Divorced People–What Do They Feel?

I was divorced in 2001 after eighteen years of marriage. I have no intent to assign blame in this post—if blame were assigned I am only beginning to see that I deserve much more than I would have earlier admitted.  I only want to speak of the experience of divorce itself, but even in that I can only speak of my own experience.  My feelings in the midst of divorce may not be the same as another’s. These are my own personal feelings about my own divorce.


These are the emotions and thoughts I felt and thought. Whether they accurately reflect the reality of the situation or whether they correspond with God’s own compassionate understanding of the circumstances is of little consequence because they are nonetheless what I felt and thought. Whether right or wrong, this is what I experienced.


I have rarely spoken or written of my divorce.  I’m not sure why—it still hurts and I certainly don’t want to speak for or about my ex, but perhaps it is mostly because these feelings still persist in some ways.  I share them here for the first time in writing though I have spoken about them (but only on two occasions).


Incredulous.  I wanted to cry out “this is not the way it is supposed to be!”  I did not marry in order to get divorced.  Even now—almost seven years later—it is still difficult to believe that I am a “divorced person.” I still feel it even though I have remarried and enjoy a new relationship with Jennifer.


Failure.  What could I have done differently? How could I have messed up the most important thing in my life?  I failed at the most important relationship in my life. How could I feel good about that? How can I recover from that? If I failed in this, what does this say about me and about any future relationships I might have?  How can I minister to others when I failed to minister to my own wife?


Hurt.  Not only, of course, my own hurt, but the hurt that reverberates throughout the lives of my children and others. This is generational pain that entails wounds that will affect my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  My heart hurts not only for my own loss but the losses that are yet to be felt in the lives of those connected with me.


Guilt.  God hates divorce, and so do I.  I have felt the burden of the sin of divorce on many occasions; I have felt the guilt of failure.  My marriage did not image the oneness of God’s own loving community.  Instead, brokenness and woundedness destroyed my marriage’s oneness.


Shame.  This is the most nasty of all feelings.  It is more devastating than guilt.  I feel guilt for my part in my divorce–guilt relates to what I have done.  But shame is something I feel because of my identity as a “divorced person.” Shame relates to who I am; it is a mode of existence. It reaches to the core of my own self-image.


Rejection.  The rejection may even be mutual, but the feeling of rejection is nevertheless real.  Whether the rejection is passive in the sense of distance or withdrawal or whether the rejection is something else, the result is the same.  At one time one feels chosen—the one the other wants and desires, but now rejected. Now the divorced—on both sides—feel unchosen.


Embarrassment.  Wearing the big “D” on the forehead is like wearing the scarlet “A”. The failure, hurt, shame and rejection are public—everyone knows about it. Some disconnect from you. Some distance themselves.  Others don’t want their children to marry your children. Some churches don’t want you to serve among them. I sometimes didn’t even want to show up at the assembly.  Who am I to minister to people when I could not even minister to my own wife?


Brokenness.  Life is different.  Everything, it seems, has changed.  Loneliness becomes a part of life in a way that it had not before. It seems that it will never be the same again.  Who can put Humpty Dumpty back together again? I wondered whether I would ever heal and in some ways I still have not healed.  The trauma is massive.


Disconnected from Community. I became uneasy with my old circle of friends, especially the married ones. It didn’t seem the same anymore.  I stuck out like a sore thumb. Being with married friends only reminded me of the pain of my loss and the reality of my loneliness.  They were not the problem, but my circumstances took me to places in my mind that skewed even their best efforts to show me friendship.


Jealousy.  I confess it.  I am jealous of those whose marriages have survived for 30, 40, 50 years.  I wanted to be in that number myself and thought I would be. I do rejoice with others at those anniversaries…but I also admit that have a strong tinge of envy and jealousy at the same time.  My brokenness remains with me.


How do you help?  I’m not sure but perhaps I will offer a few thoughts later.  But for now just sit with me as I experience my own feelings.  Sit with me without judgment, without correction, without condemnation…but as a friend ready to listen, pray and embrace.


