COPENHAGEN — Divorce, no matter the reason, is a stressful and painful experience for most people end a marriage. Now, a study out of Denmark warns splitting up is even worse for a person’s physical and mental health than previously realized. That’s especially the case the nastier a divorce is for a couple.
The study, which measures effects on well-being immediately after divorce, is the first to show that higher conflict levels predict worse mental health, regardless of other factors. Previous research shines light on the negative impacts of going through a messy divorce. But this latest research, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, is the first to examine health impacts immediately after a divorce.
Conducted by scientists at the University of Copenhagen, that the mental and physical health of recent divorcees was worse than other people’s and that higher levels of conflict predicted worse mental health, regardless of other factors. They found that understanding the effects could assist medics in designing interventions that help divorcees to get back on their feet and avoid long-term repercussions.
Impacts of a tough divorce felt immediately after split occurs
Divorce is often a protracted process, with many countries requiring a separation period before couples can apply. But scientists say that a long separation may allow psychological wounds to heal and assessing divorcees after such a period may underestimate their impact.
“Previous studies have not investigated the effects of divorce without extensive separation periods occurring before the divorce,” says co-author Professor Gert Hald, of the University of Copenhagen, in a statement. “We were able to study divorcees who had been granted a so-called ‘immediate’ divorce in Denmark and on average, these divorcees obtained a divorce within five days of filing for it.”
That allowed Hald and his team to obtain “real-time” data on 1,856 very recent divorcees, who completed questionnaires about their background, health and their divorce. Unsurprisingly, the study shows that a recent divorce takes an emotional and physical toll.
“The mental and physical health of divorcees was significantly worse than the comparative background population immediately following divorce,” says co-author Dr. Soren Sander.
However, the researchers point to some interesting trends from the data.
For example, among men, earning more and being younger predicts better physical health. Similarly, having more children, a new partner and even more previous divorces is associated with better mental health.
Among women, earning more money, having a new partner and fewer previous divorces is linked to better physical health. Initiating the divorce and having a new partner can predict better mental health.
However, one factor has a big influence on the divorcees: conflict. “Across gender, higher levels of divorce conflict were found to predict worse mental health, even when accounting for other socio-demographic variables and divorce characteristics,” says Dr. Sander.
Interventions could help reduce the toll
The research team says that their findings indicate that targeted interventions early during the process may be key to helping people to navigate a messy divorce with their health intact.
“We need evidence-based interventions that can help divorcees immediately following divorce,” notes Haid. “These might include face-to-face or digital interventions that are designed to reduce the specific adverse mental and physical health effects of divorce. Not only would this be beneficial for divorcees, but it could also save money by countering the negative impacts of divorce on workplace productivity, sick days, doctor visits and use of health care facilities.”
In another recent study, the researchers developed an online digital solution called “Cooperation After Divorce” that helps divorcees to reduce negative mental and physical health effects. Hald says that the results of the latest study will help them to refine such approaches in the future.
SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.