Women and divorce: ten years after

Women and divorce: ten years after

Joshua Fischmen

Women and divorce: Ten years after

Divorce is a painful experience for most families, but time, it was though, heals all wounds. Unfortunately that isn’t true, a new study shows, and the hurt isn’t even equally distributed.

As part of the California Children of Divorce Project, Judith Wallerstein followed 52 mostly white, middle-class couples in California for 10 years after their initial separation. At the time of the break-up, the couples had been married almost 11 years, on average. She periodically interviewed the former husbands, wives and their children about money matters and jobs, social and family relationships and their feelings about themselves.

Overall, Wallerstein says, “the quality of life had demonstrably improved for both of the former partners in only 10 percent of the families.’ For 8 percent, life had become worse for one partner while the other experienced no change, and in about 20 percent of the families, life had gotten worse for both partners. However, for the majority of families (63 percent) one partner improved his or her lot in life “substantially’ while the other’s life did not change or got worse. Although the partner on the upswing was more likely to be the former wife than the husband (55 percent compared with 32 percent), more of these women were in their 20s and 30s. For older women, life after divorce appears much grimmer.

Of the 12 women who were 40 years old or older at the time of the break-up, none had remarried or were involved in a stable relationship. This contrasts with their former husbands, nine of whom had remarried. The Census Bureau estimates that women of that age have a 28 percent chance of eventually remarrying.

Most of these women had a mix of full- and part-time jobs as well as periods of unemployment during the previous five years, and half of them had incomes that Wallerstein judged as inadequate. Only one man in this age group had this problem.

Half of the older women were “clinically depressed,’ and all of them were moderately or severely lonely. Although half of these women sought the divorce, only two felt “a clear sense of relief and freedom’ from the stresses of the former marriage. Despite this, only one would have opted to return to the previous marriage.

Women in their 20s and 30s were not as bitter as the older women, were more likely to be remarried or in some kind of continuing love relationship and were economically better off. But for those women in their 30s who did not remarry, loneliness continued to be a problem for more than half, even though they reported an active social life with friends and business colleagues. “Lasting loneliness among women who do not remarry represents one of the grave consequences of divorce,’ Wallerstein says.

Another consequence is long-lasting anger. While remarriage seemed to alleviate loneliness, it did little to blunt the bitterness stemming from the former relationship. Forty-one percent of the women who did remarry remained intensely angry at their exhusbands. Overall, 400 percent of the women and almost 30 percent of the men remained very angry, and felt rejected and exploited 10 years later.

“The capacity to replace relationships that have failed is neither a psychological nor a social given,’ Wallerstein concludes. Although few people in her study viewed the divorce as a mistake, the broken marriage continues to be a major part of most of their lives, and older women in particular appear to have given up hope of getting over it.

Wallerstein is the executive director of the Center for the Family in Transition in Corte Madera, Calif. Her article appeared in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (Vol. 56, No. 1).

COPYRIGHT 1986 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group