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An Honest Look at the Pros and Cons of Divorce

Consider these topics and how to minimize the negative effects of divorce.

Key points

  • Divorce can cause positive and negative outcomes for both the parents and children involved.
  • Among the pros are greater freedom, room for growth, and an improved environment for children.
  • However, stress and financial challenges can complicate outcomes for the family.

Are you considering divorce? Or has your spouse decided to end the marriage? Divorce is a complicated and emotional process that can have both positive and negative consequences. Some outcomes are positive for some people but affect others negatively.

Here are some of the pros and cons of divorce.

These are generally considered the pros of divorce:

Freedom and Independence

Pros: Divorce can provide individuals with the freedom and independence to make their own choices and live life on their terms. Don (not his real name) felt that he was in a constant power struggle with his wife. He wanted control over his own life, his environment, and his decisions.

Cons: Some may find this newfound independence overwhelming or lonely, especially if they are accustomed to a long-term partnership. Stuart had grown accustomed to a social life managed by his wife. After the divorce, he withdrew from friendships and struggled with depression.

Escape From Unhealthy Relationships

Pros: Divorce can provide an escape from abusive or toxic relationships, which can lead to improved mental and physical health. Ingrid had lived with an angry husband who frequently berated her in front of other people. She felt she always walked on eggshells to avoid triggering him. After her divorce, she felt liberated and relieved of the chronic stress, and her migraines stopped.

Cons: The divorce process can be emotionally challenging, and most people experience intense emotions during a divorce, such as sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety. However, these emotions usually subside as you adjust to your new life.

Opportunity for Personal Growth

Pros: Some people view divorce as an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery, leading to a stronger sense of self and increased self-esteem. Tina told me that she felt she had finally found herself after her divorce. She had spent 20 years trying to be the wife her husband wanted. Now, she felt she could come into her own.

Cons: The emotional toll of divorce can hinder personal growth, at least in the short term. In the early stages of divorce, most people are overwhelmed and operating in “crisis mode.” It may be very hard to imagine what your future will look like. Nevertheless, you can focus on building a life that you will find fulfilling. Be patient; it may take one to two years to fully recover from the divorce.

Improved Financial Situation

Pros: Depending on the circumstances, divorce can lead to improved financial stability and the ability to make independent financial decisions. Clara and her husband argued about money all the time. He felt she bought too many clothes, and she accused him of buying expensive electronics. They could not agree on a budget, so they spent beyond their means every month, unable to save for retirement. Both felt that if they divorced, they could become financially independent and stable.

Cons: Divorce can also result in financial hardships, especially if there are disputes over assets, child support, or alimony. Many people have to reduce their lifestyles when they divorce. The same income now has to support two homes. There may be legal expenses, additional therapy costs, or alimony. Downsizing is frequently the best solution, at least for a few years.

Better Environment for Children

Pros: In cases of high-conflict or abusive marriages, divorce may provide a safer and more stable environment for children. Lee and Ellis argued frequently in front of their children. At times, they yelled at each other and shoved each other around, stopping only when their children begged them to or cried. Children in two stable, calm homes feel safer and more secure.

Cons: Children may still experience emotional turmoil and adjustment issues during and after a divorce. Children will also experience the loss of the family unit and may have symptoms due to the trauma of witnessing their parents in conflict. It is normal for children to need 1-2 years to adjust to the new family structure.

These are usually considered the cons of divorce:

Emotional and Psychological Stress

Divorce is almost always emotionally and psychologically taxing, leading to stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Some individuals may struggle with these challenges for an extended period, impacting their overall well-being. Some seem to get stuck in their anger or grief after the divorce and can't “move on.” Working with a therapist can help you work through the emotions so that you can rebuild your new life.

Financial Challenges

While some experience improved financial situations, others may face significant financial challenges, including legal fees, dividing assets, and maintaining separate households. The financial burden of divorce can be long-lasting, affecting both spouses and their children. Supporting two homes may be stressful, and your children may be aware that money is tight.

If possible, protect them from the stress or worry that they might pick up from you. Megan, a child I worked with, told me, “There won’t be Christmas presents this year because Mom took all our money.” Megan felt insecure and angry at her mother.

Impact on Children

One of the most common worries parents express is how the divorce will “damage our children.” Divorce can create a more stable and peaceful home environment in some cases, which may be better for children’s well-being. Children often face emotional and psychological challenges during and after divorce, and it can strain parent-child relationships when they are drawn into loyalty binds or assume the roles of ally, messenger, spy, or confidante.

Social Stigma

In some cases, divorce may free individuals from a marriage that wasn’t socially or culturally accepted. Divorce can still carry a social stigma in some communities and cultures, leading to judgment and isolation. While the stigma of divorce has decreased over the past decades, many people still carry an internalized stigma. James said that the voice in his head kept saying, “You’re a failure, you’re a loser, you’ll never be happy, etc.” Remind yourself that it is the marriage that failed, not necessarily that you failed. It helps to understand your contribution to the failure of the marriage so that you can avoid those mistakes in the future.

Legal Process Complexity and Stress

The legal system can provide structure and protection during divorce proceedings. The law is there to protect you if necessary. Navigating the legal system can be time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining. However, if you choose an alternate dispute resolution process that keeps you out of court, the divorce will be less stressful. Consider mediation or a collaborative divorce instead.

Whether you are contemplating divorce or your spouse has already made the decision, these topics are worth discussing, perhaps with the help of a therapist. Some of these points may not be relevant to your circumstances, but seek guidance and support if you do decide to divorce. With the help of an experienced divorce coach or therapist, you may be able to reduce some of the negative outcomes.

© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2023

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