Recommended Reading. For the questions surrounding the practical theological and ethical issues, I would recommend Rubel Shelly’s recent Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology. For practical spiritual, emotional and redemptive perspectives on divorce and life after divorce, I would recommend Dana Hood’s recent I Will Change Your Name: Messages From the Father to a Heart Broken by Divorce.

48 Responses to “Divorced People–What Do They Feel?”

  1.   Q Says:

    Even though you don’t know me, I hope you will consider this the presence of a friend and sister sitting, in silence, with you.

    I’ll be praying for you.

  2.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    I think I know why you may not have wanted to talk about it. Shame and embarrassment are are all to present. I readily grasp those emotions. I thank you for leading the way for the rest of us to say with you. I am divorced and I hate it.

    It is most interesting that you should put this here right now. I actually wrote a blog called “Dates that Changed History” and simply did not have the courage to publish it. Perhaps this was an example of Harding’s special providence.

    I thank God you are my friend.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby V

  3.   Jim Holway Says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart, John Mark. Your openness helps those who aren’t divorced to be a little kinder, gentler, and less harsh with those who are.

    Que Dios te bendiga, in every way!

  4.   J D Says:

    I think this is such an important subject for all to grasp. After all, our communities and churches are filled with divorced people. Jesus calls us to love and encourage the broken hearted – and we sometimes do not know how. Thank you.

  5.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Bobby, I know how difficult it is to say the words “I am divorced.” We share something which neither of us ever wanted or ever dreamed we would experience.

    Jim, Q and JD, thanks for your caring words. May churches demonstrated God’s compassion as God’s people.

  6.   Trent Tanaro Says:

    Thank the God of Heaven for his redeeming blood, and His becoming one of us so that we can know him. Brother, I sat, read, listened, and prayed as my eyes read your post on how you feel. Love to you Brother!

  7.   Mark Says:

    Dr. Hicks, Thank you for your transparency here. I think a lot of people wrestle with many of these emotions, whether for divorce or some other reason, but are too ashamed to talk about them. While I believe the Church should be against divorce, our job is not to be against divorced people. I pray that we will continue to be more redemptive in how we approach these situations.

  8.   Justin Says:

    John Mark,

    Thank you for this post and the one following. I am divorced – living near my children (neither my wife or myself would be in this wretched place if it weren’t for these girls).

    It has been almost nine years – I still FEEL these things at one level or another.

    Bobby – I wish I had known…

    This post is timely, I have been remarried for six years. Things are better than the first – I am more mature… certainly not as mature as I wished… but it is still not as easy as I think it should be. In fact just this morning I thought – “what if” – I did not entertain the thought long… but it did cross my mind.

    These posts remind me that I too hate divorce and it’s consequences.

    Please pray for my family – the one under my roof and across the county.

  9.   Cheryl Says:

    What a great place for broken and struggling people to come! I truly appreciate your openness and honesty. My prayers are with you!

  10.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Thanks for sharing and putting yourself out there in such a vulnerable way.

    I don’t know what it is like to be divorced and I hope I never do. But being able to read the experiential feelings to something I have never experienced does help me be more understanding to those who share your experience.


  11.   Matthew Says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Most people are silent on this issue, but you gave heart to the pain.


  12.   Deborah Casey Says:

    Mike and I cherish the memories and lessons you gave at the Preachers’ Retreat in Wisconsin. The “Five Anchors for the Soul” you shared with our small congregation in Oconomowoc and the time you spent with us have left a lasting impression. I believe it was the following summer that Joshua gave up his soul to God. It was through Bobby we learned of your divorce. I vividly remember the deep sorrow I felt that you should endure this additional horrific pain in your life. Though divorce had not been a part of any member of my family, I now have a divorced niece. My sister shares with me the constant and incredible pain it creates. A brother-in-law of my daughter and a sister-in-law of my other daughter are facing divorce after only 2 and 3 years of marriage. Thank you again for giving voice to the pain they and others feel. May God grant you Shalom.

