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Grieving Your Parents’ “Gray Divorce” as an Adult

How to Deal When Your Parents' Get Divorced (And You've Already Moved Out)

The hard truth about love is that it doesn’t always last forever. Even after decades of a faithful, committed, and joyful marriage, circumstances may arise that hold the potential to end all promises formerly made. Relationships are hard work, requiring both people involved to play a critical role in keeping the bond strong. When the honeymoon period of a new romance subsides and the relationship becomes a part of the everyday routine the risks of stagnancy, disinterest, outgrowth, and falling out of love become very real possibilities overtime.

While there are always exceptions to the rule, the sad reality is that half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. With divorce carrying significant weight in our nation, the decision to break up a marriage and family becomes very real, leaving ripple effects concerning all people involved. Being a product of divorced parents does not always occur during childhood and adolescence.

In fact, divorce rates among adults fifty and older are hitting an all time high, which leaves adult children of long-time married couples shocked and confused. This demographic trend dubbed “gray divorce” impacts adult children in a unique way, as they are often exposed to their parents’ conflicts in ways children and adolescents aren’t.

Adults with parents taking later-life splits face unique challenges, such as being exposed to their parents’ dating lives, spitefulness, and many other forms of negative energy that typically transpires between divorced couples.

Although these are mostly uncharted waters, adult children can successfully cope with their parents’ “gray divorce” by following a bit of advice:

Embrace your autonomy.

There’s something to be said about dealing with your parents’ divorce as an adult. You are on your own! Though you will likely face emotional repercussions from their decision to split, it doesn’t directly impact your home space. You won’t find yourself living at mom’s house during the school week and bunking on dad’s couch on the weekends. You are an adult, completely autonomous, and able to go to your own home whenever you like.

Keep healthy, distinct boundaries.

Not all divorces end in combat, but sometimes rivalry between your parents is unavoidable. Perhaps one of your parents mistakenly had an affair, has an unhealthy addiction, or is abusive. Circumstances beyond your control are going to lead to your parents fighting, hashing it out, and dueling.

Do your absolute best to keep mindful boundaries and resist the urge to pick sides. Nothing is worse than playing both ends to the middle by speaking ill of one parent in the presence of the other. You are a product of both your parents. Therefore, you likely love them equally and want nothing but happiness for each of them. Maintain these boundaries in a way that works for you and doesn’t put you in the middle of their conflict.

Confide in someone you trust.

The worst thing you can do to yourself during this process is keep it all bottled up inside. You are not weak because you need to vent about this obstacle to a relative, friend, significant other, or counselor. You are human; and so totally normal. Keeping things locked up inside can result in you imploding down the road, which is unhealthy for your stress level. Do confide in someone about what you’re going through. There is no right way to grieve, especially when it comes to something as unexpected as this. Your parents’ decision to split up after decades of what you believed to be a happy, committed marriage is blindsiding. You are going to be affected and the best way to deal with this change is to talk through it with someone close with you.

Remember that you are not your parents.

Just because your parents decided to split up after years of being together doesn’t mean you are doomed when it comes to love. You are your own person, completely unique in the decisions you make. Some relationships don’t work out no matter how hard both people try. Perhaps that applies in this situation. Remember, though, every relationship is completely different. Your romantic endeavors are unique to you and your significant other. Keep taking risks with love, because if you don’t you may miss out on a chance at true intimacy someday.

At the end of the day, life goes on.

Right now you probably feel like your world is crumbling all around you. It’s easy to feel like your childhood was based on a foundation of lies when your parents end their marriage after being together since you were born. Don’t allow yourself to feed into that tempting response. Your parents’ decision to divorce may be something new they decided together. It’s hard to know the circumstances as an outsider, and even though you are their child, you may never be privy to the real reasons behind their split. Believe that at the end of the day, life does go on. You will learn to accept their decision and be happy for both of them.

Remember: love doesn’t always last forever. But your love for your parents and theirs for you surely will.

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About the Author

Rachael Warren (Tulipano)

Rachael is a University of Southern Maine graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Sociology. She remotely works full-time as a Senior Content Marketing Specialist for Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. In her leisure time, Rachael enjoys traveling with her husband, finding the next Netflix series to binge, and taking too many photos of her dogs Jax and Kai. Rachael is obsessed with chapstick, favors the Oxford comma, and is a proud Mainer. You'll likely find her exploring New England + beyond.