More than 825,000 marriages end in divorce every year in the United States. A divorce can occur for a myriad of reasons, and no case is the same. While infidelity and incompatibility are the most frequently cited causes for the dissolution of a marriage, factors such as gender, socioeconomic status, and life course variables can also play a role. The post-divorce adjustment process can be grueling for divorcees, and especially adolescent children if they are involved. The emotional, legal, and financial stress of a divorce can increase the symptoms of depression, and strain the mental health of all parties involved. Fortunately however, these effects can be mitigated by pursuing divorce therapy in the form of individual or group counseling.
Reasons for Divorce
Divorce is a multifaceted issue that occurs over time. When examining the reasons that people get divorced, there are three important factors that need to be taken into consideration- gender, socioeconomic status, and life course variables. Variances in these factors lead to different internal and external problems, which lead to different causes for a divorce.
Divorce is a gendered problem in a number of ways. For example, most married couples develop behavioral patterns over time that turn into a so-called “Division of Labor” in the relationship. Inside of that division of labor, stereotypical gender roles have developed over time . The most obvious example being that husbands go to work to support the family, while the wives tend to the home and children. While these stereotypes have faded with time, they’re the reason that men’s and women’s accounts of divorce are so different. Women are typically more attentive to the health of the relationship, whereas men are less likely to want to talk about the relationship. Which may explain why wives are more likely to file for divorce.
Socioeconomic status is another important variable to consider when examining reasons for divorce. The reasons financially advantaged and financially disadvantaged people file for divorce are understandably different, and it’s not all that surprising that education and income level are positively related to marital success. Those that are highly educated are better equipped to communicate through their problems, and less likely to experience financial instability. Consequently, financially advantaged couples are more likely to split due to infidelity, incompatibility, or changes in interests. On the other hand, those not as well off are forced to bear the burden of financial and employment problems, which are the their primary reasons for divorce.
Differences in life course variables are the final factor that lead to divorce. Life course variables are events that happen at a specific or extended period of time in one’s life. The most pertinent life course variables in regards to divorce are age at marriage and the presence of children. Those that marry at a young age are more susceptible to divorce for two reasons. They may not be as psychologically mature as their older counterparts, meaning they are more likely to change and grow apart with time. The other reason is that marital happiness declines over the long-term, so younger couples have a larger window of time to experience this.
The table above displays the response results from the study, People’s Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class the Life Course, and Adjustment , conducted by Paul Amato and Denise Previti in 2003. The most commonly reported reasons for marriage dissolution are infidelity, incompatibility, substance abuse, and growing apart. The table also suggests that women are more likely to report infidelity, substance abuse, and physical abuse as reasons for divorce. On the other hand, men are more likely to report poor communication, incompatibility, and not knowing the cause. Furthermore, women accounted for 157 responses while men only accounted for 87. All of these results support the notion that women are more attentive to the health of the relationship, and provide more detailed feedback on the reasoning behind the divorce. Another interesting takeaway is that there are more documented responses (244) than there are cases (208), indicating that there are typically multiple reasons for a couple to split. This makes sense because couples will experience relationship problems over time, and the cultivation of those issues is what ultimately leads to the divorce.
This was a subjective study on 208 people’s open ended responses to why their marriage ended in divorce. The data used in the study was based on a 17-year longitudinal of Marital Instability Over the Life Course. The goal of their study was to determine how the roles of gender, socioeconomic status, and life course variables eventually caused the respondents’ divorce, and how the cause(s) affected their post-divorce adjustment process.
In their study, they found that, “former spouses who attributed blame to themselves or to external factors had the poorest [post-divorce] adjustment, whereas former spouses who attributed blame to the relationship had the best adjustment (Amato & Previti, 2003, p. 18).” Additionally, spousal attachment was directly related to the post-divorce adjustment, and that victims of extra-marital relations had the strongest attachments to their former spouses. Finally, it is worth noting that the majority of both men and women attribute the blame on their former spouses rather than themselves, which precludes the chances that the couple could save the marriage.
