What are the Physical and Psychological Effects of Divorce?

A client once told me, “No happy marriage ends in divorce.” Whether you are trying to decide to work through marital problems or if you have concluded that it can only end with a divorce, you should keep in mind there can be both physical and emotional effects of divorce.

People expect a divorce to impact themselves and their families emotionally. Fewer people take into consideration the physical effects of divorce on adults. Surprisingly, the potential health effects vary between men and women.

Physical Effects of Divorce on Men

A study recently published in the Journal of Men’s Health (JMH) confirms that divorced people, both men and women, suffer higher rates of mortality, depression, illness in general and substance abuse than do married people.

Although the JMH report focuses on men, other studies confirm that both parties suffer from detrimental health issues more often than those who maintain a happy marriage. Here are a few of the more common physical and emotional health problems experienced by divorced people:

  • Due to a weakened immune system, divorced men and women get more colds and cases of flu
  • Divorced men have significantly higher incidences of cancer and heart disease
  • Both divorced men and women experience extreme changes in their weight
  • The mortality rate for divorced men is nearly 250 percent greater than with married men
  • Divorced men suffer more heart attacks and strokes than non-divorced men

Some health problems become exacerbated by the lower standard of living and economic hardship divorced people experience. They often have lost some friends, so they do not have the same emotional support they had before the divorce.

The JMH study made some suggestions for future research. One suggestion is that studies need to analyze what types of circumstances may have a positive influence on a divorced person’s health so that it improves after a divorce.

Physical Effects of Divorce on Women

Women have similar physical health responses to a divorce as men do, but they have slightly different rates.

For example, both men and women see an increase in heart attacks. Women who have been divorced once see an increase in their chance by 24%, according to a study by Matthew Dupre of Duke University. Women who have been divorced twice or more see an increase in their risk of heart attack by 77%.

A study out of the University of Texas at Austin looked into why women experience higher chances of heart attack than men. They concluded that stress leads to higher levels of inflammation in women. Women also tend to experience that stress longer than men because after the divorce they tend to take more time before remarrying as well as suffer harder financial hits.

Effects other than heart attacks are pretty much the same as men. Dramatic weight gain or loss, weakened immune systems, digestion issues and metabolic problems.

Emotional and Psychological Effects of Divorce on Men

Women initiate divorce more frequently than men. So for many husbands being served with divorce papers can come as a shock. Even the “I want a divorce” conversation can be a surprise. While the initiating partner has had time to begin processing their emotions, the surprised partner has not.

Common emotional and psychological effects of divorce include:

  • Guilt
  • Anxiety/Stress
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Substance abuse
  • Identity Crisis

Of course, it would be wrong to say that divorce affects everyone in the same (or even a predictable) way.

It is true that most people bounce back. A psychological study of divorce related depression found that for most people these symptoms are temporary. The concern is people who have a history of depression. Men and women with a history of depression frequently have depressive episodes long after the divorce has finalized.

Men also tend to struggle more with handling the emotional aspects of divorce. Psychologists theorize that this is because women often have more extensive support networks. Women also tend to rely on their networks for support and advice more easily.

Emotional and Psychological Effects of Divorce on Women

Like we said earlier, women are more willing to reach out to their support networks. This is invaluable in overcoming the emotional effects of divorce.

Women tend to have a higher frequency of identity problems during and after a divorce. Many women are focused on being superb mothers and wives during the marriage then face the sudden loss of the second self-identity. Overcoming this can turn out to be an enormously positive thing, although it almost never feels that way going through it. Creating that new self-identity can lead to becoming an emotionally and physically healthier person.

Women also tend to hold on to the stress of divorce longer than men. Scientists trace this to a sudden decrease in standard of living which can go on long after the divorce is final.

Positive Health Effects of Divorce

There can be some excellent health effects resulting from a divorce. Yet it is what you make of it.

Relief is one of the biggest effects. If a marriage has been rough for years, both parties can feel relieved, even if they don’t admit it.

Another positive effect is the expansion of self-identity and taking on new roles. Many people will focus on advancing careers, picking up a new hobby, or expanding their social circles. Sometimes you will see this called escapism, but in our experience, they have wonderfully positive effects.

At the end of the day, our client is right. No happy marriage ends in divorce. If mediation and counseling haven’t worked and it’s time to cut ties, pushing through this experience can be a positive thing for both you and your family.

If you are considering a divorce, please make use of our guide on everything you need to know about divorce in Nevada.