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There always seem to be stories in the press about how happy relationships are good for peoples’ health, how divorce is bad for health, etc. It’s no surprise to say that breaking up any relationship can be difficult and stressful – but is it more stressful and difficult than staying within it? Are the long-term effects of a relationship that makes you unhappy likely to be more or less harmful than the acute stress of making the break? There’s no easy answer to that question: it will depend on a number of different factors, not least the individual’s reserves of energy and resilience.

Recently the Guardian and the Journal of Men’s Health reported on surveys that indicated that divorce may actually affect your physical health, beyond the emotional effects of stress. They say (again) that research has demonstrated that divorced men have more health problems that their married counterparts – more heart attacks, incidences of high blood pressure, strokes and higher cancer rates. They are also likely to have higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, and are five times more likely to suffer from depression than married men. Another study found an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease in divorced women. All of this doesn’t exactly make for cheerful reading.

It does seem surprising, given that being stuck in an unhappy relationship is stressful in itself that divorce or separation can actually make matters worse from a health perspective. And it may be that the emotional effect is more present in men than women. Yet another project, this one run by Kingston University, appears to show that women who divorce are happier and more content for the five years following their divorce when compared to their baseline happiness level. The same does not apply to men, whose happiness increased only marginally after divorce. This survey questioned 10,000 people in the UK between the ages of 16 and 60, regularly over two decades.

So why should it be that there is this apparent difference in health and happiness for men and women? We wonder, in our lawyers-not-scientists way, whether it might partly be due to some women being naturally more likely to reach out to friends and family for support earlier and throughout a separation. This talking and support may well help with coping in the longer term and have a knock-on effect on their health. In our experiences, men are more likely to become socially isolated during the divorce process and are less inclined to seek help. As we all understand the link between mental, emotional and physical health is strong, particularly in times of trouble, could this be the factor that separates the women from the men?

Some tips for staying healthy during difficult times:

Talk to your friends. You don’t necessarily need advice, just support, someone who will listen, make a cuppa and be there for you, without fighting a war on your behalf. If you are a friend in this situation, have a look at our blog on helping friends through separation.

Counseling can be a very useful process to help anyone who might feel uncomfortable opening up to a friend or family member. As well as allowing you to talk about your feelings in a safe non-judgmental environment, it can help with ways to cope with issues and feelings which arise in life after marriage. Back in 2012 we featured a guest blog from counsellor Bob Brotchie which is a helpful introduction for those not familiar with counselling. Your GP can easily provide a referral to a counsellor.

Finally, you are probably rather tired of us banging on about non-court based ways to resolve disputes, but we are convinced that they have the potential to be less emotionally damaging to families and the individuals within them.

If you would like to talk about anything raised above, give Adam, Gail, Sue or Simon a call on 01223 443333.


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