Divorce & Holidays…REALLY???


by Kenneth Justice

~ Yesterday at coffee an acquaintance of mine who is going through a divorce was lamenting to me his situation, “Kenneth, life can’t get any worse right now. We’re two weeks away from Christmas, my soon-to-be-Ex totally hates my guts, and I can’t afford to go to my parents for the holiday…I get home after work each night and I hide away in my bedroom…..its like I’m trying to hide from life right now

I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through a divorce…but then on top of all the divorce squabbles to also have to deal with the holidays; gosh it must feel like a nightmare at times. My coffee acquaintance has a 15 year old son so this Christmas must be extra-bloody awful for the young man as he has to sit and watch his parents fight and claw at each other (it has been a very messy divorce).

Is it just me or do the holidays seem to often compound already existing problems?

—-) If you’ve been struggling with depression all year the holidays seem to intensify the feelings

—-) If you’ve been struggling financially the holidays seem to be nothing more than another money-grab at your pocketbook

—-) If you’ve just broken up with a girlfriend or going through a divorce with your husband….it seems like the holidays have the propensity to increasing your loneliness

Although much of my life has been all about increasing my empathetic awareness…..more often-than-not I simply don’t know what to say to people who are dealing with difficult situations. What can I say to my coffee-buddy who is feeling the full force of the divorce weigh down upon his shoulders? Patting him on the back and saying “its gonna be all right dude” hardly seems very comforting to me.

One of the difficult components of my time spent working at the rehab clinic was sitting with clients day-after-day who would cry their hearts out to me. Rarely a day would go by that I didn’t have a client sitting across from me pouring down rivers of tears and I was often left wondering what the hell I was supposed to say to someone whose life had skyrocketed out-of-control and they were literally at the very bottom of the bottle.

Sure, I knew the pat-psychological answers, “you’ve just got to take it one day at a time” but that is not the most comforting thing to hear when you’re a Meth-addict who has just found out that the court took all your child-visitation rights away because of your destructive addiction…..in the face of possibly never seeing your children again, sitting across from Kenneth-the-Counselor who tells you ‘you’ve just got to take it one day at a time’….well…..there’s not really anything that will bring you much comfort at that point.

When I was younger the popular catch phrase in the Church culture I grew up in was a verse from the New Testament, “Be ready always to give an answer…...” and for many years I totally resented that verse because I saw firsthand the way my fellow Christians misapplied the verse to mean that we are supposed to always ‘know’ what to say to whomever we are sitting with; too many of my fellow Christians (and people in general) are quick to dish out advice or speak at others as though they are all-knowing seers who dispense words of truth everywhere they go.

The simple fact of the matter is that none of us know everything…but more to the point; when we are sitting with others who are going through difficult times….giving them advice is sometimes the last thing in the world we should do.

Much of my philosophy while working as a counselor was bound up in the simple idea of learning how to ‘weep with those who weep’ and ‘rejoice with those who rejoice‘. For me, truly connecting with someone else and ‘being there for them’ doesn’t necessarily involve me speaking at them…..it involves me crying with them, laughing with them, or listening intently to them. When the time is right I say my piece…..but those times are often few and far-between.

The longer I listened to my buddy going through the divorce the more I realized that much of the blame for the breakdown in the relationship fell on his feet. Sure, I could tell that the wife had her own number of mess-ups in the marriage….but the more he talked the more I realized he held the biggest share in the dissolution leading to the divorce.

And in that moment at coffee I could of told him what I was thinking, “Dude, it sounds like your simply a jackass and that most of the blame lies on your shoulders for this damn divorce you’re going through” but I didn’t say that. It wasn’t the time…..and it wasn’t the place.

Instead, I let him vent his frustrations about how lonely he was feeling. I let him tell me how upset he was that the divorce was falling square in the middle of the Christmas holidays.

Perhaps one day he will come sit at my table again and be at a place where we can really get into the nitty gritty of why his marriage fell apart…..perhaps he never will…..but at least for the near future I will be sitting here at my little table drinking coffee.




Categories: relationships

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76 replies

  1. Personally, although I DO have empathy for women most of the time . . . and for children ALL of the time . . . when it comes to men I normally tell them to suck it up and take the pain . . .

    maybe it’s a ‘housing projects’ survival carry over, but damn I hate to see grown men acting like cry babies. I give you credit for even trying . . .

