6 Buddhist Teachings Can Help Soothe the Pain of Divorce

Man unpacking moving box full of Buddhist itemsAnyone who has been through a divorce knows very well that it can invoke the worst parts of the self. Divorce is consistently associated with contention, negativity, bad behavior, and a sense of loss of integrity. This is completely understandable, since the experience of divorce so often invokes feelings of fear, shame, anger, and resentment. When a marriage ends, these dreaded emotional states uncontrollably surface without warning or even awareness. Learning to manage these intolerable states of being is a crucial aspect of transitioning through divorce with integrity and an intact sense of self.

Since divorce generates such an intense state of suffering, it seems logical to turn to the teachings of the Buddha to help turn this painful life transition into an opportunity for learning and growth. Coincidentally, the Buddha’s wisdom and the teachings of Buddhism stem from the young prince Siddhartha’s disillusionment when the reality of the pain and suffering in the world shattered the perfect world image his father had tried to impart on him. Not too different from the illusion we create for ourselves with the ever-after dreams of marriage and the harsh reality that comes with divorce.

“Buddhist teachings are not a religion, they are a science of the mind.” —The Dalai Lama

Here are six Buddhist teachings that can help you remain open, and reduce your suffering, as you manage the transition of divorce:

When divorce strikes, the past, present, and future are all up for grabs. Everything you thought you knew to be true is now in question. In the face of ambiguity and uncertainty, your instinct will be to grasp at what you know and once had, but according to the Buddha these attachments create suffering. Learning to release your attachments to any particular outcomes in the past, present, or future will lead to a more peaceful existence. Trying to control things only invokes feelings of frustration because most of the things you are dealing with are completely out of your control. When you grasp and cling to what you think you “know,” you are creating unnecessary suffering.

The Buddha recognizes that while it might be relatively easy to generate compassion for friends and loved ones, it is extremely difficult to have compassion for someone we dislike or who has mistreated us in some way. While the tendency might be to avoid this person (most likely an ex), the Buddha would see this person as the heart of his spiritual practice, a challenge to develop positive qualities. Compassion is the flip side of anger; it keeps the heart open when it wants to close off with fear. Compassion is fostered by remaining connected, no matter how painful it may be. Maintaining compassion through divorce is a feat, but it will ensure that your loving nature remains intact.

The law of karma is the universal principle of actions and reactions or causes and effects. Everything you do or say in your daily life is the cause of your own suffering or your own happiness. Buddha would advise that you not look for answers outside of yourself, nor should you believe that you are a victim of a random universe. While you may feel like a victim of your divorce, karma is your key to taking responsibility for what comes in and out of your world. The word karma means “action” or “deed”—actions and deeds that impact only you and the space you inhabit on this earth. Once you take responsibility for your actions, you can actively change your karma, and ultimately your present and future circumstances.

“Pain is inevitable in life, but suffering is optional.” —The Buddha

Mindfulness is the capacity to remain in the present moment. It is the ability to pay attention and to become aware of the intention behind what we do. The Buddha would recommend that you utilize the clarity that mindfulness brings to stop clinging to the past and the future, to live presently in the here and now. When we are not mindful, we remain in a state of being that is encumbered with criticism, judgment, and a need to be right. Mindfulness and its nonjudging, respectful awareness can help you to respond and to gain perspective, balance, and freedom. Stepping back and being an observer of events provides the greatest opportunity for acting with complete integrity and honor.

One of the most fundamental teachings of the Buddha is that pain is an unavoidable part of the natural world, and suffering is our reaction to the inevitable pain of life. Divorce is one of those unavoidably painful life experiences, but as the Buddha would attest, it doesn’t have to involve suffering. Like touching a hot stove, our first reaction to pain is to move away. Our aversion to the pain creates more suffering and reduces the opportunity to heal. Suffering is directly related to resisting the reality of what you are dealing with. Instead, the Buddha would suggest doing what you can to restore balance, to let things take their course. Complete avoidance will only prolong the pain.

In Buddhism, impermanence is referred to as Anicca— the truth of impermanence. It is the belief that all of our experiences are constantly changing, and that nothing is permanent. One of the greatest causes of pain during divorce is the feeling that things will never be the same, and that what you feel now will last forever. The Buddha would apply the wisdom of Anicca to maintain a sense of calm and perspective through the grief and loss of divorce. Remembering that nothing in life is permanent will help you to not feel bogged down or to lose yourself in what feels like an eternal experience of pain and discomfort.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • rich

    January 16th, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    All of these really struck me as important but I think that the one that hit home the most is the one about being ever changing and impermanent. It is the reminder that I needed that nothing has to stay the same, I am in control and when I am ready to make those changes I can.

  • Kayla s

    January 17th, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    What one needs is a good therapist who can help you to work these steps so to speak. It is great to say that these are the tools that you will embrace to get you through something painful like a divorce. But you really need that support system to offer encouragement and give you little reminders daily about the steps that you need to be working in life. Where I live it might be kind of hard to find someone who would knowingly use these Buddhist teachings to help couples with the pain of divorce, but I know that those people have to be out there. These are all such wonderful gifts that you can offer to yourself not only in a time of trial and hardship but for life in general.

  • Remi

    January 17th, 2013 at 11:21 PM

    If only we would all follow these teachings.They are nowhere related to religion but is rather something that can help enrich our lives.There is just so much we can learn from different cultures and teachings.
    Divorce is one of the most dreaded things,mostly due to the emotional turmoil that one goes through due to divorce.If that can be effectively managed then there is nothing like it.This could be very useful not only after a divorce but also as teachings to basically everything.

