Healing After Divorce

When thinking about relationships it’s easy to focus on the sweet and joyous moments that they provide, like falling in love and marriage. Unfortunately relationships are not just milk and honey, as they also have the potential to break people’s heart when it comes to separation and divorce. During dark times in life it’s hard to remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that nothing stays the same in life – just like the changes of light during a span of a day. When facing a breakup or divorce, one is at a crossroad of making a choice between two options: to let the experience be a debilitating factor in life or to use it as an empowering platform for personal growth. Choosing the later does not mean that the sadness and grief will be gone instantly, they are part of the process. Rather it means that a person is ready to learn from mistakes of the past and start working on making a better life for the future. To learn more about the journey of healing after divorce, I met with DivorceCare mentors Lauren and David Hunnicutt. I hope that their personal stories and advice will inspire and give hope to many people who are going through painful times.

Lauren and David Hunnicutt are facilitators of DivorceCare meetings where they offer support and guidance for people who go through divorce. For both, it’s their second marriage, after going through painful, though very different, divorces. In their professional lives, David is a lawyer and Commercial Appraiser who specializes in golf courses while Lauren is a residential real estate broker, helping people buy and sell homes.   

What is DivorceCare?

David: DivorceCare is a 13 week program that delves into a series of topics that all are related to a person’s life during and after a divorce: their lifestyle – what it is like after a traumatic change, and how to deal with the various aspects of this change. The idea is to meet and talk in a group. In each meeting we start by watching a video that lasts between 35-45 minutes. After watching the video, people break into groups to discuss the video and the questions that appear in the program book. Through the videos you see professionals, most of them - if not all of them – who have been through divorce. The program is religion based, the theme of it is mainstream Christianity; but it goes across any belief.

Lauren: And everyone is welcome to join the program. Some of the people who appear in the videos, like Ruth, the daughter of Billy Graham, a world renowned Evangelist, had been through two divorces. When you think of someone who comes from a solid Christian family, you don’t think that they are going to be divorced.  There is the assumption that good people who do good things - bad things shouldn’t happen to them. But it can happen to anyone. A lot of people had thought their lives were going just fine, until their partner decided not to include them in the rest of their life. Those people are left heartbroken and with many questions – what do I do next? How I’m supposed to survive? And is there life after divorce? The DivorceCare program was created to provide support to those people during this tough time.

What role did DivorceCare play in your divorce?

Lauren: The thing that really drew me to DivorceCare was my own divorce. I was devastated when my husband suddenly left me after 28 years of marriage. I had expected that we would be married until death do us part, as we had pledged. I didn’t know where to turn, to look for comfort, healing, and direction. I went to my pastor and he made a suggestion that I get a team together: counselor, financial planner, some kind of a support group. Somehow I heard about the DivorceCare program. It was offered at a church that I didn’t go to, but I went to see what it was all about. At first I thought, I hate this, I don’t belong here and I will not come back. The thing is that they ask you for a commitment to go three times. I thought, I really don’t want to, but I’m going to, just to say I tried it and didn’t really like it. After the second or third meeting, I couldn’t wait to go back the next week. When I initially went in, I felt like I wasn’t like these people. I thought they probably had good reasons for divorce; they probably did something terrible in their marriage and that’s why they were divorced. Not me. But then I found out that that wasn’t the case at all. There were a lot of people just like me, and we helped each other to put our lives back together again.

David: The divorce process for us was very different. In my case it was the only remaining option, because I couldn’t live with someone who was mentally ill. It was destroying me. When my wife and I separated, my twins, a boy and a girl, were two and a half years old. There was no DivorceCare when I got divorced. Since we were in the court system, the state wants you to attend a lifeline program. There was the King County and Family Court Services or you could choose another government agency that provides a different program. I went to the Family Court Services, but it wasn’t for me. So I then went to a program offered by the University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. They had a large enough congregation to get a program of reasonable size.  I did it because I needed a lifeline to reconnect to living breathing society of normal people, however you define that, because the divorce was a difficult process for me to go through.

Why did you choose to lead a DivorceCare program?

Lauren: We really wanted to give back, and I thought about DivorceCare. This is something I had been through. I asked David if he would be interested in leading a program like this, and he agreed.

David: I just want to add that we wanted to give back after receiving in large quantities, both grace and healing.

What advice would you give a person who is going through divorce now?

Lauren: Don’t get involved in a relationship right away. Work on forgiveness. That is the key - so you don’t become like those bitter people. If a man or a woman does the work, their life would get better. Thankfully we have seen women come to us with the seriousness of “I want to feel better”,  “I don’t want to be bitter”, and “I want   to have hope and a good life.”

