Study Gauges Mental, Physical Toll of Divorce

By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Couples going through a divorce may see their mental well-being deteriorate — especially if they are having angry exchanges and other conflicts, a new study shows.

The findings are no surprise, 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. That was particularly true if their divorce was messy — involving fights over kids, hostile communication or other conflicts.

That’s not to say that divorce, alone, took the toll on people’s well-being.

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

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

Allen Sabey, a clinical assistant professor with Northwestern University’s Family Institute in Chicago, agreed.

Both the marital distress and the divorce take their toll, said Sabey, who was not involved in the study.

“Even if you want the divorce,” he noted, “you’re still dealing with the loss of the relationship.”

For some people, Sabey said, the breakup of a marriage engenders guilt, shame or a “feeling that something’s wrong with you.” Add to that any financial strains, battles over co-parenting or other conflicts, and it’s easy to see how both physical and mental well-being can be drained.

“Divorce is a process that gets into our bodies and minds to cause distress,” Sabey said.

He saw nothing surprising in the new findings. But, he said, it is important to understand how couples are doing around the time of the split, as well as later on.

The study, published in the November issue of the journal Frontiers in Psychology, involved more than 1,800 Danish men and women who’d just gotten a legal divorce.

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