Title

The Divorce Process and Psychological Adjustment

Date of Award

8-1-1975

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Abstract

Divorce has become more and more prevalent. Despite the fact that the number of divorces is rapidly increasing, scientific researchers have not taken this opportunity to thoroughly study divorce in general and the divorced in particular. At present, the main body of psychological literature in this field has been predominantly focused on the children and their reactions and future adjustment patterns as a result of going through the unfortunate experience of a parental divorce. Although researchers and laymen alike readily agree that the divorce process is also very difficult on the two spouses, no one has actually researched or defined this "process."

The purpose of the present study was to answer three questions: (1) Is there an emotional adjustment process a divorcing individual goes through? (2) Is this process time related? (3) What is this process made up of?

Three personality tests were administered to four groups: (1) a control group consisting of individuals who subjectively define their marriage as good; (2) a group of individuals who are presently seeing a marriage counselor for marital problems; (3) a group of individuals who have filed for divorce, but have not yet been to court; and (4) a group of individuals who have been divorced for between six and twelve months. In this manner, the emotional variables associated with the divorce process will be examined at four points in time: Happily married, marital problems, having filed for a divorce and post divorce.

The problems commonly found in exploratory research, the selective participation of subjects and the taboo nature of the topic demanded a cautious interpretation of the findings. It was found, however, that there appears to be an emotional adjustment process made up of three phases. These three phases were designated as the traumatic phase, which included the sharp raise in emotional disturbance between the happily married and the marriage counseling states, the prolonged stress phase, which included the marriage counseling stage and the divorcing stage, and the readjustment phase, which included the drop in emotional disturbance to a point not significantly different from the happily married stage. It was also found that the time period for phases I and II could range from a minimum of eight months to a maximum of many years. Phase III on the other hand, seems to be relatively completed between seven and thirteen months after the divorce. Phases I and II of the emotional adjustment process seemed to include the three broad categories of anxiety, hostility and depression manifested in the affects of vague bodily complaints, increased sensitivity, complaints against family, anger, feelings of being taken advantage of, feelings of isolation, alienation, loneliness, boredom, self-devaluation, self-doubt, and a general dissatisfaction with life. Phase III appeared to also contain the elements of depression and a sensitive, negative attitude toward life in general. The emotional process of a divorce appeared to have no influence on level of sophistication, aesthetic interests, egotism, level of social participation and specific physical complaints. Furthermore, both men and women appeared to experience the same negative affects to the same degree during the emotional adjustment process.

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