The famed Social Readjustment Rating Scale (also known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale) highlights divorce as one of the most traumatic events any individual will endure. The scale measures upheaval in life change units. With a score of 73, divorce comes in only behind the loss of a spouse, which earns 100 points. That’s right: divorce is more personally upsetting than job loss, the death of a close family member, or even imprisonment.
The Social Readjustment Rating Scale simply provides numerical validation of what we already know: divorce is hard. This is true even for “easy” divorces in which spouses agree on most matters and resolve minor differences through mediation. But if spouses agree that they’re better off apart and even look forward to resuming life as singles, why is the experience so traumatic?
The Role of Uncertainty
An intriguing theory indicates that the primary challenge of divorce is uncertainty. Humans naturally look for and maintain patterns in their personal lives, and any time this structure is interrupted, we feel ill at ease. It doesn’t matter if the disruption is absolutely necessary (as in many divorces); if it changes the status quo, it’s bound to create tension.
Divorce is the ultimate harbinger of uncertainty. Everything changes, from living situation to childcare arrangements to bank accounts. Even seemingly minor changes make separation a struggle. For example, many divorcees find their social lives turned upside down after splitting, as they once primarily socialized alongside their spouse, accompanied by other couples. Navigating this new world can be frightening.
The Science of Uncertainty
The natural human preference for uncertainty was explained in a 2010 study, in which students were asked to express their preference for either a course described as the status quo, or a newer version. It didn’t matter how much coursework was involved; students invariably selected the status quo.
Overcoming Fear of Change
Like it or not, your divorce will bring about significant changes. However, if you can make it through these challenges, you’ll emerge healthier and happier in the long-term. Make every effort to stabilize other areas of your life, including your job, your hobbies, and your friends. Lean on friends and family members for support and don’t be afraid to work with a therapist.
In the midst of divorce-based uncertainty, it helps to have a legal representative you can consistently rely on.