  2. Your early life with the church has done the rest of the globe a huge favour. Wonder if He knew what was in store? No …. REALL??? (great stuff as usual KJ)

  3. I empathize with anyone having relationship woes, particularly when a divorce is looming. You make many great points. Financial issues contribute to many relationship woes. Financial woes contribute to sadness and depression. Financial issues also often lead to problems with substance abuse, which can also lead to additional problems with finances. It’s a terrible cycle. I’ve seen it time and time again. A divorce must really compound any problems you’re facing. I also cannot imagine what someone is going through. .. .. especially if they’ve been together a long time. Divorcing would probably a lot like chopping off your right arm. The other person grows to be such a permanent part of you that it’s got to be quite painful to let them go, even when they treat you like crap.

    As an aside, most of the people I know who sit around complaining about their divorce are a lot like your coffee buddy – they are usually the jerk that caused it. People should realize that a divorce doesn’t need to happen, and as much of a jerk as a person is today, they can turn it around. All people want is to be treated with kindness, sweetness, and respect. A little change in attitude and behavior can do wonders. I hope this dude’s story serves as a lesson to others headed down that same road.

  4. The way you grow up makes you think that some things are normal, or at least acceptable. Then you get married and if you are not ready to face a different perspective, a new reality, then the marriage is doomed. No matter if he is to blame or has the biggest share, he first has to understand that there are different ways of seeing things.

    • And then this thing about love that you mentioned on a previous post? We must add it up somewhere…

    • “The way you grow up makes you think that some things are normal”

      this is so true dude, in some ways it can be a good thing…but in some ways if we’re not careful it can lead us to judging and condemning others who don’t ‘fit’ our view of ‘normal’ …

  5. I can certainly relate to his feeling and what you are saying. I have always been the friend that people turn to when they need an ear and it is very hard, what do you say? How do you say it? Do they even need to hear you say anything at all? When I have gone through hard times and couldn’t seem to find anyone or those that gave cliches, it’s hard to hear and deal with. Most of the time, just like you, all people want is to know that they are heard and understood. Just someone saying sorry, you know I am here, if you need to talk. Just having someone be there when you need them, really is the biggest thing.

    It sounds like he will have a hard Christmas, all his family will, and that is very sad. I think that we all need more people who approach others not out of judgement or what they think should or should not happen, just out of care and understanding. We can’t let people get away with treating others badly, but if someone is suffering what good does not caring do, it just makes them feel more alone. Maybe I am just a bleeding heart and care too much, but I think the world needs a little more empathy and kindness. Sadly the fact most of the time, you tell this guy he is a jerk, then you lose any chance of him actually listening to you and bettering himself. We have to learn the time and place and when we do that then we can help others become the best versions of themselves.

    • “Most of the time, just like you, all people want is to know that they are heard and understood. Just someone saying sorry, you know I am here, if you need to talk. Just having someone be there when you need them, really is the biggest thing.”

      that’s exactly how I feel…..and I don’t think you’re a ‘bleeding heart’ I think your right on target 🙂

    • 🙂 Not sure how many would agree that I am, but thank you.

  6. Blimey, never read an American say ‘bloody’ before: ‘bladdy’ or bludy?’ – tease. Enjoyed the empathy. You capture humility perfectly…nice skill, but maybe drink tea or you’ll pop.

  7. Too bad you couldn’t tell him he was the problem and reason for the divorce. Maybe it would have “enlightened” him enough to go to his wife and dissolve their problems instead of their marriage. People have to be ready to hear that stuff, and obviously he wasn’t.

  8. Sometimes people are not looking for answers or solutions but just to know they have the support and understanding of another. Especially with people who have been ostracised from their families, friends and society. I do believe that no matter what we are going through (and we are all going through something) the best thing is to have someone there for you, even if only for the ride. People won’t always be looking for someone to tell them what to do but will always be looking for someone who cares. I truly admire your position as it needs a very strong and wonderful person to be able to even attempt to help the people you help and join them in their crisis.

    There are many reasons why people take drugs or excessively drink or break ties with family and friends. So we cannot judge as we did not learn as they did, hang around with their friends nor do we see the world through their perspective. Don’t get me wrong there are pretty evil people out there in the world, but those who feel remorse for their actions or position should be ‘handled with care’. We need to help each other as it is indeed possible to turn around your life from bad to great, but that change needs to come from them. So essentially your position is hopefully their stepping stone for better things and you have the opportunity to guide them in the right direction. I’m sure just being around what you are around on a daily basis increases your knowledge and wisdom immensely so don’t worry. Love the quote,“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” (Voltaire)

    • “Especially with people who have been ostracised from their families, friends and society. I do believe that no matter what we are going through (and we are all going through something) the best thing is to have someone there for you, even if only for the ride. ”

      yes, yes, and yes! and I love that quote at the end of your comment!

