Sunday, September 25, 2011

Divorce issues


[The following "guest column" by me appeared in "The City Wire" this last Sunday. The story refers to an incident where a divorced dad walked into a county courthouse with three guns, tried unsuccessfully to find and kill the family court judge who has handled his divorce, then shot up the courthouse. He only wounded one person, but was killed when he walked outside and continued firing toward the assembled police force.]


When James Ray Palmer burned his home, loaded up his arms, and marched into the Crawford County courthouse last week, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. Friends and family say he had been leaving clues for awhile that things were about to boil over.And, in fact, it seems the kettle had been bubbling for 12 years, since his divorce. The feelings percolating in his heart weren’t too alien from those many other divorced parents have felt.


Divorce, it has been said, is one of the greatest tragedies we can go through. It is personal in a way few other injuries can be. It strikes to a person’s heart, their self-image, their very soul. The death of a relationship you had counted on being life-long reshapes your concept of life and the world you live in. If you’ve been divorced, even if you were the one who filed for your divorce, you understand the intimacy of the disturbance.


As a family mediator specializing in divorce and re-marriage, I have seen thousands of instances of divorce, some handled well, and many handle poorly. Far too many of the individuals I meet with tell of being just a few steps away from the tragedy that ended Palmer’s pain. They speak of great, burning anger, dreams of revenge, personal agony that never really goes away.


The disturbing fact is that James Palmer acted out what so many divorced parents have fantasized. Most of us just don’t pick up the guns and charge in shooting.


All indications are that Palmer didn’t intend to harm anyone except the judge he blamed for his broken family. The only person shot was the judge’s assistant, and it’s difficult to imagine someone so poor a shot that more than 70 rounds accidentally didn’t hit anyone in the enclosed halls of the courthouse. He was looking for a way out of his misery, and just maybe willing to take out the man he saw as responsible. Notice that in his final act, he didn’t go after his ex-wife or any other family members, just the one outsider closest to the mess.


If that is so, what drove this father and reportedly quiet man over the edge? Why, after more than 10 years fretting over his problems, did he snap now? The answer to that, of course, only James Palmer himself knows for sure, but we know the effects of divorce never really end for a person. As I said before, divorce cuts deeply and re-shapes a person’s attitudes and ideals. The perceived betrayal or abandonment by a person you trusted completely is a life-changing event. 


When a child is involved, it can be even more disturbing.


Through a class I teach for divorcing parents, I have the opportunity to hear and sometimes reach many of these individuals in the middle of their breakup. The mix of feelings — from anger to despair to hopelessness to desperation — leaves them unsure of their position or their future. If they do not properly settle their feelings, the damage can go on the rest of their lives.Some divorcees deal with their loss in socially acceptable ways that are still destructive. 


Drinking, taking drugs, jumping into inappropriate relationships, or throwing out mementoes they will want later are just ways of acting out their pain and confusion. They might use a bottle or someone else’s body instead of a gun, as Palmer did, but the effects are often the same — lives torn up, futures crashed, and, ultimately, their own life lost along the way.


What may someone do to prevent this sort of divorce-related tragedy in their own or a friend’s life? Most important is to deal with the real problem. All the forms of acting out are really ways of avoiding the loss that’s been suffered. Find someone to talk to about how you’re hurting — a close friend, a minister, or a counselor, but someone who can hear your pain, sympathize, understand, and offer encouragement to push on through to more sane times.


Next, get help dealing with the other party in your tragedy, your ex-spouse, if they are at all willing to talk. Mediation always helps, as long as both sides can understand the need to settle the issues. Divorced parents have a relationship that will last the rest of their lives. As long as they have children or grand-children alive, they will have to encounter each other regularly. 

For the sake of their own sanity, as well as their children’s well-being, they must create a new way of being family. Divorce never ends that parental connection, so it is vital they find a way to endure and accept the new relationship. Clearly, Palmer and his son’s mother never successfully re-created their partnership.Using legal avenues didn’t help the Palmers to find peace. They rarely do.

Counseling can help, and Mr. Palmer appears to have needed some intense therapy. But too many people view counseling as a sign of weakness or illness, and the process can be lengthy. 

Mediation is a proven process that goes directly to the point of conflict and guides the two parties to reasonably consider ways to take the pressure off both of them. Children almost always benefit when their parents are willing to sit down and at least try mediating their differences.

