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Why Divorce Still Hurts for Young Adults - It Never Ends!

I just got back from my 40+2 years High School reunion.  It was the ultimate connection and we all agreed we were so very fortunate to have shared a relatively innocent, prosperous and peaceful time in our early lives together.  There's a bond there that is uncanny - the person gets you at your core.  There is no language needed.  They knew you at the essence of you-ness.  It's like the missing tree or something.  

Some of us had divorced parents, but very few growing up in the 70's.  I was one of them and it has haunted me for much of my life.  I often felt "less than" even though I appeared to have it all.  Of course none of that really matters anymore.  We have grown old now - empty-nesters mostly.  Everyone has faced down hardships by this point in their lives. One close classmate was missing, battling cancer.  Several have died.  I recently lost my 2nd parent.  

It's not news that divorce is the gift that just keeps giving.  I have worked with this for all of my career.  Many will say, well the kids are older, so it's OK. Probably not.  Even young adults have feelings!!  I often hear them in therapy saying: major conflicts continue. And that, it turns out from the research, is the clincher.  Unlike losing a parent, you simply keep them and their problems for the rest of your life; IT NEVER ENDS!!!  Therefore, the work in therapy does not have a time limit. Just because you're "emancipated" at 18 or 21 does not mean you're free from childhood trauma, not even close.  That's just the beginning of often lifelong insecurity, worry, self-doubt, shame, worthlessness, confusion and more. Who will walk me down the aisle being just one of many.

-It's important to go back to the time of the divorce with young adults, not to re-hash or re-traumatize but to understand just exactly what has changed in you, and the magnitude of that loss.

-It's important to look at how you were "parentalized" while they were acting out - meaning did you have to take care of adult things as a child?  How did that work out?

-It's important to acknowledge that it's on-going.  Every single decision and holiday is more fraught than before.

-It's important to understand that you can't figure it out.  I tried for years a kind of mental trap: if I can just be smart enough to dissect what happened I would have some relief.  Not so much.

-It's important to realize not only is it not your fault, but you weren't defective; they were. They owed you some stability.  It was their job.  Divorced parents seem to become wildly self-absorbed in the aftermath - making up for lost time.  Or, they go the other way and start hoovering you into their over-involvement.  Either way is an unnecessary extreme.

As a young adult it's your job to individuate - separate from your parents.  How can you when they are failing social-emotionally?  If you're swimming and you need to turn, and there's no wall there to push off of, how can you accelerate?

I know not every divorce is a disaster like my family's was.

But it still hurts bad at ANY age.  There is no right age.

So don't let anyone tell you, oh move on already.  Go back to your High School self and thank yourself for doing the best you could, before you knew what to do.  Everyone has a struggle, and the struggle is real.  


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