Life Events & TraumaRelationships & Kids

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Divorce and Separation

Divorce or separation is a relieving end to an unhappy relationship for some. For others, the end of a relationship and its associated mental health challenges can make it difficult to move forward. Sometimes, common feelings of anger, resentment, and stress during and after the end of a long-term relationship can take a serious toll on mental health.

When challenges related to divorce or separation are overwhelming or long-lasting, they can lead to symptoms of common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Working with a mental health professional can help you regain strength and find healthy ways to cope with divorce or separation.

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Divorce is common in the United States. According to the American Psychological Association, 40–50% of all married couples end up getting a divorce. Divorce rates are significantly higher for second, third, and subsequent remarriages.

Research also suggests that divorce and separation can detrimentally affect mental health. In one study, researchers found that conflicts with an ex-spouse can negatively affect mental health. Another study found that people who experienced depression in the past face higher rates of relapse after a divorce.

Divorce, Separation, and Mental Health

Everyone processes challenges related to divorce and separation differently. Some common mental health challenges surrounding divorce and separation include:

  • Anxiety and worry: You might feel overwhelmed with thoughts about your divorce or legal separation and its consequences, such as property division, finances, and child custody.
  • Sadness and depression: Ending your relationship with your spouse or domestic partner can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
  • Anger, resentment, and irritability: You might develop feelings of anger and resentment toward your spouse or domestic partner, or you might take out your aggression on other family members and loved ones.
  • Social withdrawal: A separation agreement or divorce might lead to social anxiety and feelings of discomfort in social situations, causing you to withdraw from family members and loved ones.
  • Guilt, shame, and self-blame: You might blame yourself or feel guilty if you’re going through a divorce, especially in a culture that places a high value on marriage and domestic partnership.

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Challenges associated with divorce and separation come in countless forms. Some common examples include:

  • Uncontested divorce: In an uncontested divorce, both spouses want to divorce, share similar goals, and work together during divorce court proceedings. Although spousal support can help ease the divorce process, divorce proceedings, and the end of a relationship can still cause significant stress.
  • Contested divorce: In a contested divorce, one spouse may not want to divorce, or there may be serious disagreements surrounding factors like the children’s needs and alimony.
  • Separation: Separating from a domestic partner to whom you are not married typically involves fewer legal complications and less paperwork. Still, it can be just as emotionally draining as divorce.
  • Concerns related to children: Worries surrounding child custody, child support, and how the divorce process will affect young children and adolescents are likely stressors around the time of the divorce.
  • Financial issues: Divorces and separations can lead to heated arguments due to difficulty dividing financial assets, credit cards and bank accounts, and property. The overall expenses associated with divorce proceedings and legal separation, which might include legal fees or moving fees, can also take a toll on mental health.
  • Infidelity: Studies suggest that adultery is the most common reason for divorce and separation.
  • Substance use: Substance use, including excessive drinking and drug use, are common factors in the decision to divorce.
  • Violence and abuse: When a relationship involves emotional or physical violence, it can be considered abusive.

If you need support as you navigate a divorce or separation, numerous resources are available, including:

  • Therapy: Working with a mental health professional can help you process the experience of divorce or separation and navigate any related mental health problems. You might choose to attend therapy on your own, or you choose couples counseling or family therapy.
  • Social support: It might be tempting to withdraw from other relationships during a divorce or separation, but turning to the important people in your life can help remind you that you’re not alone during this time. Make an effort to stay in touch with close friends and family members, and don’t be afraid to ask for support if you need it.
  • Support groups: Support groups can help you process complicated feelings and connect with others who are in the same boat as you. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers numerous support group resources.
  • Legal advice: You aren’t legally obligated to hire an attorney just because your spouse did, but it’s a good idea to hire a divorce lawyer or family law facilitator if you or your partner are planning to take legal action. Even if you share the same interests and goals, a divorce lawyer cannot legally represent both you and your spouse in family court. Hiring your own lawyer can help you obtain unbiased legal advice and navigate the divorce process—from the service of process and court order to legal separation agreements and joint custody hearings.

Finding the Right Therapist

Therapists offer several approaches to help patients navigate challenges related to divorce and separation, including individual or family therapy sessions. Common approaches include:

  • Individual therapy: Individual therapy can help patients navigate mental health challenges and find different ways to cope with the stress of divorce or separation. Therapists typically utilize different treatment approaches in talk therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy.
  • Couples therapy: After divorce or separation, psychological distress can prevent you from moving forward. Feelings of anger, resentment, shame, and anxiety toward your separated spouse—both during and after the time of the divorce—can affect your mental health. Even after a legal divorce, couples counseling can help you regain partner support, develop healthy communication, and work toward reconciliation.
  • Family therapy: Parental divorce can be confusing for young children and adolescents, with many children experiencing adjustment problems, behavior problems, and a sense of neglect after their parents’ divorce. Family therapy can help children navigate their new family home life, understand parent conflict, and accept that their parents live separate lives.

To find a mental health professional, reach out to a licensed therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with a therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the professional therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you manage your mental health, cope with the stresses of divorce or separation, and start your new life off on the right foot.

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