Divorce is one of the most difficult things anyone can face, and it can be especially hard for Catholics.
The Church’s teaching on the permanence of marriage leaves many who face divorce with feelings of guilt, sadness and sometimes despair, wondering if they will ever be able to move on and be happy again. Broken marriages also are devastating for children.
Experts in tackling divorce from a Catholic perspective offered some suggestions on how to use strong faith to rebuild.
The online conference was held Sept. 12, sponsored by New Beginnings, a Catholic organization dedicated to helping people navigate through separation and divorce. The California-based group has branches all over the country, including in the Diocese of Charleston.
For adults struggling with how to move on after divorce, author Vince Frese spoke about “A Return to Love After Divorce.” Frese is the author of “Daily Inspirations for Divorced Catholics” and “Divorced Catholic: Now What?” He also is the founder of divorcedcatholic.org, a website that offers resources to help.
Frese told the story of his own divorce and how hard it was to start over as a single dad raising three daughters. When he started dating again he’d think he was happy initially, but then abandon the relationship as feelings of emptiness took over. It was only after he turned his life completely over to God that he met the woman who is now his wife.
He said many divorced Catholics find it hard to begin dating again because chastity is so difficult to maintain in a world where sex outside of marriage has become the norm. He urges people to remember four basic concepts to help reclaim their lives and the promise of abundance that God has for them.
First: Make your relationship with Christ the number one thing in your life.
“Allow Him to walk with you and He will open your eyes to the path He created for you,” Frese said. “Remember that divorce is not a dead end; it’s a detour. By living a chaste life, you will experience peace because you are living God’s plan. It can be a pathway to meeting the man or woman who is truly meant for you.”
Second: Keep your windshield clean. In other words, avoid sin and go to confession as often as possible.
Third: Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Frese said following the first two tenants will help people feel better and look for more when it comes to relationships.
Fourth: Live a virtuous life to find a virtuous mate. Living life in accordance with Catholic teaching will help attract a person who is also committed to following the same principles.
As a father of three, Frese said it was especially important for him to rediscover his faith and commit to a Godly life.
“You need to be the best version of yourself” so you can help your children deal with the emotional fallout and repercussions of divorce, he said.
“In order to be good parents, we need to be healed and emotionally strong and show good judgment. A relationship with Christ will help you be an example for your kids,” he continued.
Helping children through the upheaval of divorce was the focus of a roundtable discussion. It was led by Lynn Cassel Kapusinski, a counselor who founded Faith Journeys, a program for divorced Catholic parents (www.faithjourneys.org), and Joey Pontarelli, the founder of Restored, a Catholic-based ministry that helps young people cope with divorce (www.restoredministry.com).
They outlined the many problems that children of divorce face, citing studies that show these children are more likely to experience social and emotional problems, have low self- esteem and have trouble forming relationships later in life.
Parents can help their children avoid these negative outcomes and other problems by taking some basic but vital steps, they said. One of the most important things is to keep lines of communication open and be willing to talk to children regularly at their level, Cassella-Kapusinski said.
“Let your child take the lead in the conversation and let them share as much as they want about their feelings,” she said. “Listen to them and let them know that what they are feeling is valid.”
She noted it is also important for parents to maintain proper emotional boundaries when it comes to their own feelings. Too often, she said, children bear the brunt of a parent’s sadness or anger after a divorce and they end up acting as the parent’s emotional crutch without getting a chance to deal with their own emotions.
“Share your feelings with your child in a constructive way,” she said. “Divorce is a grieving process and children will be looking at you to learn to grieve the right way.”
Pontarelli said there are four things parents can do to help children deal with divorce:
ν Don’t sugar-coat the situation or try to make light of it — acknowledge the sadness and seriousness of divorce;
ν Validate the child’s pain and acknowledge their grief;
ν Make sure they know it isn’t their fault;
ν Encourage older children to set their feelings down in a journal because writing can be a good path to healing.