The Emotional Cost of Divorce
About the Guest
According to DivorceCare founder Steve Grissom, "You can’t heal from divorce without Christ in your life." Divorced now for over 15 years, Steve talks about the emotional and physical effects divorce has on a person’s life.
Steve GrissomSteve was personally devastated by a divorce and turned to his faith in Christ and his local church for help. As a result, he began leading divorce support groups in his church, learning methods that would help meet the unique needs and struggles of a person facing divorce or separation. Steve later remarried, and he and his new wife Cheryl, who had also been through divorce, soon felt the Lord leading them to devote full time to divorce ministry. In 1993, Steve and Cheryl designed and develo...more
Steve Grissom talks about the emotional and physical effects divorce has on a person’s life.
The Emotional Cost of Divorce
Bob: No one can fully estimate the amount of emotional trauma a divorce will exact on a family until that person has actually gone through the divorce. Here is Steve Grissom.
Steve: Forgive me for being graphic, but if you rip and arm or a leg off your body, the trauma to your body is awful, and the same is true as it relates to ripping that one-flesh partner, even if you're the person doing the ripping thinking you're going to be better, you still leave this huge emotional wound.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 13th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today we want to spend some time considering the emotional and spiritual impact of divorce. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. This week one of the things that we are encouraging listeners to do, Dennis, is to register for one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences that we're going to be hosting this fall in cities all across the country. We are hoping that couples, no matter what condition their marriage is in, will make an effort to be a part of one of these conferences, to learn the biblical blueprints for how to build a stronger marriage and to breathe some fresh life into your marriage. If you've got a good marriage, the conference will make it better; if you have a marriage that is hurting, this conference can provide you with some hope, some training, and some tools that you can use to turn your relationship back in the right direction.
You can register for one of these conferences between now and the end of July at a special rate for FamilyLife Today listeners. We are making the group rate available this month for FamilyLife Today listeners. You don't have to form a group, but you will still save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee. In order to take advantage of that special rate, you need to register now. Go to our website, FamilyLife.com, get more information. You can register online, and if you do that, as you fill out the registration form, you'll come to a keycode box, and you just type my name – just type "Bob" in there, and that way we know you're a FamilyLife Today listener. You'll get the special FamilyLife Today rate, $60 per couple off the regular registration fee or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, mention that you're a FamilyLife Today listener, we can answer any questions you have about one of the upcoming conferences, or we can get your registered over the phone at the special FamilyLife Today rate.
So make sure you get in touch with us this month and make plans to attend one of the Weekend to Remember conferences coming up this fall in a city near where you live. I think you'll find it's a fun, relaxing getaway for a couple, and I think you'll come away in a much better spot in your marriage relationship.
And, you know, one of the things we're trying to do on our program this week is to challenge couples to speak the truth. We live in a culture today where there is not a lot of truth being told about the subject of divorce. In fact, just the opposite is the case. There are a lot of folks saying that if you get a divorce your kids are going to be okay; that life will work out better for you; everyone will get over it; you can get on with your life. And the truth is often very different from what folks think before they get a divorce. In fact, too often, people wind up trading one set of challenges that they're experiencing for a completely different set of challenges.
Dennis: That's exactly right, Bob. In fact, sometimes speaking the truth can be controversial or can demand some boldness. And Malachi, chapter 2, verse 16 says, "For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel." And this morning at a breakfast Bible study where I spoke to 100 folks or so, I quoted that verse, and after I spoke, a chaplain came up to me, and he said to me, "I want to thank you for being courageous." He was speaking of quoting this verse. I didn't say anything courageous. All I did was read what the Bible says. I didn't say that God hates divorce, God said it. All I'm doing is reading it.
And, you know, that truth today is a controversial truth, but it's no wonder He hates divorce because divorce extracts a price on a culture, it extracts a price in the church, and it certainly extracts a price in individual people emotionally.
Bob: We have been talking all this week about some of what that price is, and our guest has been helping us assess the cost of divorce, not just the financial cost but, as we're going to talk about today, the emotional cost that couples will face.
Dennis: That's right. Steve Grissom joins us. Steve, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Steve: Thanks, Dennis.
