As 2012 began, ReadTheSpirit reported in the OurValues column about a historic trend in America—a trend away from traditional marriage. Married adults may soon become the newest American minority.
The problem is: The vast majority of congregations nationwide only know how to appeal to married couples and, even more narrowly, most congregations appeal mainly to married couples with children.
The Rev. Carolyne Call is a scholar, a counselor and a nationally known author of Spiritually Healthy Divorce: Navigating Disruption with Insight and Hope, published by SkyLight Paths. She sent us the following column.
ALSO: Meet Carolyne Call in our weekly author interview with ReadTheSpirit.
to the Divorced
By Carolyne Call
It’s that time of year again, the time that those of us who have been divorced dread: Valentine’s Day. Whether you greet it with cynical laughter or with secret tears, Valentine’s Day is a challenge to those who have loved and lost. I spent my first Valentine’s Day hiding at home, feeling somehow embarrassed and afraid others would pity me. Even though I busied myself with work and projects, I couldn’t quite escape the billboards and television advertising spreading the message of true, forever love, symbolized by diamonds, roses, candlelight dinners, chocolates, and kisses. So, what is a newly-divorced, romantically bereft person to do?
Three steps can make a surprising difference.
First, if you are feeling sad or heart-sick when you think about the day, acknowledge it. One healthy way to cope with divorce is to admit just how much it hurts. For me, Valentine’s Day reminded me of the poetry my former husband used to write for me, as well as the thoughtful gifts he’d procure and present with laughter and affection. Honestly, it was painful. I knew those memories were lurking, fueling my sense of helplessness. So I took them out, looked at them, and acknowledged them. Choosing to face them took away some of their power. Telling yourself, “I shouldn’t still feel this way” doesn’t help. Looking honestly at your memories is fine. The key is not to get stuck there.
Second, set the memories and heartache aside and focus your heart outward toward others. Practicing kindness and expressing gratitude will de-center you away from your own pain. You can embrace the meaning of the holiday (a celebration of love), but re-focus it. For example, there are hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards now that are designed for people other than a romantic partner. Select a few cards for those in your life who helped you to get through your divorce. Write them each a personal note, expressing your gratitude for their gift of love and support. For those of us who feel love-deprived in the aftermath of divorce, remembering the love and support of those around us can be deeply healing. Tell them how their love helped you, and express your gratitude. If you are several years past your divorce, focus on thanking others for their gifts of love and friendship. An alternative to this is to make your own cards (find great kits or supplies at craft stores) or sit with your children and make cards for their friends, cousins, aunts and uncles, celebrating family and the gift of love. Focusing your heart outward and embracing gratitude can change your perspective as well as shine some light into your soul.
Third, be good to yourself. Plan in advance to make the day special for yourself. Whether it’s a spa day, a hike in the woods, a dinner out with a friend, or a day reading by the fire, having a plan will boost your spirits and make you feel more in control. As for me, I started buying flowers for myself on the holiday when I realized that I could celebrate my own life, and my own ability to love myself and others.
Bottom line: Don’t let Valentine’s Day crush your spirits or drag you into the past. Take control with honest self-reflection, outward-focused gratitude, and a big dose of loving self-care.
Later this week: Meet Carolyne Call in our weekly author interview
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.