By Kathy K. Martin
Special to The Commercial Appeal
“Till death do us part” is often the final vow that married couples make on their wedding day. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the reality, as more than half of the couples end up divorced today, said Dr. Paul Neal of the Christian Psychological Center of Memphis. This rate has remained stable for the past five years, but he has seen extramarital affairs increasing and more couples entering into marriage with no model for success, as many grew up with divorced parents.
While the center prefers to help couples save their marriages, most often divorce has already occurred and the couples need help to recover. In response to this, the center has partnered with Second Presbyterian Church for the past 28 years to offer the Divorce Recovery program twice each year.
“This has been a huge ministry for us, the first in the Mid-South, as hundreds have gone through the program,” said Neal.
The nine-week Divorce Recovery program combines professional expertise and personal caring to provide encouragement and direction. A counselor from the Christian Psychological Center speaks for an hour, followed by sharing in small groups led by facilitators. The cost is $30 and includes the book, “Growing Through Divorce.” Sessions run Sept. 5 through Nov. 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. New participants are accepted during the first three weeks and then registration is closed.
Donna Ammons was divorced after 27 years of marriage. She heard about the program at Second Presbyterian and decided she needed help to move from bitterness and grief to hope. “No one marries to get divorced or hopes for these things to happen,” she said. She learned she needed to connect with people going through divorce so she didn’t feel like she was the only one struggling. Her children were her main catalyst, even though she found it challenging.
“I chose not to be angry,” she said, “They (my children) need me to be healthy and not cause division between them and my ex-husband.”
Now she helps others as a facilitator of Divorce Recovery.
Other churches also offer similar programs to help people heal. Christ United Methodist Church presents the DivorceCare program, which begins Sept. 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The cost is $10 for the workbook, and child care is provided.
Other area churches that offer DivorceCare include Longview Heights Baptist Church in Olive Branch, Independent Presbyterian Church in Memphis, First Assembly of God in Cordova and DeSoto Hills Baptist Church in Southaven.
Barbara Dooley, coordinator of DivorceCare at Christ United Methodist, said she faced divorce after 25 years of marriage. With her experience as an educational psychologist, she saw the need to help others and began the program four years ago.
“This type of program is preventive mental health, a way to become whole again and prevent more serious problems from developing,” said Dooley.
Some of the responses she has received from participants about DivorceCare include:
“Faced some of the subjects that I would prefer to ignore, but needed to face.”
“Opened my eyes to the importance of forgiveness, reconciliation and my opportunities as a Christian to help others,” and
“I learned my pain was real and that only Jesus Christ could heal me. I am still healing.”
While DivorceCare includes many spiritual components, Dooley said everyone is welcome, regardless of their religious beliefs.
“We turn no one away and nothing about the classes is judgmental or condemning,” she said.
DivorceCare features 13 video seminars led by 32 renowned experts on divorce and recovery, such as Kay Arthur, Dr. Tony Evans and Dr. Craig Keener. Weekly topics include forgiveness, reconciliation, facing anger, depression and loneliness. After viewing the video, participants form smaller groups to discuss what was presented while sharing their personal experiences. Each session is self-contained so people can join at any time and still view any topics that they missed.
Jewish Family Service presents “Thriving Post Divorce,” a class open to anyone experiencing divorce that helps answer questions such as, “How do I go from ‘we’ to ‘me?’ and “How do I speak to my kids?” The class meets on Monday at 6 and 8 p.m. and costs $55 for five sessions, or $15 per session at the door.
The social services agency also offers a variety of classes, such as marriage/couples therapy, individual and family counseling, counseling for youth and adolescents, play therapy, parenting groups and classes for children of divorced couples.
While the 147-year-old agency serves many Jewish families in the community, about 60 percent to 65 percent of its clients aren’t Jewish, said Hirsch Serman, chief executive officer.
For couples experiencing martial difficulties, Neal recommends they seek marital counseling before the relationship is severely damaged.
“Many couples we see for marital counseling have either already given up on their marriage before seeking counseling or have done so much damage to the marriage that it is difficult to overcome that damage,” Neal said.
Many couples, he said, now see divorce as a first rather than last resort and often aren’t as committed to working through difficulties. He compares maintenance of a marriage to maintaining a car: “You have to go in for routine help before the engine blows.”
He suggests that couples read books on marriage such as “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, which focuses on how couples can understand each other’s emotional needs, and “The Meaning of Marriage” by Timothy Keller. He also encourages couples to attend church-based marital enrichment programs.
The Catholic Diocese of Memphis begins Retrouvaille, an international Catholic program meaning rediscovery, this winter. Combining a weekend experience with postsessions, Retrouvaille serves to heal and renew marriages that are hurting while discussing issues such as money and infidelity.
The Diocese also offers support for engaged couples through marriage preparation and natural family planning courses. Married couples who want to enrich their marriages may also attend a weekend retreat called World Wide Marriage Encounter.
Anger is often an overriding, secondary emotion when a marriage is hurting or someone is going through a divorce, said Neal, and he helps people uncover the primary emotion that causes the anger.
“We don’t try to cram our beliefs down their throats, but we help them find their answers and point them to Scripture and what God says,” he said.
One Bible verse Neal often shares is Proverbs 15:1, which reads, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
For people recovering from divorce, he recommends reading the book, “Growing Through Divorce” by Jim Smoke, becoming involved in church singles programs and going through a divorce recovery program that helps them move through the healing process so they become emotionally better instead of bitter at their ex-spouse.
“As they focus on what they can do to go on with their life in a healthy way instead of focusing on the past hurts of their marriage, they can grow emotionally and spiritually,” he said.
Some Places to Go for Help
Central Church: Preparing for Marriage/Remarriage, beginning Oct. 7, 11 a.m., $30/couple to cover materials. centralchurch.com/counseling
Catholic Diocese of Memphis: For Retrouvaille, call pastoral services office at 901-373-1200. For engaged couples who wish to attend marriage preparation and natural family planning courses call 901-722-4735. For registration in the World Wide Marriage Encounter, go to wwme.org.
Christian Psychological Center of Memphis: 901-458-6291 or cpcmemphis.net
Second Presbyterian Church’s Divorce Recovery: 901-454-0034, 2pc.org
Jewish Family Service: jfsmemphis.org/events-and-classes. Classes are also offered for children and for couples hoping to enrich or repair their marriages.
Growing Seasons: For children ages 4—12 who have experienced divorce or death of a parent, classes begin on Sept. 5 from 6:45 to 8 p.m. at Central Church. Other churches and Christian organizations can begin Growing Seasons groups too. Contact Jean Brunson: 901-628-4113.