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Dealing with Divorce at the Holidays

Letting Go of Past Hurts Gives Way to a Fresh Start for Those Who Are Divorced

The stress of the holidays can throw anyone into a tailspin of worry, self-doubt, anxiety and even self-medication.

This is especially true for those who are dealing with divorce between Thanksgiving and the New Year—whether it’s a fresh split of the relationship or a decades-old divorce.

Those who have experienced divorce can make a commitment to forgiveness this holiday season and move on to a more healthy way of living.

Divorce can create feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, hurt and betrayal. And oftentimes, at the holidays, estranged spouses are brought together—even if not by their own choosing—for the sake of their kids or other family members. But the holidays don’t have to be a time of strife for those who are divorced. Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we can give—to ourselves, our ex-spouses, our children and other loved ones.

Committing to forgiveness and letting go of past hurts can go a long way toward true mental health wellness.

After a divorce, holiday traditions that were once a part of the family are now gone. And children, especially, may have trouble dealing with this loss. But if parents can come together to make new traditions, and forgive in the process, it will be a healthier transition for the entire family.

Another complication of divorce is that it often is a spark reigniting an addiction fire. And once an addiction is fired up, it can burn out of control, causing damage to any and all areas of our lives, often quickly and deeply. Unforgiveness fans this fire, while choosing to forgive helps put out the fire.

When others hurt us, such as an ex-spouse, either during or after the marriage, we must proceed through a set of both external and internal actions. Oftentimes, we make a new vow—to never allow that person to hurt us again—through the external actions of setting boundaries, formulating a strategy to deal with the other person, assessing their trustworthiness and negotiating what future interactions will look like.

Internally, there are five steps through which we must proceed to reach the place from which we can truly forgive someone else, such as an ex-spouse:

  1. We first assess our part, if any, in the issue, problem or in this case, divorce.
  2. We build up our emotional management skills by knowing how emotions affect us and how to process them.
  3. We must let go of any feelings of entitlement that will block our goal of forgiveness.
  4. We must realize what it is we are holding on to. What is preventing us from setting appropriate boundaries and “changing the rules of engagement” with the other person?
  5. Finally, after these self-searching actions, we can achieve true forgiveness.

Once people are truly ready to forgive, there are six steps to overcoming the hurt of divorce for good:

  1. Understanding both parties’ role in the divorce.
  2. Forgiving the ex-spouse, which takes just one person.
  3. Asking the ex-spouse to accept our forgiveness, which takes both people.
  4. Reconciling the relationship, which takes both parties. This does not necessarily mean “getting back together,” but taking the necessary steps toward a healthy relationship.
  5. Restoring the relationship, which helps us move the new relationship to a healthy place.
  6. Growing the relationship again, which takes both parties and requires a commitment to shift the relationship to a new level that involves forgiveness, grace and perhaps even newfound trust.

Committing to these five internal actions and these six steps will help all of us let go of past hurts and truly forgive. This is especially true for divorced people who must deal with past anger, bitterness and resentment. When we hold onto these negative feelings, we are not hurting our ex-spouse; rather, we are only hurting ourselves. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift that Jesus has given to us, so we are called to extend the gift of forgiveness to others—and to ourselves.

Divorce and forgiveness are common topics in my counseling sessions with patients struggling with depression, anxiety, or addictions. Help is available and the most effective help will incorporate God’s power and the healing principles of the Holy Bible into the treatment process. Without this Christian component, no amount of rehab, talk therapy, or medication can bring the deep healing and lasting transformation our soul thirsts for.

 

karl-benzio-1Dr. Karl Benzio MD, Christian Psychiatrist, writer, speaker, media guest expert, social issue activist, and the founder and clinical director of Lighthouse Network. Benzio brings scientific expertise and biblical principles together to examine common daily struggles and help people successfully navigate life’s storms. His experiences include teaching pastors, ministry leaders and students about counseling, leadership, parenting, marriage, and conflict resolution skills in traumatized areas like Uganda, Kenya and post-Hussein Iraq. He is currently a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council, the Pennsylvania Director of the American Academy of Medical Ethics, and serves on many other social policy task forces. His specialties include adolescents, addictions, decision-making and infusing spirituality into treatment. Benzio shares psycho-spiritual insights via his Stepping Stones daily devotional, on his one-minute daily radio feature “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” on 425 Christian radio stations and on iDisciple.org.

Email: KBenzio@LighthouseNetwork.org

Twitter: @drkarlb