Can You Be Forgiven For Divorce?
The theological questions about divorce, of course, only apply to people who are part of a spiritual community that believes that divorce is a sin. In some foreign countries, women are often shunned, not only by his family, but sometimes even her own family, if she wants out of a marriage. Even if it’s abusive. Even if he is not caring for her like he should. And, to make matters worse, he often also has full custody of the children no matter what.
Here are some of the theological questions about divorce:
- Can I be forgiven for divorce?
- Do I even need forgiveness after divorce?
- Is there any forgiveness for divorce and remarriage?
- Is there forgiveness for adultery and divorce?
- Will I have full standing in the church if I divorce? Or, if I remarry?
- Do I need forgiveness if I divorce because my husband is having a long-term affair he will not end?
- Or what about forgiveness if he just left with no chance of us fixing things?
- Are the only two options: Forgive or divorce?
Because divorce is such a complex issue, especially in Christian communities, it’s not easy to talk fully about it in a blog like this. However, there is an excellent theological study about divorce and remarriage in a book by Rubel Shelly entitled Divorce and Remarriage – A Redemptive Theology.
In the book there is “A Letter to Divorced Persons.” I have included part of that letter below:
“The good information I want you to get from this book has to do with maintaining your relationship with God. Divorce does not have to be the end of your spiritual life. As bad as you feel about what has happened, those “feelings” are not a true index to God’s attitude toward you. You have suffered a tragic and painful dissolution of a relationship. Whether your fault, your mate’s fault, the fault of both or “nobody’s fault,” God deals with you where you are today. He forgives failure. He heals wounds. He helps you move ahead with your life.
In spite of your past, God offers you a future. It is not a partial future. It is not a future shackled to your past. It is a future with the potential for every good thing he has ever dreamed for you. His forgiveness is complete and not contingent on your future penance of forfeiting natural human companionship.
May God bless you to read this book with understanding, to receive the fullness of God’s grace for your pain (whether self-or other-inflicted), and to rejoice in moving forward as God’s pardoned and blessed child.”
Sometimes the hardest forgiveness of all is forgiving yourself for your mistakes. We all make mistakes. We all could have done things differently and better in every relationship and especially in long term marriages.
Our job is not to berate ourselves forever for not being perfect. One problem is that often, our ex is trying to make us take responsibility for his (or her) own failures and bad decisions. For example, “If you had been better in bed, I wouldn’t have had to go look for sex and a relationship elsewhere.”
Take responsibility for your own choices, and forgive yourself after learning the lessons you need to learn. Do not take responsibility for someone else’s destructive behavior.
Forgiving Your Ex-Spouse After Divorce
Most people know they need to figure out how to forgive after divorce, but I always tell my divorce support groups that we are going to put “forgiveness” on the back burner for a while. Finding forgiveness after divorce is an ongoing process. Even though we know we have to get there eventually, trying to force forgiveness before we’re ready is a battle we don’t need to fight.
As long as we are still grieving the losses of our marriage, and often our ex may still be in our face and still doing things to hurt us and our children, it’s hard to get to divorce forgiveness. Don’t beat yourself up. Keep the intention to forgive in your heart. But realize, it’s an ongoing process.
In my own situation, early on, I didn’t want to give up my bitterness and anger and hurt. I thought if I forgave my ex, it would let him off the hook too easily. I wanted him to hurt like I was hurting. At some point, you will realize that unforgiveness is only hurting you and he is going on his merry way with the other woman or “finding himself” or whatever.
Forgiving The Other Man/Woman
Speaking of the infamous “Other Woman (or “Other Man”), we often spend too much time focusing on what she or he did to destroy our relationship. Even though that Other Woman did influence our spouse to have an affair, it usually doesn’t matter to her whether we forgive her or not. When the time is right, you will realize that holding any bitterness and anger toward that person, definitely holds back your own life now. Are you going to give them that kind of power over you? NO! She’s not worth more suffering for you by keeping her in your head at all especially by continuing to think about her or be mad at her. She is not your problem!
You will never get to the life you deserve without forgiveness. That’s a fact. Even though you think he doesn’t deserve forgiveness after divorce, you do! If you don’t forgive, your life will always be controlled by him. You will be captive of his toxic influence forever.
