By Judy Clark, NACFLM Region 10

OFFERS HEALING to separated and divorced spouses and their families.

Divorce Healing Assessment

Millions of people of various faiths and backgrounds have suffered the devastating grief of a marriage that ended in divorce.  Countless children of various ages have lived with feelings of anxiety, disorientation, guilt and abandonment.  Divorce hurts.  We have experienced the pain of divorce in our families, in the lives of our friends and those we serve in ministry

The Grief of Divorce

The grief of divorce involves all the symptoms of grief we think of regarding a serious loss.  Besides denial, bargaining, depression, anger, confusion, and finally acceptance and moving on, the grief process of divorce deals with self-esteem issues in a unique way.  Rejection permeates the loss of a marriage, for adults as well as children.  Rejection feels like being shattered into a million pieces as a sheet of glass does breaking on concrete.  Feeling broken, less than whole and ashamed are common emotions that mirror low self-worth.  Children often experience feeling unloved and abandoned as their parents grapple with their own healing.  They can falsely blame themselves for causing the breakup of their parent’s marriage, prompting guilt, self accusations and reactive behaviors.  Parents experience ongoing guilt over the pain their children are experiencing.  Both children and adults can feel abandoned by God and have difficulty praying to a God who would let this divorce happen.

The Healing Process

Healing takes time.  The grief process is truly a journey.  There are dashed promises and dreams to let go of, life roles to grieve, and new roles, responsibilities and jobs to assume.  There are deep disappointments when certain friends back away, removing their emotional support.  Financial security may have greatly changed and downsizing is required.  Growing through the grief process towards healing can seem a daunting task.  Offering solace, encouragement, guidance and like-to-like understanding is a great part of helping people heal on their grief journey

Divorce Recovery Programs and Processes

As ministry persons, we can be the conduit that brings hope to those who are in need of divorce recovery.  We can help them connect regarding recovery programs, counselors, spiritual guidance and like-to-like support.  It is not so much “which” program to use as it is to provide connection versus isolation.  Being with nonjudgmental people that understand the grief of divorce brings almost immediate relief and increases confidence in believing that they can, indeed, make it through to healing and a new life.  So buy a couple of books or attend a divorce program course that will add to your own confidence in assisting our divorced families towards recovery.  Make Divorce Recovery part of your ministry planning schedule.  If you offer it, they will come.  They need the opportunity to heal.

Trail Map Tips for Stepfamily Success

By Elizabeth Einstein, MA/LMFT

1. Understand two critical realities. Making a stepfamily work well is a process. It also takes time.

2. Take time to live alone as a single after divorce or the death of a partner. Develop and maintain a solid network of family and friends. Start school, move into a new job, or do whatever it takes to move toward a long-awaited dream you’ve always held. Take risks that lead to restoring your ability to trust others. Beware of that first intense relationship and realize that, quite likely, this person is your transition person and not necessarily the one you’ll end up marrying.

However, it can be a vital relationship for rebuilding self-confidence and self-respect, as well as learning how to be with someone again.

3. Take time before you commit and prepare wisely. Resolve and heal former relationships. Learn information about stepfamily living. Help your children grieve their changed family situation with family discussions and therapy so they can better adjust to stepfamily living.

4. Clarify your relationship with your former spouse. Peaceful relationships help your children move between two households. Effective co-parenting and minimizing loyalty conflicts for children only works when the original relationship is reasonably healthy.

5. Dealing with discipline will be your greatest challenge. The first hurdle is dealing with discipline, so that you can present a “united front” to the children as soon as possible. Examine your parenting styles. Perhaps take parenting classes during courtship. Seek out skills and communication classes. Agree on approaches that respect everyone.

6. Examine and clarify boundary issues early. Time, space, chores, and authority are issues to sort out early in the stepfamily journey so everyone is on the same page.

7. Disclose and discuss finances. Money discussions are best done before remarriage, because issues around money and other economic considerations are the second greatest challenge in the stepfamily.

8. Reduce children’s anxiety. Kids worry about their roles in the new family and may be confused. Many are angry about all the changes. Reduce their concerns by talking with them openly.

Yes, they still have a good relationship with their other parent without it upsetting you or your new partner. No, they needn’t lose touch with their grandparents. Yes, they can they still see their old friends? Clear answers provide the reassurance youngsters need. New stepparents can assure children their intent is neither to replace their biological parent nor interfere in those relationships. Ask them how they view your role in their lives, listen well for guidelines, and watch for opportunities to build good relationships with them.

