Can You Experience PTSD From Divorce?

Updated January 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Divorce is typically a painful, difficult experience, no matter who is involved. Even the healthiest, most mutual divorce may carry with it some emotional baggage, so nearly all divorce requires some time to heal and recover. Is it possible, though, to develop PTSD as a result of a divorce? If so, what can be done to remedy symptoms and begin to work toward inner peace?

Experiencing PTSD Symptoms From Divorce Can Be Hard

Signs And Symptoms Of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition with numerous symptoms, though they typically fall under the purview of four specific symptomatic categories. These categories include avoidance, intrusive memories, negative changes in thinking or behavior, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. 

Intrusive memories come most often in the form of uncontrolled flashbacks or nightmares. Re-experiencing these scenes can then cause people to engage in avoidance behaviors where they work to avoid any experiences, objects, or places that trigger memories of the event leading to PTSD. Negative mood and thinking patterns are most often seen in the form of depression, anxiety, and increased irritability, while changes in physical and emotional reactions can mean being constantly on edge and engaging in reactionary behavior and communication. Many may also develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like the use of illicit substances.

In order to reach the minimum requirements for a diagnosis, you must experience these symptoms for a minimum of one month. Prolonged symptoms can lead to other conditions due to the intense nature of PTSD, so it is not uncommon to receive multiple diagnoses once you've received a PTSD diagnosis. There are physical symptoms in PTSD (most commonly, headaches, stomachaches, and unexplained aches and pains) that may be diagnosed as a separate condition then diminish as PTSD is resolved through support and treatment.

Divorce And Children

Children may be especially susceptible to experiencing PTSD related symptoms following a divorce, particularly if the divorce in question was tumultuous, prolonged, or marked by excessive arguing. Because children typically do not understand the complex dynamics of marriage relationships-or parenting relationships-the dissolution of a marriage can give children the impression that their relationship with their parents is also on the precipice of disaster; after all, if mom and dad don't love each other anymore, why would they love their children? While adults can readily see the difference in the two types of relationships, children's minds are not so readily able to differentiate, and divorce can cause a great deal of terror in children leading to post divorce trauma.

Changes in behavior and sleeping patterns are two of the most common symptoms of PTSD in children whose parents have divorced. Children might become quiet and withdrawn with one or both parents and appear to be walking on eggshells. Children might take the opposite road, and grow increasingly aggressive, angry, or defensive, and might continually instigate fights with one or both parents or classmates at school. 

Related to these similar symptoms, a lot of kids can show a decline in academic performance, including changes like failing exams and not doing assignments. This sort of shift is often the result of a fear response. Children might take on the role of one parent, who is meeker in nature than the other, or the more aggressive parent, and essentially act out the roles that have become the new normal for them. Very often, children are not able to communicate to their parents exactly what they are experiencing, and it is up to parents to take heed of any behavioral, communication, or mood changes, and take steps to getting them resolved, usually through treatment.

Children may be the most likely people in a divorce to develop PTSD, as the stability of their world is being called into question. Children rely heavily upon family stability as a means of developing a sense of equilibrium in their lives and require somewhere to return to when life has grown confusing, overwhelming, or dangerous. If home, with mom or dad, does not provide that stability, children can easily begin to experience symptoms of PTSD and not know how to properly heal.

Divorce And Adults

Adults involved in divorce may also experience PTSD as a result of the loss of their partner. This seems to be more likely in the case of either prolonged or high-conflict divorces, as both spouses are more likely to experience emotional distress, high levels of stress, and fear in these types of divorce. This is one of the reasons cooperation can be such an important aspect of divorce: it is not only children who experience intense feelings during the divorce process and potentially develop mood and personality disorders. Adults, too, can experience intense feelings and distress intense enough to warrant a formal PTSD diagnosis.

PTSD has also been linked to divorce in instances involving sudden divorce or infidelity. Because both of these circumstances involve a dramatic loss of trust in someone who was previously considered a partner, PTSD is not terribly uncommon. Patients in these cases might flash back to the day they were told their partner was leaving, or the day they discovered their partner had an affair, or they experienced job loss and the financial burden caused their spouse to leave. Partners may also feel as though they no longer have a safe space to retreat to, especially if the infidelity was committed within the home. They may quickly experience PTSD related symptoms such as highly reactive behavior and severe anxiety. 

While PTSD might initially seem to be a wartime condition or connected to other life-threatening events, like natural disasters, or car accidents, it can thoroughly infiltrate all walks of life. That means it may likewise affect most people who are involved with a divorce. 

PTSD Risk Factors

The most obvious risk factor for PTSD is experiencing a traumatic event, including divorce or the discovery of infidelity. Apart from this, though, there are some other risk factors that could increase your likelihood of developing PTSD on the heels of an incident. A history of anxiety or depression-or even a family history of anxiety and depression-can elevate your risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic incident. Having experienced other mental health disorders or instances of trauma may also predispose you to developing PTSD later on in life, including after experiencing a divorce. 

PTSD Treatment

PTSD is a treatable condition. Some people can manage their PTSD through talk therapy and other cognitive therapy methods, while others might need to use therapy in conjunction with pharmaceutical intervention as part of their treatment protocol. 

Experiencing PTSD Symptoms From Divorce Can Be Hard

For many, treatment options like online therapy make receiving adequate care easier, more accessible, and more affordable. Especially for those living with PTSD, going to in-person appointments in unfamiliar settings can be uncomfortable and stressful. The emotions associated with this discomfort may even inhibit some from delving as deeply into their experiences as they’d like to.

Fortunately, research suggests that online therapy is effective, even for treating serious mental illnesses like PTSD. One study analyzing the impact of online therapy for those with PTSD noted that many participants experienced significant improvements in their symptoms. Online therapy may make it simpler to get the care you deserve in a way that works for you.


Although it may at first seem a strange combination, PTSD and divorce can be connected. The conflict and significant life changes that accompany divorce in many cases can cause symptoms of PTSD, as your body and brain have lost something that they relied upon for safety, support, and stability. PTSD is especially likely for children involved in divorce, as the processes inherent in divorce remove stability from children. Still, PTSD is a highly treatable mental illness, which means that reaching out to a mental health professional to receive support and guidance may help improve your symptoms over time.

You Don't Have To Face Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Alone.

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