Below are just a few of the signs that you should start working on forgiveness:
- Obsessing on the events surrounding the divorce
- Having angry outbursts
- Feeling misunderstood
- Drinking, smoking pot, or using drugs to cope with your pain
- Having symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Being consumed by a desire for revenge or punishment
- Feeling like your life lacks meaning or purpose
- Being at odds with your religious, spiritual or moral beliefs
Forgiveness Isn’t Validating Their Actions
When we are grappling with the forgiveness after divorce battle, we worry that forgiving someone means that we’re validating or condoning (or even forgetting) what they did. The act that hurt you may always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on the positive parts of your life. Forgiveness does not deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it does not minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act.
Forgiveness In Order To Move On
Remember: Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves — to get well and move on.
Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” That’s true. It takes courage to forgive, but you get stronger because of it.
One thing that makes forgiveness after divorce so hard is that the offense is so huge. It is a betrayal of promises and trust. It affects every single part of our lives. It changes our existence on a scale way beyond most other kinds of offenses. We have lost a life partner, our dreams for the future, stability for our children and our very sense of who we are as a woman.
And often the hurt was intentional…and may have continued for years. He destroyed everything we thought was solid ground. His affair or his nonchalant attitude about our relationship destroyed so many of our core beliefs about the world and our part in it.
Don’t beat yourself up about your struggle with forgiveness.
How To Forgive
In our MasterPlan Program and Community, there is a poem that I wrote soon after our divorce. It gives you a look into my own feelings after divorce, and why it was so hard for me to get to the forgiveness piece.
I hate him!
I hate him.
I hate who he is.
I hate his arrogance.
I hate his selfishness.
I hate what he did to this family.
I hate how he misleads everyone to make himself look good.
I hate how he pretends to be this wonderful caring person.
I wish he were dead.
My life would be easier if he were dead.
Our children’s lives would be easier if he were dead.
This goes on for another 24 lines.
To put it mildly, I was pissed! But mostly I was completely broken-hearted.
You can read the whole poem and where I went from there in our MasterPlan program.
Anyway, that’s where I started on my journey to healing and forgiveness after divorce.
I think most women who are going through divorce, especially a divorce they didn’t want and didn’t expect and didn’t deserve will identify with my honest thoughts. I so wasn’t ready to forgive at the beginning and for several years later. In fact I think it’s very difficult to get to any level of forgiveness before you have dealt with the deep grieving that proceeds it.
For me, it was best to start with the intention to forgive. I didn’t want him in my head or in my heart anymore. Thinking about him brought agony, anger, and sadness at a level I had never experienced.
I am trying to be a God-follower. I am trying to practice the principles of Christianity and that is all about forgiveness. I often prayed to God and said something like, “God, I know I need to forgive my ex for all of this devastation his affair and our divorce has created, but I am SO NOT THERE yet. I know I need to get to forgiveness. I want to get to forgiveness, and eventually I hope to get there, but you are going to have to help me and be patient with me. I’m trying … so please do what you can to lead me in that direction.”
Some days I could forgive some tiny little thing he did that would pop into my head. And I felt good about even those baby steps forward.
Forgiveness Is A Process
There are Stages of Forgiveness just like there are stages for grieving. Usually the stages of grief have to be done before the stages of forgiveness can happen. Those things I was still grieving after several years were things like how complicated every single holiday became for our kids. I grieved that. I was furious about that, and I was nowhere near forgiveness about that.
At any rate, I found this list of the stages of Forgiveness that might help:
Stage 1: The offense (what is it you’re forgiving? So many things!)
Stage 2: Hurt
Stage 3: Anger
Stage 4: Information gathering
Stage 5: Reframing
Stage 6: Releasing
Stage 7: Wishing well
Keep in mind that sometimes Stage 7 is only for the spiritual super-heroes … especially at first! When I first found out that my ex was getting remarried several years later, he called me on the phone to tell me (our children told him to do that before I heard it on the grapevine!). When he told me he and his latest fling were getting married, I said something like, “Well, I hope you have found what you were looking for, and I hope you have learned some lessons in the last few years.) After I hung up, I started crying and said what I really wanted to say: “I hope your penis turns black and falls off and you are miserable every single day for the rest of your life!”
As you can tell, I was nowhere near Stage 7 on the forgiveness process! Now I rarely think of him at all, and I don’t care what or how he is doing. I don’t wish him ill and I hope things are okay for him. I call that progress!
We have a whole section about forgiveness after divorce in our MasterPlan Program and Community. Join us and find more strategies and expert advice on how to get to forgiveness after divorce. It’s one of the most liberating things you can do!