Can Divorce Cause PTSD? You Bet.

can divorce cause ptsd

By Dr. Kevin Skinner, Ph.D, Creator, "The Essentials to Healing after Divorce"

Divorce is not an easy process to go through. It can lead to a wide range of emotions, such as anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, and many more. Can divorce cause PTSD? You bet. Divorce can be a traumatic experience and can have a huge impact on your mental health.

My hope in this post is to provide a deeper understanding of how pre and post- divorce interactions can lead to trauma and what we can do to respond to the symptoms effectively.


What is Divorce-Related Trauma?


Divorce-related trauma refers to the emotional distress and psychological trauma that an individual experiences as a result of divorce or separation from a long-term partner. Divorce triggers a cascade of change in life circumstances. Such drastic shifts can instigate intense emotions, including shock, anger, sadness, a racing mind, and confusion. You may also experience feelings of rejection, abandonment, and loss of control over your life.


Can Divorce Cause PTSD? Understanding PTSD Symptoms


Many people have thought that PTSD is what happens to veterans of war. However, researchers have discovered that PTSD can be associated with physical assault (1), natural disasters (2), accidents (3), childhood trauma (4), and sexual betrayal (5, 6).

Since PTSD can stem from a vast amount of painful experiences, certainly divorce could be one of them. 


The symptoms of PTSD include:


1. Threat to Life — potential for death.
2. Reliving events associated with the event — nightmares, flashbacks, etc.
3. Avoidance — avoiding people or places that remind you of what happened.
4. Negative mood and cognitions — the world is not a safe place; I am bad because this happened.
5. Emotional reactivity — Can’t sleep, anxious or constant worries, your mind is racing.
6. Negatively influences your ability to work, interact with children, and perform other life tasks.
7. The symptoms listed above last for more than one month.


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Founder, Dear Divorce Coach


Relationship Trauma Pre-Divorce


Many, if not most, people who choose to divorce their partner do so because of difficult and painful experiences. As a result, many who choose to divorce have experienced pre-divorce trauma. For example, in a study from 2006, Barbara Steffen and Robyn Rennie discovered that sexual betrayal in a committed relationship triggers PTSD-like symptoms in 70% of betrayed partners. (7) It would be hard to imagine that divorce, by itself, would remove the traumatic symptoms associated with sexual betrayal.


As an interesting side note, roughly 55% of people who file for divorce report that infidelity is their main reason for filing. (8) Each year in the United States, around 725,000 couples divorce, which leaves many people dealing with PTSD-like symptoms pre-divorce. (9) If these numbers are correct, that suggests that nearly 400,000 couples divorce each year due to infidelity, and 70% or (275,000) of them report having PTSD symptoms before their divorce.


These numbers are staggering, considering that this is just one year. If we combine five years, nearly 1.4 million divorcees will have reported that they divorced their partner due to infidelity AND were experiencing PTSD-like symptoms while married. 


I haven’t included individuals who experienced intimate violence, or other forms of abuse in their relationship. It is clear that a significant number of individuals leave their marriage in hopes of reducing trauma experienced while in their relationship. 


There are many questions that need to be addressed if we are going to help divorcees heal.  For example, “How can we best help those who are suffering from relationship related PTSD symptoms?” Or “What are the biggest barriers to healing from relationship trauma?”


Where Does the Relationship Related Trauma Go?


Is it possible that divorce is the solution and will eliminate the PTSD symptoms such as nightmares or flashbacks? Or will divorce take away the fears and anxieties? Or do these and other symptoms persist even after divorce? If they do persist how do the PTSD symptoms go away? 


Many researchers now believe that our bodies carry our trauma. (10) Thus, when we experience chronic levels of stress (think the process of divorce), we may also experience health-related issues (e.g., chronic fatigue, IBS). Left alone, trauma does not disappear or go away. 


While many divorcees report feeling a relief of being separated and divorced from their former spouse, many still report having feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, nightmares, and more. While it is nice to have relief being away from your partner, PTSD symptoms (e.g., avoiding people, feeling inadequate, reliving the past) often linger in the background of your mind. This is why post-divorce you can feel fine one moment and be easily triggered the next. Something as simple as a car driving by that sound like your former spouse’s, can cause feelings of anxiety.


7 Strategies to Respond to Relationship Related Trauma


#1: Stay out of the hurtful environment—Create boundaries.


It is really hard to get over the past when you are still living in the same environment. If you need to create stronger boundaries with your former partner to feel sane, do it. For example, you may eliminate all direct communication if your interactions are too toxic. Or if you have to interact with your ex-spouse, you may choose to have a third party present so you don’t have to be with him/her by yourself.


