This article appears in the June edition of our Year of the Family newsletter. To read the newsletter in its entirety, visit our Year of the Family homepage.
I want to believe most of us get married with the certainty that it is going to be forever. Unfortunately sometimes this is not the case. Many of us find ourselves in the painful situation of having to adjust family life to the changes that come with separation or divorce and shape a new type of family.
Separation means more than simply the loss of your spouse; there’s concern for the children; the split on holidays, vacations and family events; financial insecurity; loss of friends and the family-in-law; the list goes on.
When I think about what to tell people going through the same situation I can sum it up with one piece of advice: Keep your eyes on God.
After separation or divorce I see two options. It’s very easy to become bitter, angry or selfish; it’s much more difficult to follow Jesus’ example. But my experience has been that striving for this second option each day brings happiness, peace and stability.
Keeping our eyes on God allows us to shape the new family into a family where, even though both parents are not together, there is a commitment to making things work out in a way that minimizes the damage caused by separation.
What does a faith-centered family after separation look like? Here are a few of the ways I have found to keep my eyes focused on God. And of course I don’t do these things perfectly all the time, but I know that God does not expect me to be perfect. He is all about forgiveness.
Find time for Church
For me, making a commitment to attending Mass with my family every Sunday is the most important way of keeping God at the center of our lives.
At church, by listening to the homily and the stories from the Bible, the example and teachings of Jesus are reinforced every week. Through Jesus we learn how to forgive over and over; to be there for one another without expecting anything in return; to be strong, understanding, patient, and generous.
These are virtues that are important in any and every relationship, but they become even more important after separation or divorce when sometimes it’s easier to become bitter or angry.
When difficult situations arise, we can look at Jesus’ example and think, ‘What would he do?’ Instead of blaming or hating, we can respond with love and forgiveness. It’s not easy but the more connected we are to his example, the easier it becomes.
Even if just one member of the family makes the commitment to church at first, it will be an example to the rest of the family. Building this commitment into your family’s weekend schedule and making it a priority helps the family know that this is important to you as a family.
Through my involvement in church I’ve also been able to have good conversations with multiple priests about my experiences that have helped me work through my struggles in family life and faith.
Surround Yourself with People Doing Good
There are examples all around us of people who are doing good. The more you become embedded with these people, the more you will be filled with good things and with positive thoughts.
Again, a good place to start finding those people is at church. Try to get involved with the activities your church offers, like classes or service, and look for a church that has many of these kinds of opportunities.
If you can’t go to church, read books that help you feel connected to God or inspired by the example of others. We have a gift right now in Pope Francis. Reading about and watching what he says and does are a great inspiration to me.
These people and writings give me an example to follow when I’m faced with difficult situations. They reinforce the virtues of forgiveness, unselfishness, thinking of others, and being non-judgmental that I see in the example of Jesus each Sunday.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Every family situation is different. In my family, we’ve been able to maintain our relationships with friends, my former spouse’s family, even with my former spouse. But it’s taken a lot of work, sacrifice and prayer. Making the hard situations work has helped us to minimize the damage and it makes all of us happier.
My experience has shown that doing the right thing, the good thing, the forgiving thing – often for the sake of my children – ultimately brings me more peace and brings more stability to my family. Regardless of what the other side does, when I do the unselfish thing, I spread goodness around me.
But I remember that there is only so much I can do. Some days are easier than others. I have to let myself go day by day. I’m strong enough to do only what I can do. My strength comes from God at the center of my life, and when all else fails, there is always prayer.
I want to be clear that I don’t practice all of these things perfectly or all the time. As I said at the start, I know that God doesn’t expect that of me; that he is forgiving. All he asks is that I extend the same forgiveness to others.
Remember, everything is possible for God. He wants only what is good for us.
Diocesan Resources To Strengthen & heal marriages and cope with separation
Living in Love is a two-day mini-retreat and workshop to help married couples re-discover the romance, love and joy that attracted them to each other in the first place. The retreat is a series of presentations given by trained couples who share personally from their own lives. To register for a weekend, go to www.livinginlove.org and click on the Living in Love registration button. Then select the weekend you want to attend to fill out the registration form. For more information, call 877-201-2142 or email PMRCusa@msn.com.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter is designed to deepen and enrich a couple’s marriage, whether they have been married for only a short time, or for many years. While the Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend is Catholic in orientation, it is open to couples of all faith expressions. Visit www.wwme.org to find a weekend near you.
Retrouvaille are retreats for couples experiencing a troubled marriage. The program is designed to help couples put the pieces back together and rebuild loving relationships. It is Catholic in origin and orientation, but is open to all married couples regardless of religious background. Visit www.retrouvaille.org to find a weekend near you.
Catholic Charities Counseling Services offers couples counseling as well as separation and grief counseling. Learn more at
Catholic Divorce Ministry offers support in coping with the grief that comes with separation, divorce and the issues of single parenthood. Spiritual and educational opportunities are available. Learn more at www.nacsdc.org. Look for events happening in “Region 3,” which covers New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Find a local events listing here.
Learn about annulments through the Diocese of Camden here: www.camdendiocese.org/tribunal.