by Craig B. Grether, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist, Collaborative Coach and Past-President of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego
The Stress Effect
Divorce ends what was supposed to be our most intimate life-long relationship. It is one of the top ten stressors on all life event stress scales, ranking close to the loss of a loved one and serving a jail term.
The stress of marital separation and divorce can be acute, (short-term) or chronic, (long-term: greater than six months). The health problems from separation and divorce are both psychological and physical. These effects are more severe for people who separate and divorce in their 30s and 40s and less severe in older adults.
Short-term effects may include:
(1) Difficulty sleeping
(2) Loss of appetite
(3) Inability to concentrate
(4) Digestive problems
(5) Decreased immune system functioning
(6) Increased secretion of cortisol (a stress hormone)
(7) Elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure (hypertension in men)
(8) Smoking relapse among prior smokers
(9) Increased alcohol use/abuse
(10) First time cannabis use
Most adults are resilient and cope successfully with the stress of divorce and the short-term effects.
However, almost 20% of divorcing adults experience long-term effects without recovery four years post-divorce. In addition to the short-term effects, the long-term effects may include clinical depression and an increase in the number of diagnosed medical illnesses.
The incidence of psychological and medical illnesses are more prevalent for divorced people of all ages compared to those who are continuously married. Divorced men and women have the same overall number of health problems but men’s problems are more medically severe compared to women, while women have more psychological health problems.
A Healthy Divorce
Divorce does not have to take such a toll on the psychological and physical health of the divorcing adult. In the Collaborative Divorce process, the negative health effects of divorce can be reduced by working with Collaborative Divorce coaches. These are specially trained licensed mental health professionals who provide a variety of coping strategies, some derived from behavioral medicine, to address the health effects of divorce.
These strategies include:
(1) Direct physiological regulation through mindful meditation and relaxation techniques
(2) Cognitive (mental) refocusing and reinterpretation of life stressors
(3) Reaffirming personal values and redirection of life energies
(4) Healthful life restructuring including exercise and proper nutrition
(5) Social support outreach to family, friends and community
For divorcing adults with children, a Child Specialist, another licensed mental health professional, is available to support the children and be their voice throughout the divorce process.
Collaborative attorneys can help reduce the stress on divorcing adults by ensuring that clients will not have to endure the cost and stress of legal proceedings and litigation. Financial specialists complete the Collaborative Team by empowering clients intellectually through an understanding of their current and future financial status.