Divorce is a difficult, life-altering experience that is mentally, emotionally, and financially agonizing for both partners. In many ways, divorce is a recovery process that nobody should have to endure on their own. A person going through a divorce may experience feelings of guilt, fear, anxiety, depression and grief. For those that previously struggled with mental health issues, specifically anxiety and depression, the process of a divorce can exacerbate these problems as they may view the divorce as a personal failure. Working with a therapist will provide divorcees with the strength and necessary skills to whether the storm of the divorce by equipping them with an outlet to a rational and objective perspective. The purpose of divorce therapy is to aid people in their journey of self-rediscovery. It will help them to see the opportunities for personal growth and development that this new life-transition presents them with.
Individual Divorce Therapy
Divorce therapy is most commonly sought out on an individual basis. Therapy is tremendously beneficial at all stages in the divorce process. Seeking help before or during the divorce process is often the most effective way in aiding individuals with the pending life transition. It will help them develop constructive methods to cope with stress and negative self-image issues that frequently arise during the divorce. By proactively seeking out help, individuals are laying the foundation to build their new life.
If receiving therapy before or during the process of a divorce is not an option, it is strongly suggested that one seeks professional help after the divorce has been finalized. While many people choose to “go it alone”, the professional help of a therapist will help them to see the changes within themselves that they may have not noticed. A challenging life-transition like a divorce almost always has unintended psychological consequences that often go unnoticed when introspectively examining oneself. In other words, a person with no previous mental health issues go through divorce, they may develop symptoms of depression or anxiety. If this is something they’ve never experienced, it would be difficult to recognize, and can impact their daily life.
Above all, individual therapy gives individuals an outlet to air out their story. This serves as a mental and emotional release that brings new constructive perspectives to light that would’ve otherwise gone undiscovered. Talking about the divorce with a therapist in a confidential setting allows people to achieve peace of mind because they can speak freely about whatever issue is truly bothering them without the fear of judgement. Once the problems most pertinent to individual receiving therapy have been identified, the therapist can help them develop goal-oriented methods to overcome them.
It is important to keep in mind that seeking professional help is by no means a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The stigmatization of seeking psychological assistance has prevented people from getting the help they need when they need it the most. The goal of of therapy is to help people grow, and become the best person they can be.
Divorce Therapy Groups
Divorce group therapy is the second most popular form of therapy. One of the most beneficial aspects of group therapy is that all of the members share a common problem – divorce. Members of divorce therapy groups bond with one another by sharing their experiences, finding commonalities between them, and assessing their differences. The shared identity and common problems that members share foster emotional and psychological growth because it shows the members of the group that they are not alone. While it is not always easy to announce personal problems in a group setting, hearing other people speak about a similar experience provides them comfort and the courage to come forward.
Group therapy also allows members to be heard. Having the ability to speak freely about the issues that are bothering them in a group setting is therapeutic because it allows them to decompress, and find comfort in the support of the other members of the group. By speaking to the group, members will gain the strength they need to overcome their problems, and the groups’ collective support in their journey. One of the most rewarding aspects about speaking to the group is providing others with the courage to do the same. By providing others with the courage to speak, you’re aiding that person in their personal journey, because they are actively identifying and addressing their problems.
The benefit of assessing the differences between members’ accounts is beneficial because it gives group members a sense of perspective. While the problems one individual is trying to overcome may be difficult, another member may have a more difficult path. By realizing this, the problem for the first individual becomes solvable, and gives them an appreciation for their fellow member’s struggle. Once members have determined the relativity of the problems between the group, identifying problems within oneself may become easier. The first step to solving any problem is identifying that there is one, so gaining the ability to identify those problems is a big step forward.
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2.) Neuman, Fredric. “Changing Gender Roles in Marriage.” Psychology Today , Sussex Publishers, 4 Jan. 2013,
3.) Kitson, Gay C., and William M. Holmes. Portrait of Divorce: Adjustment to Marital
Breakdown . 3 ed., vol. 99, Guilford Press, 1992.
4.) Amato, Paul R., and Denise Previti. “People’s Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class, the Life Course, and Adjustment.” Journal of Family Issues , vol. 24, no. 5, 2003, pp. 602–626., doi:10.1177/0192513×03024005002.
5.) “Divorce / Divorce Adjustment.” https://www.goodtherapy.org , Good Therapy , 7 June 2017, www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/divorce.