Religious Abuse
Jesus factor
Judge Bartell
Divorce: Surviving the death of a dream
By Teresa Peneguy Paprock

When Lydia Gilbert married Joseph, she thought she was marrying her soul mate.


“He was the kind of man you could pick sage in the moonlight with,” she says. “We were totally in love and connected socially, spiritually, and sexually.”


But there was another side to Joseph – the hostile, angry side, the side that would fly into rages and then disappear for days on end. Once he choked her; another time, he broke her jaw. But afterward he would always come back, asking for forgiveness. “Our whole relationship was a cycle,” she says. “When it was good, it was a relationship I can’t see replacing with anybody else.”


Joseph and Gilbert were together for 15 years, and saw counselors separately and together in an effort to save their marriage. But because Joseph was addicted to alcohol and to other substances and behaviors, Gilbert found it a losing battle. “I was always trying to change to please him,” she says. “Then one day I realized that I had changed and that it hadn’t made any difference. The light bulb went on: I realized, ‘This is not about me.’”


Many divorces are caused by issues more subtle than those in Gilbert and Joseph’s. But whatever the cause – infidelity, incompatibility, or “falling out of love,” no one went into their marriage expecting it, and all will mourn the loss of what once seemed to be the perfect relationship.


Mare Chapman, who has an MA in counseling psychology, is in private practice in Madison. A majority of her clients are women, and a majority of them have been or are going through the experience of divorce. The reasons, she says, “run the gambit – but cheating is a common cause.” Women, she says, often initiate a divorce because “they tend to pay more attention to relationship issues than men. They aren’t willing to put up with stuff.”


Even though divorce is relatively common these days – the figure of one out of two marriages ending in divorce is often tossed about – it is still a huge emotional blow, says Chapman. “There is grief and sadness over the loss of the relationship and the person – the death of a dream of what the relationship was going to be,” she says. “And there is often a lot of anxiety about being a single woman out in the world. A lot of a woman’s identity is still tied up in who she’s married to. Divorce is more accepted, but there has been very little (societal) change, fundamentally.”


Women tend to blame themselves for divorce, and to feel ashamed – even if, like Gilbert, they suffered severe physical abuse. “In a very core way, women tend to take on responsibility for others,” Chapman says. “Women are still conditioned to be caregivers.”


In therapy, Chapman helps women discover what went wrong in their relationship, how they contributed to the problem, and what was beyond their control. “They learn to let go of the blame, because it doesn’t serve anyone,” she says. “I have them ask themselves, ‘What can I learn?’”


“Most of the clients I deal with have gone back and forth and back and forth on the issue of divorce,” says Sue Holsman, who has a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and is in practice at the Center for Christian Counseling in Madison. She agrees that the commonality of divorce does not lessen the blow.  “People are both angry and heartbroken,” she says.


Holsman’s clients, most of whom are practicing Christians, may feel the added burden of going against their religion. “We work through those issues as well,” she says. In the past, people believed in “sticking it out,” but “many of those people were miserable, and their kids were miserable, for years. I don’t think anyone gets married planning to get a divorce. It’s not my experience that people today are flippant about it.”


Holsman and her clients work through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief (sidebar), which can often take a long time – and that’s okay, she emphasizes. “You can grieve as long as you need to,” she says, adding that our fast-paced society has little patience for grief. And it’s natural for feelings to come and go; “You think you’re doing just fine until that song comes on the radio,” she says.


The Rebuilding Program is a seminar offered by Linda Pettersen, a clinical social worker who is director of the Madison Psychotherapy Center. Through the program, Pettersen measures individuals’ progress in healing and helps them through the process. “I have assisted 2,500 individuals to rebuild their lives after breakup,” she says. (For information on the program, contact Pettersen at 2333-3037.)


The ways to heal from divorce are as varied as people are. For Gilbert, healing has come in the form of personal therapy and Buddhist practice. “I’m really drawing on my spirituality and finding my inner light and strength,” she says. She meditates and journals regularly. She’s come to the realization that she doesn’t regret the years she spent with Joseph, and she will always love him – but she won’t live with him. “This relationship allowed me to work out some of my own issues, and for that I will be eternally grateful,” she says.


And Gilbert has a suggestion for women who find themselves living alone after years of living with a partner: “Turn up the music and dance alone in your living room. Sometimes naked, sometimes clothed. You’ll feel so powerful!”

© Teresa Peneguy Paprock

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Woman. Teresa Peneguy Paprock / words & stuff freelancing retains the copyright to this article and it may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without express permission. For reprint rights, contact Teresa Peneguy Paprock at or P.O. Box 5207, Madison, WI, 53705.

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