  9. I also believe that when you let someone vent, and they verbalized their situation, that many times they here for themselves their own transgivings that leads to self awareness. In my own experience I’ve had revelations about my own behavior when I say things out loud.

    • “In my own experience I’ve had revelations about my own behavior when I say things out loud.”

      Thank you so much for the comment…because too often we don’t ever hear from the people who actually ‘grew’ or ‘learned’ from talking out loud 🙂

  10. I often believe that the most helpful counselors–at least the ones I’ve been to, are the ones who listen and then validate those feelings. Personal growth has to come from the self or it won’t be honest growth. Ken, what you did was exactly what he needed at that time, and you provided the “safe” environment for him to vent. After that, oftentimes the only thing we can do, is to pray. And that, I do often.


    • ““safe” environment for him to vent”

      I think that is what a lot of people are looking for..”a safe environment”…so much of this world can feel hostile and ‘unsafe’ and there are a lot of people who want to connect but are fearful of doing so.

  11. I would just slap a face or two. I mean instead of whining, try understanding why. See where you failed and stop nagging on the flaws of others. You are not perfect either.
    But that is just me. I know i can be an a$$. And that when I do not wind any nice ribbons around it. Be a man. Take some responsibility. where there are two people involved there are two at fault..

    • “be a man. take some responslibity….”

      to be honest..if I had been this guy’s best friend or brother I might very well have done exactly that; sometimes it a matter of having a place to do that.

  12. When we are in a wrong relationship we want freedom, when we are out of it, we feel lonely, whatever we do, want or achieve, we humans are very hard or never to be pleased. There is no escape till we stop crying and complaining about this and that….and start living.

  13. Divorce is death walking…this is why God hates it. A death of dreams. A death of so many things and yet, the dead “person” is not a person, it’s the relationship…I encourage you to look at this friend of yours and remember that he will be going through the process of mourning. Mourning all of the things that the death of his relationship has left him with. He and his Ex still have to “deal with” life together because of their child. A child who is also mourning the death of the parents failed relationship. Yes, it takes two people to make or break a marriage but the child is the one who suffers the most. I am a child of divorce. This is my truth. Death walking is worse than death.

  14. I feel this is the most important piece I have read of yours so far. How can we be helpful to others? When I am having a problem and share it with someone, they often try to give an answer. I have tried to describe to them how that makes me feel. Here I am suffering with emotions and you feel the need to fix “it”. It never ever helps. Instead “weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice”. My friend called me yesterday to let me know since a party on Sat she has “broken up” with her boyfriend for the (I do not exaggerate) 100th
    time. I told her she can glom onto me for awhile as she sorts out her feelings. She will seek me out for company because I have no answers but I have been where she is. These life changes are a process.

    • I have a couple friends who have broken up with their significant others a ton as well…and even though it is difficult to hear them ‘cry the same story over and over’ I think you’re right Ellen; just being there for our friends is important for us to do 🙂

  15. The best counselors don’t ever tell the client what to do. Through a series of conversations, talking things out for yourself, and figuring things out on your own, is best. There’s a term, “Client-Centered Therapy” or “Person-Centered Therapy” and that focuses on the person in therapy. The person with the problem knows best how the problems got started and they know best how to solve those problems. If you’re not in a place to do something about it, it won’t help anyway if someone else tells you. People change when they are ready to change, with or without someone’s prodding.

  16. Well you may have read all the councelling and phycology papers in all the world, but you know, you cannot always understand or empathise, sometimes empathy is a difficult and pointless path. Like you say words, statements are pointless to someone with very little hope. I hate to say this but at times sitting around drinking coffee with someone does not acheive very much at all either. These are the times a better councellor would shoot some pool, go bowling, ice skating, play computer games, backgammon, etc etc. then at least the mind is focused on other things and the silences are not so uncomfortable

  17. When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to grow up, but now that I’m older it’s nothing what I expected. Everyone I talk to is walking through the battle field, fighting between crying and smiling. I’m pretty sure your divorced acquaintance is feeling miserable, guilty , and heartbroken, but it’s little to late to cry. You must of been like a angel to him, listening to his unhappy life, taking some pressure of his chest. I think he should be told: it’s fun when you play, it’s hell when you pay….lol
    Wonder when I’ll be reading my story 😀 your coffe is hypnotizing me, can’t miss one post lol

    • Your comment is really good; so many people as children count the days till they can grow up and drive a car, and legally drink, and move out of their parents home…and then when they finally can do all those things they realize that life as a child wasn’t so bad!

