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Can divorce really break your heart?

Consensus Collaboration Scotland (CCS), a network of Scottish lawyers, councillors, family consultants and financial experts specialising in out of court divorce settlements, say divorce is bad for your health and can lead to long term stress related disorders, including heart problems. This could come as a shock to the many people looking to sever their marital ties at the start of the year. On average, January is the most popular time to separate, with 1 in 6 couples applying for divorces, a 27% increase when compared to the rest of the year.

Rachel Weiss, founder of Rowan Consultancy, a member of CCS and specialists in counselling and psychotherapy comments:

“We have seen countless examples where divorce has had a detrimental effect on our client’s physical and mental health during divorce proceedings. The conditions we are seeing are wide ranging and vary depending on the person and the complexity of the divorce. Increased stress levels are at the heart of divorce related health issues and this has many detrimental physical and psychological knock-on effects, from migraines and muscle pains to tension, depression and anger issues. We know that long term stress can also cause high blood pressure which can lead to heart problems, so you could argue that divorce can literally break your heart.”

The latest research also suggests divorce can be bad for heart health. The American Heart Association has coined it ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, where the reaction to a surge of stress hormones caused by traumatic events can impact heart rhythm and blood substances that are typical of a heart attack.

A study in 2010 led by Dr Matthew Dupre of Duke University in North Carolina and published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, suggests the impact of divorce is worse on women’s heart health. The researchers analysed the responses of 15,827 men and women aged between 45 and 80 years who had been married at least once. They found that women who divorced were 24% more likely to have a heart attack than those who remained married, while the risk leaped to 77% when they went through more than one divorce. This latter statistic is on a par with the increase in risk seen if you have high blood pressure or diabetes. Conversely, men who divorced once were 10% more likely to experience a heart attack, increasing to 30% after multiple divorces.

Rachel Weiss adds:
“We have no evidence to support the claim that divorce affects women more than men, but we do know that one partner tends to suffer more than the other, usually the person who has had divorce forced upon them. We had a client who was left distraught after his wife wanted a divorce. He was asked to leave the family home and had no option but to live in temporary accommodation. His wife also didn’t want their children to see their father, which caused him great distress. He has suffered from a number of stress related health issues as a result.”

Despite the evidence, not all quarters agree that divorce can impact general health, let alone heart health – University College London’s Institute of Education, the London School of Economics and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted their own research into divorce-induced health issues. Collecting data from more than 10,000 people, the research found that those who divorced and remarried had similar states of health to those who remained married, and that couples who married in their 20s or 30s and were still together in their 40s, had “almost identical standards of health” compared with cohabitants.

For those concerned about the health risks of divorce, the NHS has put together a step-by-step guide to coping with divorce on their NHS Choices page http://bit.ly/2kaOCnC. There are also less confrontational approaches to divorce that are worth considering. For example, Collaborative Divorce is a process of mediation and counselling that can lead to more amicable out of court settlements.

Rachel Weise comments: “A collaborative approach to divorce is a far less confrontational way to settle matters and as such, is less stressful. Participants have more control over proceedings, so the physiological and psychological symptoms tend to be less. The exception would be any case where abuse is involved. In this case it is usually better for the abused party not to collaborate with their partner, since this can re-inforce the damage done.”

If you are looking to avoid the health risks of divorce, speak to one of our local professionals for advice on your options before you get started.