Is Divorce My Fault?
By Michelle Hood, clinical psychologist, counselor and co-founder of Mission Serenity.
Why does it feel like it's your fault when your parents split up?
Children often feel like they are the reason that their parents have split up, and the potential for damage in the first days of separation can take years, sometimes a lifetime, to heal.
The months that lead up to the final separation
Often, parents are angry and distressed with one another and consumed by conflict during the months before the separation. Any distraction can bring frustration and a negative reaction in this time-bomb atmosphere. They still have to meet your needs when all they want to do is get on with solving the situation they’ve found themselves in. They will also look for reasons to justify their actions - especially when raising a teenager. Trying to survive a broken marriage can seem like too much to bear. In the end you may feel like it’s entirely your fault. But that is simply not true.
There are many reasons why couples break up, but it always gets back to the same basic issue: someone’s emotional needs were not being met. Perhaps your emotional needs were not being met either.
There are a few things you must do, or avoid doing, in this situation. Following this advice will make it better for you and your parents in the long run:
- Don’t take sides. There may be times when abuse is involved and you’ll find this very difficult, but try to stay neutral. Often, too much damage is done by taking sides in the first place, for relationships ever to be restored when the full story eventually comes out. Love your parents through their pain, but stay as neutral as you can. Help your siblings understand this as well.
- Avoid taking on the role of the absent parent. This is a huge mistake and will cause you grief later in life. God has designed you to go through stages in your growth cycle and He does not want you to become an adult before your time. A fifteen year-old girl is designed to act like a fifteen year-old girl.
- Leave your mom and dad to sort out their own issues. Many divorces would end a lot more smoothly and quickly if teenagers or adult children did not keep the resentment alive. The ideal is for families to resolve their issues and grow together, but if this is not possible then an amicable settlement is much better, enabling everyone to get on with life and stay connected, even if they live apart.
- Give yourself permission to grieve. The parent who leaves is still your parent and, in most cases, you will love them still and miss them. You’ll also be exposed to the anger and resentment of the parent you stay with and you’ll overhear conversations that may make you very angry. Try to let it go. When you feel sad and frustrated, go to God. He knows your fears and feelings and He is always there to comfort you. Pray, trust Him, give all your pain to Him. James 5:16 also gives us the great advice to talk to a trusted friend about the issues in our lives. Seek out someone you can confide in, who will honor the confidentiality of what you say.
The next steps…
What do you do when someone new enters into a relationship with mom, dad or both parents? This is a difficult time and you will no doubt feel annoyed and want everything to be the way it used to be. You may even have prayed for your parents to get back together again and a new partner in their lives makes this impossible.
When this is happening, your parent often becomes preoccupied with the new relationship and doesn’t seem to have time for you anymore. Be patient. This preoccupation will usually pass with time. Just keep on loving them, though it may be a difficult time for you.
You are now at an age where you have developed very strong views of right and wrong. As a teenager, life seems very black and white. It’s only with age that wisdom comes, and the wisdom you think you have now may look like foolishness when you’re in your thirties.
Sadly, some parents never seem to recover from the pain of divorce, but this is not your responsibility. They have their lives to live and you have yours.
Divorce is sad and often very destructive, but you can still find happiness in your life. The thing you must always remember is that this is not your fault and not your responsibility. Don't take on the role of your absent parent and stay close to God. He will always be there and will never let you down.
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