divorce. And, Laura, I'd like you, as one who speaks on this subject, who teaches and trains around the area of divorce recovery, to be able to help us by answering these questions.
The first one I'm going to ask is the question you've said people ask you all the time, which is how long will the pain last?
Laura: And the answer to that varies. There is no formula. It depends on your circumstance. My circumstance was catastrophic. It happened in one day. I got up that morning, thought I was married, and by noon of that day found out that my husband was in another relationship and, you know, even though the marriage wasn't legally over, all the dreams were dying quickly.
Other people, their marriages die over a long period of time with either abuse or neglect or all kinds of reasons, and so their pain is different, their pain is different. They still have to grieve the death of the marriage. The danger is, many times they don't think they need to grieve the death of the marriage or the death of the covenant or the death of the dream, because they've been grieving for a long period of time over the sadness of what's going on.
But if they don't take the time to grieve, it will come out later on in their life, either in their health or in their children or in their finances, it will come out somewhere.
And so the answer to that is that it's different for each person. The typical thing is that people think they're healed much more quickly than they actually are.
Dennis: And I want to add that usually it takes about a year to recover for every four years of marriage. At least that's what Steve Grissom and Divorce Care teaches in their material. So don't look for a quick fix to a deep wound.
Bob: But if you took that and went back to your situation, you were married for two years. So that would mean six months.
Laura: The way they calculate that is one year for every four years of marriage, but they also say with a minimum of two years for any circumstance, and that's if you're putting yourself in a recovery program. Those are for people who are taking the steps to get to a support group that teaches them what they've lost.
Dennis: Okay, let's continue on with some of these questions. Is it possible to remain friends with your ex-spouse after you've divorced?
Laura: A lot of people think that is possible, but I beg to differ. The key word here is "friend." A friend is somebody you can confide in, someone you call in the middle of the night when you're hurting, someone you trust, someone who is your confidante, someone who is your deepest person that you go to. And when a marriage dies, and when people divorce, they are no longer friends. They are no longer that to each other.
Very often what they mean when they say can we remain friends, they just mean can we remain pleasant to each other.
Dennis: Can we be cordial?
Laura: Exactly, and the answer to that is not only can you, you should, especially if you have children. But the "friends" is not an accurate word, because friendship means deep, abiding trust and very often a person cannot and should not be trusted.
Bob: You've read all the Hollywood press releases where people say so-and-so and so-and-so are getting a divorce. They're still wonderful friends, but – and you stop and think, "Well, if they're still wonderful friends …
Laura: … that's right …
Bob: … shouldn't they be married?"
Laura: Yeah, it would appear that way.
Dennis: It would, indeed. Well, while we speaking about relationships, here's your next question – what kind of relationship should a person expect to have with their in-laws after a divorce?
Laura: Yes, that's a very common question. It is a good idea, if you have a very tight relationship with them, to try to wean yourself away from that to some degree because the parent – even if they're angry with their son or daughter, you know, say, perhaps, their son or daughter is the one that had the affair or is the alcoholic or whatever? They're going to gravitate back to their child. You know, chances are real good they're going to gravitate back to their child, and that's normal, that's natural, it's going to happen.
And so severing some of that emotional tie is a very good idea. Now, you don't want to separate your children from their grandparent or from their aunt and uncle from the other side. You should try to keep that relationship close, if at all possible.
Bob: But you're saying don't continue to draw your own emotional support.
Laura: That's correct.
Bob: Don't invest heavily in that relationship?
Laura: That's right. And if you had that previously, you're going to try to take some steps backwards.
Dennis: Here is a question that I've heard all too many times. What do I do with a former husband that won't attend his children's ball games, recitals, go to school, see the child perform. How do I handle that?
Laura: Yes, unfortunately, Tom Whiteman, in his Fresh Start workbook gives a statistic in there that is going to make some men in the audience not too happy, but I have to say after 17 years of divorce recovery ministry, I agree with it, that 70 percent of all non-custodial parents – and that is not always the man, but very often it's the man – non-custodial parents have little to nothing to do with their children within two years of a divorce.