  13.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Deborah, I remember well the time in Wisconsin. It was a real joy and quite intimate as we shared together amdist a small group of people. Thank you for your continued friendship and blessing in my life.

  14.   Keith Price Says:

    John Mark,
    Thanks for sharing. I hope that by understanding these feelings I will be more sensitive. As an elder I’m sometimes overwhelmed buy the hurt being experienced and in those situations I’m useless.

    Peace my friend

  15.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Matt and Keith. If my post creates a little bit of sensitivity, I am grateful.

    Keith, glad you had the opportunity of hearing Gaffin (as per your email recently).

  16.   Connie Lard Says:

    Dr. Hicks, You expressed clearly and succinctly exactly what I felt and continue to feel about my divorce, though it’s been almost 15 years, and I, too, am happily remarried. The hurt that has been the hardest to “get over” (if there is such a thing) is the fact that I was unable to keep our home intact for our children. I absolutely hate the term “broken home”, though that is exactly what it is!

  17.   Alan Says:

    John Mark,

    I also shared these thoughts with Bobby. I was also once divorced, and although that was many years ago and I have been peacefully married to a wonderful woman for 17 years, the big D is always with me. Like you, my perspective of the scriptures changed radically. For many months Job was my favorite book. I can understand the pain in the Psalms often. The unseen blessing was how God made use of my failure as a husband to build a stronger connection to my children, to dear friends whose marriage survives but just barely, and to build the foundation that I have with my wife. The pain from times past still lingers, like old joints on a cold morning. Three passages from my Father took on a reassuring meaning for me (all NLT): Paul’s thoughts to the Corinth church, “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us”; Elizabeth’s joy, “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace”; and from the Psalmist, “Lord, my heart is not proud;my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—now and always.”


  18.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Alan. I especially the words from Scripture…”he has taken away my disgrace.”

  19.   Frank B. Says:

    Thank you. Thank you for writing these painful words. They so well describe much of my own experience.

    Though I am a former student of yours, I had no idea of this more-recent trauma in your life. I’m thankful to know, along with this news, that the Lord has given you a good measure of healing and joy since then. But I also know with you the spiritual, emotional after effects that are yours to bear.

    I was relieved to read about someone else’s jealousy. It embarrasses me and makes me feel ashamed again. I’m supposed to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” right? But sometimes I don’t.

    One emotion of mine that I didn’t expect so much was fear. So much of my adult life has been poured into becoming the best minister I could be. But in our circles, it hasn’t been that long since “divorced minister” was an absolute contradiction. How would I make a living? How could I pay child support if I lost my job and couldn’t get another one? Never before had I felt like I was so close to the edge. When I saw “The Pursuit of Happyness,” I cried my eyes out and realized how afraid I had been for so long.

  20.   Bill Good Says:

    Dear Dr. Hicks and Bobby Valentine also.

    While not divorced I have witnessed the tragedy in my immediate family. My prayers are for both of you and the several other Men of God whom I know personally who have been struck by Satan in the same manner as you. Surely this divorce thing among preachers is always happening but it seems to me that the worse started in the 1970s when feminism raised its ugly head. Just as Satan attacked Adam (and God) through Eve he still uses this method today.

  21.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    Thanks for your empathetic words, my friend. I do deeply appreciate them.


    I don’t know if the attacks are more than they used to be, I just know they’ve been present in the lives of many people.

    John Mark

  22.   Q Says:

    Feminism is to blame? Women wanting to be respected and treated as persons instead of property? Is abolition to blame for racism, then?

    Or do we still live by the words of the early church fathers, that as women we are “all Eve” and the “gateway of satan”? Have we not seen that Christ redeemed male AND female from the fall? Are you seriously saying that women asking to be treated as persons is the fall of marriage? Are there no men responsible for the disintegration of that bond? It seems to me that even as it takes 2 to make the covenant in the first place, it just as often takes two to break it.

    I am sickened by this attitude and appalled that it is still held by men who claim to follow Christ, the one who came to set us free.

