More Q&A on Separation and Divorce
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, author and speaker Laura Petherbridge answers more of your questions on separation and divorce.
Laura PetherbridgeLaura Petherbridge serves couples and single adults with topics on women’s issues, relationships, stepfamilies, co-parenting, single parenting, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is an international speaker and author of four books including, When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with stepfamily expert Ron Deal and endorsed by Gary Chapman (Five Love Languages...more
Today on the broadcast, author and speaker Laura Petherbridge answers more of your questions on separation and divorce.
More Q&A on Separation and Divorce
Bob: Just about everyone who faces the reality of a divorce has to deal with the tension. There are regrets and issues that need to be dealt with, and there's also a point where you have to move on. Here's author Laura Petherbridge.
Laura: Okay, maybe I was too critical, or maybe I should have been more attentive to my spouse, you know, whatever things are running through your mind. But if the divorce has already occurred, and there's no way to go back and fix any of that, there comes a point of where you have to ask God to forgive you, learn why you did those things and move on.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 12th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How do you know when it's time to keep working on issues and when it's time to get on with your life? Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, we get enough letters, e-mails here at FamilyLife with people who have questions about what should I do in this situation? And they describe a marital situation or a situation following a marriage where they're wondering how do I honor God in this situation? I want to do what's right. What should I do?
And I often read those, Dennis, and I think to myself of the children's nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty and how all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. You look at some of these situations, and you think, you know, there's no good answer to trying to resolve your situation. We'll give you the best answer we can, but if you're looking for an answer that fixes everything, we've got to deal with the fact that things cracked and in some cases you can't get them back to where they belong.
Dennis: You know, there's a reason why Jesus commanded us. He said, "What God has joined together let no man separate." And the reason, Bob, is the very thing you're talking about is when you separate that which God joined together, then there are going to be cracks and breaks, and it's not going to be a matter of finding some super glue and piecing it back together.
Well, all this week we've been talking with Laura Petherbridge, and Laura joins us again. Laura, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Laura: Thank you.
Dennis: Laura is a speaker, a teacher, an author, and has written a book, "When Your Marriage Dies, Answers to Questions About Separation and Divorce," and, Laura, we're going to continue on as we did earlier this week. We're going to just continue to pepper you with questions that people ask about this subject.
Bob: Let me ask you one first before we go to Laura. Can I do that?
Dennis: You may.
Bob: There are probably some listeners that have been listening this week and are going, "What is FamilyLife Today doing talking about a book called, "When Your Marriage Dies?" I mean, aren't you about marriages not dying? Why are you talking about this subject in the first place?
Dennis: Well, I'm glad you asked that question, Bob, because, as you know, you and I discuss this a great deal and even talked with Laura about this before we came on the air. We really believe in marriage, and we don't believe in divorce. In fact, anybody who listens to FamilyLife Today knows that we believe the "D" word needs to be eliminated from the vocabulary in every Christian marriage. That word should never pass through your lips.
Yet the reality is in the Christian community and in the culture that there are a lot of divorces resulting in a lot of broken people who need to be ministered to, and the church needs to minister to them, the Christian community needs to admit they're there and needs to come alongside them and, hopefully, that's what we've done all this week, is we've come alongside them while not dropping the standard that marriage should be a covenant relationship for a lifetime.
And all we're doing is admitting, you know what? It does occur, and we're certainly not condoning it occurring, but when it does occur, we want to come alongside you to bring some help and encouragement and hope in the process.
Bob: Laura, you know, you talk to pastors and church leaders who feel uncomfortable in any way dealing with this subject because they don't want to somehow signal, "Well, divorce is bad but if it's going to occur, we'll help make it all better," and yet at the same time, we want to minister grace and love to those who, in any circumstances, have found themselves in a broken marriage relationship.
Laura: Yes, what most of them don't realize – sometimes when I talk to pastors or churches is that it takes two people to get married, but it only takes one to get divorced. And usually the people that come to a divorce recovery program in a church are usually the person that did not want the marriage to end.
Now, that doesn't mean they may not have been the one that actually had to file the papers, because sometimes for financial reasons or for safety reasons, sometimes they have to be the person that does some of that ugly stuff.
