Happiness After Divorce

After divorce, most people say they are happier than they were before, and women tend to adjust better to divorce than do men. These are the key findings of a survey by the Yorkshire Building Society in the UK. Here’s an article about it in the Weekly Telegraph.

Here are some of the questions the survey asked. In each case, I have shown the percentage for women first, followed by the percentage for men (in parentheses).

Here are some of the responses from people who were within the first two years after separation:
% who felt relieved: 53% (46%)
% who felt liberated: 46% (37%)
% who were happy: 31% (22%)
% who said they were happier than before: 61% (51%)
% spending more time with friends: 51% (38%)
% spending more time with family: 37% (30%)
% using counseling or therapy: 16% (14%)
% who felt sad: 48% (56%)
% who felt betrayed: 22% (29%)
% who felt confused: 23% (26%)
% who drank more: 23% (33%)
% seeking casual sex: 12% (23%)
% who had contacted an old flame: 9% (13%)
% who used a dating service: 14% (21%)
% who exercised more: 28% (30%)
% who had gone on vacation: 32% (33%)
% who said they were less happy than before: 14% (18%)
% who felt suicidal: 3% (7%)

After two or more years of separation, here are the numbers, and they consistently show a higher level of happiness:
% who said they were happier than before: 78% (69%)
% who said they were less happy than before: 4% (8%)

Of those within two years after separation, about 2/3 of both men and women expected to be worse off financially. Of those more than two years after separation, however, less than half found themselves worse off.

Now let’s discuss the two glaring weaknesses in this information. First, it doesn’t look at the happiness levels of children, only that of adults. Previous research has indicated that most children view their parents’ divorce as a negative development for 5-7 years after the divorce occurs. After then, even children begin to view the divorce as something that probably needed to happen.

My wife the communication theorist would say that a significant portion of all this “happiness” is simply the resolution of cognitive dissonance. That is, we humans always work to rationalize and justify the decisions we have made (and even the decisions others have made that affected us). We want to look back on things as they have turned out and say, “it all worked out for the best.”

OF COURSE people who have divorced say they are happier now and that things are going well. That’s what we humans do.

So if a researcher wanted to test this possibility, he or she would not simply look at how divorced people feel about the decision they made (they will always tend to believe it was a good decision). Instead, he or she would compare the progress over time of divorced people with that of people in challenged marriages who decided to stay together. Admittedly, this is a much harder nut to crack, so it may not happen.

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