    Years ago I realized that trying too hard to be in control only makes us wary and tired and stresses us out to limits.I just hope I am able to adapt and follow the other teachings as well.

  • Olivia

    January 18th, 2013 at 4:09 AM

    Okay so I have some mixed emotions on this because, while I do understand how working on these teachings that you have listed would be wonderful, most of you know as well as I do that when you are first going through the hurt of a divorce, you are hardly at a place where you can accept these teachings and come to a great place in life automatically.
    Losing your marriage is a death in the family and there is a grieving process that most of us go through, whether we are ultimately happy the marriage is over or not. These teachings, I think, will help you in the long run, but I think that there has to be a little heart ache too. That’s just the nature of what divorce is.

  • Dr. Brosh

    January 18th, 2013 at 7:23 AM

    One of the greatest misunderstandings about Buddhist teachings is seeing them as end goals to achieve. They are actually very effective tools and practices that can be used like a healing balm to ease the pain of divorce. Buddhist teachings in no way suggest that someone should skip the heartache and pain of divorce. If you take one thing away from this blog, it would be that pain is inevitable but suffering is not. For example, telling yourself that you are a failure because your marriage didn’t work out creates unnecessary suffering. By practicing self-compassion, and talking to yourself like you would anyone else going through the same trauma, you can ease what is already an unavoidably painful experience. Hope this helps clarify what is being offered here.

  • ed

    June 13th, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    Thanks !

  • Kaye Court

    May 17th, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    I think it is important to suffer to some extent, especially if you have caused suffering to another. The suffering that you feel at the end of a relationship might be a wake up call that something you are doing or something in you is amiss and needs dealing with, so that you just don’t blindly go on and do the same again. Everyone needs to take stock, and to me suffering is an important sign to take stock. It’s time to reflect.

  • Chelsea

    May 25th, 2014 at 7:18 AM

    The hardest teaching is compassion. Totally isolating yourself from the ex seems the most logical. It induces a time for grieving and ultimately acceptance. No one wants to be subjected to pain and coming into contact with an ex equals pain. But being able to keep in touch and use it as a tool is practical and efficient. I think it will ultimately provide growth and true reflection. Using compassion to see that you arent the only one hurt. And hurting a loved one also hurts yourself.

  • Trish

    June 11th, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    I agree with Chelsea that the hardest is compassion. I have such a physical reaction and it causes so much pain for me to see my ex that my instinct is to withdraw until I feel ready. Its hard for me to push past these instincts and I question whether I can or should force myself to be in contact with him. I guess I’m stuck.

  • MK

    July 26th, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    I am in need of a buddhist thinking therapist in my area code of 08062 I can’t find one. Would you consider doing therapy via email or phone? Thank you I appreciate your advice.

  • Mark N.

    December 9th, 2018 at 7:30 AM

    My wife and have agreed to divorce. I also have three children ages 16,19 and 21. Can you offer some advice on how I can cope it’s this unfortunate situation?

  • Gary

    July 8th, 2015 at 8:03 AM


    I have been divorced over 1 year. My ex wife is a narcicist . I was told not to talk to her at all. My issues is how to treat my boys ages 13 and 16. I feel them fading away slowly out of my life both by not having a lot of time with them, their ages and their mother telling them bad things about me. I am able to get by but when my life includes my ex and kids I don’t know how to treat them.

    I have been reading a lot on Buddhism and it helps me with things in general, but I don’t know how to use the teachings in my situation.

    Gary k

  • Dr Brosh

    July 8th, 2015 at 1:32 PM

    Gary- please look into something called Parental Alienation. Your ex should NEVER say anything bad about you to your children. Know your rights as a father and fight to see them at least 1/2 the time unless there are extenuating circumstances. Too much time without contact leads to distancing and for them to become influenced by your ex. They need to know you’re there and strong for them.

  • John S.

    August 27th, 2016 at 3:20 AM

    Yes it is true ! Attachment is the cause of suffering . I think all the buddha teachings are really helpful to remove these difficult situations. According to teachingwhatweneedtolearn.com/158/lama-surya-das/ mindfulness is most important because it helps us to live in present. Meditation reduces pain, stress and depression and give us true peace and happiness. It also reduces negative thoughts and gives us positive energy.

  • Leah

    October 14th, 2017 at 4:58 AM

    Well – I play a game called imvu where you chat with people through avatars in chat rooms. If known this lad for 8 months. From the moment I started talking to him I felt something. We became best friends and eventually lovers. I classed him as my soulmate. On the game you can do everything like real life and me and him had kids (7) and got married. We broke up lastnight. I’m trying so hard to think positive. To detatch myself from him but attachments are hard to break. I see him in other chat rooms with his new girl bestfriend who I feared while together with him. Trying to prepare for the hurt completely scares me. I’m scared to see him love someone else. I realise everything happens for a reason and if it was meant to be things will come together but I’m still scared. I love him. So deeply.

  • Alexandra

    January 13th, 2020 at 1:00 AM

    “Pain is inevitable in life, but suffering is optional.” —The Buddha
    The Buddha most certainly did not say this. Neither did HoTei. It also can’t be attributed to Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa or even Santa Claus. It’s apparently part of the AA 12-step programme, but its origins as an entire quote in its own right, are obscure. But a saying from the Buddha? It isn’t.

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