    •   Snap Says:

      Where are you getting this from? I’ve read the entire blog on this and can not find where these accusations hold. By the way, it only takes one person to break a covenent. Just like Israel broke it’s covenant with God although he remained faithful.

  23.   Glenys Robyn Hicks Says:

    I too shared the hurt of divorce and the guilt and jealousy felt at the celebration of a friend’s landmark anniversary. After divorcing my husband after 25 years of severe physical and emotional abuse, I found myself still regretting that I couldn’t be one of those celebrating my own landmark. However, I now force myself to remember the wonder of God’s grace and forgiveness for whatever failure I had in the marriage’s demise (though in all honesty, I did not do much to bring it about,) and I recall His goodness in finding a truly loving new spouse for me, 5 years after I divorced. We have been happily married for 11 years- so God willing, we will have our own landmark anniversary- though every anniversary is a blessing!

    Moving on is critical- we must look at the finish line and run the race without looking back- leaning on the Saviour and being grateful for another chance at marriage. We must get out of the mud patch and brush ourselves off and keep running. Moreover, we must remember that no matter what anyone says, or how the church treats divorcees, our God knows all- and He is more compassionate than any man can be to us.

    I find it is helpful to remember Philippians 4:8 ”
    Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.”

    Blessings to you from one who understands,

    Glenys Hicks

    •   rich Says:

      honstly i just read this….
      so much for my moment of clairity and the atta boy

      better luck next year rich…I SAID TO MYSELF

  24.   T Gagnon Says:

    Thank you so much for your candor John Mark. I can relate so well to the other believers who have been devastated by divorce. I believe I tried everything within my power to keep my marriage and family intact. I just about gave away everything. However, it takes two to make this happen and I was the only one really trying. I’m sure I didn’t do everything perfectly but I certainly didn’t deserve the treatment I received by my then husband, the sister in Christ whom I thought was one of my best friends and others who were allowed into our marriage through adultery. What my “sister in Christ” did in entering into an adulterous relationship with my husband has been the most difficult to overcome. If anyone came the closest to totally destroying me, it was her. She set the stage for others to enter into my home and almost destroy me and my children’s lives. And She knows who I’m talking about. Even after I confronted her she blamed me for what happened and became defensive and hostile. I try to pray for her soul.
    The reaction of other believers was equally tragic as I experienced other Christian couples with whom we socialized avoid me and my children and never ask what they could do to help. I truly felt like a leper and my children were further traumatized by losing the friends they once played with freely and happily. When I needed love and support the most in my life they abandoned me as my husband had.
    The Church had and has the opportunity to minister to people forced into divorce or otherwise and all too often seems to take the low road rather than the high road.
    Who is going to change this trend? Only those in leadership can. I hope and pray they awaken and do so.

  25.   K Davis Says:

    I am a southern baptist minister who now drives a truck around the country because I am a leper within my own denomination. I feel so ashamed and fearful. I have three boys who I love and miss dearly. I do not get to see them that often due to my job. Tonight I sit here crying my eyes out and pouring my heart out to our Lord. I long for the peace that only Heaven will bring.

  26.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    My heart hurts with you. I understand the pain. I trust you may find a faith community–a loving, redemptive people of God–who will receive you, love you and support your renewal as I have found in my community at Woodmont Hills Family of God in Nashville. Blessings, my friend.

  27.   Jill Says:

    I am so devastated. I don’t know where will I pick up myself. I don’t want a divorce. I cannot live without my husband. I don’t have anyone to talk about it. I called a friend who once been divorced but she is not answering. I know another one who is divorced but he is really busy. I cannot tell my parents, my sisters nor my co-workers. I am always alone. My head and heart seems will explode. I don’t want to be divorced and I only can see myself with him. I am 32 years old and don’t really know how to start. It is so painful, it’s really killing me. I want to talk to him and tell him everything that I feel. I offered everything even accepting his religion to save our marriage but he reject it. He said we’re not meant to be. But I believe that our relationship will be better. I really need help but no one to help me because I am so ashamed to tell my story.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I responded to Jill privately. Her witness testifies to the utter pain, hurt and despair that is divorce. Take a moment–even now–to pray for Jill and those you know are suffering through a divorce at the moment.

      •   rich constant Says:

        i really don’t know why and would not have expected this two years ago,no not at all. but the armor of love that is instaled is claming and i know everything will be good,
        thank you,more than words,
        god bless all.

  28.   rich constant Says:

    sometimes you can get so tired of jumping through emotional hoops,for the love of someone else that you forget who you are and the relationship that you have missed with your god and his love and his compassion for your life. an emotional door will not open for me unless i actively engage change toward the good love of the promise of our god through the faithful nurturing of the Lord’s spirit.
    whether that be reconciliation or a parting of ways,
    we all look to the future with hope,unconditionally,
    as we act this way being a decent forgiving person, we allow god to work for us,and we accept the outcome.
    everyone has a choice your husband a choice,you also have a choice, to be a good kind person.
    divorce and separation
    i can’t stand those words the pain and the hurt and all because we are broken pitiful people that have chose to hide behind self deception and deviate in our concept of gods good and his Providence,to work on our behalf as we fail to manifest the fruits of god’s spirit that is dwelling in us because of atrophy.
    so out of the diverse reasons that we ALL can manufacture we choose to initiate change to the demise of our spouse’s feelings.
    it is the way, it is. i pray you allow our father and lord to open a door of hope.
    FOR YOU.
    and your husband.

    i as you are going through this door of change i have ask her to not do this to our family and i have said god hates divorce.
    and i am taking my own advice.
    i love her but her feelings our her feelings.
    as much as i wish it wasn’t so.
    TODAY it is the way it is.
    i look forward to the morrow
    in the loving uncertainty of faith,hope,and love.


  29.   c Says:

    John mark, I am glad I stumbled across this when I did. My parents are going through the same struggle and although it doesn’t seem to be affecting me or my dad, I now feel as if my dad could have a lot of hidden feelings. Thank you for being so transparent with this now I feel like I can see deeper into my own dads heart. I ask for your prayers for me and my whole family also. I will keep you in my prayers as well. God bless

  30.   s Says:

    The irony for me is that mostly people are more accepting about my divorce than other people. I hate meeting people I haven’t seen for years and having to tell them and seeing their shock. I feel like apologizing to everyone I meet. And when people say, “oh well, God has given you a new start”, I want to tell them that no, I hate divorce, hate being divorced, and would do anything to be able to go back in time and say things differently, be a better husband etc. Maybe its harder for people like me who were always hardline anti-divorce, anti-remarriage from their youth. I don’t think I will ever be happy again. And if I am, then will people then think that divorce isn’t so bad? What a crazy post. Easy to tell I need counselling… But I don’t want to be happy again, I just want to do something meaningful and help people with the rest of my life. I

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I understand your feelings. I know them internally. I hate divorce as well and have seen its ugliness in many different ways.

      At the same time–at least for me–God is able to renew life even in its brokenness. I have discovered (perhaps rediscovered) this grace especially in the couple of years. Even my realistic and pessimistic feelings about divorce did not hinder God from bringing happiness and renewal into my life when I least expected it. May God grace your life as well.

  31.   rich Says:

    yep in this corner we have black the champ and in the other corner the great contender, the referee well you guessed it the great counselor, the judge,our Lord,
    the crowd the contemporary theological hermeneutic of our peers.the lighting of the arena is provided by you guessed it our great lighting director,our father.
    IS your ring lighting a little dim?
    until we all accept that we are called to be decent human beings we will continue to allow our body to be wagged by the tail of our miss guided well intentioned preachers,guided by the light of “onto-theology so that theology is shaped by a prior commitment to an ontology”.
    (by john mark “s)

    so we are formed by and our point of view is shaped by them guys, whrn the battle is really over and as all black and white have to do is say i quict and allow god to take his place and jusus to have his place and the spirit will help the humble to see the light
    by john mark hicks, Systematic Biblical Doctrine