Bob: Which, by the way, I think is why Jesus said, "Because of the hardness of your heart, Moses allows for divorce" not because Jesus was saying, "Oh, in some cases, it's not a big deal." But He's saying there are some cases where the law needs to step in to protect an innocent person from – and I use that word with quotations around it, because when a marriage comes apart, both people bear some responsibility.
But the person who didn't want the divorce may actually be the one who has to file for it for protection, right?
Laura: That's right. And the person filing for the divorce may not have been the one who broke the covenant. Very often one of the two has broken the covenant, and that is not always the person that has filed for the divorce. So divorce is a complicated issue in the church because there are so many facets to it. But the bottom line is that it takes two people to get married, willingly walking to the altar and getting married, but it only takes one person to get divorced.
And so very often you're left with half of those people, myself as one of them, who did not want their marriage to end, but I found myself in that circumstance.
Bob: And the fact that they didn't want their marriage to end doesn't mean that they don't have some issues they need to deal with.
Laura: That's right, as I have very clearly stated. I came with a lot of baggage.
Bob: You know, I think sometimes the person who doesn't want a marriage to end feels like, again, the innocent party and thinks, "I'm not the bad person here." And we're not trying to say anybody is the bad person, but everybody's got some issues they need to peel back and look at, don't they?
Laura: That's correct. And three-quarters of the time, it was that I should have never gotten married to that person in the first place, and why did I gravitate to that person when there were a lot of red flags in the engagement? And so that's three-quarters of the healing process at the end.
Dennis: Okay, I want to get to some questions here that some of our listeners might be asking. How do you handle family gatherings like maybe it's a family reunion, the marriage of one of our children, getting together at Christmastime? Well, how do you handle that in the midst of a divorce having occurred?
Laura: The bottom line is if you have children that will be a part of your life for the rest of your life. Do not think that because they become adults or because they're grown or because they marry that those issues all disappear.
And what you have to do is, first of all, deal with do I still have bitterness or unforgiveness in my heart? And then you have to get to a place of where you are accepting that this is what's happened in my life, and I'm going to let Jesus teach me how to be at my child's wedding and be in a picture with my former spouse and not create a scene, not make it ugly for my kid. You know, this is my child's wedding, and I am going to love and respect them, and I'm going to make this day as smooth as possible for them no matter what I have to do, even if I hate it, and it makes me feel horrible. I will do it for my child.
Bob: Let me throw a different scenario at you. Let's say that someone is abandoned by a spouse who runs off with another person. That was your situation in your first marriage. Maybe in the back of their mind or maybe somebody actually says it to them – there is this thought that, "You know, if I had just done things differently. If I'd been a better husband, if I had cared more, if I had spent more money, if I'd taken better care of the yard, whatever. Maybe you think that in the back of your mind or maybe somebody actually says, you know, "If you'd just stepped up a little better, you might have been able to keep her." What do you do with that? Because you look back, and you think there were some things. Maybe I should have done some things differently. What do you do?
Laura: First of all, it depends on where the comment is coming from. There's people in your life that are – when you go through a separation and divorce that are going to want to say hurtful things just because that's what they do. They're toxic people, they're unsafe people, and when I went through my divorce people said some very horrible things to me.
So, first of all, you have to recognize the source of the question or the source of the person that's coming to you. And then to really just sit down and self-reflect – "Okay, maybe I was too critical or maybe I didn't do all these different things that a husband or a wife should do. Maybe I should have been more attentive to my spouse," you know, whatever things are running through your mind. But if the divorce has already occurred, and there's no way to go back and fix any of that, there comes a point of where you have to ask God to forgive you and move on. Learn from that, learn why you did those things, and then move on from that. If you stay beating yourself up over that, it doesn't do anybody any good.
Bob: I think of the pattern of the Apostle Paul there who reflected back on his own sinful past and came to a point where he said, "Forgetting what lies behind, I press on." And that's where a lot of individuals need to get, isn't it?
Laura: That's correct, absolutely. You've got to know that God does have a future and a hope for you, and that it's a good one, it's a good one. It's not just tolerating being single again. He's got a thriving, successful, exciting future for you, and divorce is an event in our life. It is not who you are. It's an event that has happened in your life. It does not determine your worth. It's not who you are.
So often we feel stamped with a divorcee label on our forehead because we're divorced. God doesn't look at you and say, "Oh, there's a divorced person." God look at you and says, "That's my beloved."