#2: Establish a safe environment — your healing place.


One of the most important ways to heal after divorce is to give your body time to heal. By establishing a safe environment, your body can finally relax. Imagine being in an environment where you can take deep breaths, relax your body and enjoy the moment. Put yourself in places and locations where you enjoy yourself. Listen to music that calms your soul.


#3: Develop friendships in which you feel safe 


One powerful way to heal from trauma is to be around people who are safe. These people encourage you to be yourself. They genuinely care about you. Relationships have a powerful effect on the healing process. Find your tribe.


#4: Increase self-care so your body can heal


As previously mentioned, your body stores stress from traumatic experiences. As you increase your self-care, you should be more aware of your body relaxing. Often the process of divorce creates consistent stress. Now that your divorce is over, it is time to take care of your body. What does it need? Learn to listen to your body, it knows what it needs.


#5: Read and study — Knowledge is power


In my work over the past 28 years, I have observed that my divorced clients have struggled to make sense of their experience. I often give them writing assignments to help them slow down and make sense of what they have been experiencing. Recently, I wrote the Post-Divorce Adjustment Inventory (PDAI) to help my clients and others identify the core issues they are experiencing post-divorce. If you would like to take this assessment and gain insight into how divorce has impacted your mind and body, you will find it in my online course “The Essentials to Healing after Divorce.”   


#6: Talk with a trauma-focused therapist


In some cases, I have found that certain traumatic memories or experiences related to divorce are best resolved with professional therapy. Strategies such as eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and Trauma-Related CBT are strategies that can be used to help reduce PTSD symptoms. You do not have to carry this trauma throughout your life. Healing is possible with the right help.


#7: Find and create your group 


One of the most important things you can do to reduce trauma is to find people who understand your pain. It is common to feel like you are alone. These fears often prevent people from reaching out for support. Your healing can be accelerated by being with others who have been through what you have been through. These are people who can support you when you are feeling alone and misunderstood.




Divorce related trauma is a serious issue that should not be taken lightly. It is essential to recognize the emotional and psychological impact that divorce can have on you and your family. Please take proactive measures to care for your mental health. Seeking support and professional help can be instrumental in reducing the severity and duration of symptoms. Remember, healing takes time, but with the right resources and support, it is possible to come out of the other side stronger and more resilient than ever before.



  • Freeman D, Thompson C, Vorontsova N, Dunn G, Carter LA, Garety P, Kuipers E, Slater M, Antley A, Glucksman E, Ehlers A. Paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder in the months after a physical assault: a longitudinal study examining shared and differential predictors. Psychol Med. 2013 Dec;43(12):2673-84. doi: 10.1017/S003329171300038X. Epub 2013 Mar 27. PMID: 23531413; PMCID: PMC3821375.
  • Beck JG, Coffey SF. Assessment and treatment of PTSD after a motor vehicle collision: Empirical findings and clinical observations. Prof Psychol Res Pr. 2007 Dec;38(6):629-639. doi: 10.1037/0735-7028.38.6.629. PMID: 18509507; PMCID: PMC2396820.
    American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  • Barbara A. Steffens & Robyn L. Rennie (2006) The Traumatic Nature of Disclosure for Wives of Sexual Addicts, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13:2-3, 247-267, DOI: 10.1080/10720160600870802
  • Vogeler, Heidi & Fischer, Lane & Bingham, Jennie & Hansen, Kristina & Heath, Melissa & Jackson, Aaron & Skinner, Kevin. (2020). Assessing the Validity of the Trauma Inventory for Partners of Sex Addicts (TIPSA). Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. 27. 1-22. 10.1080/10720162.2020.1772158.
  • Barbara A. Steffens & Robyn L. Rennie (2006) The Traumatic Nature of Disclosure for Wives of Sexual Addicts, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13:2-3, 247-267, DOI: 10.1080/10720160600870802
  • A., V. der K. B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin Books.


*In order to PTSD to be diagnosed you would want to talk with a healthcare provider.

Dr. Kevin Skinner, Ph.D., LMFT, Creator, “The Essentials to Healing after Divorce”


Dr. Kevin Skinner is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Throughout his 28 year career Dr. Skinner has worked to help individuals dealing with the pain associated with divorce. This course is a culmination of research and study on how to accelerate healing. 


In addition to therapy, Dr. Skinner has created online courses for and He has written professional assessments completed by thousands of people. He is the author of four books, Treating Sexual Addiction: A Compassionate Approach to Recovery, Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal, Treating Pornography Addiction, and Rebuild Your Relationship after Sexual Betrayal. 


He has also trained therapists throughout the world as a faculty member for IITAP. Together with his wife Katy they have 8 children and two grandchildren.

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