Will I Ever Be Happy Again After Divorce?

Question: I've heard divorce will destroy me and my kids forever. Is that true?

Answer: No, in fact 7 in 10 Christians who divorce state they are happy. 

 

Often churches have been given misinformation about the effects of divorce on divorcees and children. They will tell you that you will never be happy again; your next marriage will end tragically too because "you'll bring your problems into the next marriage"; and that your kids will be destroyed, have drug/alcohol/behavior problems and their marriages will fail too. But all of this is incorrect for more than just a handful of cases. (See research findings here: http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/wallerstein)

 

Bradford Wilcox, the senior fellow for the Institute for Family Studies, wrote that two years after the divorce, 50% of parents turn out fine, and 20% turn out much happier after a divorce. —W. Bradford Wilcox, Institute for Family Studies

 

This graph based on the Baylor Religion Survey confirms Wilcox's claim. About 7 in 10 Christians say they are happy after divorce. About half are "somewhat happy" and 2 in 10 are "very happy." Perhaps faith and prayer and the community of loving believers make a difference in their recovery.  (By the way, Baylor is the largest Baptist university in the world.)

Ryan Burge final bay_happ_after_div

MOST PEOPLE OF FAITH REGAIN THEIR HAPPINESS AFTER DIVORCE

Baylor is not the only organization to find that people of faith do generally well after divorce. A large nationwide study of divorcees over age 40 found something surprising. Believe it or not, they discovered that Baptists had the highest post-divorce happiness levels in the survey, consistently saying they were at a 9 on a 10-point scale of happiness (The Ladder of Life). I believe this is due to the warm community of prayer and support than many good churches offer. If you aren't in one of these warm and kind churches, feel free to switch. About 6 in 10 Protestants switch churches when they divorce, according to LifeWay.

(Sources: 2004 The Divorce Experience; LifeWay 2015 study "Marriage Ministry and the Cost of Divorce for Churches")

Ladder of Life: Divorced Baptists Reported a 9 out of 10 points on the Happiness Scale of all divorced people surveyed. This images is from The Divorce Experience Study (2004)
Ladder of Life: Divorced Baptists Reported a 9 out of 10 points on the Happiness Scale

 

Even if you were the abandoned spouse, the one who got left behind when your spouse filed, this applies to you too.

 

One of the leading researchers on divorce, Dr. Mavis Hetherington, wrote,

“In the early period, the ‘left’ spouses were the most unhappy and resentful, but by the end of the second year, there were few differences between those left and the ‘leavers’… [In] the second year there was an upsurge in emotional wellbeing as people began to adapt to their new life situation.” —Hetherington and Kelly, For Better or For Worse, p. 150-151

 

 

REMARRIAGE AFTER DIVORCE ENDING A LONG DESTRUCTIVE MARRIAGE

As for remarriage? It turns out that if you had a chronically miserable marriage and chose to divorce, there's a good chance you will be happier. Dr. Linda Waite, the noted researcher who found that 2 in 3 unhappy marriages became happier within 5 years, ALSO found that 8 in 10 of the people in her study who divorced and remarried were happier too. Is that a guarantee? No, but odds are that if you stayed a long time in an unhappy marriage, the problem isn't you.

 

The same good news about happier remarriages after a long miserable marriage was found in a larger, more comprehensive study by Drs Hawkins and Booth:

"Remaining unhappily married is associated with significantly lower levels of overall happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem and overall health along with elevated levels of psychological distress compared to remaining otherwise continuously married. There is also some evidence that staying unhappily married is more detrimental than divorcing, as people in low-quality marriages are less happy than individuals who divorce and remarry. They also have lower levels of life satisfaction, self-esteem and overall health than individuals who divorce and remain unmarried. Unhappily married people may have greater odds of improving their well-being by dissolving their low-quality unions as there is no evidence that they are better off in any aspect of overall well-being than those who divorce." —Daniel N. Hawkins and Alan Booth, Unhappily Ever after: Effects of Long-Term, Low-Quality Marriages on Well-Being, Social Forces, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Sep., 2005), pp. 451-471, from the abstract

 

So basically they found that people in 12-year-long (or longer) marriages that had been miserable, were happier after divorce (on average), whether they remarried or stayed single.

 

According to decades of research, none of the fear-bombing is true for the vast majority of people who need to escape from long destructive or unfaithful marriages. There is research showing that you are likely to be happier if you leave a long destructive marriage.

KIDS AND DIVORCE

 

Despite what you've been told about divorce universally destroying kids, research has shown that nearly 8 in 10 kids turn out fine after divorce, with no serious long-term psychological, emotional, or social problems.

And in fact, researchers have also found that the worse the marriage, the better divorce is for kids (and conversely, if your marriage is kind and loving, divorce is horrible for kids).

8 in 10 graph

BUT WAIT! I DIVORCED LONG AGO, AND I STILL FEEL AWFUL

 

This is true sometimes, especially if you're ex-spouse is still harassing you, turning the kids against you, dragging you into court, and generally making life miserable. As one abuse victim wrote:

"I’ve been divorced from my ex for over 5 years. (My case is not the norm. I was severely abused, beaten, and locked in a room). I asked my therapist why I’m not “further ahead”… more where I think I should be. She asked me how long it has been since I’ve really been out of the trauma. Really, only one year, as he continued his abuse through insane litigation and mind games. So while I might say “But it's been five years!”, really I have been “out” of the trauma for much less. That plays a huge part."

 

Give God time. The more abuse you experienced in your marriage or in childhood, the longer it takes to process the trauma. Get to safety first. Find a good counselor, a loving online support group, and group therapy if possible. Find safe places to share your story among fellow survivors who have a positive outlook.


Are you going through a life-saving divorce? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 4 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians. Also, sign up for my email list below.

 

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