Dennis: Now, Laura, what happens there? Why would a dad, within two years, completely or almost completely pull out of the lives of their children?
Laura: There's a couple of reasons for that. Sometimes they move away. We live in a very mobile society, so sometimes they take a job in another area, and they just physically move away. Another reason is very often they get into another marriage very quickly, and they start investing in that marriage, in those children, perhaps, from the new wife's family, and/or the children they begin having together.
Another, third, reason is that the guilt over seeing the children from the first marriage is so painful that they just avoid it. They just run from it, rather than – and especially if they were the person that precipitated the marriage dissolving. Like, if their key issue is the one that the marriage really broke up over, then they are more likely to avoid their kids because it's a constant reminder of the guilt and the shame and of the poor choice that they made.
Bob: Well, and, I mean, I hate to sound crass here, but out of sight, out of mind.
Bob: Life moves on.
Dennis: Even though they're your own flesh and blood.
Bob: But you're not going home to see them every day, you're not engaged in their life.
Dennis: And we are selfish, aren't we?
Bob: You're starting to feel detached, and you don't know what's going on and, besides, next Wednesday when you're supposed to do that, the guys are getting together for something else, and your kids don't seem like they're all that excited about getting together with you, anyway, and so you just kind of let it slide.
We need to say quickly that 30 percent of non-custodial parents remain involved.
Laura: Yes, there are a lot of parents that stay in the child's life, both male and female. And I don't want to be male bashing. My brother raised his two children by himself, so there are a lot of dads that are very, very good dads to their children. I don't want to minimize that.
Dennis: Okay, back to the question then – what do you do if that non-custodial parent doesn't show up?
Laura: You can't do anything. I mean, you can go to them and say, you know, "Johnny is really struggling when you don't come to his soccer game. I'm not trying to lay guilt on you, I'm just trying to tell you that it's hurting him, and I really wish you would come."
Now, if that doesn't work, and most of the time it doesn't, all you can then do is deal with Johnny when he comes home, he's wounded, he's hurt, without bashing the parent say, "You know what? I know that that hurt you. I'm sorry that your dad's not coming to the soccer game, but I can't fix that for you. But I want you to be able to come to me and tell me how that feels, you know, with your dad not being there."
So the bottom line is there are some things in life we can't fix. You cannot fix that for your child. You can't make that parent be a parent.
Bob: And if the dad says, "I'll be there Thursday for your birthday," and you, as the mom, know – I've seen this pattern over and over again. Do you try to prepare the child in advance that, "Listen, honey, I know Dad said he'd be here, but don't get your hopes up."
Laura: If Dad hasn't told the child he's going to be there, first of all, I would say I wouldn't tell him. Like, lots of times I tell parents, "Don't tell the child that he says he's going to come to pick them up this Friday night for the weekend." If there is a past history of him not showing, don't tell the child, and let it be a surprise when he shows up.
Now, if it's something he's verbally said to them, I would – I would sort of say, "Well, you know, sometimes Dad works on Friday nights," or whatever. You don't lie for them, but you do sometimes need – and, again, this is all age appropriate. It depends on the age of the child.
Dennis: Okay, now, physical presence is one thing, but financial presence in terms of child support is another. What if Dad is not paying his child support? What should that person do?
Laura: Well, there are legal recourses to that, if that's in your divorce agreement. Again, state-to-state, this is going to vary. How you go about that is different per state, but that person is in contempt of court if they are not paying the child support that is required in the divorce agreement, and my suggestion would be to get with some people in your community. Usually, there are help groups in that that know who to contact on how you can get some help to get that support.
Dennis: Wouldn't you go to your church, perhaps, first, to consider alternatives of maybe using some friends or friendships that might be leveraged to talk to your spouse?
