I recently had the privilege of interviewing the founder of CatholicTherapists.Com and director of St. Raphael Mental Health Counseling, PC, Allison Riccardi, and took the opportunity to ask her about the necessity of therapy after divorce, and in particular, the wisdom in choosing a Catholic therapist vs. a non-Catholic therapist. Her sensitivity as a Catholic to what divorced Catholics go through is apparent:
Divorce is one of the greatest understated tragedies in our modern society.
It’s so common that it often doesn’t get the attention it deserves as a traumatic experience that requires deep healing. Unlike losing a spouse through death, (as devastating as that can be), the aftermath of divorce militates against closure on so many levels, especially when children are involved. In death, after the burial the arduous journey of grief and closure begins. Interestingly, it takes on average 18 months to 2 years to adequately process grief in a healthy way.
With divorce, too often emotions, resentments and dreams are the things buried in an attempt to navigate this new and all encompassing emptiness. No longer part of a couple in what seems to be a “couples’ world”, the natural inclination is to get right back on the horse and find someone new. It’s understandable but usually the worst remedy. Imagine the young widow or widower out at the singles bar 3 weeks after the funeral. That would raise more than a few eyebrows and concerns among family and friends. Yet with divorce, such encouragements are common place. Although in truth it takes longer than the signing of the divorce papers for a marriage to crumble, that final death blow demands respectful attention.
As Catholics the annulment process affords an opportunity to slow down the rush into the dating world and look at the foundational issues that caused the marriage to fail. But knowing those problems isn’t usually enough. Talking to a counselor that shares your Catholic values can be an invaluable help and wise insurance before moving onto the next relationship. Even in situations where the other spouse was clearly at fault, living in a dysfunctional marriage usually engenders dysfunctional coping mechanisms and behaviors in order to survive. Talking these out while learning healthier responses goes a long way to ensuring a better future if indeed the annulment is granted. But be warned, because of the vulnerability you may be experiencing after divorce, your therapist can be either a great help or a great hindrance, depending on their worldview. Choosing a specifically faithful Catholic therapist who can help you work out not only your emotions but issues related to forgiveness, inner healing, dealing with the children and discerning God’s will for your future can greatly enhance your experience and the therapeutic outcome.
If you are newly divorced, here are a couple of tips to help you through this tumultuous time of “getting back into the dating scene.” First and foremost, ask yourself if you really want to get into the dating scene? Is that where you feel called or are you responding to prompts from others to jump back in? What are your hopes and dreams and goals for this new chapter of your life? Is a spouse really the most important priority for you right now? Take some time to get back in touch with who you are. Spend some time developing friendships with members of your own sex so you’re not tempted to get more involved than you are ready to with a potential partner. Sure, you can have friends of the opposite sex, but if you are vulnerable things could take off more than you’d really like so be prudent.
Make a list of those qualities that you would like in a mate. Give this some thought and be specific. What qualities do you most admire in another? Do you relate best to people who share your religious and political viewpoints? What are the qualities that are deal killers for you? Maybe someone who is grounded, methodical and employed by the same company for 25+ years sounds really appealing to you. Or maybe that entrepreneur who creates his or her own destiny is more your speed. Know what works for you and what doesn’t. Then keep that list handy as you start meeting people. Remember, your heart can be very fickle so you want to guide your emotions by reason. Making the list before you begin the dating odyssey can go a long way to sparing you (and your kids) unnecessary heartache.
The best and healthiest relationships develop between individuals who are already happy and at peace with who they are. When you are doing things you love, when you have a solid circle of friends and exciting things to look forward to, with or without a spouse, that’s when you’re going to have the best chance of meeting the person who will best compliment who you are. Spending some time and money on therapy to work out past issues and develop a solid forward looking plan is a great investment for a happy future.
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