How Spouses Fare From Divorce
A lot of people who divorce know what they’re getting out of. But they have very little knowledge of what they’re getting into. From a financial standpoint, Natalie Nelson, a financial divorce consultant in Boulder, Colorado said, “I’m not looking just at the snapshot of the divorce itself but projecting many years into the future to let them know what the outcome of their settlement is going to look like for them. I wonder sometimes if people knew what divorce was going to cost them, if they would try at all costs to avoid that outcome.”
Lisa Bell knows the financial struggle of divorce all too well. Bell, a 35-year-old public relations consultant in Boulder, decided to sell her half of the three-year old public relations firm she had started so that she could stay home to take care of her 4-year-old son and devote more time to her struggling marriage.
Unfortunately, her sacrifice was in vain. Three months after selling out to her business partner, she and her husband decided to divorce. Even though they divided their assets equally, Bell has had to start all over in her career, working from home as an independent consultant.
She now earns half of what she used to make in her old business, and has had to get used to living on a quarter of the income she enjoyed while she was married. She’s also living with her son in the couple’s old house, which she has been trying to sell.
“It’s become an albatross now,” Bell says of her home. “It’s a house filled with adult toys that are a representation of all of the money we accumulated in the marriage. It’s full of stuff that I can’t sell and I don’t want anymore.”
For people like Lisa Bell, who don’t have millions at their disposal, divorce can be the one of the most financially devastating events they will ever face. Many couples are still left with lingering financial problems ranging anywhere from planning for their retirement, to simply learning how to live on less.
Psychologist Diane Medved, in her book The Case Against Divorce, describes the emotional effects of the divorce experience: “At first you might feel relief,” she says, “but it is short-lived. Tests show that for the first five to six years you will be consumed by moderate to severe anger. Depression, which at its very core is a feeling of failure, will be your companion. Stress tests rank separation and divorce as the second and third most traumatic events in a person’s life. The only thing ranked more stressful is the death of a spouse.” Medved says that in a study she conducted, seventy percent of divorced people surveyed reported feelings of anxiety related to the divorce seven and eight years later. For some of the survey participants, these feelings lasted for twenty years and over. Other writers testify to feelings of intense loneliness, financial distress, emotional confusion and the loss of personal identity.
According to a report in the American Journal of Psychiatry, divorced men are more than three times as likely to be clinically depressed than the average population. This depression, if it goes untreated, is as dangerous as severe heart disease.
Harvard sociologist Armand Nicholi III concluded, “Divorce is not a solution, but an exchange of problems.” (Source unknown) It is a harsh and demoralizing way to address issues that have not been tackled in other ways. One writer called it a private hell. Another one wrote, “When my marriage was hurting, all I wanted to do was get out of my pain. The consequences seemed minor in comparison. It was like an aching tooth, all I could think about was having it pulled. What I didn’t know was that divorce would be, as my father used to say, like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
Professor Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, also challenges the widely held belief that divorce is usually the best answer for the welfare of the husband and wife when a marriage becomes troubled. Her large-scale study shows that simply viewing marriage as important for children ignores its wide-ranging benefits for adults. Married couples enjoy better health, make more money, and often live longer than their single counterparts.
“Culturally, Americans think it’s morally wrong to stay together if you’re unhappy,” Waite says. “Every marriage has bad patches. When people stay with the marriage, very often it gets better – maybe a lot better.” Among couples who stick it out, she finds, permanent marital unhappiness is surprisingly rare.
When its all over and you weigh the costs and the benefits, the “benefits” pale in comparison to the overwhelming pain of dissolving a marriage. All told, divorce is hazardous to your health and your well-being. The stress can result in depression, loneliness, and despair, not to mention physical problems such as high blood pressure and a compromised immune system.
In the book of Genesis, the Bible says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The word used for “flesh” is the same word used to describe the attachment of muscle to bone. The pain of tearing a relationship apart is like the pain of tearing living tissue apart.
Throughout the years in my work, I have seen what happens to people’s lives after divorce. I have witnessed the suffering, disillusionment and lingering pain that are the by-products of breaking up a family. I’ve seen firsthand what a terrible tragedy divorce plays out to be. I know what it can do to the human soul, and to the children involved. On the surface, the idea of divorce; of getting away from the pain, sounds appealing, but instead it can actually make your problems even worse. In many ways, divorce is exchanging one prison for another. Not only does it end up separating the children from a parent they love-and placing more pressure and guilt on the parents-but bitterness and unforgiveness can create its own kind of trap. As the old saying goes, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars-a cage.”
If you’re someone who is considering divorce, I want to congratulate you for even reading this far. It’s tempting to avoid anything that challenges your thoughts about leaving. You just want to get on with your life. And now, you’ve got some marriage and family pastor who doesn’t even know you from Adam, warning you to abandon what you feel is your last hope for happiness. But still you’re reading. For this, I’ve got to hand it to you. You deserve a world of credit. You must have a gnawing sense that divorce might not be the answer for you. But you still wonder.
15 Intimacy Therapy, 1996, Center for Marriage & Family Intimacy, Austin, Texas
16 PREPARE (PREmarital Personal and Relationship Evaluation, and ENRICH (Enriching Relationship Issues, Communication and Happiness) programs. Certification, 1994, Life Innovations, Inc, Minneapolis, MN.
17 John Eldridge, Epic, The Story God Is Telling and the Role That Is Yours To Play, (Nashville: Nelson), p55.
18 Author unknown, Spiritual Warfare, Article distributed through Lake Hamilton Bible Camp, Hot Springs, Arkansas, www.lakehamiltonbiblecamp.com.
19 Joann Condie, Restoring Intimacy with Primary and Secondary Trust, .
Get Marriage-Saving Tips and Updates
The American Association of Christian Counselors
The Marriage and Family Counselors Network
Christian Counselors of Texas
The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries