Showing Support to a Newly Divorced Woman

I’ve been there and done that. Fifteen years ago, I said goodbye to my high school sweetheart, the man who would then become my husband, the one who couldn’t fathom the idea of taking a journey with me to become closer to our Jewish roots and to G-d. The one who, ultimately, could never be the kind of father I was looking for for my unborn children. I’ll never forget one of the most painful days of my life: the day of my Get. I remember the Rabbis effusively singing “Siman Tov U’ Mazal Tov” and that’s not at all what I was feeling. All I wanted to do was run away from the Beit Din, crawl under my blankets and cry. And that’s what I did. For days. Until this day, I get a bitter taste in my mouth when I remember how insensitive I felt the Rabbis were in saying Mazal Tov for something so utterly heart wrenching…Even though ultimately, it was very much what we both wanted. Until this day, I wish they had skipped that part and wished us a quiet “Good Luck picking up the pieces” or something along those lines.

Getting divorced is like experiencing a death of a loved one. You feel as though your heart got ripped out of your body and you feel this deep anguish and tremendous fear about “what do I do now?”. Just like the five stages of grief coined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, I experienced denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then finally acceptance. “Denial, the first of the five stages of grief,helped me to survive the loss. In this stage, the world became meaningless and overwhelming. Life made no sense.I was in a state of shock and denial. I wondered how I could go on, if I could go on, why I should go on. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As I accepted the reality(and the immensity) of the loss, I started asking myself questions, while unknowingly beginning the healing process. I was becoming stronger, and the denial was beginning to fade. But as I moved forward, all the feelings I was denying began to surface. And then it became important for me to take a deep look within, to recognize my contributions to the breakdown of my marriage and to work through all the unresolved feelings that I knew needed examining if I wanted to remarry and build a family one day. And so began my very painful and life changing journey within, reconnecting with myself, with my Jewish roots and with G-d. Some of the friends that I thought would be by my side couldn’t handle my pain and disappeared when I needed them most. Some people I least expected to be there holding my hand along the way did so with so much love and grace. It was a very eye opening and very painful time in my life, as I found myself grieving so many things at the same time…The loss of my marriage, the loss of dear lifelong friends and the young child within me was grieving my own parents’ broken marriage.

It’s fifteen years after the fact and I am thank G-d remarried to the right man, with three beautiful children. But divorce holds a very close place in my heart, both personally and professionally and I feel that my journey can be one that inspires other women at the very beginning of their own journey. I am a school counselor by trade and have worked with many many children whose parents were getting divorced (or already divorced). I worked with their parents to try helping them bridge their differences so that they could successfully co-parent their children and minimize the long term negative effects that their divorce would have on their children. I am also a trained family therapist and am beginning to see women both individually and in groups, to help them with their healing process.

Just like at a shiva or when a tragedy has hit someone, well meaning people often become tongue tied about what to say and will then often say the wrong things…
Here are some doozies:
“Well, at least you got a kid out of it”
“At least you didn’t have kids with him”
To a woman whose husband was abusive: “Are you sure he was abusive? You should stick it out. What about your poor kids? They need a father”
“It doesn’t seem that he was so abusive, he didn’t push you down the stairs!”
“You and your kids are doing so great…He couldn’t have been THAT bad”

These are just a few of the MANY examples of foot-in-mouth disease I hear about daily from the many brave and courageous women who are working their tails off to build “new normal” lives for themselves and their children. Please remember that they have endured a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. Don’t tell them how they must be feeling. Don’t give them unsolicited advice. Don’t ask too many questions. They’ll share what they want to share with you. Do call and check in “Hi! How are you? Can I make you and your kids dinner tonight?” “Why don’t you guys come for Shabbat?” “You’re not feeling well? Send over the kids for a play date”.

To show the most love and support, which is surely the intention, the best words out of your mouth are “I am here for you in whichever way you need me to be”.

***Obviously, divorce is a very painful time for men as well and many of these things are true for them too.

About the Author
Cigal Gabay is a trained school counselor and a family therapist who's starting to see divorcees and their children in therapy. Her world's greatest passion is helping people heal and become their best selves.
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