Families Change
Teen Guide to Separation & Divorce

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How You Feel

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When your parents split up, it's absolutely normal to have some very strong emotions. You might have only one emotion for a while, or you might keep having different ones. You might even have a lot of different feelings all at once.

It's impossible to describe all the specific things you might feel, but here are some of the most common emotions teens experience when their parents are getting divorced:

Remember: There are no right or wrong feelings to have when your parents split up. Your feelings are real and normal.

 

 

Shock

Shock, or feeling suddenly disturbed, is a normal reaction to a traumatic experience. It's your body's way of protecting you in a difficult situation. Shock might make you feel dazed and distracted. It might make you feel numb or like crying all the time. Shock will pass.

 

 

Confusion

Confusion is when you feel like you don’t know or understand what’s going on.  If you don't have enough information about what is happening in your family and why, you may feel confused. If you are confused, ask questions.

 

 

Guilt

Teens often feel guilty when their parents split up, as if they’re responsible for what has happened. But parents split up because of problems in their relationship, not because of their kids. It's not your fault!

 

 

Anger

Once the shock begins to fade, you might feel angry, especially at your parents—for causing this to happen, for not working hard enough to prevent it, for letting you down. After all, you didn't ask for this! Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that everyone experiences.

Anger only becomes unhealthy when you show it in ways that hurt yourself or others, or when you keep it all inside. Anger itself isn't good or bad, but the way you choose to handle it can have a good or bad result.

Many people have a hard time handling their anger because they haven't been taught how to deal with it in a healthy way.

  • Some people handle anger by not showing it at all. The problem with not expressing anger is that it’s likely to come out in unexpected ways. People don’t know what you really think or want, which can make you even angrier.
  • The worst way to handle anger is through aggression or violence, by attacking someone with words or physical force. This can include yelling, name-calling, put-downs, pushing, fighting, and so on. Violence is never an option.
  • The best way to handle anger is to be assertive. Being assertive means knowing what you need and want, and knowing how to ask for it without being disrespectful of other people's wants and needs.

If you need to let off steam before you can express your anger in a positive way, try

  • leaving the room and going somewhere to calm down,
  • counting to 100,
  • going for a walk,
  • getting some vigorous exercise,
  • talking to someone you trust,
  • listening to music you like, or
  • sitting quietly to think about why you’re angry and how you can solve the problem.

If you find that you’re angry often or that you become violent when you’re angry, talk to someone who can help.

 

 

Anxiety

Anxiety is the strong, uncomfortable feeling of being afraid. Anxiety is a normal emotional response to danger. The uncertainty that comes with your parents splitting up can make you anxious because there are probably so many things you don’t know: what’s going to happen, where you’re going to live, how you’ll cope with all the changes, and so on. You might feel like you have to take sides or choose between your parents, which could make you feel anxious.

You might also be worried about your own relationships in the future. You might think that because your parents have separated or divorced, the same thing will happen to you. But you can learn from your parents' mistakes. What happens in your own relationships will be up to you, not your parents! If your anxiety is lasting a long time or if it’s getting in the way of your ability to do the things you normally do, get help.

 

 

Relief

Some teens actually feel relieved when their parents split up, especially if there has been a lot of fighting and tension between the parents. Some teens also feel a little guilty about feeling relieved. But there is nothing wrong with feeling relieved about the end of a difficult time. It's completely normal!

 

 

Sadness

You might feel sad—like you’re mourning the loss of your old life and the way your family used to do things. It's a lot like the sadness you feel when someone close to you has died. You might be missing the parent you don't see every day, or even missing the parent you do see every day because he or she is working more or is distracted or irritable because of stress.

Sadness is natural, and it's OK to feel sad, but there are things you can do to help yourself feel better. If the sadness lasts a long time or it’s making it hard for you to do the things you normally do, get help.

 

 

Embarrassment

Some teens feel embarrassed when their parents split up, like it's not "cool" to be upset. These feelings are natural, and it’s best to accept them and do things to help yourself feel better.

You might also be worried about what other people will think. But separation and divorce are very common these days.

 

 

Hope

Many teens really believe that their parents will get back together, and they try hard to make it happen by being on their best behavior. Sometimes this is a way of denying what’s really happening in order to protect yourself from the painful reality. But it’s likely that your parents reached this point only after trying very hard to save their relationship, and their decision to split up is final. It's hard, but it's probably best for you to begin to accept the situation as it really is and get used to the changes that you’re facing so you can get on with your life.

Q & A

Q:
I'm feeling really upset and confused about my parents splitting up. Is this normal?
A:

It's natural — and entirely normal — to experience some intense emotions. You will feel better over time. There are lots of ways to help yourself feel better, and people who can help you if you need it.

Q:
If my parents divorce, will the same thing happen to me?
A:

Many teens whose parents split up feel anxious about their own relationships in the future. But just because your parents split up doesn't mean the same thing will happen to you. What happens in your relationships will be up to you, not your parents!

Q:
Can I do anything to get my parents back together?
A:

Most parents split up only after trying very hard to save their relationship. Some teens hope and believe that if they try to be on their very best behaviour, their parents will get back together.

However, this plan isn't likely to work, since their parents' decision to split up had nothing to do with them. Their decision to separate or divorce is usually final.