9. Participate in stepfamily education

or counseling. Because stepfamilies differ from other families in so many ways, the more you learn in advance, the fewer struggles you’ll face later. Attend a stepfamily education class. Visit a therapist who’s savvy about stepfamilies and is trained in family systems – especially before marriage and in the early stages. It’s a healthy family that seeks help to strengthen its family life.

10. Celebrate with a creative ceremony that includes the children. At the cutting edge of tradition, stepfamily weddings can help create a storehouse of memories that provide a strong foundation for your stepfamily. Everyone who wants to take part in a meaningful way can be encouraged to do so. A child might want to play the piano, sing a song, read a poem, or manage the guest book. Encourage your children to be a part in the ceremony but no one should be forced. If there’s resistance by a certain child, talk about it calmly to get to the bottom of what the child is feeling – it is usually unresolved divorce issues. A creative and joyful ceremony heralds your new beginning to friends and family and provides a positive start to what lies ahead.


Elizabeth Einstein is a pioneer in working with remarried families and a leader in the field of stepfamily education. She is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Ithaca, NY and author of several books.

Divorce & Remarriage in the New Testament

 By John S. Grabowski, Ph.D.

The issue of divorce and remarriage has a long and somewhat complicated history in the Bible. Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 allows a man to divorce his wife if he “finds in her something indecent” (Dt. 24: 1c).

Some of the prophets linked this open-ended permission to infidelity in marriage (e.g., Hos. 1-4; Ez. 16, 23), while others flatly rejected it (cf. Mal. 2:14-16). In Jesus’ own day Rabbis continued to debate the text with some restricting divorce to cases of infidelity (the school of Shammai), while others (such as the followers of Rabbi Hillel) allowed divorce for much more trivial reasons (such as a wife’s inability to cook).

The NT adds further complexity with multiple versions of Jesus’ teaching on the subject, all of which have been subjected to highly technical debates over their translation, context, and meaning by scholars. This complexity leads some people to conclude that the NT offers little helpful guidance for the matter in our own rather different cultural context. Still others find in the NT texts a pattern of adaptation by early Christian communities so that the exceptions become the rule and Jesus’ teaching on the permanence of marriage must always be adapted to new historical situations and circumstances.

But these conclusions are premature. A close look reveals that the NT offers a consistent, although not totally uncomplicated, teaching on the question of divorce which serves as the foundation for the current teaching and practice of the Church.

The oldest NT text dealing with the issue is found in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (written c. 55 A.D.). In a brief statement in Chapter 7 (verses 10-11) Paul discourages separation (christhenai) and forbids divorce (aphienai) on the basis of the teaching of Jesus that will later be recorded in the Gospels. He then deals with a new situation which had emerged in the community not treated by Jesus’ teaching – what to do if one spouse had converted to Christianity and the other had not (7:12-16). Paul addresses this new case on the basis of his own authority as an apostle, allowing the unbelieving spouse to separate if he or she could not live with the believer in peace. It is not clear whether the believing spouse could then remarry. Written some ten years later, Mark’s Gospel contains the earliest written version of Jesus’ words on the topic. In response to the Pharisees’ challenge, Jesus rejects the teaching of Deuteronomy 24 as a concession to human “hardheartedness” (sklerokardia) caused by sin (cf. Mk. 10:5). Jesus sees this as a violation of God’s original intention for marriage disclosed in the

Genesis creation accounts which he now prophetically restates. When questioned about this teaching by his disciples, Jesus goes even further, equating divorce and remarriage with adultery(mocheia—cf. Mk. 10:11-12). The fact that Mark also applies this teaching to women divorcing their husbands (10:12), reflects the practice of Roman law (though there were a limited number of cases in which women could initiate divorce in OT law— e.g., Ex. 21:7-11).

The later Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke share a similar short saying of Jesus which again forbids men to divorce their wives and equates remarriage with adultery (cf. Mt. 5:31- 32; Lk. 16:18). The net effect of this rejection of divorce as a largely male prerogative coupled with the NT rejection of the double standard for sexual morality was to elevate the status of women and to open the way for an understanding of marriage as a genuine partnership.

However, both Matthew 5:32 and the longer parallel of Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees later in the Gospel (Matthew 19: 1-12), contain what is often taken to be an exception to this strong rejection of divorce in cases of “porneia” (Mt. 5:32d; 19: 9c). The exact translation of the term is the subject of some dispute.

