Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A with Mark Rye, PhD, and Crystal Moore, PhD, authors of The Divorce Recovery Workbook.
Who is the intended audience for The Divorce Recovery Workbook?
The workbook is for anyone who is suffering following a divorce or break-up. It is also for members of divorce recovery groups, who can use the ideas and reflective writing exercises in each chapter as a basis for discussion during meetings. Mental health professionals, divorce mediators, and life coaches will also want to own a copy of the workbook because it provides useful suggestions based on empirical research findings that can be passed along to clients.
How is this workbook different from other books out there about divorce?
This workbook is unique because it focuses on positive psychology strategies for helping people cope with a divorce or break-up. Each chapter includes reflective writing exercises, concrete suggestions for building personal strengths, and an overview of the latest positive psychology research findings.
How can mindfulness help with the emotions commonly associated with divorce recovery?
After a divorce, many people find themselves thinking obsessively about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness helps us to fully experience the present moment. It doesn’t make problems go away but rather enables us to approach daily challenges with greater clarity. By becoming self-aware of our emotional reactions, we are less likely to be controlled by them. Awareness gives us a choice in how we would like to respond. Research has shown that participation in mindfulness-based programs can improve one’s relationships and reduce stress.
It’s not surprising that cultivating self-compassion would be an important part of divorce recovery; but self-compassion can help in other areas too. Beyond getting over a divorce, what are some of the other benefits of developing self compassion?
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion involves three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Focusing on self-compassion can quiet our inner critic. It reminds us that we aren’t the only ones who make mistakes and who suffer. And in learning to be less judgmental and more accepting of our thoughts and feelings, we can expand our perspective in helpful ways and enhance our connection with others.
Could forgiveness of your ex make it more likely that you will be hurt again in the future?
It’s important to remember that forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation. You can forgive without returning to an unhealthy or unsafe relationship. Also, forgiveness doesn’t involve condoning or excusing your ex’s behavior. With forgiveness, you can make it clear that you won’t tolerate being treated poorly, nor are you willing to let your ex’s hurtful behavior interfere with your ability to experience peace. Forgiveness is empowering because you are choosing to let go of negative thoughts and feelings about the past that are causing you to suffer.
It’s a common misconception that forgiveness is only for the benefit of the offender, but in reality the practice of forgiveness offers many benefits to the forgiver. Give us some compelling reasons why we should forgive those who have wronged us.
Before examining the benefits of forgiveness, it’s worth considering the consequences of holding onto anger. Being angry toward an ex is a common and understandable reaction following a divorce. In the short term, anger can motivate people to make important and beneficial changes in their lives. However, anger toward an ex often develops into hostility that lingers for many years after the divorce. Scientists have linked hostility to a variety of physical and mental health problems. Moreover, children have more difficulty adjusting to divorce when there is a high level of conflict between parents. Let’s face it, when you’re angry at your ex, it can be difficult to keep your children from getting caught in the middle of arguments.
In contrast, forgiveness provides a means of letting go of the past so that you move forward and create a new life for yourself. Research has shown that forgiveness can reduce depression and improve your overall sense of well-being. Forgiveness is also related to a greater willingness to co-parent with an ex and provides children with an alternative model for handling conflict.
In the book you introduce the idea of forgiveness strategies. It is interesting to see that forgiveness does not look the same for everyone. Give us a couple examples of different strategies presented in the book.
All of the forgiveness strategies described in the workbook are designed to help readers shift their perspective so they can move beyond anger and fear and toward a greater sense of peace. If you’ve been hurt deeply, forgiveness of an ex can seem like a daunting challenge. Therefore, we encourage readers to wait to work on forgiveness until they are ready and then to focus on forgiveness strategies that fit with their own values and interests. For example, readers who are religious may choose to rely upon prayer and support from a religious community when working toward forgiveness. Readers who aren’t religious can focus instead on the other forgiveness strategies we describe.
Some people find it helpful to write a letter explaining why they have decided to forgive their ex. The purpose of writing the letter is not to share it with your ex but instead to reflect on your own desire to forgive. If you’re not a fan of letter writing, you could instead make an audio recording of your thoughts or express your ideas through art or music.
The workbook also provides a variety of exercises designed to promote empathy and to “soften your heart” toward your ex. Developing empathy does not mean excusing or condoning your ex’s behavior. Instead, empathy helps us to better understand why he or she may have engaged in certain behaviors and to move beyond patterns of thinking that keep us mired in anger and bitterness.
In addition to forgiving your ex, there is another important part of finding peace post-divorce, and that is self-forgiveness. But there are two kinds of self-forgiveness; pseudo and authentic. What’s the difference?
Authentic self-forgiveness involves taking full responsibility for our mistakes and making amends while letting go of negative feelings about ourselves. With pseudo self-forgiveness, we claim that we have forgiven ourselves but instead we have failed to take responsibility for our actions and have rationalized or made excuses for our behavior. When we engage in pseudo self-forgiveness, we don’t make amends or invest significant effort in the self-forgiveness process.
In the book you describe complaining after divorce as a “time-honored tradition” but one that can get out of hand. What are some ways to tell if you have gone overboard with complaining, and how can the practice of gratitude help to balance things out?
Complaining about your ex is understandable, especially if he or she hurt you deeply and continues to behave in problematic ways. However, complaining can get out of hand and can interfere with your ability to move on with your life. Some people find themselves complaining so much about their ex that it pushes away friends, family members, and new romantic partners. Complaining to children or to others who are not equipped to handle it is another sign that complaining has become problematic.
Even in the midst of difficult times, it’s possible to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Research has shown that focusing on gratitude has physical and mental health benefits. The workbook contains a variety of exercises designed to help you strengthen your “gratitude muscle,” such as gratitude journaling, gratitude letter writing, and working with a gratitude partner.
Can you tell us a bit about your research in the field of positive psychology for divorce?
Our research focuses on how forgiveness and gratitude relate to post-divorce adjustment. In one study, we randomly assigned divorced individuals to one of two versions of an eight-week forgiveness intervention or a no-intervention comparison condition. Participants assigned to the interventions improved more on forgiveness than comparison participants. In addition, participants in one of the forgiveness intervention conditions showed greater decreases in depression than comparison participants. More recently, we evaluated the effectiveness of an intervention for divorced parents that combined a one-day forgiveness workshop with 10 days of keeping a gratitude journal or a daily events journal. Participants who completed gratitude journals following the workshop showed greater improvement on forgiveness than those who completed daily events journals or those assigned to a wait-list.
For more from Mark Rye and Crystal Moore, check out The Divorce Recovery Workbook.