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Divorce and Narrative “Medicine”

Divorce and Narrative “Medicine”

By: M. Scott Gordon

There are many different ways that Chicago residents cope with divorce, especially given that the factors in each divorce case are distinct from one another. But are there some universal ways in which Chicagoans who get divorced can learn to cope with the breakdown of a marriage? According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona, narrating your experiences through journaling actually might be able to help you to cope with the psychological effects of divorce.

We know that it might sound unlikely—that keeping a journal can impact your psychological and emotional well-being. However, there are numerous accounts of narrative “medicine,” so to speak, and this recent study suggests that writing down your feelings and experiences can help to keep you in better physical health after a divorce.

Making Meaning of Your Experiences through Storytelling

The key to meaningful journaling or storytelling after a divorce does not simply involve a play-by-play of your feelings in the aftermath of the breakdown of your marriage. Rather, as Kyle Bourassa, one of the authors of the study, explains, “To be able to create a story in a structured way—not just re-experience your emotions but make meaning out of them—allows you to process those feelings in a more physiologically adaptive way.” In other words, narrating your experiences can be a significant task because it can allow you to think critically about your situation and to respond in meaningful ways to your divorce.

When newly divorced spouses in Chicago keep journal entries about their emotional reactions and physical experiences, they can “gain an understanding . . . that allows them to move forward, rather than simply spinning and re-experiencing the same negative emotions over and over.” To be sure, by writing about your feelings after a divorce, you may be able to better make sense of those feelings and to learn to deal with them in a productive way.

Can Narrative Really Impact Psychological and Physical Well-Being?

There are many who doubt that narrative can have such a strong impact upon the psychological or physiological well-being of a person after divorce. However, the recent study seeks to disprove such assumptions. How did the study work? In this study, the researchers took 109 married men and women who either had become separated or divorced from their spouses within about three months. Each received a health assessment. Those individuals then were divided into three groups.

In the first group, the participants kept regular journals in which they wrote “deep feelings about their relationship and experience.” In the second group, participants told “the story of their relationship by expressing their emotions in a narrative framework with a beginning, middle, and end.” For the third group, participants were asked to write journal entries that omitted emotions and described only “their daily activities.” Each of the participants—in all three groups—wrote in journals for at least 20 minutes per day for three consecutive days.

Several months after the journaling experience, the participants in the second group—those who developed narrative frameworks for their experiences—showed signs of better physical health than the others, particularly heart health. While more research needs to be done to draw definite conclusions, the authors of the study suggest that narrative can indeed function, in some ways, as a remedy for the emotional trauma linked to divorce. The study is forthcoming in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Discuss Your Case with a Divorce Attorney in Chicago

Divorce can be difficult, and it is important to have an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer on your side. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates to learn more about the services we provide to Chicago residents.