How Might Divorce Affect Me?

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About one million U.S. couples divorce each year. Like many other Americans, you may feel unhappy in your marriage. Maybe your marriage has lost the spark it once had, or perhaps you feel hurt by your spouse. You might want desperately for your marriage to work, but your spouse is no longer committed.

For some, especially those in violent or high-conflict marriages, divorce may be the best option. However, research has shown that for most couples, divorce does not improve happiness.

How might divorce affect me emotionally and physically?

Overall, divorced adults have worse physical and mental health compared to married adults. Divorced individuals frequently face:

Unhappiness. Divorced adults, on average, are less happy.

Depression. Divorced individuals, particularly women, are more vulnerable to depression. They have higher levels of stress, lower levels of psychological well-being, and poorer self-esteem.

Health problems. Divorced individuals see doctors more often, are more likely to suffer from serious illness, and have lower life expectancies.

False intimacy. Some divorced women and men (especially) substitute casual sex for closeness and intimacy. This may eventually produce greater feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, and lower self-esteem, and can even lead to substance abuse.

Substance abuse. Divorced adults, especially men, drink more alcohol than married adults, putting them at risk for addiction.

Divorce is not a reliable path to personal happiness. Those who do adjust to divorce the best tend to be younger and have more education, income, and social support from family and friends.

How might divorce affect my social life?

Research has found that divorce commonly affects an individual’s social life in the following ways:

Loneliness. On average, divorced individuals say they are lonelier.

Lost social network. Divorced individuals often lose contact with in-laws, married friends, and neighbors.

Fading relationships with co-workers. Sometimes relationships with co-workers fade following a divorce.

Distancing of close friendships. Your divorce may push away your close friends. It may cause them to worry about their own marriages, and they may distance themselves from you. Divorced individuals may feel socially awkward and may struggle to fit into a new social life.

Decreased contact with children. Divorced men are at great risk of losing contact with their children; most divorced fathers do not have regular contact with their children within a few years after the divorce.

This exercise will help walk you through how divorce may affect your social life.

How might divorce affect my relationship with my ex-spouse?

Often it’s easier to end a marriage legally than it is to end it emotionally. Despite divorce, many have a continuing emotional attachment to their ex-spouse.

Continuing emotional attachment can take the form of: 1) dependence on the ex-spouse, and 2) ongoing hostility towards the ex-spouse. Both can lead to psychological challenges, including depression, anxiety, loneliness, anger, and feelings of powerlessness.

Dependence. Many individuals struggle to cut their emotional ties to their ex-spouse. One divorced woman we interviewed told us how emotionally attached she was to her ex-spouse:

It’s been two years since my divorce and you can see that we still have a major connection, and it’s terrible. . . . Even now we talk, “What the heck have we done?” . . . It’s still really, really hard. I really, really did and still do, deeply, deeply love him. . . . Even now, it’s just been a nightmare because we’re still so connected. . . . You’ve told this person everything in life. He knows everything about you. . . . I don’t think there’s another man on the earth that I care for as much as I do for him. But people don’t understand that, they don’t understand those feelings. . . . And this is coming from a girl that was cheated on; he got another woman pregnant, and he really, really betrayed me.

    • To complicate matters, sometimes maintaining a good relationship with your ex-spouse and working together to be good parents to your children can make it harder to break those emotional ties. There is a fine line between maintaining a positive relationship with your ex-spouse and remaining emotionally dependent on him or her.
    • Healthy post-divorce relationships have clearly established boundaries that define the former spouse as a co-parent you work with for the good of your children, but not as a person you continue to rely on for emotional support.

Ongoing hostility. On-going conflict with an ex-spouse is fairly common. Some find that there is more conflict after divorce than before.

  • The more hostile the divorce, the harder it is for individuals to adjust in healthy ways and move on with their lives.
  • Post-divorce conflict negatively affects children.
  • Some seem unable to let go of their hostility and conflict even a decade later. However, ex-spouses and children need to let hard feelings go in order to live a healthy life. This is easier said than done. Personal counseling can ease the transition.
  • Use this exercise to consider your relationship with your ex-spouse after divorce.

How might divorce affect my religious life?

For many people who have strong ties to a personal faith or religious group, marriage plays a central part in their personal worship. For them, marriage is not just a vow with their spouse, but also a covenant with God. When couples believe God is a part of their union, feelings of spiritual failure, guilt, and a broken relationship with God may result if their marriage fails. Some divorced individuals leave or switch their religion. Others stay in their religion but move to a different congregation. Unfortunately, some feel like spiritual failures or outcasts.

On the other hand, for many, religious beliefs, activities, and friendships can be a powerful support. Undergoing counseling with trusted religious leaders and accepting their support can be comforting.

  • This exercise will help you think about how divorce will affect your religious life.
  • Many religious groups have websites that deal with divorce. Look for your faith’s information here.

Find the research support here.

Exercises & Links