The divorce statistics in America are high enough that most of the population knows what a legal divorce is: a legal dissolution of a marriage. Yet an emotional divorce is increasingly commonplace as legal divorce becomes more expensive. What exactly is an emotional divorce and how does it differ in impact from a legal one?

This week, we define emotional divorce and explore the repercussions of emotional divorce on families.

What is an Emotional Divorce?

In short, an emotional divorce is when someone psychologically and emotionally detaches from their spouse. Oftentimes one partner reaches this point before the other, which can be a painful process for both parties.

Oftentimes, emotional divorces preceed legal divorces. However, the cost to legally divorce someone continues to increase. This large price tag can actually be prohibitive, and cause couples to get stuck in the process of emotional divorce without the follow through of a legal separation.

Couples also may not follow through with a legal divorce for the sake of their children, or because they are holding onto a relationship for the sake of not hurting their partner.

An individual can emotionally divorce from their partner without hating or even disliking them. If a marriage has lasted for a significant length of time, it is probable that even though an emotional divorce has happened, the parties still care for each other.

How Does This Situation Impact Families?

Many couples try and stay together through an emotional detachment for the sake of their family. This tends to backfire, however, because emotional divorces actually take a heavy toll on families.

Obviously, an emotional divorce hurts both spouses involved. The spouse that has emotionally divorced themselves often feel frustrated and trapped. They are often unable to effectively communicate what exactly is frustrating them. Whether they are staying for a sense of duty or obligation – familial, religious, or otherwise – they will eventually come to resent the situation. This resent oftentimes becomes aimed at their partner, and sometimes is directed at their children or whatever else is keeping them in an emotionally divorced marriage.

The spouse that does not feel emotionally divorced from the situation is often left bewildered and hurt by the situation. They typically do not feel as though they have done anything wrong and do not understand why their partner is so distant. Though not emotionally divorced, they may feel emotionally exhausted because they are consistently on the defensive.

Children of all ages struggle with a divorce, but an emotional divorce can be especially difficult on them. Younger kids in particular often

Children often struggle to understand divorce, especially emotional divorce.

experience confusion, guilt, or sadness. A legal divorce gives a child an actual event to attach these feelings to, which lets them process their emotions. Oftentimes an emotional separation goes on for decades, and not having a specific instance to attach their emotions to can lead to a child struggling to realize what is happening to their family and themselves.

Overall, legal divorces are difficult, but emotional divorces are even more so. All of the family members are experiencing the same emotions without being given the space and time to process them.