  18. I feel like the holidays are hard because we hear “it’s the happiest time of the year” around every corner. If you happen to not be happy, you just feel lost. Isn’t everyone else happy?

    I sometimes think the holidays simply give us something to look forward to during a time of year where sicknesses are common, elderly succumb to the cold and car crashes are frequent in the icy weather.

    • That’s very true. You have something to look forward to, yet after January 1st, people get back to the mundane life and they forget that they were just trying to relax and celebrate and have fun a few days before. If we can muster up a smile and kindness and happiness in December, why can’t we do it the rest of the year? We don’t need to always be ecstatic and joyous all the time in order to be kind and show mercy to others.

    • Right! I agree. It’s great to want peace and joy for all during December, but what about the other 11 months?

    • I can’t escape from my four seasons state, but I’m prepare for sunny and icy days..lol

  19. The thing is, both men and women have things that they actually need to process with adequate “mourning” behaviors….deaths of the actual sort, deaths of relationships, careers, etc. When they do NOT do that and “suck it up” it sometimes creates something like a mental/emotional “septic” bit in them and then poisons all their attempts henceforth. But as a society, we don’t take much time to really personally process the griefs and traumas of our lives; I think your divorcing acquaintance will need some time before he can come back to your table and recognize what he was doing wrong.

    • “I think your divorcing acquaintance will need some time before he can come back to your table and recognize what he was doing wrong”

      that’s a really important point and its something that I always keep in mind when talking to people; it takes time for some people to be at place where they can properly process the truth of what happened and what they were doing wrong.

  20. Divorce is always hard…no matter what time of year. Mine was in the process of being finalized and came through on Jan. 7. I was married for thirty plus years, when my husband met “the younger woman at the office.” He wanted us to “share a relationship with him.” After breaking up and going back with her several times, I could not take it anymore. Luckily the children were grown. Six years later, I am happily married to the one I wish I had found years ago. Time does heal…..

    • bamauthor,

      dude, first off I’m so glad you are in a good relationship now….

      but secondly… I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to be with someone for thirty years and then have him to what he did….I can’t imagine all the feelings, thoughts, and everything that must have gone on in your mind….holy cow.

  21. Hidey ho, neighbor! Devil’s Advocate present and accounted for. I kind of resent the judgment of right and wrong projected by those on the outside of a marriage that has failed. I mean, marriage requires two people, and no two people are perfect. While he may have been a first class jackass when it came to his marriage, she had to have some clue of those tendencies beforehand, right? Divorce is tough on all involved, no matter what the circumstances. And I wholeheartedly agree with your notion that any negativity in one’s life is magnified by the holidays.

    In my personal and professional lives I have had a lot of experience with addicts, divorce, child custody, mental and physical abuse, death, and fiscal issues. When dealing with folks in the situation you spoke of, I try to reinforce the positives…and they are there if you really look for them. I totally get your stance on the usual platitudes (i.e. “It’ll be okay,” “It could be worse,” etc.). While I understand the need of folks to say something, when faced with my own divorce, “It’ll be okay” from everyone around me drove me slightly nuttier than usual. What I needed was someone to tell me what positive was going to come out of the disaster that my life had become…I needed a bit of concrete to set my feet on, even if it was only a little stepping stone to start. When talking to those in a situation like your coffee buddy, I always try to reinforce the positivity of one on one time with the child and take the emphasis off the marriage that cannot be fixed. Why mull over the sordid details of the marriage when the focus needs to be on the mental well-being of the child?

    I genuinely appreciate the mental vision of folks coming to your table and unburdening their woes. In my life, that table comes in the form of my sofa and many, many late night phone calls. I raise my coffee cup to you in toast, fine sir. Keep up the good work! I look forward to your next post. Devil’s Advocate, Tempest Tate, out.

    • ” I kind of resent the judgment of right and wrong projected by those on the outside of a marriage that has failed. I mean, marriage requires two people, and no two people are perfect”

      I agree….but it does get dicey if one of the people had an affair or drug habit..etc.

  22. I just finished a series of posts on this topic (Walking in the Valley of the Shadow). If you check them out I think you will be encouraged in how you handled things. There are too few of us that people feel like they can come and talk to. Keep up the great ministry my friend! Great post.

  23. Much of my philosophy while working as a counselor was bound up in the simple idea of learning how to ‘weep with those who weep’ and ‘rejoice with those who rejoice‘.