Laura: Sure. If there's people in the church, the pastor, you know, the leadership, or some friends that are still friends with him, and he was maybe a part of that church, that certainly would be wonderful to have them go and talk to the individual before taking it to court. But I will tell you, after doing this so long that that's usually what has to happen. They typically have to be forced to pay.
Bob: One of the questions I hear somebody asking over and over again, and relates to a more common scenario, and I'm going to do a role-reversal here. Let's say it's a disciplined custodial dad and a non-custodial Disneyland mom, and every other weekend time with mom is just Chuck E. Cheese and party, and then you come home, and it's chores and real life.
Laura: Yes, the custodial parent is typically the one that takes the abuse, because they're the one that's doing the day in, day out. They're the ones that's making them eat their vegetables and doing their homework, and so that's very often the place where the child will take out their anger and really become very obnoxious, because what they're trying to do is they're saying the other parent has left me or abandoned me or is not active in my life very much. Let's see how bad I can be before you abandon me also.
Bob: And when that child says, "Mom is fun. I want to live with Mom." What do you say?
Laura: I would probably say, "You know, when you're 14, if you want to consider that, you know, we will" – because in most states that the age – "if you want to consider that but for right now you need to abide by the rules of this house."
Now, remembering that children of divorce are in trauma, so very often what's coming out of their mouth is not really what they're feeling inside. And so that's why I highly recommended a Divorce Care for Kids program, because they will help the kids get down to why they're behaving that way, why are they acting out that way? It's typically just a symptom of a much deeper hurt.
Bob: And I'll just mention that we've got a link on our website at FamilyLife.com to where you can get more information about Divorce Care and Divorce Care for Kids, and those programs, they take place in a lot of local churches all around the country.
Dennis: And that really is some of the finest material available today. Laura, speak to the mom and I can just picture it being a mom more than it would be a custodial dad, but it would be a custodial mom who is not being paid a lot. She's arriving home. She's juggled daycare, a job, and short paychecks, the end of the month, and she's exhausted and whipped, and she turns on the TV and everything is about me. And there's nothing about her life that's about her. What should she do at that point in the midst of her exhaustion?
Laura: Well, I personally believe that single parenting is the most difficult job in the United States today – I'm sure in other countries, too, but because we have such a high ratio of it here. For the reasons you mentioned – you're exhausted, you're working all day, you're tired – part of the reason that kids of single-parent homes are so poorly behaved is because the mom or dad is so exhausted, they just don't have the strength to discipline them. It's not so much that they don't want to or that they don't know how, they're too exhausted to do it. So that very often …
I think personally that if a person and especially a mom does not have a support system at her church to come alongside her in this stage of raising these children, I would look outside your own church for a support group or for a system that helps single parents and teaches them how to be godly single parents, because that's what your kid's looking for. They're not looking for a new mommy or a new daddy, they're looking for the parent they have to become a godly, stable, single parent.
Dennis: Laura, before we came into the studio a few minutes ago, you were talking about how recovery from divorce today is much darker than it was when you went through your divorce back in 1984. What did you mean by that?
Laura: The reason that I believe that that's true is that when I first started doing divorce recovery, the situations, even though they were very devastating and very difficult, were not nearly as complex and depraved as they are today. With pornography being at epidemic levels that also means that sexual abuse towards children is at a much higher rate.
The level of people being infected with sexually transmitted diseases is so much higher. The level of people leaving their marriage for a homosexual relationship, which some people may say, "Well, maybe that would be easier if it was the opposite sex." The people that I meet, that is not the case at all. They are just so devastated that they were ignorant that this person had a tendency to want to pursue that in their life, and then they're left with "How do I tell my children that their mom or dad has left for someone of the same sex?"
And so what I meant by that is the level of things that I am dealing with now in divorce recovery are so much more twisted and difficult and complex than they were when I very first started that – probably if I had known how dark this was going to get in the early years, I don't know if I would have done it.
