A recent Facebook Live discussion focused on the issue of whether unresolved grief can become a point of division in a relationship and become so problematic that it leads to divorce. However, beyond just impacting those in the direct relationship, the aftermath can also involve other family members.

Heidi and I received a question from Julia that led us to choose this topic for discussion. She shared with us that her parents were getting divorced after 40 years of marriage because neither of them had been happy since they lost their daughter — Julia’s sister — 15 years prior.

The Sandwich Generation

Julia’s first question was whether grief could lead to divorce. But, she also wanted to know what she could do to not have to take care of her parents again like 15 years ago. While she wants to stay strong for her parents, Julia also needs to take care of herself without feeling guilty about it.

Today, it’s common to see situations that involve the “sandwich generation.” The sandwich generation is that generation that must now care for their aging parents as well as their own kids. This puts them in the middle as constant caregivers with no time for themselves.

Dealing with Loss on Multiple Levels

Julia is in the midst of a complex situation. She has the loss of her sibling that she may have put on hold while she cared for her parents right after that loss happened. Now, she has the grief of her parents’ divorce, which is also like a death. In both cases, there is unresolved grief that is important to deal with rather than put on the shelf and hope it goes away.

She is on the right track by acknowledging that she took care of her parents and that she deserves time for herself rather than have to return to the role of caregiver. However, there is more that she can do to ensure she also addresses her own unresolved grief.

How to Address Parents’ Divorce

In first addressing what Julia can do to help her parents without becoming a constant caregiver again, it’s important that she set limits. This could involve telling her parents she is unavailable on a certain day of the week. Or, she might limit a phone call to 20 minutes. In doing so, Julia can provide time for her parents to help them cope while still ensuring she has time for herself.

At this point in their lives, Julia’s parents may also want to get support from others, including seeking professional guidance from a therapist or counselor to resolve their own grief and manage their divorce. In this way, they cannot support without being a burden to Julia.

Steps For Resolving Grief

At the same time, Julia must address her own grief related to the loss of her sister and now with the breakup of her parents’ relationship. This is the time to reach out to online support groups for the death of siblings like those groups found on Facebook. Alternatively, organizations like Compassionate Friends offer in-person and online support, including the ability to find others that may have multiple situations they are grieving like Julia. Friends may also have dealt with divorce so they can offer advice or just empathize.

Also, look for positive activities that help with the healing process. This can include uplifting music and podcasts, which are also good to keep you motivated while you exercise or work. Schedule appointments with yourself and let others know you have an appointment so you can crate some personal space. These quiet times are also ideal for reflection and assessment, including keeping a gratitude journal that tracks your feelings and thoughts.

Thank you, Julia, for reaching out to us at Open to Hope. We hope that you will take the time you need for yourself to resolve your own grief as well as for your own health and wellness. Although it is a sad time with your parents divorcing, you can find ways to be open to a future filled with hope for happiness for yourself and your parents.


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Gloria Horsley

Dr. Gloria Horsley is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent. She started "Open to Hope" to help the millions in the world with grief. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist, and has worked in the field of family therapy for over 20 years. Dr. Horsley hosts the syndicated internet radio show, The Grief Blog which is one of the top ranked shows on Health Voice America. She serves the Compassionate Friends in a number of roles including as a Board of Directors, chapter leader, workshop facilitator, and frequently serves as media spokesperson. Dr. Horsley is often called on to present seminars throughout the country. She has made appearances on numerous television and radio programs including "The Today Show," "Montel Williams," and "Sallie Jessie Raphael." In addition, she has authored a number of articles and written several books including Teen Grief Relief with Dr. Heidi Horlsey, and The In-Law Survival Guide.

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