Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Self-Identified Christian Women and Divorce: The Recovery and Discovery of Self

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Self-Identified Christian Women and Divorce: The Recovery and Discovery of Self

Article excerpt

Divorce is a common experience in the U.S. where divorce rates are higher than any country in the world (Munson & Sutton, 2006). Latest numbers from the United States Census Bureau report that, for every 1,000 persons living in the United States in 2009, 6.8 individuals were married and 3.4 experienced divorce; a rate of roughly 50% for the population at large (Census Bureau, 2013). Reliable data for current divorce rates among Protestant Christians are not as easily discerned. In a 2008 national poll of 3792 adults, the Barna Research Group found that among adults who have been married, one-third (33%) have experienced at least one divorce. Among those surveyed who identify as "born again" Christians, the statistics related to divorce are the same, at about one-third of marriages. "Divorce recovery" programs have been developed and offered in many settings, both secular and religious, for several decades. The literature on divorce, however, lacks theoretical explanations of the process that self-identified Christian women experience when separated/divorced.

For the authors of this study, a concern emerged in our interactions with female clients who placed a high value on their religious beliefs. They came to us with stories of deep distress related to separation/divorce and many accounts of increased stress due to their interactions with Christian friends and with clergy. This study grew out of a desire to understand more fully the process self-identified Christian women experienced in separation/divorce. The objective nature of the changes with separation/divorce (decreased financial and social resources, increased responsibilities for children, relationship conflicts, etc.) did not fully account for the emotional turmoil these individuals recognized in themselves, particularly the change in self-representations they reported. The influence of their belief systems and religious practices filled their stories.

Divorce is rated among the most stressful of difficult life events (Amato, 2010). Divorcees have been shown to exhibit substantially higher admission rates in psychiatric clinics and hospitals than individuals in intact couples, and they more often suffer from anxiety, depression, anger, feelings of incompetence, rejection, and loneliness (for reviews, see Amato, 2010; Gahler, 2006). Ancis and Neelarambam (2009) reported negative physical and psychological symptoms in women in legal proceedings related to divorce. These included a constant questioning of self, migraines, chronic fatigue, and disruptions in sleeping and eating. Amato (2010) reviewed studies from the previous decade and concluded that both crisis and chronic strain models were supported related to divorced individuals. That is to say, individuals who divorce experienced both short and long term impacts. Amato also commented that the findings were "scattered" related to divorce adjustment with some evidence that pre-divorce factors (such as levels of conflict within the marriage and economic status) may influence post-divorce adjustment and that more research is needed in this area. Kalmijn and Monden (2006) discussed the influence of marital quality on post-divorce adjustment and noted that divorce for women triggered higher depression levels, whether the marriage was highly conflictual or not. Evidence does not allow the conclusion that all divorces created lasting negative impact; however, women on average reported high levels of stress post-divorce in the general population. Additionally Kalmijn and Monden pointed out that depression levels lowered if women re-partnered after divorce. For many divorced women who self-identify as Christians and report placing a high value on their religious beliefs and practice, the strong prohibition against divorce in their faith communities and in their personal belief systems is coupled with a restriction against remarrying. We speculated that these extrinsic and intrinsic beliefs could increase the negative health impacts for self-identified Christian women who divorce. …

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