Perhaps if the Palmers had been willing to talk through their arguments and let someone guide them to consider methods of working together for their son, the explosion of emotions might have been prevented. No one can say for sure, but there is a great chance.

Mediation may not solve all the problems, but clearing the air and rationally discussing disputes has helped many in the past. It may just be the first step, but it is always better to consider understanding than to just hope things will magically get better on their own.

They rarely do.

STEPcoach, Bob Collins

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What is A "Christian Marriage"?

In an article discussing a televangelist's recent statement that Alzheimer's is sufficient grounds for one spouse to divorce another, the writer, Russell D. Moore, gave one of the best explanations I've heard of what a "Christian marriage" is. Far beyond a simple agreement between two adults to live together and help each other out, a marriage, in a Christian sense, is a reflection of God's promise and relationship to man.


Moore begins by explaining that,
Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife "as Christ loved the church" (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her.
Marriage is a crucifixion? Is he saying that being married is a slow, agonizing, torturous death sentence? Admittedly, some marriages I've worked on have looked like that on the surface, but that's when both partners aren't looking at the partnership correctly. Moore goes on to elaborate: 

At the arrest of Christ, his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn't divorce her. He didn't leave.
The Bride of Christ fled his side, and went back to their old ways of life. When Jesus came to them after the resurrection, the church was about the very thing they were doing when Jesus found them in the first place: out on the boats with their nets. Jesus didn't leave. He stood by his words, stood by his Bride, even to the Place of the Skull, and beyond.

Keep in mind here that the "Bride" doesn't refer to the wife in today's marriage, but to Mankind. In the same way that Jesus accepted His responsibility to protect his Bride (The Church) even to the point of taking her punishment on Himself, both parties in a marriage should see themselves as the never-leaving, refusing-to-give-up, to-the-death protector of their spouse.


The bible tells us that a "husband must love his wife as Christ loved the Church." (Ephesians 5:25) Does this mean that a wife is less expected to love her husband sacrificially? I don't think so. Paul was writing to a totally male-directed culture, so he emphasized the then-leader of the household should change his current attitude of ownership to that of sacrificial love. 


Both partners must be willing to lay down their lives for the other in a conventional Christian marriage. We should be willing to love each other "as" Christ loved His Bride. "As" here has multiple meanings. I means "in the same way as," "to the same degree that," "as far as," and "to the death like." 


And, while I see a few marriage relationships that go that far, I see way too many that wouldn't even consider laying down their "life" for their mate. Their "life" here meaning their own selfish demands, their own interests, their own desires, their own comfort, or even their own opinions! If a husband or wife can't gracefully say to their partner, "OK, Honey, whatever you want, I'll go happily along with," how can they expect to stand strong together through all the bitter attacks marriages face these days? And, if each is respecting the other, discussions will settle honest differences of opinion about issues that matter. (Or mediation will, as a last resort to peace.)


You and I, as spouses, must be willing to "take up our cross" for our spouses, putting their needs above our own comfort or even survival. We must be willing to die - literally and figuratively - for our sworn partner-for-life. If my wife cannot trust me in the little things, how can she trust me in the big things like fidelity?


Another thing Jesus said applies to us spouses, too. "You should be Perfect, just like your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). "B-b-but that's impossible! No one is perfect!" you cry. Jesus knew that better than you or I do! But He was giving us a goal to aim for when He said to be perfect. Just as a good coach will say, "Go out there and win this game," knowing that his underdog team has little hope of  winning, so Jesus was telling us husbands, wives, and parents, "Go out there and give it your 100% best try. If you don't beat them, at least let them know they met a team who was giving it their best."


Whether you are a Christian or not, you owe it to your spouse to give your all; to never just half-way love them; to pour yourself out for them. You promised. You swore before God, your family, and your friends that you would do your best to be Perfect, that you would love your spouse, "as Christ loved the Church."


You have it in you to be a "perfect spouse." You have it in you to amaze your friends and family with how strong and true you are. You have it in you to teach your children, through your example, how they should live their own marriages and how they should parent their own children. Dig down and pull that determination up. If you need help, I'm here. But I know you can do it!


God bless your whole family!


STEPcoach Bob Collins
If you have questions about any of the Christian concepts or "code words" in this post, I'll be happy to discuss them, or explain them to you.
[the original article by Russell D. Moore is at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/septemberweb-only/robertson-alzheimers-divorce.html]

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