Some translate the word in a way which equates it with some form of sexual infidelity. Hence it is sometimes rendered “adultery” (“marital unfaithfulness” in the NIV), “fornication” (NRSV) or “unchastity” (NASB). But if Matthew meant to name adultery as an exception to this prohibition why did he not use the word mocheia as he does elsewhere in the same verses? Furthermore, how would such a position be any different than that of Hosea,

Ezekiel or the followers of Rabbi Shammai? How would this qualify as a revolutionary restatement of God’s intention for marriage by Jesus whom Matthew portrays as the New Moses?

For these reasons the Catholic scholars who have produced some of the best available English translations of the NT have translated the term as “unlawful marriage” (NAB, Jerusalem Bible) – that is, a marriage between two people too closely related by blood. Such a practice, common in the Gentile world, would have been abhorrent to Jews or Jewish Christians because of the incest taboos of Leviticus 18 which were understood to apply to all people. This is exactly what the term porneia indicates when it is used to forbid such marriage in the letter to

Gentile converts to Christianity in Acts (see Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25). Given that we know Matthew’s Gospel was written for a community of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, this translation fits the Gospel’s context. In this case, these clauses in Matthew are not so much an “exception” to the thrust of

Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, but a recognition that a particular OT law still had binding force for Christians. Thus while the teaching of the NT on divorce and remarriage is not without some complexity, it is not inconsistent or incoherent. Based on this teaching the Church sees the tragedy of divorce as an evil and something contrary to God’s plan for marriage. In fidelity to this teaching the Church holds that it cannot undo a sacramental marriage that is validly concluded and physically consummated (see

Canon 1061). Civil divorce does not undo sacramental marriage, hence the divorced are called to remain unmarried in fidelity to this bond. This is why persons who are divorced and remarried cannot receive the sacraments with the exception of three cases: 1) they are in danger of death; 2) they are living “as brother and sister;” or, 3) they have received an annulment for the previous marriage. Most annulments are declarations that a sacramental marriage never took place between a couple because of some impediment to their consent (e.g., deceit) or situation (e.g., too close of a blood relationship). Those annulment cases in which a marriage is actually dissolved involve natural marriages (marriages where at least one party is not baptized as in 1 Cor. 7) or cases where a marriage is not consummated (and hence not fully sacramental). This is not to ignore the fact that there are many people who find themselves in the painful situation of being divorced and (civilly) remarried. These persons are still members of the Church. They are not excommunicated and can still participate in the Church’s life – albeit not through reception of the sacraments (except in the three cases mentioned above). The Church and its members can certainly do more to support these brothers and sisters, but this support cannot take the form of compromising or ignoring the teaching of Jesus. As Pope Benedict XVI has recently reminded us, Christian charity must always be founded upon and lived in truth (cf. Caritas in veritate, nos. 1-2).

 John S. Grabowski, Ph.D., The Catholic University of America.


Jesus and the Divorced

By Rose Sweet

Jesus fell three times.

That’s how a lot of divorced Catholics feel as they trudge uphill through battles of loss, anger,  depression, loneliness, court battles, custody arrangements, and more. Their road is long and it seems whenever they get ahead, the weight of their cross drives them back down. It’s vital for those who minister to the divorced to maintain balance in the way they help. Let’s draw two clear and complementary truths from the way of sorrows: Let them be comforted

At the start of Jesus’ passion, the Father permitted his Son to sweat blood in the garden but also sent an angel to console Jesus. On the way to Golgotha, Veronica also comforted Jesus, by the gentle wiping of the blood from His brow and the sweat from His face. Consolation has always been part of the spiritual road along with times of dark desolation.

Some people who minister to the divorced have a Veronica personality that is loving and gentle – in a sense ”feminine” although many men have this gift as well by their natural temperament. They’re best at listening, affirming, nodding, smiling, hugging, and encouraging pats on the back. The divorced need that. But they need more than that, too. Let them carry the cross

Suffering is hard to watch, but it can be cleansing, purifying, and instructive. Rather than try to take the cross away – or minimize it – it is better to help the divorced see the hard truths about their lives that they may not have wanted to see before. Do they need to get to confession? Is there forgiveness that needs to be sought? Are they stuck in fear, anger, or pride? For their very salvation, this rocky road may be how God wants to call them to go higher.

Some who assist the divorced can be like Simon – they help to carry the load for a short time or only when absolutely necessary. It will be easier for those with a certain personality to confidently teach the truth about love, marriage, sin, and divorce. They seem less comforting but they will not be afraid to make waves if it means bringing the truth into the light. Even though this might seem a more “masculine” approach, both men and women can have this gift of boldness.

