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“Sometimes divorce is the best thing that can happen to a marriage.”~ Bangambiki Habyarimana
When you’re in your 20s and your parents decide to divorce, it can send your life into a freefall. Many times, you are expected to take this devastating news in stride. But, for most, that is nearly impossible – at least at first.
Even though your parents would love you to rebound from the loss quickly, the grieving process can take a while. It is a big deal and you have every right to be upset, angry, disappointed, sad, and confused.
It’s not easy
Divorce doesn’t get easier just because you’re an adult now with your own life. In fact, it can leave a nasty, long-lasting emotional scar that follows you for the rest of your life. You are not shielded from the hurt and pain just because you’re an adult child of divorce.
Maybe, divorce is the best thing that can happen to your parents’ marriage – even if you don’t understand or realize it at the time.
The heartache is just as strong for a young adult as it is for a young child (or teen). Regardless of your age, it feels like you are in the midst of a turbulent storm. Once the news is out, what happens next? You switch roles with your parents and you become the rational parent while your parents become bickering adolescents.
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Even if you feel like you should be more prepared for your parents’ divorce because you’re older and wiser, you may be mistaken. Honestly, no one is ever fully prepared for divorce – theirs or their parents’.
Case study of parents divorcing with adult children
I grew up in a happy home with parents, who were loving towards each other. My siblings and I had happy childhoods. We never saw our parents squabble or fight. Heck, they never even uttered a mean word to each other in our presence. We had a lot of fun together. Then, one day, we woke up to the life-altering news that our parents were separating after all these years. We were blindsided because we didn’t even know anything was wrong.
At the time, I became the “unofficial” mediator for my parents because they were starting to turn into people I didn’t know – people I didn’t like. I became the peacemaker, friend, and counselor. Both parents were angry and disappointed, which is why thinking back about it, I can truly say the divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to me and my family.
My parents told us they didn’t do it sooner because they wanted to wait until we were all adults and could handle “things” better. But, that didn’t happen. We were a mess – even as adults. I would reckon to say things would have probably been easier during childhood because they would have hidden some of the “nastier” parts of divorce from us.
But, as 20-somethings, we were forced to witness and endure the process of divorce up close and personal. As a child, I probably wouldn’t have understood everything, but as a 20-something, I understood most, if not all, of what was happening.
The aftershocks were long-lasting. We no longer had big family vacations and I could no longer expect my parents to be together at big events in my life like birthdays, graduation, wedding, the birth of my children, and so on. Yes, they were there – just not together. And, many times they were seated far away from each other with their respective “new” families.
I was 21 at the time and now I’m 26, married, with a child, and can still feel the ripples of the divorce. It hasn’t gone away.
But, I learned a lot from it. My parents’ divorce molded me into the person I am today. I am cautious in relationships, some even say downright hesitant, but I have the patience of Jesus, especially when I’m stressed or overwhelmed. I am an expert mediator, and I give really good advice to my friends and loved ones. Also, I champion regular communication and honesty in ALL my relationships, but especially in my marriage because I don’t want what happened to my parents to happen to me.
Today, I have a solid relationship with both parents. We are happy once again. Still, it feels more “normal” now. My siblings and I are now happily married adults with young children. It all worked out for the best, I guess, but I still wish my parents would have stayed together. I miss their “togetherness – our togetherness.” I don’t think the longing will ever go away, but I’m happy that they can both play an important role in my life and the life of my child.
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Don’t blame yourself
The worst thing you can do if your parents divorce in your 20s is to blame yourself. You didn’t do anything to cause your parents to separate. This is all on your parents – and just your parents. You’re an innocent bystander. As a 20-something, you know how complicated and nuanced romantic relationships can be. The same thing applies to your parents’ relationship.
Sometimes things don’t work out and sometimes things work out for a while then fall apart later. That’s life. Nothing is ever promised or guaranteed. Your parents have been together for a long time; they have “history.” This history probably includes things you don’t know about because you weren’t born or because they hid them from you. Therefore, problems have most likely been mounting for a while – problems that have nothing to do with you.
So, give yourself a break and stop blaming yourself.
You’ll need to grieve if your parents divorce in your 20s. Once the shock of it all settles, it’s perfectly normal to cry, scream, pout, lash out, self-isolate (while you process everything), and have tantrums.
It’s also healthy to go through the grieving process:
1. Denial & Isolation
2. Fear & Emotional Pain
3. Anger & Rage
6. Sadness & Depression
It is important to allow yourself to feel and go through each stage because it’s the only way you will fully heal from the ordeal.
So, deny that it’s happening, be angry or sad, long for a different outcome, and have a few tantrums. That is perfectly okay. But, don’t get stuck on one of the stages of grief. Push through them until you can accept and embrace your new reality.
Don’t take sides
Do not get sucked into taking sides. Be supportive of both parents without choosing sides. You love both of them, so remain a neutral party. Even though you are in your twenties, you are still their child.
If your parents try to pull you into their disagreement, say something like, “Mom or Dad, I love you both, so I don’t really want to get in the middle of your conflict. I am here to listen if you need someone to talk to, but I’m not going to take sides. Please don’t ask me to take sides again.”
Lean on your support system
Divorce is hard on everyone, but it’s especially taxing on the children, young and old. The best thing you can do for yourself during this stressful time is to lean on your support system. Seek comfort from your friends, siblings, and other loved ones.
Ramp up the time you spend with them, call them more, go out with them more, listen to any advice or guidance, and share with them what you have been going through, so they can be there for you. Make your friends and family your bright space in a dark place.
If that doesn’t seem to help, make an appointment with a counselor. There are plenty of counselors (i.e. individual, relationship, group, grief, family, etc.), who can teach you how to cope with your parents’ divorce in a healthy way. Don’t be afraid to reach out to one. We all need someone to talk to sometimes.
To heal from your parents’ divorce you are going to have to believe that things will eventually get better – because they will. It probably won’t feel like that at the beginning. However, this is just a season and just like seasons change, so will your feelings in time. Be patient and keep believing that a happier, more peaceful time is on the way!
If you have a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, pick up some positive affirmations books at the library or purchase a couple from your local bookstore. Plenty of websites online also offer positive affirmations. If you are religious, turn to the Bible or religious writings for inspiration.
Read more on this topic
You can learn more about parental divorces when you’re in your 20s by reading the following articles reviewed by us to be the best: How To Cope When Your Parents Divorce In Your 20s, How To Handle Divorcing Parents When You’re An Adult, and Never Too Old to Hurt From Parents’ Divorce.
About the Author
Dr. R. Y. Langham
Ph.D. in Family Psychology
Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn
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