Dennis: You know, Laura, as I've listened to you answer that question and, really, Bob, all the questions that we've fired at her – anyone who is thinking about getting a divorce, you just need to pull back and go, "This is a mess. It is a first-class mess." And you really need to pull back and ask yourself the question "Is this a decision that's going to bring what I hope it brings?"
I like what one sociologist at Harvard said – "Divorce is not a solution, it's an exchange of problems." And I think today the one hope for marriage and the one solution to avoid divorce is found in the Christian community. It's found in the person of Jesus Christ. He's the one who made marriage, and He's the one who can make it work. And I just want to encourage couples who may be contemplating divorce, right now, having listened to you rattle off answers to some tough, tough situations, maybe you need to reconsider. Maybe you need to find a way to go to a Weekend to Remember, get in a small group Bible study or a Homebuilders Bible studies. Get a resource from us here at FamilyLife and find a way to take a fresh look at marriage from a Christian perspective, a biblical perspective.
Bob: I've said to a lot of couples over the years who have been in a difficult spot and are contemplating divorce, I said, "You want to make sure that you have done everything you think you can possibly do." You would not want to get to the other side and say, "You know, I wish we had gone ahead and done that. I wish we'd gone to one of those Weekend to Remember deals. I wish we'd gotten involved in a study."
If you're headed in that direction, just make sure you've done everything possible to try to bring reconciliation and peace and hope back to your marriage, because you're going to wish you had done that no matter where things wind up in the future.
Dennis: Yeah, don't be found guilty of doing too little. If you're going to be found guilt of anything, be found guilty of having done too much to try to make your marriage go the distance. Not just for the kids, but for your own well-being, long haul, as well.
Bob: And you talk about the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference. We're about to kick off our spring season of conferences. We're going to be hosting them in dozens of cities all across the country this spring. In fact, there is likely a conference coming to a city real near where you live.
I want to encourage our listeners, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go," in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to a page where you can get more information about the dates and locations of the upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this spring, and you can register online and set the weekend aside and have the two of you get away to one of these weekend conferences.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. Click the red button that says "Go," in the middle of the home page, and that will take you to a link for the Weekend to Remember. It will also take you to a page where there is information about the book that Laura has written called "When Your Marriage Dies, Answers to Questions about Separation and Divorce," and it may be that you know someone in your family, somebody in your neighborhood or in the workplace who has recently gone through a divorce. This would be a book you could purchase for them and share with them maybe as a way to begin a spiritual conversation with someone who doesn't know Christ.
In addition to Laura's book, we are also recommending a book called "Stories for Kids in Divorce," a read-aloud storybook put together by our friends at Divorce Care. This is a book to help elementary-age and younger children work through some of what they're feeling and experiencing when Mom and Dad split up in a marriage relationship.
Again, there's information about all of these resources on our website, FamilyLife.com. If you order both Laura's book and the storybook for children, we'll send along at no additional cost two CDs that feature this week's conversation with Laura Petherbridge.
All the information is on the website, FamilyLife.com, or you can call for more information – 1-800-358-6329 – that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. We'll have someone on our team help you with any questions you have about these resources and getting them out to you.
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So we appreciate your financial support of this ministry and during the month of January when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we have a book we'd like to send you as a thank you. It's written by our friends, Bill and Carolyn Wellons, and it offers couples a guidebook for a weekend away together, or a couple of days where you just do some planning together as a couple.
The book is called "Getting Away to Get it Together," and we want to send it out as a thank you gift this month for those of you who are able to help with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
You can donate online at FamilyLife.com, and if you do that, you will see a keycode box there in the donation form. Would you type the word "away" in that keycode box so that we know to send you a copy of this book? Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY and make a donation over the phone and mention that you'd like a copy of the book called "Getting Away to Get it Together," and we'll send it off to you.
Again, it's our way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry. We appreciate your partnership with us, and we're glad that you're here listening regularly to FamilyLife Today.
Well, tomorrow Laura Petherbridge is going to be back with us. We're going to continue our conversation about rebuilding a life and a family and a hope after a marriage has died. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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