If there are mental health issues involved with divorce, it’s important to know the whole story before calling it quits.
A study of mental disorders, marriage and divorce published in 2011 found that a sample of 18 mental disorders all increased the likelihood of divorce — ranging from a 20 percent increase to an 80 percent increase in the divorce rate. Addictions and major depression were the highest factors, with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) also significant.
Researchers have shown a strong link between personality disorders and elevated divorce rates. Antisocial personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder have the highest rates. The authors accepted that there was insufficient research on narcissistic personality disorder to quantify its effect on divorce.
The challenges of being married to a person with a mental illness or disorder are often made considerably worse during the divorce process. An individual with a mental health challenge will likely see their symptoms worsen during divorce.
Many people with mental health concerns have additional barriers to achieving intimacy and have trouble consistently engaging in behaviors that support a marriage.
Studies report major depression and addictions as the top two mental health conditions that contribute to divorce. Bipolar disorder seems to relate to divorce by virtue of how long and how severe the depressive episodes are, and the amount of life stress associated with a manic episode (for example: debt incurred or partner betrayed by cheating).
Anxiety is another mental health condition that can severely affect a relationship. Someone with chronic anxiety tends to seek a high amount of emotional support from a spouse, and I have seen an increase in impatience from the non-anxious spouse. Some anxious clients also seem to experience an increase in their personal stress levels just by being in a relationship, and some decide to end the relationship themselves to relieve that tension.
Depression seems to affect the divorce rate by virtue of lack of engagement in the relationship, as well as not being able to fulfill family or work expectations.
Men sometimes show depression through anger, and many female clients report how difficult it is to live with constant irritability, hostility, and angry outbursts. The spouse of a depressed person may take on additional responsibilities in the family and finances, which leads to resentment and burnout.
Addictions are also often associated with a lack of personal responsibility, and they frequently propel the other spouse into over-responsibility. A person with an active addiction has a hard time being intimate, as their priority becomes fulfilling the addictive desire. Another behavior associated with addicted people is the tendency to blame the world and other people for their problems; this does not make for a healthy marriage.
When considering a divorce with mental illness as a factor, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the mental health condition treatable, and is the individual willing to receive treatment?
- How much harm is each family member experiencing?
- Are you willing to remain in the relationship even if nothing changed?
- Is the condition stable, or is it likely to get worse over time?
- What kind of support network is available?
- What are your values when it comes to divorce?
Most people have a long list of conflicting “should” that they have inherited from friends, family, and their community, and this complicates the decision. In order to deal with the added stress of divorcing when either person has a mental illness, the decision maker has to make sure that the decision is truly their own.