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Can a divorce cause PTSD?
Going through a divorce can a very stressful experience, both for the couple themselves, and for the rest of their family. Bringing a long-term relationship to an end is always likely to be difficult, even where the separation itself is reasonably amicable.
However, when a relationship ends on bad terms, or a specific incident act as the catalyst for a divorce, the event can prove to be extremely traumatic. Whether this type of trauma could constitute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something many people understandably ponder.
Here, we discuss what PTSD is, how it manifests itself, what the potential symptoms might be, and whether a divorce can trigger PTSD in both the separating couple and any children involved in the relationship.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a specific type of anxiety disorder that is caused by stressful, frightening, or distressing events. Many people associate PTSD with Service personnel (partly due to the origin of the term), but anyone can experience PTSD if they have been exposed to a traumatic event at some point during their lives.
Someone suffering from PTSD will often relive a traumatic event in their head through nightmares, flashbacks, and visions. In many cases, they will go on to suffer various other issues, such as insomnia or difficulty concentrating.
Someone who has repeatedly suffered a traumatic situation, such as neglect, abuse, or violence, may be diagnosed with what is known as complex PTSD.
Complex PTSD has similar symptoms to PTSD, but it is more likely to develop a long time after the event took place.
What are the symptoms of PTSD after divorce?
PTSD symptoms after divorce are typically grouped into four types. These are:
- Intrusive memories
- Negative changes in thinking or mood
- Changes in physical or emotional reactions
Intrusive memories can come in the form of nightmares, uncontrolled flashbacks, or visions. The intrusive memories themselves are likely to involve recreations of the traumatic event, or something very similar.
Victims of PTSD will often work to avoid any experiences, phrases, or objects which might trigger these intrusive memories.
Negative changes in thinking or mood
These are most clearly seen in the form of depression, anxiety, and irritability. There could also be issues such as memory problems or difficulties in maintaining close relationships with loved ones.
Changes in physical or emotional reactions
Changes in physical or emotional reactions could see someone engage in reactionary behaviour, feel constantly on edge, and find it difficult to communicate. This can also result in self-destructive behaviour.
Can divorce cause PTSD in the separating couple?
If we are going off the official NHS definition of PTSD, then it does not typically apply to circumstances like ‘divorce, job loss or failing exams’. However, while getting PTSD from divorce is not likely, there are a range of similarities in symptoms of PTSD and the trauma caused by divorce.
Everyone’s experience with divorce is different, which means that there is a potential to be left with long-lasting scars following the breakdown of their relationship, especially if it wasn’t an acrimonious separation.
Acrimonious divorces can lead to various signs of trauma and anxiety, such as negative thoughts, self-blame, isolation, depression, and insomnia.
These symptoms can be exacerbated if someone already has additional risk factors, which can include:
- Previous trauma
- Stress in other areas of life
- Social isolation
- Underlying mental health conditions
It is important to note that there may have been certain incidents that occurred during the course of the marriage that may trigger PTSD – such as incidents of domestic violence – which aren’t intrinsically linked to the divorce itself.
Can divorce cause PTSD in a child?
As with the separating couple, the event of a divorce is unlikely to cause PTSD in children of divorce. Of course, children are still likely to be susceptible to various PTSD related symptoms, especially where the divorce was contentious, or prolonged.
Children, especially younger children, are unlikely to understand the complexity of relationships and will therefore find it difficult to understand and comprehend why their parents have separated.
It is common for children to experience dramatic changes in behaviour. This could mean becoming unusually quiet and withdrawn or becoming angry and defensive. Often, children may find it difficult to communicate exactly how the divorce has affected them and how they are feeling.
How can someone deal with the trauma of divorce?
So, how can someone deal with the trauma that can arise from divorce? While everyone deals with the effects of divorce differently, there are a number of actions that can be taken, including:
- Seeking support from a medical professional or therapist
- Mindfulness exercises
- Professional counselling
If you have yet to divorce, but are concerned about the potential consequences for your mental health, as well as the mental health of your children and family, it is also important to speak to a specialist family solicitor.
An experienced divorce solicitor can support you through the general process and help to keep the separation as amicable as possible.
How our divorce solicitors can help
At Crisp & Co, our team of expert divorce solicitors have substantial experience in advising couples through the process, helping to promote amicable separations and reducing conflict wherever possible.
When instructed, our aim is to provide a first class and tailored service that helps to keep the entire process as straightforward and stress free as possible. No matter what your individual circumstances may be, our divorce solicitors can offer close personal support and practical advice that will help to reduce the potential impact on your life.
We have specialist expertise and training in collaborative law and mediation. These alternative methods of dealing with relationship breakdown and divorce will help to promote a less confrontational approach and reduce unnecessary conflict.
Mediation is a method used to support separating couples during the divorce process. It can be used to resolve some of the issues which may be getting in the way of an amicable agreement, or are holding up the process as a whole.
During mediation, you and your former partner will sit down with a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator is present to facilitate the discussion between you and your former partner, dealing with issues such as how you will separate your finances and make arrangements for children.
It is important to stress that, with mediation, the mediator is not present to provide any specific legal advice, nor side with either party. They are trained professionals who know exactly how to guide the conversation and keep the process as productive as possible.
Should an agreement be reached through mediation, the mediator will draft a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’. This formally sets out the proposals from mediation and can then be used to draw up an official agreement.
Mediation may not be suitable for every situation, but it can prove to be an effective way of reducing conflict and making the divorce process as stress-free as possible. In many cases, prior to considering court proceedings, you and your former partner will be expected to have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
Collaborative Law is a legal process which provides divorcing couples with a chance to discuss the particulars of their separation and find a resolution that doesn’t involve contested court proceedings. It involves both parties appointing qualified collaborative lawyers who can assist with negotiations and reduce the potential for unnecessary conflict.
It involves several face-to-face meetings, where you work with your former partner and our solicitor to find solutions to the issues you’re facing in a non-confrontational way.
Collaborative Law can potentially save time and money and is entirely flexible, which means you can attend as many sessions as you see fit.
Prior to engaging in Collaborative Law, all participants need to sign a Participation Agreement. This states that neither party can initiate court proceedings while Collaborative Law is ongoing, and if it is unsuccessful, the same solicitors cannot be used for court proceedings.
Sometimes, court proceedings are the only way to finalise a divorce. However, with the right approach and close personal support, they need not be traumatic. Our divorce solicitors can provide close representation for court proceedings where required, taking every step to negotiate the best possible outcome for you and your family.
Speak to our expert divorce solicitors today
If you are going through a divorce or separation and are concerned about what the short and long-term effects of such a decision may be, our divorce solicitors are readily available to assist you.
For help starting or responding to divorce proceedings, working out financial settlements, making arrangements for children, or any other aspect of the divorce or separation process, please get in touch.