Divorce is a big change; that almost goes without saying.
A thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another.
While there are certain dysfunctions that seemingly must be present antecedents, a person’s existing structure and balance in life is coming to an end and a new balance must be achieved. The effects of divorce depend on a multitude of factors. Some of those factors include: the cause of divorce, the level of tension at home, age of partners, age of children, are there any children in the relationship, financial position, health-related issues, family ties and other forms of social support, etc. Personal attributes and traits are also important to consider as they greatly influence the subjective experience and coping strategies available for the individual.
Given all of the mitigating factors, it can be practically impossible to summarize the effects that are characteristic for everyone who has a divorce or must face the consequences of a divorce. However, there are some common elements that contribute to the effects of divorce on women that should be considered.
Divorce as a Change
If we consider divorce as a change, it is burdensome. It brings something new, something unknown, the process itself is usually not easy and while the discontinuation of a dysfunctional unit opens up new possibilities and ways the rebuild the self and self-esteem, it is also clear that some ties cannot be severed (for example if the couple has children.) Divorce might be formidable, but for every other married couple it is also inevitable.
Two-third of marital dissolutions are initiated by women. They seem to be more determined to end a dysfunctional marriage and say the final word. Although divorce usually ends a tense, strained and unhappy relationship, the sudden liberty coming with divorce brings little relief in many cases. Divorced individuals have higher rates of health-related problems, e. g. cardiovascular diseases, emotional disturbances, depression or hostile feelings toward other people or simply higher chance to have an accident (and die in it).
The Resilience of Women
Women are thought to have an innate natural resilience and unique ways of coping with the effects of divorce. They use their linguistic and cultural context as an agent to reconstruct themselves. (van Schalkwyk, 2005) The use of language or choice of words can make a difference in the social status of women. The word “divorced” has negative connotations and is value-loaded. Van Schalkwyk (2005) suggests the term “single again” instead of divorced, because it refers to regaining a position which the woman occupied before marriage and this earlier state is not negatively constructed.
Williams and Kurina (2002) warn against painting too rosy of a picture, too. The percentage of divorced women rapidly rose through the last 30 years, and the percentage of single mothers as well. It is a commonality that, in most cases, the children stay with the mother; therefore the demands of child-rearing on their own can easily take its toll on single mothers, affecting health and general well-being. Moreover, divorce negatively influences the financial situation of women, which also contributes to stress.
How Do Effects Stack Up?
Couch et al (2011) also highlight the effect of change in marital status on the economic well-being of women. Research results continuously find economic decline for women following marital dissolution. Divorced women usually have a lower self-esteem, and they also undergo a significant amount of strain. The amount of the emotional strain is higher when the divorce affects older women.
In a 2004 report for AARP (PDF), Montenegro agrees with the notion that divorce at a later stage of life causes more emotional stress. Divorce was considered more emotionally devastating than the loss of job, equal to experiencing a major illness and almost as bad as the death of the spouse. Women report the concern about the children as one of the main problems after divorce. Divorce represents a financial risk for women, but despite this fact, they are still more likely to initiate it, as stated earlier. Women have higher levels of stress and are more likely to have depression following divorce. Divorce has a detrimental effect on the sex life of women as well with 77% of unmarried women over 40 indicating that they do not engage in sexual intercourse at all.
Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Women
When considering the long-term effect of divorce on women’s well being and health, Lorenz et al (2006) observe that divorced women had higher levels of psychological distress immediately after divorce, but no differences in physical illness compared to a sample of married women. However, a decade later, the level of physical illness was significantly higher in the divorced group. They had more stressful life events and also showed higher levels of depression compared to the married sample.
Remarriage Effects on Women After Divorce
Remarriage can act as a potential buffer against economic decline for women, and also contribute to well-being, according to Couch et al (2011). Montenegro (2004) also stresses the importance of remarriage regarding well-being. It is obvious that remarriage can represent a protective factor only in the case when the new marriage is better than the previous one. The process of reintegration after disintegration requires personality characteristics, but cannot be successful without the appropriate environment as well, and this is particularly true for women.