    SBD 2
    It sounds like we are going to put the Bible into its “proper” order–an order that we impose through a preconcevived “system” (an order perhaps borrowed from some philosophical construct, cultural model or a previous scholasticism). This prioritizes “system” over text; it postulates an “order” to which the text must conform. This is onto-theology so that theology is shaped by a prior commitment to an ontology. Theology then becomes a form of philosophical anthropology, which means it is not theology at all but “anthropology in a loud voice” (so Barth’s critique of classic liberalism). It will override the text.
    boy oh boy
    s it took me me fifty years to find this place.

    out of the same mis guided bunch we all are from
    anti everything church of christ,

    the now dead end i just happened to drive down,on the way to god,s freeway of faith Hope and Love
    showing the mercy and understand that god has given me to others and not judgement that is so easy to give.we must help each other as jusus helped us

    blessings rich constant

  32.   rich Says:

    P.s. Phillipians 4:8. Might be the best Counceling advice we have to focus on the new man and characteristics that will allow gods spirit to pravail against our opponent in the black corner, rich

  33.   rich Says:

    an ata boy….?
    YEP I AM THANKFUL. for those Senior Moments of yours…
    and my somewhat sparse moments of clarity. 🙂
    that for me my brother oughta keep me saying “YES!!!”
    for a long time this year…. 🙂
    blessings and happy new year, Everyone BE SAFE….

  34.   rich Says:

    This morning i left the way i feel ? Like,a weigHted coin in a coin toss, that will land heads up every time. Faith,hope,love.

  35.   rich Says:

    bob john mark i am thankful for this blog and of course you.
    a great word when you are trying to define a mess that isn’t quite adultry for sure.
    john mark
    by deffination would thats a yes to. that it is fornacation, although… and i know that also it is a hart issue…to me thanks for the clairety.
    still a mess

  36.   rich constant Says:

    john mark i am doing do poorly this week what los ,amd what prayers from so maneynyoung people even this lasdt night the support of young people and prayers of my young kids and there frends and your consulting onthe phone and then my fallen brokenness

    •   rich constant Says:

      she got enguaged this last week,my son says she is drinking a lot of wine and he comes over smilling of drink and at times can bareley talk properly.
      i feel so sad for her

  37.   rodney burke Says:

    Marriage is a failure of TWO people and not just the one who initiated the divorce. I felt I had no choice but to leave my spouse. She rejected God, his word, his church and held its leadership in what could only be termed as contempt. All because she was “mad at God”. And yes there are a lot of people who are “Mad at God” who would do everything in their power to prevent the believer from attending worship and associating with fellow Christians. Been there done that, do churches and individuals discriminate against those who are divorced? Yeah, and it’s wrong!
    We had to make a choice, our safety, our faith or our marriage. Not a pretty choice but we had to make that decision knowing where our priorities HAD to be. In my opinion, it is very wrong for “Marrieds” to penalize us for making that decision. Yes it was a failure – a two way failure. So there needs to be a change in thinking about this, especially in the married segment of the church. Divorce is NOT going away; ever. It must be dealt with by leadership in the individual congregations.

    Obviously men who are divorced cannot serve as elders and Deacons but we can serve in other capacities. To think otherwise is outmoded thinking which is still among us.

  38.   bobcargill Says:

    in honor of the 2 year anniversary of the completely ridiculous comments of bill good above (april 17, 2008 at 10:53 am), i want to acknowledge and compliment john mark’s restraint and patience. had an obtusely absurd comment like bill good’s been left on my blog, i would have certainly let him know about it. (in christian love, of course 😉

    – bobcargill

  39.   Bryan Says:

    I have been divorced for two years now and experienced many of the same feelings you noted: shame, rejection, loss of community. One of my biggest long-term fears was being unable to have any meaningful role in my church. Thankfully, the church has shown an increasing ability to find a place for the divorced to participate in community.


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