Divorce and separation have all kinds of legal, financial and emotional consequences. One aspect of divorce that is not often talked about is the spiritual consequence experienced by the family members. It is safe to say that for many, divorce is a legal dissolution of a religious or a spiritual contract. For many people, raised with strong religious beliefs, the decision to divorce brings up feelings of guilt, shame, and a sense of failure.
Of late, many distinctions are made between religion and spirituality. Generally speaking, spirituality is described as a more personally chosen and an individual experience compared to religion. Religion may or may not be chosen by one, and tends to be a more collective experience that is guided by texts or leaders. While religion and spirituality bring up inner conflicts and question your faith, these beliefs and values can also be helpful in getting through one of the most difficult times in people's lives. Although in this country we support the separation of church and state, in reality, religion often frames our view of right and wrong and a sense of fairness and justice, and needs to be addressed for healing and growth for all members of the family.
Spiritual healing can take many forms. Here are a few ways of making room for the spiritual and emotional healing after divorce:
1. Finding support of a religious leader/guide who understands your situation may be helpful in getting through this difficult part of your lives with compassion, forgiveness, and room for healing.
2. Young children and adolescents may have different questions and concerns about their own religious and spiritual beliefs. Get the guidance and support of others who have similar values and beliefs to provide answers and bring clarity.
3. Free yourself by learning to forgive. Forgiveness is not the same as accepting behaviors that are unacceptable.
4. According to recent studies, meditation, a staple of many religions, is known to reduce emotional pain.
5. Perhaps you were not active in a church or temple, but this may become a place of refuge at a time of personal crisis. Acceptance from others in your faith may help the process of refueling and healing for you and your children during and after the divorce. These places sometimes also provide a community of support, which helps reduce the isolation many divorced people feel.
6. Avoid getting into conflicts regarding religious holidays and observances with the other parent. Remember that these holidays provide you and the children a sense of hope and continuity.
7. If possible, create a divorce ritual with the other parent. After the initial emotional turmoil has had time to settle, for the sake of their children, parents may decide to have a divorce ceremony that includes recognizing what was good in the marriage, forgiving each other for the mistakes made during the marriage, and wishing each other well going forward. This can help children feel validated and hopeful about the future.
Growth and change often come with some amount of pain and anxiety. Understanding your own core values, and your religious and spiritual beliefs, may actually help you reorganize your life with more clarity and meaning during and after divorce.
Dr. Gitu Bhatia is the co-creator of the Divorceworks app, a tool to help people manage their emotional journey through divorce.