Divorce Recovery with Social-Emotional Learning – Part 5: Empathy and compassion during divorce

Linda Simpson
Linda Simpson –
Divorce and Parenting Consultant
Writer and Speaker

This is the 5th instalment in a series I have written for The Divorce Magazine UK. These articles give you the tools to use the social-emotional learning principles of self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, and social awareness as a path forward when navigating separation and divorce.

Divorce brings with it a whole new set of skills waiting to be learned. Our personal life changes but our social interactions will evolve too. Social awareness for family, friends, and work colleagues uses empathy and compassion to help build our new lives.

Let us focus on all the people in our life who are affected by your divorce.

The impact of divorce is far-reaching. We, who are the divorcing partners can become hyper-focused on ourselves but there are many people in our orbit that are affected and are invested in us.

Perhaps the closest to you and the most vulnerable are the children of divorce. They are experiencing one of their worst nightmares. Every child, at some point, worries their parents will eventually get divorced. Children often blame themselves. They think that if they had been better behaved or had not done a particular thing or did some other thing better then this would never have happened to their family.

It is important to assure your children, during appropriate moments, that it is not their fault. How do you do that?

Children need to feel safe and secure talking about their parents during this time. They need to feel sheltered voicing their opinions and feelings with openness and honestly. Everyone is dealing with anger, frustration, hurt, worry, and fear about the future. It is an emotionally charged time in a family and being the adult, despite your own vulnerability, is very important.

The most productive tactic in all of this requires active listening. What is that?

Active listening is the opposite of passive listening when we might be doing something else, scrolling our phone perhaps, and half- listening to the person. It means putting aside the attention temptation and making eye contact. It means concentrating on what it is being said. It means observing body language and understanding the nuances of the messages given not only by their words but by their body language too.

When a child is watching their parent’s marriage derail, their level of trust in the world is derailed too. Family life means security. When that life is upended insecurity follows. Active listening can help restore their level of trust. It is also a way to be empathetic with your children.

They might say hurtful things to you in the heat of the moment. The wronged partner wants everyone to see it their way but there are shades of anger and shades of understanding. There is a chance your children will criticize you. Without being reactive, take those criticisms and think about them in a quiet moment. Take time to consider the merit of what was said and park the emotion. The words may be raw, but the observations might have a degree of accuracy.

As a parent, it is important to try to see your divorce from your child’s perspective. Unless there have been extreme family circumstances, children love both their parents. When they make positive comments about the other parent it is far better to say nothing than to attempt to change their mind. Children are smart and if there are lessons to be learned about flaws in either parent’s character, chances are that will happen.

Another quite common aspect of children in divorce is that there is a tendency to use them as a go-between. Children can be desperate to please during divorce so be mindful of their vulnerabilities and try to not play into them.

Pumping them for information when they have visited the other parent happens. But it is in everyone’s best interests to limit the amount of time spent engaged in this behaviour. It puts enormous pressure on your children when they are trying to adjust to the new normal of family life. Encourage them to be proactive and remind whichever parent if the conversation heads in that direction.

A tendency that can play out is to expect your children to act as your friend and confidante. You have friends in your life for that. Be the parent they need.

To see the leaving parent will require effort. Family routines, special traditions that were shared all together and many family patterns will be reshaped. Allow for some flexibility as you find a path to your new future as a family.

Next are the extended family members. Siblings, aunts, uncles, and in-laws are all impacted by the divorce. There may be some in-laws you are close with and how you proceed with them is a delicate matter. Some may not want to have any type of friendship and that will require space. They may change their minds at some point in the future but for right now, you must respect their position.

Just like your children, it is not a good idea to enlist siblings or parents to carry stories back and forth. They can be part of your support network but leaning on them too hard can cause a strain in the relationship. Appreciate their part in your divorce recovery.

Nobody in our lives feels the impact of the divorce quite like the divorcing partners. It is important to remember that.

Even your closest confidantes will need a break from discussing the divorce. There will be people we lean on through the divorce process. To maintain those relationships, we need to nurture them and show gratitude. All the kind and caring people who support us have limits and we need to be mindful of their emotional needs as well. We do that, in part, by getting outside our introspection and being socially aware. It is important to be empathetic with family and friends as they support you through the process.

As your life moves forward and you make new friends and find yourself in new situations, social awareness comes into play too.

You do not want your divorce to become who you are. We have all known people who talk about their divorce like it happened yesterday when in fact it could be twenty years ago. You want to get better, not bitter.

You do that by taking charge of this new life. No longer having to compromise ideas and plans, you can now make your own decisions. What have you wanted to do but felt restricted by your marriage? Do it.

Begin to plan to make these dreams come true. It is an opportunity to become someone other than a divorced person. See yourself as single. Being a divorced person can be stigmatizing.

In new social settings listen to the conversation. Taking every opportunity to talk about other things helps you become more than your divorce.

Consider these social skills using social-emotional learning as you renew and build solid connections with your closest and newest friends. Move past the divorce to the future you.

Click here for parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Linda’s Guides to Divorce Recovery with Social-Emotional Learning

Click here for more articles from Linda Simpson


“I take strength from your calm, your honesty, and the hope you give me for my future.” Cheryl 

Linda is a fresh voice in the divorce advice world. She offers a pragmatic, common sense approach to life after divorce issues based on over twenty years surviving and thriving following a very traumatic divorce.

As a single parent, her sons are an enormous source of joy in her life. She is a loving mother and grandmother to four delightful grandchildren.

She holds a degree from the University of Waterloo with concentrations in sociology and philosophy and guidance counselling certification from Queen’s University.

She is an accredited trainer for The Peace Education Foundation, a leader in conflict resolution training. The institute is ‘dedicated to educating children and adults in the dynamics of conflict resolution and promoting peacemaking skills in home, schools, and community.’

In a long and successful teaching career, she also served as a counsellor and workshop facilitator for SEL (social emotional learning) programming and The Peace Education Foundation throughout her school and school district and was a frequent conference presenter for SUNY Potsdam Faculty of Education USA.

She writes for The Divorce Magazine UK and her blog is seen regularly on Huffington Post Canada where the focus is life after divorce and parenting issues.

She is a writer and poet and is presently at work on a book based on her divorce experience.

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