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Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples
10 CEUs Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples

Section 14
Trajectories of Life After Divorce

Question 14 | Test | Table of Contents | Couples CEU Courses
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed the speaker listener technique for structuring conversations for divorced clients on sensitive issues. There are six basic steps to this technique.  They are the speaker has the floor, share the floor, no problem solving, avoiding mind reading, don’t go on and on, and stop and let the listener paraphrase.  

In this section, we will discuss finding and experiencing forgiveness.  I find that three steps to forgiveness can help clients cope with divorce.  These three steps are forgiveness gets the hate out, self forgiveness, and forgiving the former spouse.  As you know, in the recovery process of working through a divorce, there is an area that many clients are reluctant to deal with.  Would you agree that clients can learn to deal with the many aspects of being divorced on a cognitive level, but the area of forgiveness must be dealt with on an emotional and perhaps even spiritual level?

Understanding the 3 Steps to Forgiveness

♦ #1  Forgiveness Gets the Hate Out

Firstlet’s discuss how forgiveness gets the hate out.I don’t know of any other client experience outside of divorce that can stretch a client’s emotions and feelings from love to hate as quickly and bitterly as divorce. Wayne, age 29, divorced Brooke. Wayne described how he began to feel about Brooke after the divorce when he stated, "I’m building walls in my life now instead of bridges. You know, I started out hating her for leaving me. But now I’m hating myself and everyone around me." 

I explained to Wayne that what he was experiencing was a very common reaction. I stated, "You can end up drowning in a sea of negative feelings toward other people and yourself. This kind of emotional bath can keep you from growing and becoming a new person." Would you agree that even though time diminishes hate, it does not heal it?  I wanted to help Wayne see that experiencing forgiveness gets the hate out of one’s life permanently. Therefore, I shared with him several areas in knowing forgiveness.

♦ #2  Self Forgiveness

The second part of experiencing forgiveness is self forgiveness.This was the hardest step for Wayne.  Wayne stated, "It’s easier to confess my humanity to anybody else than to admit it to myself."  Does your client, like Wayne, live by the motto, ‘I know I’m not perfectjust don’t remind me of it?’Clearly, it is extremely hard for the client to admit to him or herself his or her own shortcomings. 


I stated to Wayne, "The best court in the country couldn’t examine all the little things that caused your marriage to fail. And truthfully, I’m not skilled enough as a counselor to assess who or what caused your marriage to disintegrate. Lacking a pronouncement of some form that would place the blame, many people who go through a divorce take the blame upon themselves. Others might tend to absolve themselves of all the blame. Many clients who go through a divorce cannot forgive themselves for whatever part they played in the process. They end up playing the game of ‘If only I had…’  There is no way you can win this game because you can’t change anything.  What has happened is history." 

Wayne then asked, "So what does forgiving yourself really mean?"  How might you have responded to Wayne?  Might you use the following considerations regarding the definition of forgiveness?

Five Indicators of Forgiveness

  • The client accepts his or her humanity as a human being.
  • The client acknowledges the freedom to fail.
  • The client accepts responsibility for his or her failures.
  • The client can forgive him or herself for his or her failures.
  • The client can begin again

I find that many clients, like Wayne, live under the yoke of self imposed guilt.  Would you agree that such clients are unable to accept the fact that to be human means you will make mistakes?

♦ #3  Forgiving the Former Spouse

In addition to understanding that forgiveness gets the hate out and self forgiveness, let’s discuss forgiving the former spouse. When I brought up forgiving his ex wife in therapy, Wayne immediately stated, "Now that’s carrying things too far! After all she has done to me, I will never forgive that… woman." 

I responded to Wayne by stating, "When a client is caught in the heat of an argument and emotional combat, forgiveness is usually the very last happening to come to mind.  Be aware that forgiveness is not instant, but rather a process you can grow into."  Think of your Wayne.  How can forgiveness benefit your client?  What options or techniques could you implement in your practice to foster forgiveness?

In this section, we discussed finding and experiencing forgiveness.  I find that three steps to forgiveness can help clients cope with divorce.  These three steps are forgiveness gets the hate out, self forgiveness, and forgiving the former spouse.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Jamison, E. C., Bol, K. A., & Mintz, S. N. (2019). Analysis of the effects on time between divorce decree and suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 40(5), 309–316.

Øverup, C. S., Ciprić, A., Gad Kjeld, S., Strizzi, J. M., Sander, S., Lange, T., & Hald, G. M. (2020). Cooperation after divorce: A randomized controlled trial of an online divorce intervention on hostility. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. 

van Scheppingen, M. A., & Leopold, T. (2019). Trajectories of life satisfaction before, upon, and after divorce: Evidence from a new matching approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. 

Wortman, J., & Lucas, R. E. (2016). Spousal similarity in life satisfaction before and after divorce. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(4), 625–633.

Question 14:  What are three steps to forgiveness which can help clients cope with divorce? To select and enter your answer, go to the Test.


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