Trajectories of psychological adaptation to marital breakup after a long-term marriage

TitleTrajectories of psychological adaptation to marital breakup after a long-term marriage
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsKnöpfli, B, Morselli, D, Perrig-Chiello, P
Keywordsdivorce, long-term marriage, middle and old age, psychological adaptation

Background: Marital dissolution is known to be among the most stressful life events with long- reaching negative consequences on individuals’ lives. A limitation in research to date is that most studies have focused on the impact of marital disruption on well-being outcomes in younger adults. Furthermore, although population-based studies on divorce document a broad range of negative effects, more fine-grained analyses reveal a large heterogeneity in people’s adjustment, which is still not well understood. Objective: To explore trajectories of psychological adaptation to marital breakup after a long-term marriage, and to examine variables accounting for recovery or chronicity in terms of intrapersonal resources (personality, trait resilience, personal growth), relationship variables (satisfaction with ex- relationship, length of marriage, time since divorce) and socio-demographic variables (age, gender, financial situation). Methods: Latent transition analysis is used to examine the course of psychological adaptation (i.e., depressive symptoms, life satisfaction, hopelessness, mourning and subjective health) to divorce over two years among five profiles of 308 divorcees (mean age: 55.6 years; average duration of former marriage: 23.62 years): Two larger groups of individuals, the one which adapted very well (‘resilients’, 29%), the other quite well (‘average copers’, 49%), and three groups with major difficulties (‘vulnerables’, 6%; ‘malcontents’, 12%; and ‘resigned’, 4%). In a second step the differences among transition patterns were explored on the basis of the distal variables (i.e., intrapersonal resources, relationship variables, socio-demographics). Results: Although the probability of upward changes was higher for those individuals with lower adaptation at time 1, only a small number of individuals made an upward change from the maladapted to the well-adapted groups throughout the two years. The groups of copers and resilients remained stable in their psychological adaption. The most consistent results related to upward changes were intrapersonal resources, namely the NEO personality traits and trait resilience. Conclusion: The majority of individuals divorcing after a long-term marriage adapt successfully over time. Adaptation trajectories depend primarily on intrapersonal resources. However, a minority of divorcees exhibit enduring difficulties. Knowledge about the diversity of these trajectories of vulnerability could be of great help for designing psychological interventions to better tackle this critical life event.

Refereed DesignationRefereed