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When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't": Practical Steps for Healing During Separation & Divorce

When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't": Practical Steps for Healing During Separation & Divorce

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When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't": Practical Steps for Healing During Separation & Divorce

251 pagine
3 ore
Jan 1, 2010


When Laura Petherbridge realized her marriage was ending, she asked the gut-wrenching question,

"What do I do now?"

Now Laura offers practical answers about divorce that she has found through her own experience and through two decades of caring for those grieving the loss of a marriage. In the midst of pain and confusion, you might also be asking questions such as these:
  •     How do I find where I belong when I no longer know my identity?
  •     If my spouse asks for forgiveness, should I go back?
  •     If I get an attorney, will my spouse think I'm giving up on our marriage forever?
  •     How do I figure out a budget on my own?
  •     What should I do when others criticize my ex-spouse in front of my kids?
  •     How do I reenter the workplace after years of staying home?
  •     How will I know when it's a good time to date again?
  •     Does God still care about me?
  •     Will I ever be happy again?
 With straightforward, sensitive answers to these questions and others, Petherbridge offers real-life help, spiritual insights, and new hope for the future.

Includes reflection and discussion questions after each chapter and guidelines for those who love someone who is getting a divorce.
Jan 1, 2010

Informazioni sull'autore

Laura Petherbridge ( is an international speaker, the author of When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't": Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and the coauthor of The Smart Stepmom. She has been interviewed on many media outlets including FamilyLife Today, Family Talk with James Dobson, Moody's Midday Connection, HomeWord, and the Crown Financial Ministries' radio broadcast. Laura is featured on the DivorceCare video series, used by over 12,000 churches worldwide. She has taught on divorce recovery at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando as well as the Billy Graham Training Center. Laura and her husband, Steve, reside in Apollo Beach, Florida. Learn more at

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When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't" - Laura Petherbridge

To Steve—

No one has ever loved me as you do.


Carol Young—

When I was drowning in sorrow,

God used you to hold my head above the water.






My Marriage Died, But I Can’t Find the Funeral

1. Stop the Roller Coaster!

2. When Do I Get My Life Back?

3. Barbie and Ken Get a Divorce

4. God, Where Are You?

5. You Want Me to What?

6. Where Are Those Pennies from Heaven?

7. How Did I Get Here?

8. Nobody Understands

9. Santa’s Stuck in the Chimney

10. Is This Loneliness or Love?

11. Help! I’m Over 50

12. I’m Back in Court—Again!!

13. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Epilogue: With This Ring, I Thee Wed

Appendix A: Someone I Love Is Divorcing

Appendix B: Divorce Prevention

Appendix C: Divorce-Recovery Ministry




A special thank you ...

To my friend and author Eva Marie Everson for your inspiration and knowledge. You pushed me out of the nest and encouraged me to believe that I could write.

To the remarkable ladies in my writers’ group: LeAnne Benfield Martin, Laurie Fuller, Nicole Smith, Gloria Spencer, and Ruth Trippy. I’m wholeheartedly grateful for your generous gift of hours of critiquing and editing. Your honesty produced a better manuscript and pressed me to do my best.

To the precious ones who shared their painful divorce experiences. Take comfort in knowing your suffering will help others encountering the same sorrow.

To my husband, Steve, for your faith, encouragement, and affirmation.

To faithful friends who prayed for my ministry and this book. Not until heaven will you know the full impact of your devoted prayers.

To Mary McNeil and Susan Tjaden, my editors, and David C. Cook for believing in this book and understanding the pain of divorce.

To God, who extended grace and bound up the wounds of this shattered woman. You alone take something bad and turn it around for the good of others.


One of my daughters is a consummate question-asker. From the day she began forming even the simplest words, she has posed a constant stream of the why, what, and how questions.

I love her deeply, but when I get tired, distracted, or just overwhelmed with the nonstop pace of her questioning, you know what happens—I tune her out. Mind you, this is not a good parenting technique, and I do my best to avoid it, but it helps me illustrate something you’ll go through if you are facing separation or divorce.

You, too, will become a fountain of questions, even if you are not wired like my daughter. Important questions. Profound questions. Urgent questions. Imponderable questions.

You will likely find that the people who love you most will begin to tune you out as well. It’s not that they don’t care, but the sheer number and magnitude of your questions overwhelm them. They also feel ill-equipped to offer answers because the issues are overwhelmingly complex.

That’s why I’m glad Laura Petherbridge wrote this book and that you are reading it.

She has carefully cataloged many of the big questions related to separation and divorce and organized them into an easy-to-read and very usable guide to surviving and healing.

Laura’s own experience with divorce and her many years of divorce ministry makes her qualified to help answer the questions that are pressing in on you. You’ll find wisdom and actionable information in this book. Most important, Laura will show you how to connect with God to find the answers to the questions that only He can answer.

This is a good book to share with the people who love you and are trying to help you. They’ll better understand the pain, pressure, and problems you are facing once they’ve read it.

Follow Laura’s advice. She’s pointing you toward the kind of healing and recovery that many people never find after divorce. There is hope for your future!

Steve Grissom

Founder and President, DivorceCare


If you are reading this book, chances are you’ve either found yourself in a dead or dying marriage, or you are close to a loved one facing that situation. And you’ve probably quickly realized that a world of difference sits between having opinions about separation or divorce and finding yourself in a whole new situation where easy answers play hard to get.

Depending on your unique situation, you may find that some chapters in this book are quite painful to read. Facing a deep sense of loss, for example, is not easy. And most likely you are experiencing financial challenges you never thought you’d encounter—such as paying an attorney and working through child-support issues.

Marriage-related suffering will likely cause you to examine what you really believe about God. The author is a Christian; therefore, her source of strength is Jesus Christ. However, you may find yourself asking, Does God exist? Who am I? Why did He allow this to happen to me? How do I cope with forgiveness? Who am I in relationship to God?

But regardless of your religious beliefs, separation and divorce are a perplexing maze. No question you ask is foolish, outrageous, or unique. Family and friends may not understand what’s happening, nor the very personal choices you’ll have to make as you sort out who you are going to be—or why.


This book will help you find healing by sharing answers to questions most frequently asked in divorce-recovery groups. Because the pain associated with divorce is often so severe, a person sometimes can’t find the strength to pray. Therefore, the author has included a heartfelt prayer at the end of each chapter. We’ll address practical issues such as the kinds of losses you’re experiencing, the stages of grief and recovery, dealing with an ex-spouse, and more. We’ve included beneficial action steps along the way to help you move from discouragement to restoration.

Much of the information is presented in a question-answer format. You may not agree with the answers to every question, and that’s expected. Obviously, no one can answer each question perfectly, and every circumstance is somewhat unique. But ask yourself, Why am I rejecting this answer? Is it because I don’t want to believe it’s true?

Please understand that you may need to read a few chapters to find the answer to your inquiry. Many times the way a question is asked determines the chapter in which it appears. However, a question may also fall into more than one category; so if you don’t find one similar to yours, keep reading. For example, a problem with children’s visitation could fall into several categories, including children, legal and financial, or the holidays.

As you think through the questions at the end of each chapter, on your own or in a group, you’ll have an exciting and significant choice to make. Will you wrestle with the deeper issues, or will you gloss over them at a distance? Some of the questions may be easy to answer, but others may touch a deep chord in you that brings tears and causes other raw emotions such as anger and fear to surface. But you will find healing—and part of that healing process includes finding people who will love you and stand by you, people you can love and support in turn. That’s the power of community.

Prayerfully consider what God may want to reveal to you through these questions and ensuing discussions. Try to open yourself up to the feedback of others who are also dealing with separation/divorce issues.

Perhaps you will discover that you would benefit from the services of a trained Christian counselor, if you are not already seeing one. If so, don’t hold back. God ministers to us in many ways—including trained professionals. Depression, thoughts of suicide, and issues of low self-esteem are particularly challenging issues.

You may not personally be going through a divorce, but I’m almost certain you have a friend, family member, or coworker who is experiencing this loss. Therefore, we have included an appendix for family member and friends.

You may be a pastor or leader in your church who desires to learn what you can do to lower the divorce rate. The inspirational appendix on divorce prevention provides unique insights on why divorce occurs and what your church can do to strengthen the institution of marriage.

And for those who desire to help others in the midst of divorce, we have included an appendix with information on starting a divorce-recovery ministry.

May you will find this book beneficial as you walk through the journey of recovery.

The author has chosen to be vulnerable in many parts of this book. Learn from her and from other people in your life. And embrace God. He is, after all, in the personal healing business. Best of all, He loves you. You are not alone!


My Marriage Died,

But I Can’t Find

the Funeral


No one ever told me grief felt so much like fear.


I hadn’t expected Saturday, April 7, 1984, to be anything but ordinary. I was getting all gussied up to attend a women’s luncheon with my mom and some friends. But I never made it to the event. I started crying that morning—and didn’t stop for a very long time.

Looking back, I now see many obvious indications that something was terribly wrong with my marriage, but at the time, I didn’t recognize them. The change in my husband’s personality was evident that day as it had been for several months. While toweling my hair dry, I whispered, Lord, show me what’s wrong.

Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, Is there someone else?

My husband hesitated, and then said, There could be.

There could be? I snapped. I need a yes or no.

Yes, he admitted.

Furious, I repeatedly screamed, How could you? How could you do this? Stunned by my outburst, he left the house. I wept as I waited for my friend to pick me up for the luncheon. When she saw me, her smile dissolved. I fell into her arms, sobbing, He’s having an affair. She led me to a chair where I sat zombie-like as she dried my hair and helped me to dress.

The pain of his confession hit me in waves, and each time a wave crashed over me, I’d burst into another crying jag. My friend held me and whispered, Honey, it will be okay. But deep inside, I knew life would never be the same.

That was the day my marriage died.

Weeks passed in a dull haze, and I fervently prayed that I would wake from the nightmare. In shock, I spent the following months barely able to function, coasting through daily tasks, and begging God to heal our marriage.

All I wanted to do was sleep. Eating was nearly impossible. To numb the pain, I began drinking heavily. This huge mistake fueled my deepening depression. It was as if I were descending into a big, bottomless hole. In my journal I wrote, My prayer is that I can get through the day without such a deep depression that I’m driven to sin. Oh God, help me. I’m falling ... falling ... falling.... I feel as if there is no hope. Please, God, tell me what to do.

As life seemed to unfold perfectly for everyone else, I stumbled through the next few months making one mistake after another in an effort to simply survive. My mental state and emotions fluctuated wildly. Lord, I wish I knew what to do with my life. If only I could get some self-worth back.... I feel like the whole thing is my fault. I never realized my husband was so unhappy. Is it really over? Oh God, help me.

In time the fog lifted, and I unwillingly faced reality: My husband wanted out. Our marriage covenant was broken. There was nothing more I could do to save our relationship.

Now I must get on with my life, I told myself. But how? How do you put a puzzle back together when half the pieces are missing? How do you go shopping when you can’t remember what you need to buy? How do you brush your teeth when you can’t even find the sink? How do you start over when grief, fear, and anger cripple your thinking and your ability to focus?

Although friends and family tried to help, I sank deeper into despair. No one seemed to understand the tremendous sorrow I was experiencing. My church friends tried to comfort me, but at the end of the day they returned home to loving families. How could they understand my loneliness?

On the gloomy February day of my divorce, I wore a black wool suit to court. I was going to a funeral; I might as well look the part. I went alone, assuming that the grueling elements of the ordeal were over. I was wrong. My tears began in the judge’s chambers and continued throughout the proceedings. Afterward the noisy, congested hallways complicated my attempt to exit the building. Confused and embarrassed, I finally bolted for the nearest door, desperate for fresh air.

As the days passed, Philippians 4:6–7 became my comfort. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. In my Bible next to this verse I wrote, January 1985—Oh God, when will the pain be over and a purpose clear?

In prayer I laid each tear and every feeling of anxiety, dread, and frustration at His feet. I clung to the hope that this too shall pass and believed God would one day do something worthwhile with the horrible mess of my divorce. As I learned to surrender the situation to God, my journal entries began to express a glimmer of hope. The pain is still overwhelming, but I know You won’t leave me, Lord.... I’m going to trust You.... With God’s help, I’m going to learn how to be a single Christian.

I remember the first night I realized I had gone a full day without crying—a milestone in my healing.

Several months afterward, women in similar situations began calling me. They had gotten my name from a friend or church, and we would chat. Surprisingly, this was therapeutic for me. I felt productive as I focused on someone else’s problems and not my own. How refreshing!

That was more than twenty years ago. For many years, I’ve led a divorce-recovery ministry and conducted seminars to help people cope with the aftermath of a failed marriage.

My own experience was similar to a plane crash—a catastrophic, immediate loss. But your marriage may have died slowly, as if contaminated by a lingering cancer. Regardless of the cause of death, the needs, fears, losses, and confusion form consistent and recognizable patterns that I see over and over as I lead divorce-recovery workshops across the country.

After years of assisting others through separation and divorce, I have seen the trauma strike emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. I’ve seen women cry rivers of mascara and men sob like children. I’ve held more weeping people than I ever dreamed would come across my path.

But I’ve also seen people triumph over divorce. During a recent social event, I watched former students joke and laugh, when months earlier that behavior would have seemed unthinkable for them. They made the commitment to grow through the pain instead of letting it destroy them. They learned how to comfort and encourage each other.

I’ve also watched their children recover emotional health and grow spiritually. Before the divorce, many of these kids had no knowledge of a God who cared for them with an everlasting, passionate love. But because Mom or Dad became emotionally and spiritually stable, so did they.

It’s been a joy to later celebrate with former students as they entered a new marriage with a wonderful spouse. The reward comes in seeing them choose to do the hard relational work necessary to enjoy fruitful and healthy lives. These blessings and many more give purpose to my own painful experience.


Stop the Roller Coaster!


I can stand what I know. It’s what I don’t know that frightens me.


I’ve lost everything, the young woman lamented. Will my life ever be normal again?

Although many years had passed since my own divorce, I understood her intense emotions. While comforting her, I assured her she eventually would find a new sense of normal. But even that new standard wouldn’t be in place for a while.

Most people are unaware that separation and divorce involve several stages of loss. These stages don’t necessarily arrive in sequence—slipping back and forth through the process is typical. In time, if this young woman walks through the grief and not around it, she’ll recover.

Most of us tend to want to rush through or numb our pain in an effort to get over our grief as quickly as possible. This is natural. Who likes pain? But rushing our healing is unwise and carries long-term consequences.

When you suffer a severe loss, your body and mind need to mourn in order to heal. If you don’t allow yourself that necessary time to grieve, but instead try to anesthetize your sorrow with new relationships or other numbing agents, you jeopardize the healing process. You must choose whether to work through grief or to avoid it. The decision you make will affect your future for a long time.

Every circumstance surrounding divorce is different. If you had a violent or abusive marriage, you may experience a sense of relief instead of sorrow when it ends. But you will still need to grieve the death of your dream for what your marriage should have been. If you stayed in an unhappy marriage for many years, you run a greater risk of moving on too quickly following your divorce. After years of emotional numbness, the thought of starting life over again may seem invigorating. But if you don’t discover how and why you married your ex-spouse—the red flags present during dating and what happened to destroy the marriage—you may repeat the same mistake. I once met

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