A new study indicates divorce may put spouses at risk for heart attacks, with women and people who have divorced multiple times facing the greatest danger.
Anyone who has been through a divorce can attest to the physical and emotional strain that the process creates. Many divorcing spouses experience anxiety and depression, and others develop unhealthy coping habits. A new study suggests that divorce can have measurable long-term health effects. According to the research, people who have divorced may be more likely to suffer heart attacks.
Potential health effects of divorce
Time magazine reports that researchers analyzed over 18 years of data to look for connections between divorce and heart attack risk. The researchers controlled for other factors that may have put people at risk for heart attacks, such as age, occupation, weight and health issues. Consequently, the findings appear to mainly reflect the effects of completing a settled divorce versus a contested divorce.
The researchers found that divorce often increased a spouse’s likelihood of heart problems. Spouses who had gone through multiple separations experienced greater health risks than those who had only been divorced once. Additionally, women appeared more susceptible to this effect, as the following figures reveal:
Women who divorced once were 24 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than married women. For women who divorced twice, the risk was 77 percent greater.
Men who only divorced once weren’t significantly more likely to experience heart attacks than men who were married. After two divorces, however, men did experience a slightly higher risk of this health problem.
Men who remarried did not exhibit elevated risks of suffering heart attacks. However, even after remarrying, women who had previously divorced were 33 percent more likely to have heart attacks than other married women.
The researchers theorize that the emotional strain, along with financial instability and loss of social support, may raise cortisol levels. This change may drive blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol higher, which may contribute to an elevated heart attack risk.
Reducing unnecessary stress
Unfortunately, contested divorce could worsen many of these potential health effects. Prolonged litigation can lead to increased legal costs, exacerbating the financial strain that divorcing spouses feel. A high-conflict divorce may also create greater stress that persists for a longer period of time.
A collaborative divorce or a mediated divorce are two options that can help address these issues. Each approach allows spouses, with the representation and assistance of a personal attorney, to reach an independent agreement. The collaborative and mediated approachs reduce conflict, and the proceedings may ultimately cost less than contested litigation. Some financial advisors estimate that litigation may cost three times more than collaboration.
During a collaborative and mediated divorce, spouses can address almost all of the issues that would otherwise be decided in family law court. These matters include property division, alimony, child custody and parenting time. Beneficially, spouses can take enough time as necessary to come to terms or find the optimal arrangement.
Identifying the best approach
Even when collaborative divorce isn’t an option, a smoother process and fairer settlement may reduce the harmful long-term effects of divorce. To improve the likelihood of these outcomes, divorcing spouses should seek the help of a family law attorney.