Paula’s husband of 10 years walked away from their marriage, leaving her and their two young children for another woman. After being a stay-at-home mom for eight years, Paula had to scramble to find a job while she worked on renewing her teaching certificate. She and the kids moved from their spacious four-bedroom home into a two-bedroom apartment. Some days Paula thought her car made it to work and back on fumes and a prayer. As hard as the financial struggles were, they didn’t compare to her struggles with bitterness and resentment.
According to Dr. Archibald Hart, author of Helping Children Survive Divorce, dealing with anger toward your ex-spouse is one of the greatest challenges a single parent faces. “Getting rid of your resentment is crucial to the well-being of your children. Feelings of resentment must be resolved as soon as possible after a divorce,” he writes.
Many people complain about an ex-spouse’s anger while not seeing or dealing with their own. Ask God to help you recognize your negative behavior. Then, take responsibility for yourself. We cannot control how others act, only ourselves. Dr. Hart recommends four steps to defuse anger and resentment.
Develop a holy perspective on your hurts.
When we realize how much our own sin has hurt God, it helps us keep the hurts others have inflicted on us in perspective. We can never forgive someone more than God has forgiven us. As you pray and ask God to help you see your own weaknesses, He will provide a new perspective on your hurt.
Dispose of your need for revenge.
This means we give up thoughts of retaliation when we have every right to be angry and resentful. This is for our sake (and our children’s), not for the sake of the one who has hurt us.
Talk to the person who hurt you.
Dr. Hart says it’s helpful to say to the person who hurt you, “I will not allow your actions to make me bitter. I will not retaliate or take revenge.” Frequently, this act alone causes him or her to stop. If your ex-spouse continues to hurt you, Dr. Hart suggests that you be lovingly assertive and honestly confrontational by asking him or her to stop a certain behavior.
Deliberately turn your resentment into kindness.
The final step of forgiveness is acting on your new position. You must now behave as the person you would like to be. Eventually, you will become that person.
Sometimes we have to do things that don’t come naturally — until we do them. The more we act like the person we truly want to be, the person God has in mind for us to be, the more natural it becomes.
Paula, like many single parents, had legitimate reasons to feel resentful. Yet she realized if she left her resentment unresolved, it would only hurt her and her children, not her former spouse. She says, “One day in my kitchen I realized that, yes, I would have to forgive. I just didn’t have the courage to do it just yet.”
Paula rightfully understood that a holy God required forgiveness, but she also knew a loving God would patiently work with her as she came to that point. She went on to say, “Several months passed as I continued to experience God’s healing in my heart. Then one day, I knew the time had come. I knelt down and forgave my ex.
“An interesting thing began to happen within days of that experience. My finances began to improve, my self-concept and self-worth began to return, and my depression was slowly replaced with joy and hope. The children were freed as well, as they saw me letting things go. Month after month, God brought new blessings and healing into my life.”
Forgiveness is a difficult but essential process. You cannot be the parent your children need if you harbor rage and resentment. The best news is you do not have to walk through the process alone. God will help you, as He did Paula, to move toward forgiveness.
Cyndi Lamb Curry writes from Edmond, Okla.