04/13/2011 07:06 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2011

Divorce is Not Your Average Opportunity for Growth (OFG)

An opportunity for growth (OFG) may be defined as any life event that causes us tremendous pain but that is potentially the springboard for much inner growth. Relatively speaking, divorce is a mega OFG!

Examples of OFGs include finding out you just took the wrong job, having a fallout with a family member or best-friend, or losing large sums of money. While divorce definitely qualifies as an OFG, it's so much more.

What is it about divorce that makes it qualify as a "mega OFG?"

1) Divorce is Far Reaching

Divorce impacts every single area of your life. And your new status as a single person usually makes every aspect of life more challenging, at least initially. It's harder than quitting a job wherein your time and money situations change but you still have the same place to come home to everyday, with the same kids, and same family. The impact of leaving a marriage permeates family, home, finances, time management and, in most cases your work life as well.

Divorce affects many other people in addition to the two of you who are splitting up. Every member of the immediate family feels the repercussions of the changes that come with marital dissolution, as does the extended family, friends, neighbors and even sometimes employers, employees and co-workers.

2) Divorce Carries a Stigma

In our modern American culture, divorce is seen as a negative life event. Divorce is taboo. Even though it has become a fairly common occurrence, divorce isn't supposed to happen. It is considered a failure. Divorce tends to bring out the worst in people, all people, not just the two divorcing. The people around the couple, be it friends, family or those less close, may believe that the "disease" of divorce is contagious. Given that they don't want to "catch it," they may keep their distance from the husband or wife at a time when they need support most.

Many people believe that anyone who has divorced once has issues and that anyone who has gotten divorced more than once must have serious issues. I've heard people describe someone as "a three-time loser" because he had three "failed" marriages. These reactions from others would elicit and add to the already existing shame and bad feelings any divorcing person might experience.

3) Divorce is Final

Divorce marks the end of the family unit as you now know it. It is definite and complete. There are not usually second chances once this path has been chosen. Even though we all hear stories of people divorcing and then remarrying each other (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton being a good example of this phenomenon), the reality is that the chances of spouses reuniting are slim to none. Most people move from their bad or unfulfilling marriage into new relationships or no relationship.

If the couple has children, their relationship changes drastically, but they are bound forever by being the parents of their children. Whether they communicate or get along is irrelevant. They will always have this connection. Nonetheless, the sense of being a family unit disappears.

When couples have no children, the finality is even more pronounced. These people have little or no reason to stay in touch, unless they opt to remain friends.

For some, this is welcome news. Not having an attachment to an ex-spouse they no longer love and live with is a big relief. Others will feel a tremendous sense of loss because this person, who was once family, now holds the status of stranger. There is no contact, no knowledge of what this person is up to and no reason to maintain a connection. It is a stark and uncomfortable contrast that can be troubling for quite a while.

While OFGs are unavoidable in the sense that life is hard and we all face challenges, the "G" part of the equation is actually optional. As with any difficulty we face, we have the option to learn from it or to use it as fuel for a victim stance (in which case, it might be called an OFV).

For those who want to grow, getting adequate emotional, mental, physical or spiritual support is crucial.This is especially true with divorce because of the three factors identified above. Those who don't have enough fortification will generally suffer more and for a longer period of time. OFGs kick us into a lower level of functioning initially and it can be tempting to stay focused on an aspect of the OFG that wasn't fair, or the ultimate rhetorical question, "Why me?"

Divorce can be a catalyst for much needed change but it takes someone willing to do the work to get there. Good questions to ask yourself (and journal about) are: 1) How did I contribute to the health and happiness of the marriage? 2) How did I contribute to the unhealth and unhappiness of the marriage? 3) What patterns continually show up for me in my relationships (this could be beliefs about self, beliefs about "men" or "women" or the world, denial, poor communication, etc). 4) Where did I abandon myself?