    For the Mormons (Latter-Day Saints), this is a doctrine as well as a philosophy:
    “…and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God…” (Mosiah 18:8-9. the Book of Mormon)

    According to the story, this was Alma’s words to the people before baptism, and this is often quoted to remind us that we agreed to such when we became members, e.g. it is our duty and obligation as members.

    • I haven’t looked into this too deeply; but I think a lot of religions have this basic concept as a principle because I know that the Jewish religion also embodies this as well.

    • Yeah, I don’t doubt there is some common ground.
      I just thought you might find it interesting that for us, it’s pretty implicitly spelled out.

  24. I’m a firm believer that piling it on doesn’t help anything, especially when someone is feeling lonely or alone. This man already felt bad enough, it’s good to sit and listen.

    I’ve said it before, but listening is the best thing you can do for anyone. Eventually, we can get to the truths, but it is better to wait until they can handle it, in my opinion. A faith in God, helps too. He calms us during those raging storms.

    Didn’t Jack Nicholson say something about handling truth once…

  25. Sadly, divorce takes on a life of its own. I remember a case where a former couple were still fighting over a pillow from the child’s bed when the child was a college graduate. The pillow was a symbol. (sigh) I also remember a fellow who represented himself it domestic violence court, admitted to everything (clearly he had a fool for a client) and could not understand how the judge could issue a one-year restraining order. (face palm). I sometimes believe most of us live in an alternate reality which we share with no one else.

    • “I sometimes believe most of us live in an alternate reality which we share with no one else.”

      dude, well said. I could write a 500 page book on that statement/idea alone.

  26. it sounds like you really have a good feel for what to say and when (and what not to say, etc.) because sometimes people cannot “receive” certain things and it would only add salt to a wound (a time for everything) – and there are times for brutal honesty, while also times (like during this talk) to give a friend some direct support.

    oh, and quick side note, I recently reminded two hurting people (one in especially a really bad place) I reminded them about how God’s word is ointment for their soul – and I reminded them to get under teaching that will feed their spirit – because during trials and attacks – especially those huge ones like divorce – well without preaching at anyone, during hard times is a great time for people to feel the power of the Lord for themselves – this stuff is real – and God’s WORD is powerful fortification – and many times these crises are the only way to see this for themselves.

    another great post culture monk….

    • “it sounds like you really have a good feel for what to say and when ”

      ha ha not always….perhaps I should do a series of articles on all the times I said the wrong thing and people got pissed off at me!!!

  27. To me, it doesn’t matter who’s fault it is, the other person doesn’t have to go out of their way to make it uglier than is necessary either. That said, it is hard to know what to say. For me, it’s like you said… laugh or cry with that person. That’s when the empathy kicks in and say something like – I haven’t been through this but if I had or were, I’d probably feel the same way or similar. To me that just helps help the person understand he or she isn’t alone. There’s the admittance that I can’t relate and yet if I could, I’d probably feel similarly and that’s just enough to show that person he/she isn’t alone and certainly is right (at least to a point) to feel that way. I know I have a tendency to say everything will be alright but I usually only say that to those who I know and can take that. To a stranger, I’d probably say something more like I’m sorry for your troubles and I hope it passes soon. I totally agree that there are times when it’s just not a good idea to give advice. More often than not people just need to know they’re not alone, need some comfort, etc., at least when they’re really emotional. The time for advice can come when the emotion has passed and that person is back to thinking logically for a bit. They’re a bit more apt to take in what’s being said as well meaning and not just to make them feel worse.

  28. I’ll say what you can do is be there for him. Maybe invite him over for Christmas. Your company will definitely help alleviate his loneliness. I agree with you that holidays seems to compound problems that already exist.

  29. It’s bold to write this, and expect this “friend” not to read your blog. You write well. You sound too serious to be frivolous. But I read this blog and thought, this is part of a story or part of a movie. The earnestness, the sincerity, the strong feelings are all prone to explore human folly. The actor playing your role in this conversation would convey without saying much of anything the sense of ridiculous he is hearing.

    • The great sociologist Jane Jacobs had an uncanny ability to convey the real life everyday workings of a typical city block and make it sound like a beautiful ballet: each hour of the day she described as one Act following another……my goal as a writer is to convey real life experiences as vividly as possible 🙂

  30. In my ministry to help those in and through divorce, I really believe that greatest thing you can say to a person is exactly that, nothing. It is to be there for them to let out what they need to get rid of and to provide a place of acceptance as a person. We may know what to say and have all the best advice in the world, but unless they are ready to receive it and act on it, they are wasted words.

    Thanks for the post. It is so encouraging to those that are trying to be that encouragement to others.

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