Men who get divorced after the age of 50 are less likely to use antidepressants and more likely to jump into a new relationship sooner than women of the same age, a new large-scale study has found.
The research looked at 228,644 Chinese adults between the ages of 50 and 70 and found that nearly a quarter (53,460 people) entered into a new relationship in the two to three years post-divorce.
Published in BMJ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the findings showed that men were more likely to recouple over women after a divorce or death of a spouse.
It also found that antidepressant use rose in the six months leading to a divorce, by 5.5% in men and 7% in women. Overally, approximately 10% to 15% of this age group were on antidepressants.
"The greater increases in antidepressant use associated with union dissolution among women in our study may indeed relate to the fact that the costs of union dissolution on mental health fall more heavily on women than men," Professor Yaoyue Hu, of Chongqing Medical University in China, says.
"The smaller declines in use associated with re-partnering in women than in men may be related to the explanations that marriage benefits men’s mental health to a greater extent than women’s, and older men are more likely than women to seek emotional support from re-partnering."
Professor Hu adds that women are more likely to take on greater responsibilities in managing interpersonal relationships, which could ‘undermine’ their mental health.
"Our findings underscore the challenges of adapting to union dissolution in later life and the associated need for support," the study author concluded.
Why men can feel less depressed post-divorce
According to family lawyer Louisa Whitney, if a man is less depressed than his spouse post-divorce, this may be because he checked out of the relationship long before it came to an end.
"If the man has been contemplating ending the relationship for some time then it may be that they have been through the depression phase of grief whilst still in the relationship," Whitney explains.
"As they make the decision to end the relationship they may already be ready to move on with their next chapter. For their ex-partner, if they weren’t aware that their partner was unhappy, their grief process only starts once they hear that their partner wants to separate."
"A man is more likely to fill that void post-divorce in order to avoid feeling depressed," she adds. "So rather than filling the void with healthy relationships and stable people in their lives, they are more likely to run into another woman's arms without processing what they really need. This avoidance of feelings helps men to feel less depressed than women who go through stages of processing their emotions and putting off having that next relationship until they’re fully healed."
Why men move on more quickly than women
"Some men, in my experience, like to feel taken care of and so a new relationship allows them to continue that feeling with a new partner," Whitney explains.
"This can be in a practical sense in terms of cooking, cleaning, or a more emotional sense in terms of feeling loved and having affection displayed towards them."
Lazaris adds that men are less likely to sit well with their emotions than women, and moving into a new relationship provides an ‘instant distraction’.
"Men tend to not process their emotions as they generally do not open themselves up to be supported enough," she says.
"For men, they need to fill this void and find a distraction in terms of something to avoid these uncomfortable emotions. So they look for a new relationship without looking at what they really need to address post-divorce, such as processing their feelings."
Men are also more likely to repeat attachment processes they learnt in childhood, Lazaris says.
"This is why there is a 50% divorce rate, because 50% of the population are either avoidantly, or anxiously attached and didn’t have a consistent caregiving when they were children and these haven’t been ‘healed’."
Why women stay single for longer post-divorce
As women are more likely to process their emotions after a divorce, Lazaris says they are often acutely aware of what went wrong and want to avoid falling into the same scenario.
"Women are more aware of their own needs and likely to look at subconscious conditioning and attachment style in order to reprogram them," Lazaris adds.
"Ultimately, they are possibly more aware that a second marriage is more likely to end in divorce so are less open to new relationships and are prepared to take it slower. Typically as a result, it takes a woman longer to move on than a man and this in turn can also result in low mood and depression, especially whilst these raw emotions are being processed."
One reason why women see a higher antidepressant rate post-divorce could be because women tend to have deeper emotional connections with their partners.
"Men connect more through sex," Lazaris adds. "A man is more likely to use to sex to repress his feelings but will then get attached, without looking at the connection between them. A woman on the other hand, will initially connect through emotions and if she’s been hurt it will take more time to process these emotions.
"Women can also feel more pressure to have the perfect marriage, compared to men, so they can perhaps feel the burden of blame more than men if things don’t work out and therefore put relationships off."
Additional reporting by SWNS.
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