Watching your parents divorce is painful no matter your age, but much of the research and advice on how to cope is dedicated to children. What happens to people who are teenagers or adults when their parents divorce? Their survival guide to a parental split looks a bit different than what’s recommended for children, according to experts.
Here are 11 tips on how to get through this major life change as a teen or adult from therapists and experts on divorce below.
1. Find someone to confide in.
“Regardless of your age, you may be flooded with feelings that threaten to overwhelm you at times, ranging from sadness to fury. Find someone who can lighten your emotional load by listening and acknowledging what you’re going through.” ― Susan Stiffelman, a psychotherapist based in Malibu, California
2. Don’t become your parents’ confidant.
“Should one or both of your divorcing parents try to discuss the divorce with you with the intention of sharing their side of the story, or playing on your sympathy to align you with them, calmly tell them you don’t want to get involved. This is their drama, not yours. Suggest they see a therapist or divorce coach to help them make the best decisions.” ― Rosalind Sedacca, certified divorce coach and author of “How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce?”
3. Don’t be afraid to set limits and ask for what you need.
“Most teens and adults whose parents divorce feel some combination of anger, guilt and betrayal. Even if you’re technically a grown-up, you need information, empathy and reassurance from your parents. You also need freedom to express your whole range of feelings ― including anger ― without being made to feel guilty, asked to choose sides or being enlisted as a go-between.” ― Kate Scharff, psychotherapist and divorce mediator
4. Live your life in a way that nurtures you.
“Have fun, go out with your friends and take care of yourself. We can only serve others when we care for ourselves.” ― Barbara Desmarais, parenting coach based in Vancouver, British Columbia
5. Ask your parents to think about their future.
“When mom and dad were married, they were a support system for each other. Now when they get sick or need help, instead of depending on each other, they’ll turn to their kids. While you want to be there for your parents, your life will undoubtedly change. You will have responsibilities to your own family. Before it becomes an issue, it may help to have an open and honest conversation with your parents about planning for the future. What will retirement look like? What will happen if they get sick? Talking about these things up front often gives everyone time to make important decisions and make a plans that won’t leave you as your parents’ only resource for support.” ― Christina McGhee, divorce coach and author of “Parenting Apart”
6. Show support. It may make you feel better as well.
“Divorce is a disruptive and upsetting process. Parents can be reassured by your support and concern. Just make sure to keep your boundaries clear.” ― Peggy Kruger Tietz, psychologist and social worker in Austin, Texas
7. Don’t press your parents for more information.
“It’s the natural tendency for you to want to understand more of what happened that caused the problems and your family. Unfortunately, the information you receive will be through filter of that specific parent. It will only cause you confusion and hurt. Relationships are complicated and they don’t end over a specific moment. There’s no value in gathering more information as you’ll never be able to truly understand what happened. No matter what they might tell you, even your parents do not know exactly what happened that got them to this point.” ― M. Gary Neuman, psychotherapist and author of “Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce”
8. Stay healthy.
“Resist the temptation to numb yourself with food, drink or losing yourself online. The more willing you are to feel sadness and loss, the more quickly you will find your footing.” ― Susan Stiffelman
9. Don’t get involved in the court proceedings.
“Even if you do align with one parent over the other, don’t agree to step into the court litigation. This is a very stressful experience that you should avoid if possible. You can make a written statement or talk to parental lawyers outside of court to share your feelings, but tell them you don’t want to testify in court.” ― Rosalind Sedacca
10. Consider counseling.
“Depending on the circumstances, seeking out the guidance of a mental health professional might help you sort things out in your mind. If you discover after 25 years that your father is not the person you thought he was, it can rock your world. If, on the other hand, you know your parents’ parting is best for everyone, you may not need therapy, but you will want to allow yourself time to adjust to the new configuration of your family. Regardless of the situation, you want to allow yourself time to grieve, time to express your sadness or anger and time to adjust to your new reality.” ― Barbara Desmarais
11. Know that accepting the divorce will take some time.
“It takes time to adjust to change this enormous, but you will. Get support, lean on caring friends, stay connected with both parents, treat yourself well and you will find your way through the storm.” ― Susan Stiffelman