We are all aware of the emotional trauma that divorce can cause. In general, people who undergo divorce experience a number of potentially negative consequences including depression, anxiety, insomnia, increased stress, lower life satisfaction, increased doctor/hospital visits and an overall increase in mortality risk compared to those who remain married.
As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®), you would expect me to focus this article on the financial issues of divorce, not on divorce and your physical health, or the emotional aspects of divorce. However, I believe your physical health and your financial health often go hand-in-hand. We are seeing a wave of chronic health conditions, and after divorce, the common denominator is often financial conflict.
New studies are showing up regularly with data to show that lifestyle, stress, worry, and excessive negative emotions lead to nearly every chronic condition known to mankind. Acute or short-term illnesses are normally treated with over-the-counter medications or are simply allowed to run their course. Chronic conditions, however, continue to inflict pain, discomfort, and undesirable symptoms for weeks, months and even years.
It’s time we take a closer look at the epidemic of chronic conditions and consider the root causes.
In our country, 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce, and the odds are even higher that second or third marriages will end in similarly. On average, a person contemplates divorce for about two years prior to actually going through with it. Increased levels of anxiety and stress while considering divorce have been linked to higher rates of illness, medical visits, and disease.
The Relationship Between Divorce and Your Physical Health – and Your Financial Health
The relationship between marital status and health is well-known. Numerous studies have documented a direct link between good health and happy marriages (Lilliard and Waite 1995; Umberson 1992). Alternatively, studies also find negative health status of marital dissolution (Hughes and Waite 2009; Williams and Umberson 2004). The strange and frightening thing about these studies is that the medical community almost routinely dismisses the idea that stress and emotions are the main drivers of illness.
Doctors and researchers continue to focus almost exclusively on the physical symptoms and how to treat them through chemicals, surgery or other means of pointed intervention. The rising rate of diagnosis of conditions such as auto-immune disease, fibromyalgia, and depression is very alarming.
Are our bodies simply failing us to the point that we will all soon have to live with pain and discomfort?
Do we all need to be medicated to get through the day?
And how does divorce fit into this conversation?
According to aarda.org, about 50 million Americans (20%) currently battle some type of auto-immune disease. Women are much more likely than men to be affected.
Why is this?
In general, women tend to worry more than men. In her groundbreaking studies on feelings, Karol K. Truman found that certain feelings lead to auto-immune disorders. Those feelings are:
- Laughing on the outside but crying on the inside;
- Feeling totally helpless;
- Giving up;
- Deep-seated grief.
When applied to the trauma of divorce, one can easily see how issues such as anger over infidelity, worry about family division and anxiety in dealing with financial ramifications would fit right in with those mentioned above. From studies and research offered by Dr. John Sarno, the current high rate of incidence in American society is caused by repressed emotions, with the main emotion being anger.
This goes hand in hand with my personal experience and with many of the clients we have worked with.
During our very first meeting with a potential client, we ask a lot of probing questions, many of which deal with their current mindset and health. I can’t begin to count how often we hear that a potential client is or has suffered from chronic pain, fatigue, depression, etc. If they are holding on to anger, even unconsciously, the message is saved in the unconscious mind and very likely could be triggered and manifested into a physical symptom.
It is not a physical problem, but a psychological one. In his book, The Divided Mind, Dr. Sarno delivers strong evidence that certain personality types are inflicted with a condition known as TMS or Tension Myoneural Syndrome. This condition is classified as a pain in the body that has lasted more than 3 weeks. It shows up to serve as a distraction from unwanted “scary” or negative emotions.
So now we see the connection of physiological issues generated from divorce due to the repressed emotions and negativity. There can be a tremendous amount of physical suffering even years after a divorce is finalized because the stress or the underlying emotional element has not been dealt with in a satisfactory manner, i.e., the unconscious mind is not at peace.
Now to give full disclosure here, I’m not a therapist. I’m not a counselor and I’m not a psychologist. I am a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) and a CDFA® who has worked with hundreds of divorcing individuals and couples.
I became a CDFA® because I saw first-hand how inadequately my ex-spouse and I were represented during our divorce by lawyers alone and the lack of any type of coach, therapist, or independent financial professional to ease our concerns. This uncertainty created additional stress on top of the anger I already harbored towards my wife. Soon after our divorce was over, I woke up one morning with extreme back pain.
To keep this short, I’ll just say that over the following 7 years I visited almost every type of doctor and did nearly every physical treatment available to heal myself of this unbearable pain.
The back pain kept getting worse and kept changing. About a year later I began suffering from intense eye pain. Additionally, I was dealing with acid reflux, insomnia, and shoulder pain. A rheumatologist diagnosed me with an auto-immune disease called ankylosing spondylitis and prescribed intense drug treatments to be injected weekly. The conditions didn’t improve. After years of battling and never getting any better, my new wife stumbled across a couple of books that clicked with her.
She never was convinced that I had a disease, more “dis-ease” and wouldn’t really let me give into it either. Those books were written by Dr. Sarno and I immediately saw myself on those pages. I slowly began to piece together what had caused these conditions and how to rid myself of them. Today I am 100% healed from all of them and I don’t take a single medication.
At my firm, we find ourselves engaged in conversations each and every day with people who come into the office for divorce help yet are dealing with any number of health issues, most commonly they are related to back and neck pain.
Why are so many people suffering from back or neck pain today?
Are the spines and backs of the average American suddenly turning to pixie dust?
We don’t come close to the physical exertion and workload of our ancestors yet they seemed to have lived free of pain. Further, the incidence of back pain and even total joint replacements in our country vs. places like India, Denmark and Norway are off the charts. Sarno calls it the symptom imperative or the condition currently in vogue. Remember ulcers in the 1950s and ’60s, remember carpal tunnel in the 1990s?
The brain shuts down oxygen supply to the inflicted area which creates pain that is very real. It’s not just made up. Most traditional doctors rush to treat the symptom with drugs and surgery because they have never been trained to connect the mind and the body as one unit. That can’t be explained in a lab. But our minds regulate everything- from cold sweats to ulcers to tears and each one is directly caused by emotions.
A very negative divorce can and will lead to physical symptoms if you don’t counteract the negative with positive feelings and experiences.
Divorce is becoming more common and more stressful as we are now a society of fast pace and dual incomes. In his book The Great Pain Deception- Faulty Medical Advice is Making Us Worse, Steve Ozanich has documented helping thousands of people heal from chronic conditions after traumatic events- such as divorce. He says that if relaxation and happiness are not a part of routine living, illness and/or physical suffering aren’t far away.
After my healing journey, I have personally helped dozens of people overcome chronic conditions by showing them why and how those conditions manifest. Furthermore, children of divorce are potentially even more susceptible to these conditions. As a result of my own experiences, my wife Heather and I have taught our children how to overcome chronic migraines, stomach issues, neck pain, and IBS by simply taking time to invoke the relaxation response and deny the symptom any type of control over their mind.
When a painful condition or illness perpetuates fear, the afflicted party will not heal. Instead, you must meet these conditions with compassion and without resistance, understanding that the physical symptoms are there as a warning that your life is out of balance. Your emotions are trying to be heard. If you treat these conditions as we would a bruise or a cut, the body will heal itself.
Deepak Chopra states that 90% of chronic pain and illnesses should not be treated with prescription drugs or traditional medicine. He proclaims that meditation, social connection, mind-body relaxation, and engagement in enjoyable activities are the key to healing. I couldn’t agree more.
Highly stressful situations and conflicts such as divorce need to be dealt with in a way that allows emotions to be expressed and feelings to be felt – but not in the form of yelling, screaming, or vengeful acts. Getting past the hurt and sorrow can take time – and from my experience, having a professional team in place to provide answers and peace of mind during a divorce can save one from life-altering grief, agony, and expense with health-related issues. Bottled-up anger can be devastating for years, if not a lifetime.
Since 2010, Billy Peterson CDFA® has offered divorce financial consulting to individuals, couples, and legal advisors. Billy has extensive experience in asset valuation and property division analysis for complex estates and high net worth individuals. His top priority is to help divorcing couples find the most equitable solution possible. www.utahdivorceplanning.com