When Relationships Don't Work

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In today's throwaway society, divorce is a reality that most people will sooner or later face.

"One of the statistics that is national but is very true here is that 60 to 70 percent of all marriages end in divorce, so divorce is more common than any other marital state," Community Presbyterian Church Pastor Charles Proudfoot said.

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Counselors Lee Kennedy and William Houdek assume the pose familiar to many whose relationships have hit the skids. When a relationship fails, you lose multiple levels of who you are, Kennedy says. To recover as fast as possible, Houdek recommends going to your strengths.

To address an unmet need in the Rim country -- helping people make the often painful adjustment to the finality of a broken marriage, Proudfoot's church is offering a series of Divorce Recovery Workshops.

Among those leading the workshops are Lee Kennedy and William Houdek, happily married Rim Guidance counselors who have a total of six divorces between them. Kennedy and Houdek offered their thoughts on what may be the most painful and disruptive experience of your life.

"When I went through my first divorce, which I initiated, it was a failure," Houdek said. "It was devastating to me, a devastation to my value system.

"I had broken one of my golden rules. I went against my own values. For me, that was a very devastating time."

The sense of loss can be overwhelming.

"It's a loss of the way you thought about your life in the future," Kennedy said. "A lot of where you are is where you're going. When you lose a person, you've also lost everything you planned with that person.

"You've lost so many levels of who I am. I'm a person who is married. I'm a person who lives in this neighborhood. I'm a person who goes to dinner with my husband's parents.

"It's how you do holidays and everything else, and the longer you've been doing them, the more intense the feeling of loss will be."

Houdek agrees.

"Most people experience a confusing emptiness, despair," he said. ‘I'll never recover.' It's really reeling."

Depending on who you talk to, the process of dealing with divorce is often broken down into three or four stages. Kennedy says there is an important psychological reason for doing so.

"It's to simplify a complicated process by giving it labels," she said. "It helps people feel like they're someplace -- now I'm in denial, now I'm grieving, or now I'm re-orienting.

"It's just a way of talking about things to make it seem like you have some control."

Further complicating the matter is the fact that people don't usually go through the process of dealing with divorce in a logical, lockstep sequence.

"The stages aren't 1-2-3-4," Houdek said. "In the grieving process, you go back and forth. You kind of go back and you start over."

But life goes on, and there are things you can do to right yourself and get on with things.

"One thing that's important is to focus on your strengths," Houdek said. "Who you are? You need to find out and build yourself up again because so much of who we are in a relationship, especially a long-term relationship, has become a part of that relationship -- part of a duo that no longer exists."

Kennedy says it's also important to admit and honestly assess your own culpability.

"For me it was important to eventually say, "I think I really screwed this up this way,'" she said. "‘I need to change this behavior from now forward or it's just going to keep happening.'

"There's a difference between taking responsibility and accepting I made a mistake, and these are the specific ways that mistake was manifested, and I need to change these things or why would I expect anything different."

But it's also important not to dwell too long on what happened.

"I think also that you need to get out of the habit of making it the primary topic of conversation as fast as you can," Kennedy said. "‘What a bad person this other person is.'

"It's totally human nature -- to make yourself feel better by saying this person was so bad. I don't know if I've ever known anyone who was elegant enough to avoid doing that."

It's helpful to try to focus on the future.

"Anytime we're living in the past it's totally non-productive, other than the fact that we can look back and do it differently," Houdek said.

One way to stay focused on the future is to impose structure and order on your life.

"Since you've lost so many structures, it would be good to set up some structure for yourself," Kennedy said. "That way you can start having something you have control over -- something that you like.

"Implement an exercise regime. Take a class. Talk to other people in a setting where the emphasis is on learning, not commiserating."

The bottom line is that the recovery process takes time.

"The biggest mistake is not taking the time to deal with the suffering and the loneliness and the depression," Kennedy said, "going out too quickly and looking for somebody to stop that process."

Houdek puts it another way.

"We can go to our strengths or we can go to our deficits, our losses, our negative messaging," he said. "It is so much harder to climb out of that."

How long should you allow for recovery? It varies from one person to the next, but Kennedy recommends a minimum of two years. However long it takes, you'll know when you get there.

"Each person has to judge by the way their life is shaping up," she said. "That's the feedback.

"If your life is awful, you're probably stuck in some stage. But if your life is looking pretty good and you're satisfied with it, that must mean you're going OK."

Divorce Recovery Workshops

Lee Kennedy and William Houdek lead the Divorce Recovery Workshops offered by Community Presbyterian Church.

Classes meet one evening a week for seven weeks and are designed to meet the needs of those who are adjusting to the finality of a broken marriage rather than dealing with the possibility of a reconciliation.

The workshop fee of $25 includes a copy of "Growing Through Divorce" by Rev. Jim Smoke, on which the workshop is based.

Free childcare is provided for infants through 10-year-olds.

For information or to register, call 474-2059 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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