How’s this for a not-so-fun fact: between 42 and 45 percent of first marriages in the United States end in divorce. For second marriages, that figure jumps to 60 percent. In other words, the viability of your “til death do us part” vow hinges on a statistical coin toss.
However, despite such daunting odds, few people devote much significant thought to the ramifications of untying the knot. Well, such negligence is a major pitfall, because getting a divorce can seriously affect your life in ways both good (a better sex life, increased happiness) and bad (it can literally kill you). Here’s how.
1. Divorce is contagious.
Researchers from Brown University, the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard University looked at the effects social networks had on divorce rates. They found that while breaking up may be hard to do, it becomes significantly easier if your friends and family are doing it too. The study—the largest ever to look at this rather disconcerting topic, by the way—found that you’re 75 percent more likely to become divorced if a friend has divorced. Even a friend of a friend’s divorce can push up your odds of calling it quits by some 33 percent.
2. Divorce can be deadly.
If you or your friends end up divorcing, the best thing you can do is encourage healthy behaviors; divorce has been shown to shorten lifespans of ex-spouses. According to one study, divorcees report lower life satisfaction and a higher likelihood of smoking. The diminished life satisfaction is a predictor of people getting less exercise and maintaining a less healthy diet, while the cigs reliably predict reduced lung function.
Those two things together tend to increase your chances of pushing up the daisies well before your time. A 2011 study found that divorced people were 23 percent more likely to die younger than those who had remained married, and divorced men were twice as likely to meet an early grave than women.
3. Sex will be different—and probably better.
For many people, dating post-divorce can be an exhilarating experience, especially if you and your ex-spouse saw a decline in intimacy in the final stretch of the relationship. At its best, sex with a new partner can be exhilarating and an opportunity to experience unknown aspects of your sexual self. And if you’re a woman who is going through a divorce, a recent survey suggests that the odds of your best sex ever being in your future are in your favor. While the research didn’t technically look at divorce, it found that women have the best sex their lives after the age of 36—and 89 percent of divorces in the country happen after that age.
4. Divorce can make you more self-aware.
While going through a divorce can be an incredibly trying time, there’s no better way to get to know yourself and gain a new perspective. Instead of being dragged into the overwhelming feeling of trying to keep a broken relationship together, ex-spouses suddenly can focus on their needs and the needs of their children. Divorce will also imbue you with top-notch coping skills, which can prepare you for anything life throws your way.
5. Your financial world may be turned upside down.
After the death of a loved one, divorce is often the most gut-wrenching event a person has to endure. It’s a cruel fact that, during this emotional maelstrom, it’s suddenly mandatory to do a deep financial dive and figure out what’s what. It can be especially hard if paying the bills and planning for retirement was something that was taken care of by your ex-spouse. Now, all of sudden, you need to think about health insurance, and investment accounts, and whether or not you can stay in your current home.
6. Your family’s immune system takes a hit.
One psychoneuroimmunological—that’s the study of the effect of the mind on health and resistance to disease—paper revealed that, among married subjects, poorer marital quality was associated with a poorer response on three measures of immune function. Researchers also demonstrated that women who were separated one year or less had significantly poorer immune function than their married counterparts. A more recent study out of Carnegie Mellon University has found that if the divorce was particularly contentious, the ex-spouse’s children could be more vulnerable to catching colds as adults than kids whose parents stayed together or went through an amicable breakup.
7. A divorce reduces your odds of beating cancer.
A 2009 study published in the journal Cancer suggests that people who received a cancer diagnosis while separated or divorced from their spouse fared significantly worse than their single, married, or never married counterparts. Researchers found that the survival rate, a decade after receiving a cancer diagnosis, among married patients was 57.5 percent. Among separate patients, it was just 36.8%. This sobering disparity led researchers to suggest that the severe emotional toll of divorce might depress patients’ capacity to beat cancer.
8. You could develop metabolic syndrome.
Divorce can bring on metabolic syndrome—a deadly combination of increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and intra-abdominal fat around the waist—according to one 2014 study. Experts suggest that depression and metabolic syndrome go hand-in-hand; if you have one, you’re more likely to have the other. And few events can bring on a bout of depression—or even kickstart latent chronic depression—like divorce can.
9. Divorce-induced insomnia can raise your blood pressure.
It’s quite common to have disrupted sleep patterns in the wake of a separation or divorce. But according to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, that sleeplessness could elevate your blood pressure if it persists for ten weeks or more. Kendra Krietsh, the study’s lead author, suggests that people with persistent trouble sleeping should seek help through cognitive behavioral therapy, which is commonly used to treat anxiety.
10. The emotional fallout might show up later.
You can sign the papers, cut ties, separate your finances, and figure out a way to care for the kids in a way that works for everyone and come out the other side feeling as though you got through it relatively unscathed. Then, months or years down the line, something happens that triggers a second wave of emotions you’d unwittingly been carrying. It can totally blindside you. For that reason, make sure that you devote plenty of time and space to processing your feelings. Talk with friends, family members, or mental health professionals who are trained to help.