Dennis: Your "Divorce Care" videos series has now been in use in more than 5,000 churches in more than 20 countries and in all 50 states across the United States. That prompted you to come up with another kit, a video package that contains a couple of videos called "Before You Divorce," and it's designed to help a couple count the cost of what that divorce is going to mean to them. And, you know, Bob, all this week we have been attempting to connect with our listeners and equip them, and it occurs to me here at the beginning of the broadcast, if it might not be a good idea to go to this series you created called "Before You Divorce," and simply listen to the emotional impact of what happens when a person goes through a divorce. Here are three women and one man who share divorce's impact on their lives.
Woman: (From videotape.) I have people that I was very close to that thought I was dying. They told me months later that they just knew I had a terminal disease because I rarely spoke. I had lost so much weight. I looked like a cadaver.
Woman: (From videotape.) After finally not being able to sleep more than two hours at a time, I called the doctor and said, "I've got to have some help. I can't do this." I was dying inside, outside, physically, emotionally, mentally.
Woman: (From videotape.) It was just horrible. I prayed to die. I remember praying, "Lord, please, there's no way anyone can survive this kind of pain. You can't have this kind of pain and live." You can't, there's no way, I mean, it was the most excruciating pain I ever have been in in my life.
Man: (From videotape.) I couldn't do anything. I'd go to work, and I was switching projects at work, and I was supposed to be trying to get involved in a new project, and most of the time I'd just close the door to my office and cry.
Dennis: Steve, as I was listening to those testimonies, you know, I couldn't help but think, "Why are we not telling the truth about this?" I mean, people are describing this event that's happening a million times a year in America over and over and over again. They're describing it as a death, and it is the death of a marriage, it is the death of a family. Why are we not telling the truth about what this is doing to people emotionally?
Steve: I think it's just a tool of the enemy to deceive us and take our attention away from the real toll that comes from divorce. This is like a car wreck, the effect a car wreck has on the body – severe trauma. It's the same with divorce. We don't treat it in the same way, though.
Dennis: As you've been around the whole divorce recovery movement, and you've helped couples count the cost of a divorce, what would you say are the three primary emotions that a person experiences who is headed toward divorce?
Steve: It really depends on which side of the equation you're on, assuming there are two, and that's oversimplifying it. If you are attempting to get a divorce, if you are the "active agent," as it's often called, you're angry, you're in a hurry, and you believe that things will be better soon. And when you get finished with the divorce, quite often you're disillusioned, and you jump right into a new relationship with somebody that may be very similar to your ex-spouse. We are typically drawn to the same person, and so you begin the cycle all over again.
Dennis: In other words, those expectations and those dreams that they're hoping for really aren't met.
Steve: That's correct. In fact, you're probably worse off emotionally and definitely spiritually than you were before you started, if you are the one who went after the divorce.
Dennis: Why do you say that?
Steve: Well, because, first of all, let's look at the spiritual dimension, and we can't ignore that. If we are disobedient to God, we pay consequences. We deal with the consequences of our sin. If I am in an adulterous relationship that leads me to instigate a divorce, I've created consequences that I've got to somehow be responsible for. And God has individual personal ways of dealing with that, but He does deal with it.
Dennis: And, you know, it occurs to me you're left with the residue of your decision in facing the questions of children who are blunt and honest, who are anguishing over their parents' split, and that goes on for years. That doesn't stop at 30 days after the divorce. The aftershocks of this emotional earthquake don't stop.
Steve: They don't stop. With the kids that are younger, you can glaze over it for a while with them. You say, "Well, Daddy and Mommy just didn't get along very well. We thought it was best for you." But as the kids age, they're going to get your number. They're going to know what you did to their mom or their dad, and they're going to lose respect for you because of that.
Bob: And they're going to be facing identity issues because they know they're connected to the two of you, but you aren't connected, and it gives them a sense of insecurity. You mentioned that the person who is the active agent, the one who is initiating a divorce, is experiencing anger, they're in a hurry, they want to get this thing over with. The people we listened to, they didn't sound angry, they sounded almost clinically depressed.
Steve: They are clinically depressed dealing with a whole set of issues. Dr. Jim Talley, who has worked in this area for a long time says that the divorce process will consume 85, 90 percent of the total energy reserve you have to get through life leaving you with somewhere around 10, 15 percent to deal with all of the other issues in your life. And so it taps you out totally. You simply are having trouble functioning to the level of brushing your teeth or getting ready in the morning.
I talked to one lady who says, "I had to tell myself to pick up the toothbrush, put the toothpaste on, brush my teeth. I left myself notes to turn on the coffeemaker." She simply was so non-functional because all of her energy was directed towards the emotional drain of this divorce process.
