Psychological Effects of Divorce on Women

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Even in an uncontested and relatively civil divorce, the lives of both partners are disrupted. The disruption is even more profound when children are involved. The legal and financial aspects of divorce can be devastating. For instance, according to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, a woman's household income may decline by as much as 45 percent after a divorce. The emotional and psychological effects of divorce can also be profound and can persist long after the legal battles have been settled and finances have stabilized.

Guilt and Shame

Although divorce does not have the stigma attached to it that it had in past centuries, divorcing couples often feel a sense of guilt or shame. This is especially true if marital infidelity is involved or if there are young children in the household. The authors of "Collaborative Divorce," Pauline H. Tesler, M.A., J.D., & Peggy Thompson, Ph.D., state that guilt and shame are a natural reaction to society's perceived or actual disapproval, as well as one step in the process of emotional adjustment to divorce.

Anger and Resentment

Anne Newton Walther coined the phrase "divorce hangover" to describe the syndrome of anger and resentment that frequently motivates women toward acts of revenge against their spouses. Dragging out the divorce proceedings or making it difficult or impossible for their ex-spouses to exercise visitation rights are just two of the most common tactics many women take to lash out against their ex-husbands. Holding onto their anger and expressing it in inappropriate ways prevents women from moving on with their lives, according to Walther.


Depression manifests itself in many forms. For women going through a divorce, depression often appears as overeating, insomnia or sleeping too much, excessive drinking or substance abuse, according to Tracy Achen, author of "Divorce 101: A Woman's Guide to Divorce." Divorce is a very real loss, and grief is a natural part of the process, explain Tesler and Thompson. Nonetheless, Achen recommends placing limits on the grieving process, devoting no more than 15 minutes per day at a specific time to concentrate on the pain of the divorce.


Although acceptance of the end of the marriage is essential to the overall well being of both partners, making a clean break is often very difficult, according to Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT. Lancer claims that 16 percent of couples continue to have sex and 2/3 claim that the first person they would call in a crisis would be their ex-spouse. Many women cling to the futile hope of reconciliation, even when their ex-husbands have formed new relationships or even remarried. This ambivalence makes it difficult for the ex-partners and their children to develop a sense of equilibrium and move on with their lives.