Dennis: And God is always delighted in taking broken people and using them for His purposes. What if you found yourself going to a church that perhaps taught that if a person got a divorce, God could never use them?
Laura: Well, I'd say that's unbiblical. I think all through Scripture we have all kinds of examples of people who do horrible things. I mean, you look at Rahab, she was a prostitute. Most people would view that today as worse than divorce, but what I use as the best example of that is the Samaritan woman who Jesus found. She had five husbands and now was living with another guy, and He uses that woman – she is the evangelistic tool that He uses to go back to the city.
It even says, "Many came to know Him as the Savior because of her testimony." I think God put that right in Scripture so that we would know God can use anybody, and if we say that divorce discounts us from being of use to God, that means that divorce is more powerful than the blood of Jesus Christ. We need to be very clear that that's what we are saying, and that's a powerful – I don't know anything more powerful than the blood of Jesus Christ.
Dennis: I want to ask a couple of questions around the actual divorce, and the first one just involves, perhaps, pre-divorce and separation. A couple are separated. How should they relate to one another? Should they keep their distance sexually? I mean, if they're legally separated, and there's been some severe things happen in that marriage, what should define that relationship at that point?
Laura: Yes, that's a great question because most people don't have the courage to ask that question, and a lot of people who are separated are still having sexual relations because they think, "Well, we're still legally married, so this should be okay." And I'm not saying it's a sinful thing to continue to have sexual relations with your spouse when you are in a state of separation, but I can tell you that it is a very emotionally unwise thing to do.
Sex is a sacred part of marriage between two people that trust each other and open themselves up to each other, and by using sex as just a means of – you know, a lot of people have sex when they're separated for a variety of reasons. The person that doesn't want the marriage to end sometimes thinks, "Well, if I keep having sex, maybe that will bring [the person] back," that is very rarely ever the case. As a matter of fact, I have never seen that work. It's only a tool for one person to be using the other person.
So usually the one is saying the sex will maybe bring them back to the marriage, the other one is saying, "Hey, I'm getting free sex out of this, and I don't feel guilty because we're legally married."
Bob: You know, stop and think about it this way – somebody has said that when a couple comes together in the act of intimacy in marriage, they are renewing their marriage vows.
Laura: That's right, that's right.
Bob: Now, if the two of you are separated, are you going to renew your marriage vows, and what does that mean? It doesn't mean he's going home at the end of the evening. You know, it doesn't mean that you're going to remain in your separation. So I think that's wise advice.
How would you respond to somebody who says, "You know, I've been divorced now for a year and a half. My friends are telling me, "'It is time to get on with your life,' and I'm still kind of holding out hope that there might be a reconciliation. My wife might have a change of heart. She's not remarried, and my friends are saying, 'Forget that, get on with your life.' What should I do?"
Laura: Well, even for reasons not only in desiring reconciliation, which is a great reason to not start dating, but even if that weren't the case, even the person had remarried, a year and a half is not enough time to recover from the devastation of a separation and divorce. It's just not enough time. Your heart is still wounded even though you think you're ready.
So usually when people say "Get on with your life," they usually mean, you know, go find someone new. And the bottom line is, especially if you have children, kids don't do well in these new relationships because they often lost one parent, now they view this as losing the second parent. So that's one – if you have kids, that's one good reason.
The second reason is please, please go somewhere to get some help to stabilize as a single-again person. If I had one heart cry to the church, that is what it would be. Please start providing programs for single-again people, something even beyond divorce recovery.
Very often, they go through a divorce recovery group, and then they jump into a singles group, and there's nothing for them that teaches them how to stabilize as a newly single-again person.
Bob: Well, what if I am stabilized. Let's say I've gone through that process. I've dealt with issues. I feel like the Lord's been at work in my life, and I'm in a different place, and now I've met somebody, and I've got the kids at home. I haven't told the kids about this person I've met. Should I?
Bob: When should I?
Laura: No, do not tell the kids. I recommend if you're going to date, do it when they're with the other parent, on the weekend, you know, or time that they're with the other parent. Don't be parading these new people that you're dating or even one individual that you're dating in front of your children.
The reason for that is that they grow an attachment to that person, and then if that relationship dies, it is one more loss for them. So you shouldn't be introducing your children to a new person until you and the other person, the person you're dating, have talked about getting married, and you're very closely moving towards that. Then you should introduce the children into that.
Dennis: What happens if, let's say, you have a teenage son, and you introduce the guy, and the teenage son doesn't like him.
Laura: Hates him.
Laura: Yeah, it's very common.
Dennis: And you know that – well, you know that this guy would be really good for your son, and you know he needs a model right now, and yet the boy doesn't know what's best for him.
Laura: Well, a lot of people aren't going to like this answer, I won't win a lot of brownie points with this, but you have to put your children before your new relationship or your new marriage. I highly recommend that people wait until their kids are out of the house – and I know somebody sitting out there has got a two-year-old, and they're saying, "Do you have any idea? You're saying I need to wait 16 years?"
I'm not saying you need to wait 16 years to start having friends or date or have relationships, but I am saying that the children who do the best are the ones whose parents wait until they are out of the home to begin a second marriage.
Dennis: There is one more question I have to ask you, and it almost seems odd to ask this question on a Christian family talk radio program, but what about living together? I mean, quite honestly, I'm just kind of astounded in the culture as I venture out beyond Christian circles at how many divorcees trial-test relationships and even within the Christian circle, in the single group. They're divorced, and they want to see if they're "compatible."
Laura: Yes, I see it all the time, unfortunately. Part of the reason that people do that when they've been divorced is because they're so fearful of getting married again, of getting another divorce. But then they live together thinking that's a better solution. But, of course, God can't bless that. It's sin. It's outside of His command, and the only reason He ever tells us no is to protect us. So He's trying to protect you, number one.
Number two, look at what an example this is setting for our kids. We are raising a generation of children that do not believe in marriage anymore because they've not only seen their parents divorce, now they've seen the step family divorce, and so in their mind marriage doesn't work, it just doesn't work. It might have worked in the 1940s, but it does not work today.
And so to the person who thinks this is not harming their child, to live together, they are just deceived, it's just as simple as that. They're taking the easy way out, and they're deceived, and it's going to reap more consequences than they could ever dream possible.
Bob: And, you're right, it seems like why should you even have to ask the question on a Christian talk show and yet in the culture, in the church …
Dennis: … no doubt about it …
Bob: … it's happening all over the place.
Dennis: And, you know, first of all, Laura, I want to thank you for being on our program all this week and for your godly advice around some very, very tough, thorny issues. But as I've sat here and listened all week, I've thought about a set of scales being on the table here. And on one side, for divorce, and on the other side for marriage. And as we've gone all week, one side continues to pile higher and higher, and the scales tip in that direction. And the other side, man, there's just not a lot of good evidence for divorce.
And, you know, you've helped us make a great case for marriage that goes the distance, and I just want you to know I appreciate you.
Laura: Thank you very much. I appreciate you addressing this topic.
Bob: And I can imagine that there are some of our listeners who maybe haven't been able to be with us for the entire week as we've talked about this subject, or maybe they just have some other questions that we were not able to address. Let me encourage them to get a copy of the book, "When Your Marriage Dies," where you answer questions about separation and divorce, particularly from the perspective of someone who did not want a divorce and is now having to deal with the implications, the ramifications, of having gone through a divorce.
We've got the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go to our website at FamilyLife.com, click the red button on the home page that says "Go," and that will take you right to the site where there's more information about Laura's book. There is also information about other resources from us here at FamilyLife, including a book that our friends at Divorce Care have put together that is a read-aloud storybook for elementary-age or younger children called "Stories for Kids in Divorce."
Either of these resources would be something that you could select to give to a friend and show your concern and your compassion for that person. In fact, if you order both books, we'll send along at no additional cost the two CDs that feature the audio of our conversation this week with Laura, and you could share that with your friends as well.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. Go to the website to request these resources or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can let you know how you can get these resources sent out to you.
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Well, I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can be back here on Monday when we're going to be joined by our friends, Les and Leslie Parrott. We're going to talk about mentoring and what you can do as an older couple to help younger couples stay on the right path as they navigate their marriage. And you might be thinking, "Well, we're not an older couple." Well, you're older than somebody, right? Unless you got married last weekend, you've got at least a week behind somebody else.
So there's undoubtedly somebody that you can reach out and help, and we'll talk about that on Monday. 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 back on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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