Divorce Survival: Love Thyself before Thy Neighbor

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Divorce survival is an emotional battle that takes a toll on many. In a new study of people who were recently divorced, researchers have found a common survival personality trait among those who fared better than others after a divorce. The researchers are optimistic that this trait can be learned to help individuals cope with and survive their divorce.

In a recent study consisting of 105 divorcees (38 men and 67 women) married over 13 years and on average 3-4 months following their divorce, researchers interviewed and recorded answers the divorcees gave in response to specific requests. The divorcees were asked to think about their former spouse for 30 seconds and then asked to relate for four minutes their feelings about the divorce.

Six to nine months following their divorce, the subjects were then interviewed a second time by the researchers and asked about their adjustment to divorce and how often they felt negative thoughts about their ex-spouse and their divorce.

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The responses from both interviews were rated by trained coders who listened to audio files of the subjects responses. The subjects were then graded on their individual levels of self-compassion and assessed for psychological traits such as depression and their relationship style.

According to a press release statement announcing future publication of the study in the journal Psychological Science, “Self-compassion—a combination of kindness toward oneself, recognition of common humanity, and the ability to let painful emotions pass,” is what the researchers uncovered in those subjects who fared better than others with respect to their divorce. “[Self-compassion] can promote resilience and positive outcomes in the face of divorce,” says psychologist David A. Sbarra, who conducted the study with colleagues Hillary L. Smith and Matthias R. Mehl. They determined that independent of other personality traits, that self-compassion is the one that will result in better divorce survival via positive adjustment following a recent divorce.

According to Dr. Sbarra, “It’s not easy to say, ‘Be less anxious.’ You can’t change your personality so easily. We also know that women do better than men. But you can’t change your sex. What you can change is your stance with respect to your experience.” Understanding your loss as part of bigger human experience helps assuage feelings of isolation, he says. “Mindfulness—noting jealousy or anger without judgment or rumination—lets you turn your mind to life in the present without getting stuck in the past.”

Dr. Sbarra and his colleagues believe that helping patients achieve self-compassion will be an important part of future counseling for people going through a divorce.

Source: Press Release from the Association for Psychological Science. "When Leaving Your Ex, Love Yourself: Observational Ratings of Self-compassion Predict the Course of Emotional Recovery Following Marital Separation" http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/advice-to-divorcees-go-easy-on-yourself.html

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