Can divorce drive you crazy? How to cope with the emotional toll of divorce

Woman arguing with her partner, stressed

Researchers have studied the psychological effects of divorce for decades. While everyone copes with divorce in their own unique way, there is no question that going through a divorce is one of life’s most emotionally taxing experiences. Today’s highly polarized society has further intensified family conflicts and the emotional impact of divorce. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to better manage divorce and mental health issues.

A research analysis published in the Journal of Marriage and Family revealed that numerous divorce mental health studies confirm “people married and living with a spouse report greater physical and psychological wellbeing than the unmarried, particularly the divorced.” In addition, research published in the Journal of Family Issues showed that recent divorce increased the odds of death by suicide by 1.6 times compared to 1.3 times for a distal divorce (divorce that occurred longer ago).

More recently, a large Danish study revealed that health-related quality of life was significantly worse for recent divorcees compared to the general population. The Danish study also showed that higher conflict divorces led to worse mental health outcomes, even when researchers accounted for other sociodemographic variables.

Divorce frequently increases symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety

The Danish divorce mental health researchers also cited several studies showing strong correlations between divorce and adverse health outcomes. The outcomes included poorer physical and mental health, with study subjects reporting more symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and social isolation than the general population.

If you’re going through a divorce and are experiencing any or all of those symptoms, the good news is that those feelings are normal, and these psychological effects of divorce on adults are common. However, those effects aren’t good for your health—emotionally or physically—so it’s important to take stress, anxiety and depression very seriously.

Skip to the tips below for some insight on how to cope with the mental and emotional impact of divorce.

A highly polarized society has intensified conflict and mental health issues during divorce

In my 15-year career as a Fort Worth divorce lawyer, I’ve never experienced such a highly charged, emotionally fueled environment in the family courts like the one we’re witnessing today. The combined stressors of the pandemic, the 2020 lockdown and an incredibly divisive political climate are pushing families to their emotional limits, and that has trickled down to the family courts big time.

The world’s many uncertainties and couples’ stark disagreements about politics, vaccines, mask-wearing, who children can come in contact with, whether kids should go to school and other high-octane, societal concerns are difficult to cope with.

Unfortunately, people generally don’t have many good outlets to remove them from their high-stress mindsets, so they sit and stew, get lost in social media, or turn to drugs and alcohol—which only make things worse.

What’s lingering in society today is a constant state of fear, paranoia and panic due to ongoing uncertainty. People are struggling emotionally and desperately need some form of diagnosis to explain why they feel the way they feel. Others have spouses who are acting differently, so they want to diagnose them as a narcissist, bipolar or suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder—especially when they want to bolster their divorce case.

A weaponization of mental health diagnoses is on the rise in the family courts

With so many people dealing with mental health issues in their marriages and desperate to get divorced, we’re also seeing a weaponization of mental health diagnoses in family court. You have “his” mental health expert, “her” mental health expert and frequently is a third-party expert brought in by the court—often with conflicting views.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing many of our best and most trusted mental health experts refuse to participate in our cases because they don’t want to testify in court. They don’t want to be part of a circus that pits mental health experts and their diagnoses against one another, because it puts the best interests of the parties, especially children, at risk. 

Eventually, we’re going to experience a polarizing effect across the board, which could minimize the effectiveness of these mental health experts and dampen the experts’ confidence in their ability to help families through divorce. This could leave more adults and children struggling emotionally and not able to get the help they need to deal with divorce and mental health issues.

Tips for managing the mental and emotional effects of divorce

While we are living in unusual times with mental health issues on the rise, there are steps you can take to better manage divorce mental health concerns. Following are some tips I share with my clients to help minimize the emotional impact of divorce.

Tip 1: Make your family’s mental health a priority during divorce.

The effects of divorce on adults psychologically are real and common, as the research shared above confirms. Divorce can also take a serious toll on the mental health of any children involved in a divorce.

In addition, the psychological effects of divorce can be long-lasting and worsen over time if you don’t deal with them proactively. Mental and emotional issues can affect your sleep (and vice versa) and physical health as well. If you want to be a happier, healthier person on the other side of divorce—and protect your children’s mental health—take mental health issues seriously from the start.

Tip 2: Seek guidance from a mental health professional.

One of the best ways to ensure mental health is a priority is to seek professional guidance from a family therapist or counselor who specializes in divorce. They understand what you’re going through and can provide the tools and therapy you and your children need to deal with the trauma of divorce and thrive in the years to come.

Tip 3: Try to resolve your divorce amicably.

Granted, this approach doesn’t work for all couples, and you and your spouse may disagree about many issues, however, the more you two can communicate and work through yourselves, the less stress you’ll likely feel. Sometimes extending an olive branch or two, especially involving issues that don’t matter to you, can help ease tensions. Even better, your spouse may be inclined to return the favor. Resolving divorce and child custody issues is a lot less stressful when couples are flexible, cooperative and don’t fight over every detail.

Tip 4: Adopt an individualized mindset.

Some people go through divorce to release a pressure valve of unhappiness. The truth is: It’s up to you to make yourself happy. Not your spouse, not your kids—you. If you are unhappy with your life, what can YOU do to fix it? It’s really important to take responsibility for your unhappiness and marriage problems.

If you’re unhappy take time to figure out why. A mental health professional or member of the clergy may be able to help. Once you’re happy with yourself, you will be better equipped to process the divorce and move on with your life.

Tip 5: Start new healthy habits to reinforce feelings of accomplishment.

These habits may be as small as making your bed first thing in the morning or taking a short walk before breakfast. Next, allow yourself to do one thing that makes you happy every day, then increase those happy activities to two and three times a day. You’ll be surprised at what a positive impact these small changes can have on your mental health.

Over time, consider taking online classes to reframe your thinking or hire a life coach to guide you. Making lifestyle changes like regular exercise, healthy eating or meditation can provide physical and mental health benefits. Embracing a new hobby or volunteer activity to help you find your purpose can also work wonders.

Have questions about divorce and child custody in Texas?

The Sisemore Law Firm’s experienced family court lawyers in Fort Worth Texas are here to help. To schedule a confidential consultation with our founder attorney Justin Sisemore, please call our law office at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.

Photo Source: Canva.com


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