Study Gauges Mental, Physical Toll of Divorce

A new study shows that divorcing couples can see their mental well-being deteriorate – especially if they have angry exchanges and other conflicts.

The results are not surprising, the experts said. But the study appears to be the first to capture how married people fare in the midst of a split, rather than after a period of separation.

And overall, both men and women reported poorer physical and mental health than the norm for the general population. This was especially true if their divorce was complicated – involving fights over children, hostile communication, or another conflict.

Study Gauges Mental, Physical Toll of Divorce
Study Gauges Mental, Physical Toll of Divorce

That’s not to say that divorce alone has hurt people’s well-being.

“Divorce is often understood as a process in which judicial divorce is part,” said lead researcher Gert Martin Hald, associate professor of public health at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

So the mental health fallout from divorce is also a result of the “prolonged experience of relationship distress” that led to the breakup, Hald said.

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Allen Sabey, clinical assistant professor at the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago, agreed.

Marital distress and divorce are taking their toll, said Sabey, who was not involved in the study.

“Even if you want a divorce,” he noted, “you still face the loss of the relationship.

For some people, says Sabey, marriage breakdown breeds guilt, shame, or “a feeling that something is wrong with you.” Add to this financial strains, battles over co-parenting or other conflicts, and it’s easy to see how physical and mental well-being can be drained.

“Divorce is a process that enters our body and mind to cause distress,” Sabey said.

He saw nothing surprising in the new findings. But, he said, it’s important to understand how couples do when they separate, as well as later.

The study, published in the November issue of the journal Frontiers in Psychology, involved more than 1,800 Danish men and women who had recently obtained a legal divorce.

By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter

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