Divorce is always challenging, no matter who initiated the breakup. Both parties can feel confused, anxious, and stressed out. Science says that this is a natural response by the human body, similar to the grief felt when losing a loved one.
Licensed mental health counselor and family mediator Christine Hammond says,
…a divorce is the end of dreams, expectations, family, and friendships. When a person divorces, they are leaving behind these hopes and relationships, so it is an ending. In this way, experiencing a divorce is like experiencing a death, and the process of recovery is very similar.
Let’s figure out how the human brain behaves at the moment of separation, how divorce affects mental health, and how to cope with these complicated emotions.
Impact of Love on the Brain Cells
To understand how the brain works when coping with divorce and separation, we should first recall the physiological processes that occur when humans and animals fall in love.
Such feelings and emotions like passion, crush, affection, sexual attraction are familiar to everyone, and here’s how they are related to hormones and neurotransmitters –
- At the physiological level, the attraction is stimulated by hormones, the main one being testosterone.
- Dopamine, in turn, motivates a person to seek a partner. Cortisol puts the body under stress and creates additional energy of passion. Adrenaline is actively “thrown” into the bloodstream with excitement and anticipation. As a result, the person develops increased sweating, a rapid heart rate, and a joyful mood.
- If the feelings turn out to be reciprocal, the lovers’ cortisol level decreases, and the “good mood hormone” serotonin rises. A person associates a romantic union with security, peace, and cohesion. Scientists associate these sensations with the hormone oxytocin, which is produced during touch and sexual intimacy.
Perhaps nature has created such a complex biochemical process precisely to motivate people to form couples for the birth and raising of children.
Reactions of the Human Body to Separation and Divorce
When people break up, their hormones are incredibly overwhelmed. For some time, the dopamine hormone remains at the same high level. After separation, a person usually feels inexplicable anxiety and dissatisfaction, then depression and apathy may set in.
At this stage, many people begin to abuse alcohol and use psychoactive substances, seek hookups, etc. Finally, all these attempts to improve their well-being more often lead to an aggravation of the situation.
- In lovers, the part of the brain responsible for experiencing strong emotions (mostly negative ones) is less active. Studies have shown that when women are near their beloved husbands, they are more resistant to stress.
- Actual pain – A breakdown of the marriage triggers the same reaction in the brain as does physical pain.
Muscles are tensed and appetite loss is there. Some people might experience gastrointestinal disruption and problems like insomnia. If individuals remain in this physically hypervigilant state for some time, they might even experience headaches, stomachaches, and muscle soreness. These are the views of licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Kristin Bianchi.
- As a result of parting, men and women may even experience malfunctions in the functioning of the heart muscles under the influence of a strong emotional shock.
- Disturbing thoughts – The human brain, oddly enough, always focuses its attention on danger. If a situation causes stress and pain, then it is already considered a threat.
How to Assess the Response of the Body When Parting?
- Withdrawal Syndrome
Being depressed, discouraged, and anxious after a breakup are normal and natural feelings that almost everyone experiences. If we compare love with a chemical process, then it is more like drug intoxication.
In such a case, a breakup is a painful condition that occurs in the absence of a dose of a bio-substance, which previously provided an increase in the hormone dopamine. Basically, it’s a kind of withdrawal syndrome. Yet, the truth is the human brain can cope with both drug addiction and breakup. It only needs time.
Do not damage the already unbalanced nervous system with alcohol or drugs. A person should instead try to boost their dopamine. It is best produced as a result of movement, gaining new knowledge, and achieving goals. That is how many people, after a breakup, achieve extraordinary success in their careers, sports, and education.
- Loss of Self-Identity
In most cases, stress after a breakup is also associated with the fact that people include a partner in their identity and adopt their spouse’s behavior and views of life in a relationship.
In a divorce, the destruction of individual elements leads to a violation of a single image of “Me” and the impossibility of controlling one’s life. Thus, typically, we yearn not for our former partner, but for the image of ourselves that they allowed us to form.
- Shattered Self-Esteem
A breakup is often accompanied by low self-esteem. This is especially true of those who did not initiate a separation. A person can feel that their spouse left them because something is wrong with them. Thinking along these lines, only exacerbates the problem.
Try to look at the world more realistically. Almost everyone goes through a breakup at least once in their life, and about half of all marriages end in divorce. Yet, this does not mean that something is wrong with all people in the world.
As a result of the troubles with self-esteem, a person usually begins to either devalue the former partner or idealize their married life, but both paths lead to emotional instability.
Problems Call For an Outside Perspective
An essential and first step towards overcoming the negative impact of divorce on the psyche is to look at the situation from an impartial perspective. Of course, we are not talking about complete dissociation, but a slightly detached attitude towards divorce as a practical task or a plot that can be analyzed with empathy for all the characters.
For example, during any period of emotional upheaval, psychologists often advise starting a diary. It can be used to express any thoughts and feelings, thus calming the mind. At the same time, you need to try to articulate why the relationship failed. Perhaps, you had different values and desires, felt pressure from your partner, etc. When writing down your feelings about the current situation, you should try to comprehend this stage of your life and gain experience.
For the same reason, one of the most preferred methods of dispute resolution is divorce mediation. A mediator acts as a neutral third party who cannot take sides or provide legal advice. The mediator facilitates negotiations between parties to promote understanding and make informed decision-making.
According to Bob Butterworth, CEO of the leading online divorce service CompleteCase, nearly 75% of the customers go for divorce mediation to resolve child-related or property issues. Though it can’t be known whether the parties in these cases could have done better at trial, a peaceful uncontested divorce is more affordable and better for one’s mental health.
Besides, according to the statistics, about 90% of mediated cases are settled successfully and other research has shown that people who understand and accept the reasons for separation recover faster and feel more comfortable in their next relationship.
Fear of separation and uncertainty are stressors that are not just related to love. The same sensations arise when we finish studying at school, quit our job, or move to another city.
Another misconception, which many people firmly believe, is directly related to the demonstration of love in popular movies and fairy tales. We think that love should start suddenly and passionately, then flow into a wedding and last forever. This is only in fairy tales. In real life, it is rare.
The human brain can adapt to any circumstance. It just takes time. The nervous system comes into balance on its own over time. Before long, you will feel free from grief and sorrow about the past. The main thing is to properly deal with the experience gained to move on confidently.