Bob: Now, these may be people who are in pain in their marriage. I mean, they were already experiencing some frustration or anger or disappointment or bitterness. Are you saying that the emotional consequences of being in the midst of a divorce are worse than the pain you were experiencing in trying to make a marriage work?
Steve: Absolutely and for both people, and let's go back to the biblical model of marriage, which is that one-flesh relationship, which gets ripped. And the emotional wounds are just as bad as – forgive me for being graphic, but if you rip and arm or a leg off your body, the trauma to your body is awful, and the same is true as it relates to ripping that one-flesh partner, even if you're the person doing the ripping thinking you're going to be better, you still leave this huge emotional wound.
Bob: You were not the active agent in your divorce.
Bob: What was going on emotionally in your life during the four-year period that divorce was proceeding?
Steve: I spent a lot of time crying. I'd close the door and cry.
Dennis: Would people have said you were an emotional person outwardly?
Steve: No, anything but. I could not function. Thankfully, I had an office with a door. That was a way to cope with it, I guess.
Bob: Steve, the emotional impact of a divorce has physical consequences for people as well. I mean, there's statistical data that indicates that if you divorce, you don't live as long, right?
Steve: I've looked at some startling clinical studies, and I won't bore you with a lot of statistics. I'll share a couple of them. People who have been through a divorce typically do not live as long as those who remain married. Now, think about that, that's shocking. Here is a specific statistic – premature deaths due to cardiovascular disease doubled for divorced men and even the children of divorce have a shorter lifespan than those who were in intact families. And we could go on and on and on, but there are many studies now which say you're going to die sooner, and you're going to have health problems.
Bob: And, Dennis, we know that our physical health is linked to our emotional health, and we can't help but experience some physical consequences from depression or anger or any of the other emotions that folks are going through in the midst of a divorce.
Dennis: And our emotional and physical health are both anchored in our spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. Make no mistake about it, if we disobey God and go through with the divorce and shake our fist in His face and refuse to be obedient to His word and don't keep our promises, we're going to pay the price, spiritually speaking, and it may be that marriage problem you're facing, the difficulty with that spouse, may be what God desires to use in your life to bring you back to Him.
You know, there's one other thing that you have in your video series where you speak about depression and how people who enter into a divorce go through some deep, dark days. We have a couple of testimonies from that video clip that I think vividly describe the impact of divorce.
Woman: (From videotape.) I came home, and I laid on the couch, and the wracking sobs were just overwhelming me, and the desperation came over me, and I didn't want to live anymore, it was as simple as that – I didn't want to live, and I knew that the easies way not to live was to kill myself.
Woman: (From videotape.) And would pray, "Lord, please take my life." That was even a thought was – "I could end this. I could get out of this," because I didn't think I could take the pain, but I couldn't do that to my children. That was the only thing that stopped me.
Bob: You know, just listening to those two women talk about depression to the point of suicide, you wonder – you mentioned the margin that is left in a person's life when they're experiencing divorce, all it takes is a call from school saying, "Your son is misbehaving," or your boss saying, "Things aren't working out here, and we're going to need to transfer you." Any little provocation can be enough to press you into a situation where you think, "I can't live any longer." Did you ever give any kind of premeditated serious – I mean – did you start thinking about how you might take your own life when you were going through this?
Steve: I did not, but I can assure you that lots of people do in this particular circumstance. It is a very normal feeling and, in fact, any life crisis, any depression, thoughts of suicide will creep in. It's what you do with those thoughts.
Dennis: It's what divorce represents to a person. It is the most personal rejection that can ever occur to a human being.
Steve: It's a rejection of you as a person.
Dennis: That's right. You can't turn around and look at anybody else and blame – it's me – and I think that's why it's so devastating. If you were in that situation today, get a friend on the phone immediately and ask them for help. Share your burden, find a burden-bearer, find a godly Christian that you can be honest with and who can help you and who will pray for you and who will weep with you and who will tell you the truth and not just tell you what you want to hear. Because if you are going to rescue someone who still hasn't dissolved that marriage, it may mean, at points, that the truth will offend, and that the truth will have to be spoken, and it may not be easy to hear.
I don't know if you had anybody in your life like that, Steve, who spoke the truth to you where it wounded, but the Proverbs say that the wounds of a friend bring healing.