Both comforting and challenging are necessary for a balanced approach to ministry. Jesus had the “work” of salvation do in His suffering; similarly we should not try to comfort or carry other’s crosses for them forever. All are called to help, but not to stand in the way of what is necessary for true healing – helping the divorced person along the way, past their hurts and fears, to a total surrender of their heart to the Father, back to God in the fullest way possible, through His Church and the Sacraments.

Yes, Jesus fell three times . . . but with the help of others He got up three times, too.

Rose Sweet is an author, speaker, and producer of “The Catholic’s DIVORCE SURVIVAL Guide,” a 12-show DVD series available at www.CatholicsDIVORCE.com . You can read more about Rose at her website www.RoseSweet.com .  Summer 2011

Shattered Dreams

By Regina Staloch

Editor’s Note: Family ministers exert great effort to support marriage and save couples from the pain of divorce. Regretfully, neither we, nor the couples we serve, are perfect and thus we are not always successful. Because of this, family ministers are also about supporting men and women who experience divorce. It is in this spirit that we offer an article on divorce ministry.

Since 1974, Catholic Divorce Ministry of the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics (CDM/NACSDC) has worked to create a network of support for families experiencing the trauma of the loss of the marital relationship by addressing the religious, emotional, and parenting issues. We strive to make Christ’s abundant love known so all might experience compassion, spiritual and emotional recovery, healing, reconciliation and new life. Our primary vehicle for this is peer support groups with trained facilitators who themselves have experienced the pain and grief of divorce. The facilitators understand the consequences and ripple effects on families from the inside.

Losing your best friend creates a major life crisis. When a couple marries, neither is planning a divorce. In time, however, many marriages are on the rocks and sometimes only one partner is aware of the dissatisfaction.

Communication skills are lacking when unhappiness is self contained. No one can read a mind. The attitude that “good Catholics don’t get divorced” exists in parishes. Divorce is not always a mutually agreed upon decision. It takes two to marry but only one to file for a civil divorce. The whole family needs healing as the children’s dreams are also broken.

The separation process, whether mutually agreed upon or not, creates a great struggle with the commitment “until death do us part.”

Can I require my partner to seek marriage counseling or talk with our pastor? No. Imagine the shock when a person learns a spouse can obtain a civil divorce by filing paperwork at the local court house stating irreconcilable differences, live apart for three months, and, if the wife is not pregnant, the sheriff will deliver divorce papers to be signed in court before a judge.

Retrouvaille and The Third Option are helpful to save marriages when both are willing participants. In fact, couples should make sure attending such a program is on their “required to do” list before finalizing a divorce. If divorce becomes unavoidable, however, and a person hopes to one day marry again, marriage enrichment and relationship skills training are just as important before entering into a serious new relationship.

Although painful, it is crucial that divorcing women and men walk through – not jump over – their divorce grief in order to obtain the life giving spirit meant for each of us. Some have found help by staying close to Jesus through Eucharistic Adoration, others get professional counseling and/or medication when necessary, still others begin and end each day with prayer while adding The Serenity Prayer hourly.

Taking off the wedding ring does not make one single again in society, in the Catholic Church, or in God’s eyes. Civil divorce is the state’s method to separate the marriage partnership legally. This civil divorce does not exclude Catholics from receiving the sacraments.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI rescinded the excommunication that had been in effect if a person remarried without first receiving an annulment. In Catholic Church law, the couple is still married unless an ecclesiastical decree of nullity (an annulment) is granted by the Diocesan Tribunal.

Completing the annulment questionnaire can be a healing experience when done with pastoral guidance. The questions go back to the wedding day to discover if full disclosure and consent had been available to each person making the covenant with each other before God and a priest or deacon. The questions surface unresolved hurts stuffed deep within the heart. Uncontrollable tears may flow again as Jesus journeys with us to share our burden and show us the way through shattered dreams.

Even if divorced people never plan to re-marry, CDM strongly encourages divorced Catholics to seek an annulment to feel God’s mercy, healing grace, peace, joy, forgiveness and closure. It’s necessary to drop the baggage from the previous marriage in order not to repeat past mistakes. Nobody wants a second marriage to fail due to incomplete homework.

CDM dedicates itself to serve as a major resource to dioceses and parish leaders for publications and facilitator training. NACFLM members are welcome to join CDM to support this vital ministry of healing. To become a member and to review resources see www.nacsdc.org. Every human relationship is an eternal responsibility.

Regina Staloch is president of Catholic Divorce Ministry and lives in Arnold, Mo.


