The Surprising Ways Your Body Changes After Going Through Divorce
I'd never met Channing Tatum nor his soon-to-be-former wife Jenna Dewan. I knew nothing about their relationship except for what I saw on television, Instagram, or read in interviews. But it was just a few weeks ago that they were showing the world their clownish mugs after their daughter, Everly, had painted all over their faces and just a little over a year ago that they re-created their Step Up dance in honor of the film's anniversary, the very set where they met and fell in love. They seemed like one of the few celebrity couples that were in it for the long haul—nothing could break their seemingly undeniable bond. Although I swore the same was true for Chris Pratt and Anna Faris.
In their divorce statements, both couples insisted they still loved each other and that their amicable split was ending in friendship. But both Anna and Jenna have admitted that what you see on Instagram is a polished highlight reel of the entirety of their relationship, so life after divorce could likely mirror the same cherry-picked facade. Look at Jen and Ben. And Brad and Angelina. Celebrity splits are fascinating, especially when they give you whiplash. But given their secretive nature, it isn't a fair comparison for couples who aren't able to craft their image or maintain their privacy. Divorce is often gut-wrenching, complicated (not to mention, expensive), and affects much more than your emotions—it takes a toll on you physically.
Mortality Rates Rise
Here's an alarming statistic: Individuals who separate or divorce are 23% more likely to face premature death. And of that subset, men actually die at a younger age than women. This is because next to the death of a spouse, divorce is cited as the second most stressful event a person can face in their lifetime—including the financial burden, the feeling of loss, and the implication on their children. On the upside, this is the case for only a small percentage of the population (10% to 15%), with a large percentage having a "resilient outcome" or an "average" level of coping (little depression and on-average levels of life satisfaction). Additionally, of those who pass away young, the largest percentage of mortality was among those who never remarried. Says to David Luden, Ph.D., "People who get divorced and then remarry enjoy the same level of wellness as do those who remain in their first marriage."
Your Weight May Fluctuate
Another potential consequence is changing your eating patterns. Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a Beverly Hills relationship psychotherapist, tells Self, "People often stop eating and sleeping after divorce," however, depending on an individual's relationship with food, they may use it as a coping mechanism. Mindy Artze, of Mindy's Fitness Journey, tells Shape, "[After my divorce], I got very sad and felt little self-worth. I turned to food to get me through the tough time. I used it to comfort me."
Your Immune Response May Decrease
Kim Anami, holistic sex and relationship expert and founder of Anami Alchemia, says that the elevated stress hormones that result from divorce have the potential to weaken your immunity. Over time, though, you can recalibrate your system. "For semi to long-term relationships, it can take one to two years," she explains. "We see in people who have been widowed that it takes two years before their immune systems return to normal. However, if your relationship was suffering for a long time, you may have already done a lot of the processing that would enable you to move on faster."
Your Heart May Be Affected (in More Ways Than One)
To this point, it's important to keep in mind that the way in which your body will respond to divorce is largely subjective and a direct result of how you cope as an individual. According to a 2015 study by David A. Sbarra, Ph.D., "People who have a hard time distancing themselves from their psychological experiences show excessive cardiovascular responding, which if maintained over time, is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease." Similarly, the study found that individuals who often recount the details of their divorce rather than find meaning in its occurrence face greater physical and mental strife.
But what about couples who remain married albeit being unhappy? A 2014 study by Hui Liu and Linda Waite found that the negative effects of a low-quality marriage become stronger with age, with women facing the highest levels of heart conditions, a statistic stemming from the presumption that women tend to internalize their emotions more than men.
Let's also take into account those who escape negative, potentially abusive marriages—these individuals have the potential to experience health improvements, while their abusive partners will most likely continue their negative behavior and consequentially face poor physiological and emotional repercussions.
The bottom line: While in some cases, there is a direct correlation between health decline and divorce, your fate hasn't been determined for you. Counseling can be a very useful tool, as can the power of positive reframing. If seeing a therapist is too expensive, know that Open Health Collective and Talkspace offer support services at a discounted price. Lastly, before entering a new relationship, Anami says to take an honest look at what went wrong in your previous marriage and use it to prepare yourself for the next chapter. "Get clear on what you really want in your next relationship. You can make a list of qualities and concepts and then review them regularly to keep your attention there."