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The Impact of Separation and Divorce on Mental Health: Understanding and Coping with the Stress

Separation and divorce are at the top of the stress charts. Stress from separation and divorce is much more than disagreements, discord, grief and loss. 

What else contributes to that level of stress? What does that mean about one’s mental health and what can be done about it?

One of the factors that increases the intensity of stress from separation and divorce is the stress duration — divorce is not a single, definable moment or event. Rather, it sets off a string of stressful events that can last one, two, three or more years. In addition, studies suggest that divorce requires more reorganisation than any other life event, except death of a spouse. There are the physical aspects of reorganisation that can include selling and/or buying a home, moving, separating numerous accounts from banks to streaming services to insurances as well as commutes and daily routines.

Of course, what I am most interested in sharing are the familial aspects of reorganisation that take its toll on mental health. Each spouse undertakes the journey of separating one’s self from the role of husband or wife while keeping the co-parenting function of the relationship. Separation (as spouse) and collaboration (as parent) is optimal but rare. This is a huge mental and emotional load that is difficult even in the best of circumstances. Rarely are best circumstances present, though. Instead, separating oneself from role of spouse, in all its aspects, is a bumpy, inconsistent road. Given that the level of grief and ability to separate happens at different speeds for each partner, friction and additional stress arise as you and your soon to be ex’s differences in processing the internal and external changes collide.

Not only are parents reorganising in relation to one another, each child is reorganising their relationship and life to the new arrangements. The new family arrangement can change parent roles, parent expectations and, therefore, parent-child relationships. Men or women who have spent more time in the home or caregiving may need to take on additional work hours and be less available to their children. Men or women may need to take on more parenting duties, more school or medical obligations for which children often have an adjustment period. What is significant is that changes in the parent’s availability or role are yet another set of changes for each child to process.

Stress often acts as a trigger for physical and mental health challenges. Some of the more common side effects of divorce (and other) stress are anxiety, depression, sleep and digestion challenges. Events leading up to the separation or divorce may mean that changes in your mental and physical health have quietly snuck up or may have landed like a pile of bricks.

If you have noticed the changes below, slowly or quickly, its worth getting more information by talking to a mental health professional or doctor:

Sleeping less or sleeping more

Eating less or eating more

Increased heart rate or difficulty breathing

Negative thoughts

More irritated or more sad 

Therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle habits can all reduce stress and the difficult to debilitating side effects mentioned above whether separation and divorce  is the impetus or other life changes.

A divorce coach is another avenue of stress reduction if you are just beginning, in the middle or end of separation or divorce. This is a knowledgeable advocate who can help you navigate the relational and physical changes you encounter during and after your separation or divorce.

When the divorce is particularly complex or damaging, you may want to add support by having a therapist as well as divorce coach. Many times I have seen this combination be very beneficial.

My own area of expertise is where the co-parent relationship is particularly difficult, fraught with misunderstandings, disagreements, and challenges in communication. You may want to check out my blog on “How to Respond to Your Coparent’s Red Hot, Inflammatory Text” for tips.

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