Monday, January 16, 2012

I'm An Adult , but the Pain of My Parent's Divorce Still Hurts

What is the pain of an adult child of divorce like?  It begins something like this :
"Honey, do you have time to talk right now? Because I have something that I need to talk to you about".  Your heart begins to race, you feel emotions from fear to anger, a need to take flight or to fight, and at the end of the conversation you hang up the phone and realize by the deep physical feeling of sickness in your stomach , that nothing will ever be the same again.

Adult children of divorce are expected to be able to handle their parents divorce.  It is imagined that they are less impacted than younger children.  In an article in the Huffington Post from May of 2011 by Erica Manfred, that thinking is referred to as a myth.  In her article The Kids Are Never Grown , Erica says  " The notion that divorce is easy once the kids are grown is a myth. Divorce is never easy and the kids are never grown."

Divorce is likened to open heart surgery and death for the people actually divorcing. I would think most adult children of divorcing parents would agree that their pain is as deep and life-altering.  The pain begins as the news of the brokenness sinks in.  The pain continues as the separations of what was and what is take place in coming months and years. The pain is physical, emotional, spiritual and mental.

Physically, there is that feeling of a pit in your stomach. A hurting of your heart.  Numbness or physical shaking.   Emotionally, you cry. You can't feel some emotions at times. It is said that over 80% of your energy is experienced in the emotional realm when grieving. That leaves little energy for other things in daily life.  Mentally it is difficult to concentrate. You find that the first thing you are thinking of in the morning and the last thing you are thinking of at night is your crisis.  And spiritually, there is a desperate longing for MORE.  A yearning for a deeper relationship with a trusted One who is higher, stronger and more able than you are.  That is just a little picture of what the pain is like for an ACOD.

There are multiple losses.  A loss of home ( someone said they felt "homeless").  A loss of ones identity. It can mean a loss of hobbies, vacations, times that you had together with others in your family.  The meaning of your family changes, and its legacy and the reputation among community and friends and other family.  Brooke Lea Foster used the word "unrecognizable" in her book The Way They Were , to describe the way family relationships become after a divorce.  The loss and separation is not just between the divorcing spouses ( parents), but it is felt on many levels for the adult children.

When I think of my initial pain , I remember being surprised by my feelings and my ability as an adult to reason some of my mindset, but still I was unable to change my feelings.  I recall initial thoughts of personal blame and a battered self image.  I thought " Maybe if I was prettier this wouldn't have happened.  Maybe if my children were better behaved....Maybe if I had pursued my career more wholeheartedly things wouldn't be like this....maybe those things would have helped my parent be happier and not need to do this".
I knew how foolish and illogical my thinking was, but I was in pain and that is how it expressed itself in my core.  I felt pain differently than my siblings and we worked through our stages of grief ( explained in my previous post)  at different times, levels and intensities.
It was a process and continues to be.

So, I have tried to describe what the pain of a parents divorce feels like to an adult. 
Remember that the grief and pain is necessary to honor what your family meant to you!
Don't forget that pain can be a valuable can grow from this experience.
This kind of pain can take years for your body and mind to work through. Be patient with yourself , just like you would be if you were recovering from a medical surgery. Your heart and mind have been through a severing and it will take time and possibly many types of "treatments" to get to a place of recovery.

What can you do?  What tips are there as you feel pain of this kind?
*  Be good to your, sleep, exercise, talk with friends, etc.
* Lower your personal demands of self
* Don't expect the people who are causing your loss to feel the same loss. They have already gone through it.
*Write a letter to the person who has caused your loss and probably don't give it to them , but it just helps to write or journal and get your feelings out and then it is easier to move on
*Measure your progress slowly.  First hope for one hour of enjoyment this week and two next week.

Adult Children of Divorce experience pain very deeply from that first phone call until years and many many more phone calls have taken place. No need to make a call to us other ACODs to tell us your experience, just comment below and share with us :

Was your pain mostly physical, emotional, spiritual or mental?

What specific loss hit you the hardest?

Has the pain lessened over time?

Next post will be about the pain of telling our children and friends and their reactions.
Thanks for listening and sharing!!


  1. My parents separated in 2008 (my first semester away at college) and divorced in February 2009 when I was 21. The pain has not necessarily lessened, but I have figured out how to deal with most of it.

    Anyone I tried to confide in would mostly avoid me because they didn't know how to help. So, I decided to do my Senior Thesis project on ACODs. I made a website, and I've been running the website and Facebook for a year now, and it helps me tremendously on dealing with this.

    So glad I found your blog. I look forward to reading your posts.

  2. Melissa,
    I am happy you are reading my blog, too. Turning your difficult life experience into something that will help others understand and analyze the phenomenon of adult children of divorce is truly admirable. May your work and study and time spent result in personal growth and the ability to help others walk this long road. My very best to your pursuits and I will visit your website as well!!
    Sincerely, Serenity

  3. Melissa,
    I visited your website and it looks great. I tried to take the survey and it indicated that it has expired. I also tried to fill out the form in your contact page and after I had typed a response, I could not open the window to find a "send" or "publish" or similar tab. When your website has those "bugs" ironed out, I will gladly take the survey or send you contact information. Looks like a good start!!

  4. Hello, I've just discover this blog. I'm from Portugal and couldn't find blogs like this in Portuguese. This is an amazing help. My father left the house a year ago, leaving my mom only a note. He told me, in the night before that the next day he will be leaving. Since that day, my parents dont talk to each other. They use me to pass messages from one another and I hate that. My mother more than my father. When she starts to say bad things about him, or ask me if I can ask him something, I say to my mother that I will not tell my father the message she says that I'm against her. That is the moment that I break and I can't get my energy up for the nest days. It's exausting. I'm 27 but I feel like 40.

  5. I am sorry to hear you are in the middle. Read about setting boundaries. That will help you retain some peace. It is hard to do. But you are an adult and can choose healthy behavior for yourself in the midst of this really hard time. Take care of yourself. This is so hard but so important.

  6. I am 36 and still cry over my parent's divorce which happened 20 years ago. My mum deeply hurt my dad but now she is divorcing again. My dad has been with a woman for 16 years but they are more like companions. She is a lovely woman. But my dad still loves my mum and I think she still loves him. Am a silly or selfish to hope they will reunite?



JANUARY TOPICS : Help and Hope
Bonds Unravel


MARCH TOPICS: Accepting Change
Forgiving Parents
Time For Serenity
Things/Objects of Meaning

Photo Album

JUNE/JULY : Reflecting and Writing Again

Acods and Listening
Acods and Materialism
Acods and Identity

Serenity Prayer Worksheet
ACODs and Simplicity
A New Look to the Blog!!
Serenity Prayer Extended Version/Worksheet
Why do we Blog???

ACOD Serenity Prayer
ACOD Fathers and Mothers
Things Still Aren't Right This Christmas

Grandchildren of Divorce
ACODs and Affairs
Keep Going
ACOD Forward and Back
Lord' Prayer ACOD version
Ripple Effect
Grief Revisited
Too Many Choices
ACOD Times To Remember
Telling the Truth
Behind the Curtain

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