It can be tough when a marriage ends, but YOU can get through the difficult adjustment.
Story: Paula F. Howard and Theresa Campbell
February conjures thoughts of romance, love, togetherness. Many weddings take place on Valentine’s Day, but many marriages are legally dissolved this month. In the United States, 40 percent to 50 percent of marriages last between 10 and 14 years and end for a variety of reasons, according to the American Psychological Association.
The late country singer Tammy Wynette said the D-word “tears the heart right out of me” when she crooned her hit song, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” The two-syllable word for dissolution of marriage evokes a wide array of emotions: anxiety, anger, sadness for some; hope, happiness, even total relief to others.
“Mommy, you and Daddy fight too much. Maybe you should be with someone you don’t,” Nicole Hamel, 34, remembers hearing her then 6-year-old daughter say. “That was the moment my eyes were opened.”
Nicole, a military wife, endured more than 10 years of physical abuse and having her possessions destroyed. She stayed in the marriage because she felt “the children needed their dad,” and she hung on to memories of the good times—when the father of her two children wasn’t drinking.
Nicole admits she didn’t heed the red-flag moments. The first red flag, violent physical rage, happened several weeks before their wedding.
“I thought it was just an isolated incident because he had been drinking,” she recalls.
Her ex-husband, she eventually learned, had come from a family with a history of domestic violence.
“As a baby, he watched his biological father severely abuse his mother. As a nurturing woman with a strong motherly instinct, I naturally wanted to make things better,” Nicole says. “I wanted to make things work, to help him heal. None of this helped; it really only created more problems because he refused to accept that he had a problem with his actions. I gave excuses to myself as to why he treated me this way. It took me so long to see him for who he truly was and to gain enough courage to leave him safely.”
Working, helping others, and being involved with her kids has helped Nicole cope. Divorced for nearly a year now, Nicole has full custody of her 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. She is rebuilding her life in Summerfield.
Registered nurse Christa Tibbals, 38, of Fruitland Park, was married for seven years before she and her ex-husband agreed to call it quits. The divorce was amicable.
“We tried counseling, we tried everything. We were just two different people. We had different interests, different lives, and we just weren’t on the same page,” Christa says.
They have two daughters, now 15 and 12.
“I think the most important thing is to get along, especially for the kids’ sake. If you do have animosity, don’t show it in front of the kids,” Christa says. “I think it helped my girls get through it, and it was a smooth transition. I’ve seen other people and friends go through [divorce] when it’s ugly. If you have any negativity, I wouldn’t do it in front of kids. Don’t put them in the middle. When we divorced, it was very cordial. We got along. We made sure for the girls that it was very positive. We have two happy homes.”
Christa and her former spouse support their daughters together.
“We’ve always sat together at their sports and school functions. I feel blessed to be able to have a relationship like that,” she says. “I think what’s helped me now is that I’ve taught my girls to be independent.”
Christa hasn’t ruled out love. “I am OK being single, and I am very independent, but in the future I hope to find my one,” she says.
Barbara Phillips, of The Villages, “found the one” in her third marriage to her husband, Don, who also is in his third marriage. The pair met in Kansas while he was in the Army as a specialist and she was teaching at a military school.
“My first wife was young and pregnant. We were teenagers,” Don recalls. “When you get someone pregnant, you should marry them. So, we got married, had two more children over the next nine years. Then, she wanted to leave. After our divorce, she moved to Seattle with the children. I felt robbed losing my family.”
Barbara was married for 27 years to her first husband, “the love of her life,” she says. “Then, one day he said to me, ‘I don’t want to be married to you anymore. My sweetheart from high school and I are going to be together.’”
Her second husband was a rebound marriage that lasted a few years. That, too, dissolved.
Don’s second marriage lasted 15 years until his wife had an affair with her boss and decided that was the life she wanted.
Don and Barbara’s relationship began as friends. They provided moral support for each other.
“Barbara helped me through an emotional time and became the only person I could trust,” Don says. When he later proposed marriage, Barbara asked him, “Are you sure?”
The Villagers have been married for nearly 20 years. The couple’s advice to others going through divorce: “Learn to love yourself.”
Psychologist Phyllis Walters, of The Villages, adds these tips:
- Don’t let emotions control your life.
- Forgiveness is the foundation to heal from an unwanted divorce. For some people, this is an obstacle.
- Your perception is your reality. If people believe something to be so, even if it isn’t, it is true for them.
- Life is about loving as in an action, a verb. It’s hard to love someone who has injured you emotionally, but that’s the challenge in order to heal yourself.
- If there are children, what do you want them to learn from your actions? Actions speak louder than words.
- Take care of yourself by balancing your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
Helen Schuster, a psychotherapist with Central Florida Counseling and Psychological Service Inc. in Leesburg, encourages people not to be afraid to get outside help, via counseling or a support group.
“While we may not ever totally ‘get over’ the losses in our lives, we can most certainly get through them and find a new normal that works for us,” Helen says. “Activities, socialization, a few psychotherapy sessions can help diffuse the blues and define new goals.”
Mentalhealthamerica.com offers these tips:
Recognize that it’s OK to have different feelings. It’s normal to feel sad, angry, exhausted, frustrated and confused—and these feelings can be intense. You also may feel anxious about the future. Accept that reactions like these will lessen over time. Even if the marriage was unhealthy, venturing into the unknown is frightening.
Take care of yourself emotionally and physically. Be good to yourself and to your body. Take time out to exercise, eat well, and relax. Keep to your normal routines as much as possible. Try to avoid making major decisions or changes in life plans. Don’t use alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes as a way to cope; they only lead to more problems.
Avoid power struggles and arguments with your spouse or former spouse. If a discussion begins to turn into a fight, calmly suggest that you both try talking again later and either walk away or hang up the phone.
Take time to explore your interests. Reconnect with things you enjoy doing apart from your spouse. Have you always wanted to take up painting or play on an intramural softball team? Sign up for a class, invest time in your hobbies, volunteer, and take time to enjoy life and make new friends.
Tips for talking to kids…
Reassure and listen. Make sure your children know that your divorce is not their fault. Listen to and ease their concerns and be compassionate but direct with responses.
Maintain stability and routines. Try to keep your kids’ daily and weekly routines as familiar and stable as possible.
Don’t involve your children in the conflict. Avoid arguing with or talking negatively about the other parent in front of your kids. Don’t use them as spies or messengers or make them take sides.