The Stepfamily Journey – Not for Wimps

By Elizabeth Einstein, MA/LMFT

Smart hikers prepare well for their adventures. With a good trail map and sturdy equipment, they are ready for most mishaps that might occur. Hard hiking is not for wimps, so adults moving toward remarriage need the wisdom to prepare well for one of the toughest journeys they may ever take. Such an advance commitment will pay great rewards once you have solid skills and information to build a successful stepfamily in which children and adults can continue to heal and grow.

Like viewing a gorgeous mountain range from afar with high hopes of scaling the peaks, living in a stepfamily might appear at first look to be an interesting and exciting journey. Uninformed and unhealed divorced adults may delude themselves that with merely a new partner, marriage will be much easier this time.

That delusion gets many new stepfamilies in trouble fast – as evidenced by the nearly 60 percent remarriage divorce rate. While not all remarriages include children who can bring great challenges, most do.

Adults who plan to succeed in their stepfamily journey should prepare just as rigorously as experienced mountain hikers. Dreams, high hopes, and crossed fingers alone won’t create successful stepfamily living. Thankfully, you now have resources that weren’t available to me as I dealt with stepfamily issues personally through two marriages and divorces. A second divorce for our children had a huge negative impact on all of them as they tried to move into adulthood with serious loyalty conflicts and their own “emotional baggage.” Today there are books, workshops, and educational programs to provide the tools stepfamilies need to succeed. To not use all that’s available today is like attempting to climb a serious mountain wearing a daypack and sneakers. It’s foolhardy– and dangerous!


1. Fantasy – Like hikers with overweight backpacks, many adults enter the remarriage trailhead in the fantasy stage. They are over-loaded with unrealistic expectations, unresolved grief, and a lack of knowledge of what’s ahead, believing love can conquer all. When adults join up before they have cleared up relationships with their former spouses and resolved their own guilt and grief about how death or divorce has changed their children’s lives forever, they deny the challenges ahead.

2. Confusion about rules – Once the wedding happens, the second stage quickly occurs. There is confusion about rules, roles, and disciplining children. The couple often avoids discussions about what to do about absentee parents, and denial deepens. Communication that focuses on compromise and negotiation becomes essential, and it is vital to begin this process before serious wedding planning begins. Children who try to move between two households while their parents and stepparents continue to hash out their problems often struggle with loyalty conflicts.

3. Crisis – It doesn’t take long for many stepfamilies to fall into the third stage – crisis – which is when many remarriages end. It is important to understand, instead, that crisis is part of normal stepfamily development rather than a signal for quitting time. Instead of fearing it, you can use the crisis time to examine what’s wrong and fix it. Before marriage, if you are actively engaged in planning ahead and holding family discussions, you will probably experience and resolve major issues. This will help to prevent at least some of the crises from happening after the wedding.

4. Stability- After getting support, guidance, and new tools, stepfamilies(and potential stepfamilies) can use the lessons they learned from the crisis to make the necessary changes to move into the next stage of stability. The family finally comes together with a new understanding and a determined game plan to succeed. Even when obstacles pop up, or setbacks occur, fear of failure no longer reigns, and adults come to know they can make it to the summit. The stability gained during this part of stepfamily development strengthens everyone’s sense of security. While it is unrealistic that remarrying couples will fully reach this stage of stability prior to marriage, the goal is to establish it as much as possible.

5. Commitment – The final stage of development is commitment, signaling the stepfamily is truly committed to success. T o move through these stages after marriage takes a long time – research shows anywhere from four to seven years. This is a lot longer than most people realize; or want to believe. If a couple uses a trail map, tools, and understands how to do it safely and successfully before remarriage, the transition time after marriage should be somewhat shorter.

Having the wisdom to reach out for help is a strength of a strong family. My wish is for people to open their eyes wide to prevent stepping unconsciously onto the challenging path of remarriage. Couples need to prepare well for the stepfamily journey by healing their former relationships and improving skills that are weak – especially communication and parenting skills. Take time to examine your part in an ended marriage. Couples who can identify past mistakes will be more likely to avoid repeating them.

The stepfamily journey can be an exciting and fulfilling adventure. Indeed, many strengths come from a solid remarriage. Research shows that a new, happy family life can even ameliorate some of the negative effects of divorce for children. It provides new role models about skills, expertise, values, or a philosophy of life. This journey is best traveled by strong, healthy adults who also are prepared and are committed to an ongoing process of working the tasks the trail map provides. Stepfamily living can be rewarding and successful, but it is definitely not for wimps!

Elizabeth Einstein is a pioneer in working with remarried families and a leader in the field of stepfamily education. She is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Ithaca, NY and author of several books.

Permission to reprint granted by Marriage Transformation LLC for the publication of this edited article in Family Perspectives Journal of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers.