August 12, 2009

Change is Hard

I have a couple of friends who were married in their 20s, and both have been single the last 25 years or so. As it happens, both got engaged this summer. At least one of them has expressed concern over the adjustment to married life after so many years on her own. But they're both bright women who have learned a lot in the last 25 years, and neither one has taken the decision to remarry lightly. I have every confidence that they'll work through whatever challenges come their way as they adjust to this happy chapter in their lives.

They'll have plenty of help. As I mentioned in one of my first posts, there are plenty of resources on marriage. There are books, there are magazine articles, there are marriage retreats, Dr. Phil counsels couples on marriage, and even the never-married Oprah offers marital advice. Both of my friends are involved in their respective churches, where there will likely be the obligatory marriage sermon series every couple of years. And of course churches affirm marriage in dozens of other ways.

But what about those who are adjusting to singleness after many years of marriage? We've watched a couple of high-profile marriages go through some rough times this summer. Just this past week, Jenny Sanford moved out of the South Caroline Governor's Mansion and plans to work on her marriage from a distance of 120 miles. It's a picture that is played out across the country every day.

Kate Gosselin has been making the talk show rounds this week answering questions about her marriage that seems to be beyond hope. It's a story we've all heard from friends in our lives.

And yet, Jenny Sanford, Kate Gosselin and all the others in their position won't get the same degree of support that couples receive. While those of us who have been single for decades have learned how to deal with singleness, those who have been married for many years often have a very difficult time navigating life on their own, particularly when there are children to raise.

Jenny Sanford is entering the marital limbo of the separated couple. While still married, it doesn't feel the same. She's probably not feeling single either. Even though the Gosselins have decided to divorce, that seems to be where Kate is, as well.

What would I tell these ladies and others in their position? While this advice is directed at women, it applies equally to men.

  1. Whether you have decided to divorce or not, you are married until a divorce is final. Don't even think about dating - not online, and not in real life. Moving on too soon can be difficult for your children, and it's not wise for you on an emotional level. What your spouse chooses to do is beside the point. You are only responsible for your own choices.
  2. Yes, your husbands have behaved stupidly and humiliated you in front of everyone you know. You can pour your heart out to your friends and vent about their bad behavior to them. What you cannot do, is vent to your children. Tearing the other parent down is an awful thing to do to kids, and it doesn't reflect well on you. After all, you're the one who chose this guy to be the father of your children. That's the first thing your kids will figure out. Over time, they'll make up their own minds about their dad's behavior. Painful as it is, you'll have to let that play out.
  3. Only vent to friends who are discreet, and don't vent in public. You don't want what you say to others to get back to your kids.
  4. Pay attention to what's going on with your kids. They don't want you to know that the pain you're going through is also creating havoc for them. Spend quality time with them. Stay on top of their schoolwork, make sure you know who they're hanging out with, and maintain the same expectations you have always had for their behavior. Don't let them fall through the cracks.
  5. Do not shut your spouse out of your kids' lives. They need both parents to be actively involved in their lives to get them through what is difficult time for them, too.
  6. Should you go through with a divorce, work on friendships with women before you start thinking about finding a new guy. A woman who acts boy crazy when her marriage fails makes bad choices and sets a horrible example for both daughters and sons. (Do I need to remind you again that this advice applies equally to men?)
  7. Find a support group. DivorceCare is a great group that can be found in many churches. You'll find other groups online, too. You'll learn that many of the feelings you're going through are the same feelings others have. It will help you to get your life back on track to know that you're not alone.
  8. Recognize that you made mistakes, too, and figure out what they are. Blaming your spouse will not help you to grow.
  9. Allow God to heal you, and allow Him to heal the relationship with your spouse as much as possible. Back to #1, what your spouse chooses to do is beside the point. You are only responsible for your own choices.
We all go through seasons of life. We never know how long the season will last, but we serve a God who knows all, and who is prepared to give us whatever we need, in the good times and the bad. Trust Him to be there for you.

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