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Don't Let a Divorce or Break-Up Get You Down

Being in a strong, positive, intimate relationship has many benefits to your health, happiness, and well-being. However, research shows those benefits can be quickly erased by a bad break-up, divorce, or death of a spouse. The end of a marriage can be devastating for health, says Debra Umberson, a sociologist at the University of Texas. "And a bad marriage is worse than no marriage at all when it comes to health," she adds. "Serious marital strain really takes a toll on your health."

You've probably seen the latest research on declining divorce rates over the last 30 years, and though they are still high, the divorce rate has declined especially among couples with college degrees. We used to think that all marriages were good," says Deb Carr, a sociologist at Rutgers University. "Today, there tends to be evidence that a good marriage is good for your health and longevity, but not necessarily for people who are in difficult marriages."

Carr also explains that divorce is typically bad for health and happiness, but not always. We used to think that all marriages were good. Today, there tends to be evidence that a good marriage is good for your health and longevity, but not necessarily for people who are in difficult marriages."

Gender differences regarding divorce are clear. Women tend to deal with divorce better than men do, but men are much more likely to remarry and regain the benefits of marriage. Single women seem to be better at taking care of themselves, while unmarried men are more likely to have bad health habits than married men.

While it's difficult to protect yourself from being harmed by the divorce experience to some degree, there are steps that can be taken to lessen the effects:

  1. Reduce stress through exercise. Why? This is the #1 thing that people can do to lessen the negative emotional and physical effects from a divorce. There are many ways to reduce stress, but exercise plays a critical role in reducing stress. Yoga and meditation are effectiveactivities that can provide enormous relief to stressed individuals.
  2. Rebuild social connections. Interestingly, women typically have larger social networks than men, and their networks are not as shattered when they experience divorce. Having a support network to talk to though, is critical for both genders. Carr says "They should be playing ball with their buddies; they should be having lunch with their girlfriends, they should be talking with their mother." People who don't have a strong network of friends and family can turn to organizations such as church, book clubs, volunteering, or even exercise classes to build social connections.
  3. Continue to live your life. Though you may sometimes feel like your life has ended after a divorce, you of course logically know that life goes on. That's why it's important for people to have a continuing sense of personal growth. Carr says "Learning new things, engaging in new activities, and joining new social groups are all considered really protective" and healthy behaviors. "Any sense of mastery is really good for a sense of well-being."
  4. Think about the gender based skills you lack. Often times this is an opportunity to learn new skills. Taking the time to learn about the roles that were traditionally played by your spouse, whether it was paying bills, taking care of finances, or caring for your children, can really help you cope with the difficult changes and adjustments that come from divorce.

Increased life expectancy seems to contribute to people's desire to "get on with their lives"¸including a greater willingness to end a bad marriage. "Our healthy life expectancy is getting higher and higher," Carr says. "Why are you going to spend it in a compromised marriage?" People today are much more likely to say, "I have time left, and I'm not going to spend my time in a marriage that is difficult."

(Source: How to Protect Yourself from Bad Break-Ups: Stressful marriages, divorce, and the death of a spouse can have devastating impacts, chicagotribune.com)

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