The Benefits of Compassion During a Divorce


  • It's difficult to imagine showing any semblance of compassion during a divorce, but it can be beneficial.
  • Compassion and empathy are two different concepts.
  • Children of divorce offer incentive for civility and compassion during the process.

"In acknowledging that there is a better way to go about this process than mudslinging and greed, you are putting your own humanity first, through the way you employ a compassionate outlook."

Outside of amicable divorces, it is difficult to imagine expressing any level of kindness to an ex-spouse or a soon-to-be ex-spouse. They are taking half of the assets in a marriage. They could be taking custody of the children. They would, then, be asking for child support on top of alimony. They could ask for the house, the car, or even, the dog.

This does not even begin to scratch the surface of actual repercussions within the confines of a marital relationship and how feelings and attachments are being dismantled. Routines have gone out the window, and loneliness or anger can skew how you treat the person you are divorcing.

That’s why the idea of showing any semblance of compassion seems so impossible during the divorce experience. However, the benefits can help you in the long-run.

Compassion, not empathy

One concept to understand before discussing compassion during and after a divorce is that compassion differs from empathy. Empathetic people feel the suffering of others, and people who are too empathetic about their suffering do not have the cognitive and emotional resources available to do much to help them, according to Dr. Tara Well in Psychology Today.

Whereas, having compassion, which involves a cognitive understanding of how the other person is feeling, is better for our own well-being.

Taking care of yourself

Given that the messiness of a divorce can be incredibly draining, being able to take care of yourself is vital. As much as others may offer a hand, you do need to be able to support yourself during this process, on some level. However, that does not mean you have to avoid caring on some level about the other person involved.

It’s a natural response to want to care about someone you were once happily married to. In showing your compassion in some respect, you are choosing to be better than the stereotype of what the divorce process is perceived to entail.

This type of compassion is what Buddhism calls karuna, which basically entails sharing in suffering, having concern for another, but feeling for and not feeling with the other individual. During a divorce, that aspect is important. You cannot be the one to fix someone, if you also are the reason for them being broken in the first place.

For the kids

Acknowledgement without offering assistance is not a simple task, but it can be one that you do for the sake of others. Children are often pawns in a custody struggle between divorcing parents, and it can be a lot for them to process, on top of all of the other adjustments they will have to make.

Children also will feel forced to side with one parent over another, due to divisive and polarizing behavior, according to licensed clinical social worker Eli Hilman in Psychology Today. In order to counteract the damage that the behavior of polarizing parents are doing, compassion is needed.

Hillman said that co-parents need to be able to identify the underlying emotion toward their ex-spouse, in order to help your children during this difficult experience. In seeing what negative feelings you are harboring, you can work toward civility, for the sake and well-being of your children.

In exploring civility, you can often see how your ex-spouse feels about the children you share, and you can identify that as a positive trait about them. For some, so much of the divorce experience involves vilifying the soon-to-be ex-spouse, but as a parent, you cannot see your co-parent as a villain forever. That is not fair to the children involved, who are forced to pick sides and alienate someone that they love.

The children lean into their compassion, because when they see someone hurting, they want to help. For them, it is as simple as that.

For some, it is more about the behavior being what their parents taught, which fuels an ironic swing of events if divorcing co-parents refuse to show compassion toward one another, regardless of how much one or both are hurting.

Do it for you

Regardless of the amicability of the divorce itself, divorcing co-parents and divorcing individuals, in general, need to be aware of what compassion in the process entails. Compassion does not mean letting someone walk all over you and take everything during the divorce proceedings. It means acknowledging that both parties are hurting throughout the process and are looking for what they need to start their new lives.

This may require both sides to show their humanity, which may be tough, especially during the divorce process, but in acknowledging that there is a better way to go about this process than mudslinging and greed, you are putting your own humanity first, through the way you employ a compassionate outlook.

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