When someone is confronted with legal separation from the person to whom they’ve committed their adult life, it may seem as though their whole life is disintegrating right before their eyes, especially if they’re not the one choosing the separation. The future stops existing, and only an empty present looms ahead. For some, the feelings evoked by a divorce and the issues that surround it pass relatively quickly; for others, the anguish and consequences last for years.
Many people who have suffered through the emotional trauma of divorce strongly believe that losing a spouse as a result of an unwanted divorce has had a greater impact on their emotional health and well being than losing a spouse in death. A significant number of therapists and other psychiatric professionals agree, for they understand that divorce is far more than just a legal process. (Rich and Schwartz) Essentially, when one spouse divorces another, he or she is rejecting their partner, physically and emotionally as well as legally.
This rejection can be emotionally devastating to the spouse who doesn’t want a divorce, and can inflict even more psychic damage than death, for the widow or widower of a deceased spouse knows that their partner did not choose to die. Along with these feelings of rejection, the spouse who wanted to stay married also often feels betrayed. Their partner vowed to love and honor them forever, and to stand by them in sickness and in health, and to devote their lives to them. With divorce, all of that is taken away.
Those promises of love, fidelity, and companionship are broken, by the choice of the spouse pursuing the divorce. In contrast, when death takes away a spouse, it is certainly not by choice. Like those who have just been widowed, newly divorced people may be grief-stricken, and emotionally anxious about how they’ll live from now on. They will perhaps be angry, guilty, depressed, or all three. They will almost certainly feel apprehensive about having to handle many of the daily tasks of living with which they may have little or no experience, or may have taken for granted.
Unlike the widowed, however, they still must deal with the reality of having a living x-spouse who will almost certainly cross their path frequently in the months immediately following the decision to divorce, and perhaps well beyond that. This is one of the most difficult factors many divorced people face. It can be very hard to see their ex-spouse, especially if the ex-spouse is in a new relationship. The impact of divorce, then, shouldn’t be underestimated. Even in a day and culture where the breakdown of marriages is commonplace and divorces an accepted occurrence, marriage is still sacrosanct.
Weddings are still built upon oaths of commitment, and marriages are still legally and emotionally binding. Even the most cynical people go into marriage with the expectation and hope that their partner will be the right one, and work towards developing a life together on the basis that the relationship will be permanent. Accordingly, it’s a very serious business when the marriage falls apart. Examining this issue from a male perspective, it should be noted that when marriages break down many men find it hard to talk about it and often adopt a macho attitude and act like it doesn’t bother them all that much, when inside they are dying.
In fact, studies have revealed that many men will still be struggling with problems relating to divorce and separation ten years after the event. Furthermore, the fact that men often receive much less emotional support from friends, family, and co-workers is a major reason why, when marriages break up, many men develop severe emotional problems which can eventually effect their health. Studies indicate that the emotional trauma of divorce stresses the human mind and body as much and sometimes more than the loss of a spouse through death, which lowers the immune system’s defenses to physical disease.
Therefore it is no wonder that three separate studies found higher rates of infectious disease and cancer among persons undergoing marital disruption. (Larson and Larson) Another ramification of unwanted divorce, which is often overlooked, is the effect of parental separation upon children. Long-term studies indicate that for children, divorce produces emotional trauma that often endures for life. Further intensifying the impact of divorce in our culture is the fact that more than one million children each year experience the breakup of their families.
Unwanted divorce means the disintegration of a child’s fundamental security base his family which can be terribly traumatic, not only for the children, but for the parents as well, especially if one of them wanted to save the marriage. These children often experience a sense of profound rejection, abandonment, fear, and anger. Many even feel guilty, somehow holding themselves responsible for their parent’s divorce. Children from disrupted households are more likely to be involved in crime, given that criminal behavior is more strongly tied to disrupted family structure than even income level.
Other studies also indicate a relationship between divorce and teen suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and poor school performance. This emotional suffering experienced by the children of a shattered marriage can exact a terrible emotional toll on the parent who didn’t want the divorce, for, unlike when a mother or father dies, the children often blame one or both parents for a divorce. When a parent dies, the child or children naturally bond even more closely with the surviving parent.
But when a divorce occurs, relationships between parents and children can be strained and even broken. For a spouse already undergoing the personal trauma of divorce, the additional burden of children who are harboring and expressing resentment against them can be awfully hard to bear. Another factor that can make divorce from a spouse even harder to deal with than the death of a spouse is the reaction of friends. When someone’s husband or wife dies, their mutual friends always rally around the survivor, and can be wonderful sources of emotional support.
But when a divorce occurs friends of the couple tend to feel divided in their loyalties, and friendships are often broken. At a time when someone needs all the friends they can get, and has already been rejected by a husband or wife, it is especially hard to accept the rejection of friends as well. (Schwartz) At this point it would be useful to briefly examine approaches that can be taken by the spouse initiating the divorce that can make the process less devastating for their partner. They should understand that most people respond with sadness to hurt.
Many people respond defensively, with anger, especially couples who have been caught in cycles of anger. (Baris) The spouse initiating the divorce cannot stop these feelings in their partner, but they can help by giving that individual time to catch up to them. They can also help by giving their partner one good, adequate explanation as to what went wrong. Many spouses who didn’t want to agree to a divorce never get that and are haunted for the rest of their lives by not really understanding what happened.
They never get closure, as they usually get after the death of a spouse, and it makes it more difficult for them to accept the separation and move on. Baris) In conclusion, statistics indicate that the trauma of divorce and separation will shatter the lives and dreams of approximately one out of every two couples who are married in America. The realities and stages of divorce cause fear, doubt and anxiety that sometimes are difficult to describe. Children, holidays and the nagging emptiness of loneliness become problems, which can make unwanted divorce even worse than losing a husband or wife through death.
Many separated wives or husbands who have suffered through the emotional trauma f a divorce strongly believe that losing a spouse as a result of an unwanted divorce had a greater impact on their emotional health and well being than losing a spouse in death. This is primarily because when one spouse divorces the other, they are rejecting their partner, physically and emotionally as well as legally. This rejection can be emotionally devastating to the spouse who doesn’t want a divorce, and can inflict even more psychic damage than death, for the widow or widower of a deceased spouse knows that their partner did not choose to die.