(If you would like to get caught up on the previous installments in this series, please click here. Blessings!)
Your Lover/Your Enemy/Your Spouse.
Cold, Hard Fact: Until the ink is dried on the divorce decree, you are still married. You are not free. You are not free to create/continue/cherish hope for a new romantic relationship. You are not free to date. You are not free to live with a new "friend." You are not free to indulge in even the slightest physical pleasure with another person. You are only fooling yourself when you find ways to justify these actions. You are wrong. You are sinning. You will have to answer for it to the Creator of the Universe. No one else is fooled -- not your kids, not your parents, not your friends, not your pastor, nor your co-workers -- though they may condone your actions to your face and say they think it's okay. It's not.
No one is fooled and you are a fool if you think otherwise.
You still have a responsibility to yourself, to your spouse, and to God to act honorably. You should want to be able to tell your children (or anyone for that matter) that you remained faithful throughout, even if it's the hardest part of getting divorced. They will see your actions and count them as more weighty than the words you say. You are your children's example, act as you would want them to act if they found themselves in the same situation. Act honorably.
If you don't intend to act honorably, then don't get upset when you find out that your spouse has had to explain to your bewildered and brokenhearted child why it's not okay for their other parent to kiss (or whatever) their new "friend." Your children won't say it to your face, but they will resent you for it.
Cold, Hard Fact: When going through separation, divorce and living in the aftermath of divorce, your lover has now become your enemy. Even if the divorce is a mutual decision and you both have sworn to make the process as painless as possible, you are on opposing one another in court. You are enemies, but hopefully not for forever.
Cold, Hard Fact: The legal process for getting divorced is set up to make you enemies. Don't confuse that with your lawyer and your spouse's lawyer as being enemies. They aren't. There is a difference. Suddenly, even the nicest of people become selfish and perpetually grumpy. If you are lucky, they won't allow themselves to become malicious. Don't hold your breath, we all feel a great need to protect ourselves and are tempted to go to any lengths to achieve it.
Cold, Hard Fact: You will often feel at the mercy of your lawyers, your spouse, your spouse's lawyers and the legal system in general. Because you kinda are. You cannot control the actions of others, you can only control your reaction to them. There are very few lawyers that want a quick, easy divorce for their client. They don't make any money that way. The longer the process is drawn out, the more money they get from you. The sooner you realize that, the better. Your spouse may not realize it -- or care (Perhaps they are wealthy enough to be able to drain you of your resources. Maybe mommy and daddy are footing their bill, so they aren't concerned about making it quick). Rest assured, the lawyers wait until each deadline comes up before they do the bare minimum to meet that deadline. If lawyers know they can show up in court on decision day and delay for any reason, chances are, unless you call them on it (or the judge does), they will delay.
Of course, you may have a perfectly admirable lawyer who does none of this. I hope you do.
Cold, Hard Fact: As a Christian you are still called to live in peace with that person as much as it is possible. In the face of your lover soon becoming your former spouse and becoming your enemy in the process, it is hard to remember. It is even harder to carry it out.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
It's not easy. It's not fun. It is doable (with firm boundaries for all parties involved). But probably only with God's help. Ask for it. As often as you need to. Just like loving your spouse well is a life-long process, living in peace with your former spouse is a life-long process. Sometimes the best that can be done is making sure there are no conflicts. Your former spouse, of course may not be working toward that end. As time goes on and as they see you less and less as a threat, it is more likely to happen. You can foster good will by not perpetuating conflict and working toward a more agreeable relationship. They may never come around. But at least you have done your part in working toward that end. And that brings me to the next point:
Keeping Your Side of the Street Clean
This was the best piece of advice I have ever been given on the subject of divorce. One of the ways you can live in peace is by taking the high road. Don't give in to the temptation to manipulate, argue, raise your voice and generally be selfish. You take care of your side of the street regardless of what your former spouse does on his (or her) side of the metaphorical street. You don't want garbage or laundry hanging out on the front stoop for the entire neighborhood to see.
That does not mean you do not stand up for what you believe in. It means, it is by nature a fight, but keep it clean. No cheap shots. No underhanded dealings behind the scenes. No evil, wickedness or naughtiness allowed. It is a great feeling knowing you can hold your head up high with as few regrets as possible.
Having said that, forgive yourself if you didn't keep your side of the street clean -- or not as clean as you would have liked once you are able to see it all in hindsight. I made mistakes that I regret, but I can honestly say that I did not intend harm or hurt to come to my former spouse. I did not manipulate. I was often angry, but tried not to act out of anger. Forgive yourself if you gave into the temptation to do so. You can also know that God will forgive you when you ask and are in a right relationship with Him. But you gotta have a relationship with Him in order to do so. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how to do that.
As an aside, I would like to mention one more thing. Yes, you can ask forgiveness at any time. If you go into a divorce thinking you can behave however you want, live with whomever you want (indulge in whatever sin feels good at the time) and hurt whomever you want because you can always ask for forgiveness later . . . you have the wrong heart and mindset. You need to examine your heart and get back into a right relationship with God. You will be forgiven, if you are sincere, but you will still pay the consequences of your actions. God loves you, but He's all about the consequences in order to draw you to Him (or back to Him). He may show you mercy, but you will still have consequences to pay -- you won't be let off the hook completely.
Unfortunately, you won't be the only person who will pay for the consequences of your actions. Your former spouse, your children, family members and friends will all experience ripple effects of your actions. Let's work toward lessening the effects of those ripples on the front end of things instead of waiting until it's all over.
On A Personal NoteOne of the ways I have trained myself to not be bitter toward my former spouse is to never call him "My Ex." Think back to when you have heard others say those words. There is so much vehemence spewed when you hear them. And even if you are able to say those two, small words without bitterness, the person you are talking to automatically attaches a negative connotation to it. I don't want that. I don't want my kids to hear that from me. It is a bit cumbersome to always call their dad "my former husband," or "the kids' dad," but it has helped me in not attaching hatred and bitterness to his name. It helps me keep my side of the street clean even now.
Even though it's tough (and I haven't done it perfectly), keeping my side of the street clean, honors God and makes me very joyful,