David: The reality is that in crisis women congregate and men isolate. Men don’t ask for directions and they don’t ask for help. I would caution from self-medication to mask over the pain, such as drugs, alcohol, or even relationships. Seek out a strong and healthy support group of people who will genuinely keep you centered. I recommend doing it with people with the same gender, because there are issues that are male issues and there are issues that are female issues. If you start crossing boundaries there is too much temptation to drift into a relationship while you are too vulnerable.

You both have children from previous marriages. From your experience, how can parents minimize the pain of their children during the divorce?

David:  I would say the obvious thing – don’t use your kids as a sounding board. Don’t use them as a go between. Do not put them in the position of shuttle diplomacy. And don’t trash the other side. I think the last point is really important for taking the long view. Trashing - the person who does that will lose in the long run. Even if they are genuinely the greater of the victims, it is not a place to go to. The kids will make their own choices and they will filter out their own information. You have to let them be free to have their own relationship with the other party.  Parental alienation is recognized as just a bad place to go.

Lauren: It is something that both of us have seen in our own children- them rejecting one parent or the other and trying to put that all together. I’m working with two of my kids right now because they want nothing to do with their dad. And I tell them let’s talk about this, let’s think this through. Is that really what you want to do? I try to help them. Ultimately, my kids are adults, and it is their decision. I just want to try to give them the long view.  There is this verse in the Bible that says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” We are people that believe in God. Our faith is vitally important to us. We do believe that God has a way of bringing things around and opening things up so that the kids can see the situation for what it is. And we have both seen it in our relationships.

Isn’t it hard to help the person who hurt you?

Lauren: It’s not a one-day thing, but over time you have to be forgiving of them. One of the sessions in this program is about forgiveness. And it’s not “once and done.”  And it doesn’t mean that what they did wasn’t horrible. In my situation I know that my ex was really a great father when the kids were little, and he loved them. They might not remember that, so I have to remind them. I do want them to have a good relationship with their father. I think kids need their dad.

Going forward, how can a divorced person avoid repeating previous mistakes in relationship?

David: Take responsibility for what went wrong. Recognize the role that you played that led you to where you are. Even if it was only 10% – take that 10% and see that you don’t drift into those things again.

Lauren: I think it’s like when you buy a house. If you buy a house and it has a leaky roof, the next one for sure won’t – because you are going to be checking that. For me, faithfulness was the most important quality. David had mental stability on the top of his list.

What did you take into consideration when you met each other?

Lauren:  When I met David, I met him online, my neighbor back in Michigan, who was also a good friend told me, “It’s all well and good that you have found someone that you are interested in, but I’m going to just tell you right now – you need to go through a full year, four seasons, with this guy before you start thinking that it might lead to a serious relationship.  And I’m going to be checking on you, just to keep you to that.” And she did. It was good to have that accountability and to not rush into a relationship. A lot of things happen in a year, and you go through ups and down, on your own and together. It was really good advice.

David: When I went through counseling, it helped me to sort things into groups of recognizable things. I was hyper vigilant towards people with mood swings. I was hyper vigilant, maybe a bit too much, toward people who acted or had the appearance of acting like they might be bipolar. And when I met Lauren, she was stable. She was a clear thinker and she was a motivated person. I could see that the basis of our relationship was centered around things that were mutually important for us. It was clear to me that we could build a good marriage.

Do you sometimes look back and think that your divorce was a good thing?

Lauren: I was stunned when my husband left me. I remember one day going to my brother’s house just to dump the truck.  I think I talked for two hours, without him saying a word. And at the end of the conversation he looked at me and said, “I think God is rescuing you from a very bad situation.” Here, I’ve only been thinking that I was in a tragic situation I had to fix and get all that together. And he was saying “good for you. Now you can be free from this and go on and have a better life.” He gave me perspective that I didn’t have.

David: I felt kind of the same way. I thought someone solved the problem for me that I couldn’t solve on my own. It wouldn’t have been my choice to do it this way, but, oh well – here we are. Shortly after my wife and I were separated I had to take a business trip down to California. I remember thinking, I could do the things that came to be part of my life without her retributions - like playing golf. It was something I would have done on business trips that involved a beautiful golf course. Unfortunately in my marriage I was in a situation where I was kind of isolated from the things that were the normal parts of my life. Abusive people do that. 

What is your message for people who are going through divorce now?

Lauren: We’ve heard more than once from different people: “You two give us such hope.” Life after a divorce is not necessarily a broken life, filled with sadness from here on out. You can find joy again, and not even necessarily through marriage - just by putting yourself back together again.