Families Change Teen Guide to Separation & Divorce

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How You Feel

When your parents split up, it's absolutely normal to experience some very strong emotions. You might have only one emotion for a while, or move quickly from one to another, or you might even have a whole 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 splitting up:

The most important thing is that there is no right or wrong feelings to have when your parents split up. Your feelings are real, and justified.



Shock 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. Or it might make you just feel numb, or like crying all the time.

Shock will pass.



If you don't have enough information about what is happening in your family and why, you probably feel confused.

If you are confused, ask questions.



Teens often feel a sense of guilt when their parents split up, as though they are somehow 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!



Once the shock begins to fade, you might feel really 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 express it in ways that hurt yourself or others, or when you don't express it at all. To put it another way, anger itself isn't good or bad; it is the way you handle your anger that can have a good or bad result. You can choose how to handle your anger. Unfortunately, a lot of people have a hard time handling their anger because they haven't been taught how.

Some people handle anger without expressing or showing it at all. The problem with not expressing anger is that it is likely to come out in unexpected ways. Plus holding in your anger can often make you more and more angry over time. The worst way to handle anger is through aggression or violence — by attacking someone with words or with 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, which means knowing what you need and want, and knowing how to ask for it without being disrespectful of other people's needs and wants. If you need to let off steam before you can express your anger in a positive way, try:

  • Leaving the room and going somewhere else to calm down.
  • Counting to 100.
  • Going for a walk or getting some vigorous exercise.
  • Talking to a friend you trust.
  • Listening to some music that you like.
  • Sitting quietly and thinking about why you are angry and how to solve the problem.

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



Anxiety is a strong, uncomfortable feeling of fear. It is a normal emotional response to danger or uncertainty.

All the uncertainty that comes with change can make you feel anxious. So you may feel anxious when your parents split up, because there may be so many unknowns — like what is going to happen, where you are going to live, how you will cope with all the changes, and so on.

You might also feel like you have to take sides, or choose between one parent and the other, which could make you feel anxious.

In addition, you might be worried about your 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 the anxiety is lasting a long time, or it is getting in the way of your ability to do the things you normally do, get help.



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 bit guilty about feeling relieved. But there is nothing wrong with feeling relieved about the end of a difficult time! It's completely normal.



You might feel sad, as though you are mourning the loss of a lot of things: your old life, the way your family used to do things, and the good times you won't have together now. It's a lot like grieving when someone close to you has died.

You might be missing the parent you don't see every day, and even missing the parent you do see every day, because he or she is working more, or is really distracted or irritable because of the stress he or she is under.

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 is lasting a long time, or it is getting in the way of your ability to do the things you normally do, get help.



Some teens feel embarrassed when their parents split up.

They might be embarrassed about the intensity of their feelings, like it's not "cool" to be upset. But the feelings are natural, and the best thing to do is to accept them and do what you can to feel better.

Teens might also be worried about what other people will think. But separation and divorce are very common these days. In Canada, between 25% and 33% of marriages end in divorce. What that means is that many people have been through it themselves, and most people probably know someone who has.

See Breaking the news for some tips on telling your friends.



Many teens really believe that their parents will get back together. They try very hard to make it happen by being on their best behaviour.

Sometimes this is a way of denying what is really happening, in order to protect yourself from the painful reality.

Chances are, 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 better for you to begin to accept the situation as it really is, and get used to the changes that you are facing, in order to get on with your life.


Q & A

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

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!

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

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.

Can I do anything to get my parents back together?

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.