Several years ago, I decided to leave the banking executive world to pursue a career as a mental health professional. I did this for two reasons: 1) I wanted to feel like I was doing more with my life than managing home loans and 2) I was inspired by the wise counsel of a dear friend who, when I asked her why she chose to be a psychologist, said, “There are many difficult things individuals have to go through in life, but they should not have to do it alone.”
Now, after more than 15 years helping individuals face personal challenges, I understand in more depth my friend’s words as I have helped individuals overcome and walk through abuse, grief, depression, anxiety, personal acceptance, gender orientation, loneliness, divorce, and many other issues. It is important to note that each of these issues comes with its own set of struggles and treatment modalities. None of them are easy and some will impact a person’s life until they leave this world. One of these issues, which I believe can be treated not only in a clinical office but through ministering, is divorce.
Divorce in the LDS culture is more complex than in non-LDS cultures because often those in the process of a divorce or who are divorced feel unworthy, they feel like they have failed, or, in some cases, they feel as though they no longer fit into the LDS culture. Each of these feelings are very real and, when left unaddressed, can create deep wounds or feelings of resentment. It is clear through the teachings of our Savior Jesus Christ that divorce is not a sin and that those who are divorced are just as important in the Lord’s kingdom as those who are not. The problem for many divorced members is that they know the doctrine, but the culture gives them a different message. With permission, I share some deep and personal feelings of one of my clients.
Mary had been married for over 20 years when she came to see me. She and her husband had made the decision to end their marriage six months prior to our initial visit. As Mary and I visited, she noted, “I am okay with the choice my husband and I made. I know that it was the right choice for us and for our children. What I am struggling with is how it has impacted my life in ways I never thought possible.”
I asked Mary to describe those ways for me, and she shared, “When I was married, my husband and I were a couple and we were friends with other married couples. We did things as couples. Our kids played with our couple friends’ kids. We were invited over to Sunday dinner, to an afternoon barbeque, to four wheeling trips, date nights, and casual evening get-togethers. There was an inclusion which let me as well as my ex-husband know that we were personally cared about more than just on Sunday. Then, when my husband and I divorced, it was as if I became a different person over night. I was no longer invited to couple activities or to dinner or to watch a movie or even over for a back-yard Sunday conversation. Suddenly, I not only went from being married to divorced, I went from being a friend to what felt like a stranger. This sudden isolation instead of helping me heal through the divorce only added increased feelings of doubt and questioning of my own value and worthiness.”
Mary further explained, “I understand it is different now to invite me to certain activities, but what is so wrong about still inviting me over once in a while for a joint family barbeque or Sunday dinner?” Mary then noted, “So often I hear the words that whether I am divorced or single or married, I am wanted and needed in the Church. I know that is true in my Heavenly Father’s eyes, but in my ward, I feel more unwanted and unneeded than I have ever felt in my life.”
As Mary shared her feelings of frustration and aloneness, I could tell her heart was hurting and she just wanted those who had known her for so long to still love and accept her not only in words but in action as well. Mary did not want them to take sides or really to even talk about the divorce with them, she just wanted her friends.
As I listened to Mary that day, I personally realized that I needed to do a better job at including those who are not only married but single as well as divorced in my life. This is indeed our Heavenly Father’s gospel and He includes all. I am so grateful for what Mary taught me that day, and I am now ever more mindful to see the person and not the situation of those I am privileged to come in contact with. May there be increased backyard barbeques and Sunday dinners so all might feel included and needed.