11. Divorce can often be a source of happiness.
Until you go through it yourself, you wouldn’t imagine that, at various points, separation can make you feel incredibly happy. While it’s an often scary experience, you’ll also find it profoundly satisfying at times, and might even unexpectedly feel nothing short of pure joy at the thought that you’re moving forward in life and no longer treading water.
12. Men, divorce can make you develop substance abuse.
A review of scientific literature published in The Journal of Men’s Health back in 2012 found that divorced men have higher rates of substance abuse when compared with married men. The stress you feel from a divorce is second only to the weight you feel from the death of a spouse, explains study co-author Dave Robinson, Ph.D., director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Utah State University. “And men are more likely to ignore the significant impact that divorce has on them,” he says.
13. Divorce can give you a renewed sense of hope.
In the throes of divorce, it’s normal to ruminate on what you’re losing. Slowly but surely, however, it will become increasingly possible to think about a wealth of new possibilities that lie ahead. You could pursue dreams that your marriage made impractical. You could travel or relocate. You can luxuriate in all the autonomy that’s coming your way. Then, when you’ve had as much of yourself as you can comfortably stand, you can meet new potential partners, and build new relationships that benefit from what you learned during your marriage.
14. Divorce increases your risk of heart disease.
When people describe divorce as heartbreaking, it’s safe to assume that term is meant figuratively. Often, however, it’s literal. Recent research has shown that divorce ups your risk of heart disease by 20 percent, and researchers at the University of Utah say that the association of stress and heart health is stronger in women.
One study, published in The Journal of Marriage and Family, found that middle-aged women who get divorced are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than middle-aged men who get divorced. Why?
“Research shows that the stress of divorce leads to higher levels of inflammation in women, and those levels persist for some time,” explains Mark D. Hayward, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.
15. Divorce can mean that nostalgia is a frequent visitor.
Nostalgia is a complicated business. While you can feel it as sadness, over time, you can learn to interpret the feeling you get from an object or a location you associate with your ex-spouse as the afterglow of a cherished experience.
16. It can make you a better parent.
Divorce can improve your relationship with your children. We know that children are often deeply affected by divorce. Living in a home that is full of conflict, arguments, and tension can be even more intense. Many divorced parents find that the time they spend with their children can be more loving, focused, and attentive than when in the midst of a deteriorating relationship. In a best-case scenario, a co-parenting schedule with your former spouse can be worked out and you can both be more effective parents separately than you ever were together.
17. It can make you closer with your now-ex.
If you have children, it’s highly likely that your former spouse is going to be a part of your life for the foreseeable future. Many divorced couples may find that they get along much better when they’re no longer legally bound to each other or living under the same roof. Maintaining a civil and cordial relationship with your former spouse is essential for co-parenting after divorce. You may be surprised by how much easier it is to get along without the titles of husband and wife.
18. Mood disorders are a common result of divorce.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a significant life event, like divorce, can lead to increased stress and risk for depression. (Their research also found that women are more susceptible to mood disorders “due to hormonal factors that can influence the brain chemicals that regulate mood.”) An ongoing mood disorder is, of course, something you need discuss with a medical professional, but there are things you can do to reduce stress, whether it’s divorce-induced or not.
19. Divorce can make it hard to get around.
Divorcees are 23 percent more likely to have mobility problems, such as difficulty climbing stairs or walking short distances, according to a study from the University of Chicago. Many health consequences of divorce are interlinked. It can be harder to eat well and exercise if you’re feeling depressed and not sleeping well, for instance. And those unhealthy habits can lead to severe diseases and conditions. A study published in The Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that divorced or widowed people have 20 percent more chronic health conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) than people who are married.
20. Men, it can make you put on the pounds.
A relationship study presented at the 2011 meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas found that women are more likely to pack on the pounds when they get married, but men are more likely to gain weight during and after a divorce. While previous studies found that separation usually results in weight loss, this was the first relationship study that looked at weight gain in men and women separately. Researchers hypothesize that it’s because married women may have a more significant role around the house and have a harder time fitting in exercise. They also suggest that men get overall health benefits from marriage—something they lose once divorced.
21. Though divorce could be the impetus to put yourself first.
Fluctuating weight isn’t on the cards for every divorcé and divorcée. Many people use the opportunity of a divorce to change the way they present themselves to the world, particularly if they are excited at the prospect of meeting new people. For some people, that could mean getting in shape, getting a makeover, or getting a whole new wardrobe.
22. Divorce can boost your self-esteem.
If your marriage got testy—as unraveling marriages tend to do—it’s possible that this period coincided with a lack of intimacy, an uptick in negative feelings, maybe some name-calling and contemptuous language, and possibly much worse. All that can really wreck your mojo. Now that it’s over, you can put some distance between you and that hostility and reacquaint yourself with your best attributes. Deteriorating marriages can cause people to lose sight of what they have to offer. Conversely, divorce can help them rediscover what they’ve forgotten. And if you’re looking to get your mojo back, here are 23 Easy Ways to Instantly Boost Your Self-Esteem.
23. You’re free!
After years or decades of compromising about everything from décor to household chores, a divorce means you suddenly have full control over your life and your surroundings. In short order, you’ll have created a schedule and environment that has you, and no one else, at its center. So instead of stewing over a split, bask in the fact that you’ll never have to spend another interminable Saturday night with Karen and Jeff. Ever.
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