When does getting divorced actually boost happiness?

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When does divorce lead to long-term suffering—or long-term happiness?

According to a new study out of the University of Arizona and University of Colorado Boulder, women in low-quality marriages were much happier after they pulled the plug compared to women who remained married. Sometimes it's better to cut and run, the researchers suggest.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, used data from 1,639 men and women aged 25 to 74 at two time intervals, roughly 10 years apart. At each interval participants were measured for personality traits (for example, how neurotic or open they were), depression (how often they felt sad or depressed), marital status (all were married when the first measurement was taken), and marital quality. The latter was judged using both positive and negative questions. For example, "How much do they [your spouse] really understand the way you feel about things?" and "How much do they criticize you?"

At the end of the study, researchers found that those women who had low-quality marriages (much lower than average) and got divorced had greater life satisfaction years later than women in comparable marriages who stayed married. While that may seem like a no-brainer, it's actually not. Previous studies have shown that people would rather stay in a bad relationship than be alone.


Other interesting findings? Women who remained married reported higher levels of life satisfaction later in life, but only if they started out in good marriages to begin with.

However, women who had just okay marriages—slightly below the mean—and got divorced had lower levels of life satisfaction than women who remained married in comparable marriages.


Gender also played a role. Specifically, whether men remained married or got divorced had little to no affect on their life satisfaction (ouch). "This may be due to differences in how men and women view themselves in their marriages and the roles they take," said lead author Kyle Bourassa, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona. "With women generally being more invested in their relationships and more affected by their quality."

The biggest takeaway? According to the researchers, these findings highlight that while divorce can be difficult, for some women, it's well worth it. "Those in the poorest quality relationships may face a variety of negative stressors from which divorce provides a clear relief," the authors write.


The researchers also believe this is an important finding for both clinicians and the general public to understand. "Clinicians and researchers would be ill-served by assuming that divorce is a negative stressful event for all people," they said.

Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.