Breaking up is hard to do and a number of studies have found that it is bad for your health, too
If you are getting divorced you may or may not be heartbroken, but your heart may actually be damaged in the process – especially if you are a man. A report in the Journal of Men’s Health lays out the evidence that divorced men have more health problems than their married counterparts: more heart attacks, high blood pressure and strokes, more cancer and even colds.
Divorced men are more likely to die earlier, have higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse and a 39% higher suicide rate than married men. Men who divorce also have less sex, and they are less satisfied with what they do have.
Research shows that divorced fathers have poorer relationships with their children and less emotional support. Rates of depression for married men are 2%, compared with 10.4% for those who are separated. But would, and should, anyone even consider not getting divorced because of the health risks? And are only men affected?
Up to a third of marriages in the UK will end in divorce. The reason most commonly cited is “behaviour” (in around half of all petitions from women), which usually means falling out of love or growing apart. Women initiate divorce more often than men, and not because of infidelity. Only 15% of women and 16% of men cited adultery as the reason. Since unhappy marriages are stressful and, it would seem, damaging to health, it is surprising that divorce can make people even sicker.
A Finnish study published this year shows that even five years before ending their marriages, divorced couples reported 1% higher usage of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs than those who stayed married. However, this figure rose to 7% for men and 8% for women in the six to nine months before the divorce. Afterwards, use fell but still remained 3% higher than among married couples.
Women may also not be wholly immune to increased incidence of heart disease after divorce, finds at least one study (which also reports no rise for men). The authors linked this rise to women generally being financially worse off after divorce. They also argued that women take longer to recover from conflict in their marriages and continue to have higher levels of stress hormones for longer afterwards.
None of this, however, is likely to make a couple talk themselves out of a divorce. And if you think simply living together rather than marrying will help to keep you healthy, it is worth bearing in mind that research has found that cohabiting couples who separate are likely to be similarly affected.