I got divorced almost two years ago and it ended pretty badly. While I was married, my wife and I attended couples counseling. After the divorce, I kept going to counseling for a few months. Ever since my divorce, the relationships in my life with my family, friends, and girls I have dated have suffered. I started feeling disengaged with my family and friends and the girls I tend to be attracted to are not the best for me, but I feel it’s the best I can do. These relationships begin to feel self-destructive after only a few weeks. One of the girls had a rough past that involved abuse and drugs and another had a lot of family issues and personal baggage. My family is constantly asking me to try harder for a girl that I want and not settle. But, once again, I feel it’s the best I can do. I’m constantly slipping between being depressed and being as close as I can to being okay. My family, friends, and co-workers are getting really concerned for my well being, as they tell me often and I just feel there’s nothing I can do to change anything. I appreciate any feedback you can offer.
It sounds like your divorce knocked you down for the count and it’s been difficult to get back up. It’s time to slow down, get your bearings, and set your course for a brighter future. Life can improve after divorce, but only if you are willing to do the work it takes to take honest inventory of your behaviors so you don’t keep repeating the same patterns that keep you stuck.
When you find yourself surrounded by the brutal fallout from divorce, you can either numb out your feelings and escape from the pain, or you can feel the depth of your experience and cry out for heavenly support. Alma the Younger left us a powerful example when he exclaimed, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.”[i] This soul cry filled Alma the Younger with light and peace beyond description. You can have the same experience as you throw yourself at the feet of your Savior and cry out for relief.
Please recognize that recovering from divorce is often more difficult for men than women. Men don’t usually have strong social support systems, aren’t given permission to share their emotions, and are more impulsive and reckless when coping with difficult emotions. Your physical health, emotional health, and relationships will continue to suffer if you don’t take immediate corrective action.
Even though seeking the enabling power of the Atonement is an ongoing process, there are practical things you can begin doing right now to pull yourself out of your depressed state.
First, I recommend you start with your physical health. This is the easiest area to control. Depression is a serious condition and can have deadly consequences. Men who divorce are more likely to attempt suicide, have high blood pressure, and die from heart attacks. The stress on your health cannot be ignored, so make sure you are taking care of yourself by getting to bed on time, eating healthy food, and exercising.
One of the best ways to lower your stress is to talk openly with good listeners who can give you a space to make sense of the mess in which you find yourself. This person should have earned the right to know your story and have the maturity to support you in your darkest hour. Let them hug you, look you in the eyes, and remind you that you are worthy of love and belonging.
As you spend time around healthy people, you are essentially “borrowing their brains”, as yours is temporarily compromised. Open up to them about your thinking, your feelings, your fears, and your desires. Ask them for feedback about your life and let them mirror back what they see in you.
Clean up your environment so you are surrounded with peace and order. Don’t let your living environment turn into the worst kind of bachelor pad. Make your bed, do your dishes, keep the floor clean, and fold your laundry. You will feel an instant sense of accomplishment in these small victories.
Next, since you are jumping from one romantic regret to another, make a commitment to take a temporary break from dating. You can always date later when you’re grounded and have better judgment. In the meantime, spend time with people who are safe, such as family and guy friends who will bring you back to your best self. Don’t spend time on dating sites and trolling for love in the wrong places. This is just a way to medicate your loneliness and shame. Trust that as you become a healthier person, you will position yourself to find a healthy partner.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland warned that when we act like dating and discipleship are separate things, we suffer tremendous consequences. He taught:
“You want capability, safety, and security in dating and romance, in married life and eternity? Be a true disciple of Jesus. Be a genuine, committed, word-and-deed Latter-day Saint. Believe that your faith has everything to do with your romance, because it does. You separate dating from discipleship at your peril. Or, to phrase that more positively, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is the only lamp by which you can successfully see the path of love and happiness for you and for your sweetheart.”[ii]
You might also consider going back to counseling to learn how to grieve, cope with the trauma of divorce, discover blind spots, and uncover any patterns that will sabotage you in the future. You can also use your counselor as an accountability partner to help you stay on track when your vulnerability takes over and you are tempted to give in to behaviors that would sabotage your growth.
Your life took an unexpected turn when you divorced. Don’t let this detour turn into a dead-end by ignoring all of the warning signs along the way. Slow down, honestly assess your situation, and reach out for guidance so you can heal and build healthier future.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Alma 36:18