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Can Divorce Cause Mental Illness?

Divorce rates in the U.S. have been consistently high for several years and thousands of American couples undergo the divorce process every year. Some couples simply discover irreconcilable differences while other marriages break down due to infidelity, crime, domestic violence, and other causes.

Divorce can be stressful, especially if only one of the spouses wants to divorce. Divorce itself may not cause mental illness, but the circumstances surrounding a divorce and leading up to one can certainly leave psychological scars.

Types of Divorce

Divorces generally fall into two main categories: contested and uncontested. Uncontested divorces are the most common; a couple decides for whatever reason to end their marriage and both spouses agree. In a contested divorce, only one of the spouses wants the divorce, and the other spouse objects for a number of possible reasons. If a married person does not expect a divorce and his or her spouse suddenly demands to end the marriage, this experience can be extremely traumatic.

Many people report divorce as the most traumatic life event they have experienced, after the death of a loved one, and a divorce can disrupt virtually every aspect of a person’s life, especially if he or she does not want to divorce. Contested, traumatic divorces happen for countless reasons, and everyone reacts to trauma differently. However, regardless of how a divorce comes about, the divorcing spouses will each need to essentially rebuild their lives.

How Divorce Can Cause Mental Anguish

Coming to terms with the reality of a divorce is extremely difficult for many people who do not see their divorces coming or do not want to divorce, but their spouses insist.

  • Divorce can be traumatic when one spouse discovers the other spouse’s infidelity, leading to the breakdown of the marriage.
  • Divorce can dredge up resentments, grudges, and past altercations that cause arguments to escalate, potentially leaving serious psychological wounds on those involved.
  • A newly divorced person is likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression as he or she starts trying to rebuild his or her life and identity outside of the marriage.
  • An unexpected divorce can cause feelings of anger, guilt, shame, and resentment that make everyday functioning difficult for some people.
  • Some people going through divorce, or newly divorced, may become socially withdrawn, depressed, and experience feelings of hopelessness.
  • A traumatic divorce can cause physical issues related to psychological trauma, such as the development of eating disorders or substance abuse disorders. Eating disorders are very common among newly divorced individuals.
  • Divorce signals the end of a phase of life and many people find the experience disruptive to their overall emotional harmony.
  • Divorce can easily trigger strong feelings of worthlessness, intrusive thoughts, and deep anxiety about the future.
  • An unfaithful spouse may have spread a sexually transmitted disease to his or her spouse prior to divorce, leaving the other spouse with a permanent medical complication that can cause disastrous personal issues.
  • An abusive spouse can easily cause long-term trauma. In these cases, divorce is usually a relief for the abused spouse, but the psychological harm can last for a long time.
  • Children who grow up seeing their parents fight or seeing one parent abusing the other can develop deep-seated psychological issues that affect them for the rest of their lives.

Ultimately, divorce is rarely an easy issue to see through, and many divorcing spouses do not want to see their marriages break down but must come to terms with reality. Anyone experiencing a difficult divorce should reach out to friends and family for support; isolation is a major contributing factor to many negative mental health issues, and divorce can be difficult in unpredictable ways.

If you’ve reached this page in search of more information regarding a possible or ongoing divorce, contact our office today to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation.