Going Through Your Parents' Divorce as An Adult

Relationships go bad no matter the individuals' ages or circumstances. However, adult children sometimes don't know how to cope with their parents' divorce. What to do in this situation?
Going Through Your Parents' Divorce as An Adult
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 14 October, 2022

Going through your parents’ divorce as an adult is a very difficult thing to experience. Nonetheless, a lot of people think of it as something taboo. Most individuals, when they hear about divorce, think of how bad it must be for children. However, it’s also devastating and tough for those who are twenty, thirty, or even forty years old.

That being said, it’s true that this event can be more delicate for a child. But it’s important to bear in mind that adults aren’t exempt from experiencing certain emotions, internal conflicts, and even resistance. For example, some point out that children see their parents’ relationship as a kind of sacred institution, a bond that’s truly eternal and unbreakable.

Yet couples break up, marriages break down, and love fades, as does patience. Divorce can occur at any age, even the most advanced, in those in which the children are already adults. Let’s delve a bit deeper into how this situation is lived and how it should be handled.

Going through your parents’ divorce as an adult: how to face it

As the field of psychology states, no change or transition is easy. The fact that you’re an adult doesn’t make it easier for you to face your parents’ divorce. In fact, it can add more complex factors you may not be ready for. On average, it’s common for this event to take place when children are in their twenties.

What’s the reason for this, though? Because they become independent at that age. Regardless of whether or not they continue to live at home, they’re already autonomous to make their own decisions, take care of themselves, make a life of their own, and build a future far from their parents. Suddenly, their parents find themselves living in an empty nest in which they stop focusing their concerns and occupations on their children. Instead, they get to focus on themselves after all those years.

And it’s at this stage where they may discover something they’re not too fond of. Finding yourself in a relationship that’s no longer enriching, that lacks intimacy, and in which each member has their own interests, leads to divorce most of the time. After all, there’s always time to start a new life. For that reason, the breakup isn’t only understandable but also necessary. However, this doesn’t mean that the children will see it in the same way.

As you can tell so far, going through your parents’ divorce as an adult isn’t as easy as you may think. Let’s see some keys to handling it appropriately!

Going through your parents' divorce as an adult can be very difficult. In this photo, an adult son between his mom and dad.

Don’t invalidate your emotions, as you have the right to feel whatever you feel

On average, society gives children more permission to show their emotions. Thus, it’s normal for a 6, 10, or 12-year-old to cry, get angry, or feel devastated by their parents’ divorce. However, this doesn’t really happen in the case of adults.

However, it’s important to make something clear. It’s completely fine, understandable, and also expected to experience contradiction, sadness, and anger in these situations. Emotional health is all about feeling the right emotions at the right time and knowing how to handle them.

Understand and accept the situation (maybe it was something you already saw coming)

When it comes to going through your parents’ divorce as an adult, the most important thing is to accept the situation. It isn’t your responsibility to solve it, no matter how much you’d like to. This is between your parents and them only. Sometimes, this is something we see coming and it’s vital to see it in another light: it gives both of them a chance to be happy once again.

Accepting, understanding, and assuming this new reality is an obligation. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t feel sad and pain. It’s a thorough process nonetheless.

Try not to take sides

Sometimes, this situation may be triggered by many different aspects: infidelity, abuse, and unethical behavior, among others. It’s pretty common to side with the victim in these circumstances (be it your mother or your father). These situations are very delicate and it’s essential to handle them well so you don’t make the suffering more intense.

The ideal is to be as objective as possible. This way, you’ll also avoid being part of that type of blackmail that sometimes goes on when separations are problematic. Try to act with measure and balance so that the separation takes place in the best possible way.

Talk about your feelings to someone outside your family

It’s important to have someone to talk to about this situation. It’s a good idea to open your heart to a figure outside the family, be it a friend, partner, or psychologist. Sometimes, going through your parents’ divorce as an adult can be incredibly tough due to the sense of guilt you may feel. Believe it or not, many children blame themselves for this situation, thinking they could’ve done something to keep it from happening.

For that reason, it’s vital for you to talk about your thoughts and feelings so that you can come to terms with your new reality. Who will I celebrate the holidays with? Will I have to visit my parents separately? How will my relationship with them be like now? Dare to talk to someone about this.

An old woman with her daughter.

Focus on everything they’ve done for you

It’s no use being angry with them or frustrated by their decision. Your parents have their own needs, they’re independent of each other, and, sometimes, they choose to go their separate ways. They have the full right to start a new, separate life. If that’s going to make them happy, then so be it.

To better process this situation, it’s good to remember what each of them has done for you. Remember their strengths, the lessons they’ve taught you, and their qualities and virtues. Don’t focus on guilt because, in the end, life’s complicated and we all have to make decisions to achieve well-being. Also, their change for you isn’t going to change, remember that.

Going through your parents’ divorce as an adult can be very hard. However, it’s manageable. Change is always complicated, but it can lead to well-being.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.