Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to mailto:TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.  

Yesterday I received a frantic call from one of my counseling clients. Cary's wife of fifteen years had left him six months earlier and he and I had been working tirelessly to save his marriage.

"I got the bad news today," he said, heaving with tears. "She said she doesn't want to work on the marriage. She's giving up. What do we do now?"

I knew Cary had been having a tough time in his marriage, and he had hoped beyond hope that we could create a plan to make his wife return to him. Things had looked hopeful at times, but his wife had given no assurances of returning to him.

"I'm so sorry, Cary," I said. "You did everything you could to make the marriage work. Sometimes doing everything you can do simply isn't enough if they've got their minds made up."

"But, I can't live without her," he said wearily.

"I know that is how you feel today," I said reassuringly. "But, you will get through this. I will help you get through it."

Cary was not to be consoled.

"No," he said, continuing to cry. "There is no way I can live through this."

I sat quietly on the phone for what seemed like minutes, neither of us saying anything. I prayed quietly for him, knowing that his heart was breaking in a thousand pieces.

Cary, like many others I've counseled over my years in practice, was experienced tragic loss. His best friend, confidant and lover had chosen to leave him. While able to help many save their marriage during a time of crisis, there are those whose marriages unfortunately are not saved. Breakups happen and divorces occur.  

Cary's call sounded similar to an email I received from a woman recently. Her anguish was just as apparent.

Dear Dr. David. My heart is breaking as my husband has left and is filing for divorce. We have been married twenty years and have three lovely children. I can't understand how he can leave and give up on us after so many years together. I can't imagine living without him. I'm heartbroken and our children are confused about his actions. I might be able to understand this if there was something horrible I had done wrong. But, he tells me that this has nothing to do with me. He says he needs to be on his own to find himself. Why can't he ‘find himself' while staying married to me? I don't understand this and can't imagine going on without him. How do people survive the loss of their love? Please offer me any hope you can so I can move on with my life. ~ Heartbroken          

I feel the intense anguish of both Cary and this writer. They are certainly experiencing the suffering that occurs with the tearing apart of a marriage. God knits our hearts together, and any time we give ourselves to another we will experience agony to the depth that we have allowed ourselves to care.

Scripture tells us that we become "one flesh" when we marry, and when one chooses to leave the relationship, there will inevitably be intense pain, perhaps at different times for the two people. How can we recover from such pain? How do we find the strength to go on? Here are some ideas for surviving the loss of a love.

First, know that this is a "season" of loss. You have lost someone very important to you, with significant ramifications for your life. Many areas of your life will be affected, and you must anticipate difficulty as you make sense of it all. Know, however, that your pain will not last forever. Grief has a beginning and an end, with predictable stages. You can expect your sadness and confusion to be more intense at first, easing as time goes on. If you allow yourself to feel what you feel, to "be with" your struggle, these feelings will dissipate over time.

Second, we cannot expect to function as if nothing has happened. With grief comes anger, confusion, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance and often retreating from friends and family. We often want to be left alone as we attempt to make sense about what has happened. Trying to be "normal" in the midst of this suffering is incredibly difficult. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to struggle.

Third, resist the temptation to blame your mate. While you have been left to pick up the pieces, it is likely they, too have gone through their own struggle coming to this decision. They are likely going through their own grief process. While their decision is immensely disappointing, don't slip into making them a "bad" person or holding resentment toward them. Your healing depends on working through your intense feelings over time.

Fourth, every loss brings lessons. While incredibly painful, every loss brings opportunities for growth. While you may be confused, in time you will come to understand why your marriage failed. If you pay attention, you will learn things about yourself and your contribution to the difficulties. As you seek understanding, however, be kind to yourself. This is not a time for blame and self-punishment, but rather for gentle learning and forgiveness.

Fifth, seek support. While you may be tempted to retreat or "go it alone," you will need extra doses of comfort during this time. Scripture encourages us to "comfort one another" as well as to "bear one another's burdens," and talking to others who have experienced similar challenges will be particularly helpful.  Allow others to come alongside you and help you through these very challenging times.

Sixth, expect your faith to be deepened. Scripture is replete with examples of God walking with his children through trials and challenges. God never promised us an easy walk through life. He does promise, however, that He will take us through the fires of loss. He promises to give us comfort, hope and strength for every situation that arises in our lives. We must, however, trust in his providence. Nothing comes into our lives what hasn't passed through His loving hands. Expect loss and hurt, but seek His guidance. 

Finally, risk loving again. You may not be called to marry another person, but love can take many forms. Don't slip into the temptation to seal your heart against hurt in the future. Any time you risk loving, you risk hurting. We don't get any guarantees in this life, as much as we might want them. Be wise in putting your heart ‘out there,' but do allow yourself to care about others again deeply. It really is the only way to live.

Please share your thoughts on this topic of recovering from the loss of a love. Share your story with us. What helped you recover from a divorce?

February 5, 2010

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.