It takes a special person to be charitable and generous to their ex-spouse after divorce and most people are not that special person. Anyone who has been unjustly wronged, lied to, cheated on, left penniless, and abandoned with children to raise has the right—in fact some might say the duty—to be as unmerciful and unforgiving toward their ex-spouse as they feel is deserved.
Well, at least, that’s what most people today would want you to think. And that’s because it’s exactly how they treat the people in their lives who have hurt them.
But, it’s hard to be charitable to someone who has devastated your life. I know in my own divorce experience, there were times when my bitterness won out and my angry behavior just made things worse. It made me feel absolutely horrible about what I had done or said. No one should live that way, it’s a miserable existence. No wonder we have such high crime, road rage, and broken families. People get hurt and their response is to attack like a spitting, hissing venomous snake.
But it’s not the way we should treat others, including those who have hurt us. We know that, as Christians, we are called to love everyone, even our enemies (Matthew 5: 43-45). But how, in the face of gratuitously shameful behavior, do you treat that person with a shred of decency without your head exploding? Here are six helpful tips to help you handle a difficult ex-spouse.
1. Pray for their salvation: First, remember that “love” does not mean gushing emotion. You are not called to treat your ex-spouse the way two people falling in love treat each other. You don’t even have to like the person. One of the best ways to follow Christ’s command to love your enemies is to pray for their salvation.
2. Speak charitably: Another way you can be faithful to Christ’s call, is by keeping your temper in check when your ex-spouse is antagonizing you, or choosing not to say unkind words, even when you feel they are deserved. Choosing to avoid the temptation to speak uncharitably about your ex-spouse in front of your children or other people listening is an especially excellent way to love your enemy.
3. Trust God: Be assured that Satan is not in favor of this idea at all, and will do whatever he can to get you to fail this challenge and feel bad about yourself. Place your trust in God’s grace, for He will strengthen you so you can win these little battles that often times, only He sees. And those often turn out to be the most important battles of all. It’s like crushing the serpent’s head every time you do the right thing.
4. Fight the good fight: In 1 Timothy 6:12, St. Paul exhorts us to be contrary to the way of the world and fight the good fight:
Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
The one thing that helped me the most as I made the conscious decision to be contrary to society and not give in to my anger when it came to my ex-spouse was to slice my way through all the garbage, all the emotion and get to the root of the issue which was the salvation of his soul. I wanted everyone to get to heaven, even him. So that became my bottom line. I prayed for God’s grace to fight the good fight and pray for his soul. (And who knows, he might have just been praying for me at the same time…)
5. Forgive yourself: If you’re struggling with this situation in your own life and this idea seems impossible to you, don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re still not even close to being halfway ready to be thinking about possibly praying for your ex-spouse. It’s okay. Just make a mental note that this is your goal. And then, pray for the grace to find it in your heart to pray for your ex-spouse. God knows how to melt your heart.
6. Smile: And if you need extra encouragement, just remember that every time you make the decision to be charitable to your ex-spouse, put a smile on your face instead of complaining about the suffering, or say a prayer for strength instead of giving in to temptation, you crush the serpent’s head.
You are winning small, but important battles in the war over your soul.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.