Steve: I had people like that, and I also had people that just literally put their arms around me and say, "I'm not sure I understand, but I care." And that was enough.
Bob: You know, you've seen people sit and watch these videos, and as they watch, they're amazed to see somebody on the screen who is verbalizing things that they're feeling that they thought they were the only person in the world feeling. There has to be some kind of relief that comes as folks go, "I'm not alone in this. Here are other people who have lived through it." It may provide some of the hope that gets folks thinking back toward how they can make things right again.
Steve: That's the most common comment we hear. You take a Divorce Care group where people think, "I'm the only person in the world going through this," and then they get around other people who are experiencing similar things, and there's great healing in understanding that.
Dennis: Steve, we've listened today to half a dozen comments from people who went through a divorce. Why is that a part of a series that is meant to prevent divorce?
Steve: We want people to understand what it's like on the other side. We want you to understand that as rosy as it may look now, that no matter what your circumstances, it's not as easy, it's not a piece of cake, it's going to be tough.
Dennis: It's at this point I wish radios had arms. I do, because if I knew what was going on in that listener's life who is really thinking about divorce, I'd love to be able to reach in there and reach around them and give them a hug to say, "Come on, you can do it. You can stand courageously for this marriage. You don't have to pitch it in like everybody else does. Don't be like the world. The herd can divorce – be a David, be a Gideon. Be an Esther, a Ruth, a woman who steps out and who has a great God, a God who is able to redeem your life from a seemingly hopeless situation and let somebody in to the drama that's taking place in your life. May God give you the courage to do that."
Bob: You know, radios don't have arms, but our listeners do, and that's why we've been hoping this week that listeners would be the arms that you wish you could be and would go to their friends and say, "Come on, come with me, I want to help."
Dennis: That's right, do battle on behalf of that legacy represented in that marriage and family. I mean, there's a lot at stake here.
Steve: And if you really search your heart, you probably know, you probably suspect, certain relationships that you come in contact with are in trouble, and you don't want to admit it, and it takes a lot of courage to be the initiator of help; to go and say, "You know, I may be really off-base, but can I ask you, is your marriage okay? Is there anything I can help with?" And that's a courageous thing to do, but think of what you might do in terms of saving a marriage by taking that step.
Dennis: And you know where the greatest army is to fight on behalf of families? It's in the church. And I want to challenge you do to something. I want to challenge you to consider, if you can afford it, to get this material that Steve has put together, and I want you to put it in your church, and then make sure it gets used. Don't run past your pastor.
Bob: Yeah, let him know that it's there.
Dennis: That's right, but you know what? Take it around to some Sunday school classes and put it to use. You know what? You may have an impact for generations to come, and it doesn't cost that much. It's really a very small amount of money when you consider the cost of what a divorce extracts.
Bob: We've got the DVD series in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can contact us for more information, you can find out how to secure a copy of these DVDS. More information is on our website at FamilyLife.com. Click the "Go" button you see in the center of the screen, and that will take you right to the page where you can get information about this DVD series. And let me add a suggestion to yours, Dennis, and that is you might scholarshiping a couple you know, maybe if they're experiencing some challenges in their marriage right now, scholarship them to attend one of the upcoming fall FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.
This is a two-and-a-half-day event where they will get the biblical blueprints for how to build a stronger marriage. They'll be able to work together on some projects that are designed to help them apply what they're learning at the event, and for many couples this two-and-a-half-day weekend getaway gives them the hope they need to persevere in their marriage.
During the month of July we are giving FamilyLife Today listeners an opportunity to register for one of these upcoming conferences at a discounted rate and, by the way, you can also purchase a gift certificate at a discounted rate. You will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if we hear from you before the end of July and if you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener. If you're registering online for one of the upcoming conferences, when you fill out your form, you will come to a keycode box, and when you get to that box just type in my name. Just type in "Bob," and that will qualify you for Bob's special FamilyLife Today rate – $60 per couple off the regular registration rate or call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you're interested in registering for one of these conferences and that you listen to FamilyLife Today and, again, you will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.
If you need more information about where the conference is being held, which weekend it's being held in a particular city this fall, go to the website, FamilyLife.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and we'll get you set up so that you or someone you know can be a part of what can be a life-changing weekend for a lot of couples.
We are going to continue our weeklong look at this subject tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us. We want to examine the impact divorce often has on children, and I hope you can be with 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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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