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Journal of Social and

Personal Relationships
Patterns of psychological 2015, Vol. 32(3) 386405
The Author(s) 2014
adaptation to divorce after Reprints and permissions:

a long-term marriage DOI: 10.1177/0265407514533769

Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello1, Sara Hutchison1

and Davide Morselli2

Despite the increase in divorces after a long relationship, this trend remains a neglected
research topic. The present contribution seeks to identify patterns of psychological
adaptation to divorce after a long-term marriage. Data from a questionnaire study with
308 persons aged 4565 years, who divorced after having been married for an average of
25 years, are presented. Exploratory latent profile analysis with various well-being
outcomes revealed five groups: one with average adapted, one with resilients, and three
small groups with seriously affected individuals. Discriminant variables between the
groups were personality, time since separation, a new relationship, and financial
situation. Age, gender, and length of marriage played a marginal role; satisfaction with the
former marriage and initiator status were not relevant.

Divorce, long-term marriage, personality, psychological adaptation, resilience,

While the negative effects of divorce on well-being are well documented in research
literature, the large individual differences in psychological adaptation are still not well
understood (Amato, 2010). This is especially the case for marital breakup after long-
term marriage, which is still a neglected research topic (Pudrovska & Carr, 2008;

University of Berne, Switzerland
University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Corresponding author:
Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, Institute of Psychology, University of Berne, Fabrikstrasse 8, Bern 3012, Switzerland.

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Perrig-Chiello et al. 387

Sweeney, 2010). This research lag stands in contrast to the relevance of the phenomenon,
given the increase in divorce rates among adults aged 50 and older. In the U.S., divorce
rates in this age-group have doubled in the last 20 years (Brown & Lin, 2012), as it did in
most European countries. In Switzerland, where the present research was conducted, the
divorce rate for marriages of a length of more than 20 years has risen from 15% in 1970
to 28% in 2010 (Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, 2011).1 Demographic and social
changes (longer life expectancy and rising expectations for personal fulfillment from
marriage) in recent decades are major explanations for this trend. Furthermore, objective
barriers to divorce (e.g., economic dependence of women) as well as subjective ones
(impact of family values and religious convictions) have been considerably lessened
(Wu & Schimmele, 2007).
Most people concerned are in their middle years and have been married for more than
one or two decades. A crucial question in this context is whether the research results
regarding psychological adaptation to divorce found in younger age-groups also apply to
divorcees after long-term marriages. In fact, even though a number of studies have exam-
ined the impact of divorce on individuals well-being, a majority did not explicitly raise the
issue of age at the time of divorce. However, it is known that the age at which one experi-
ences a critical life event can shape both the nature and context of the event as well as the
individuals subsequent adjustment (Pudrovska & Carr, 2008). For middle-aged individu-
als, divorce may be accompanied by some of the challenges younger persons face but also
by a set of distinctive age-related risks as well as resources (Pudrovska & Carr, 2008).
Indeed, most people in this age-group have to deal with personal changes (e.g., meno-
pause) as well as with multiple and often stressing social roles both professionally and pri-
vately (e.g., expectations for help and care from frail elderly parents; Perrig-Chiello &
Hutchison, 2010; Perrig-Chiello, Hutchison, & Hopflinger, 2008). Furthermore, many in
this stage see fewer opportunities for new intimate relationships (Wrosch & Heckhausen,
1999). On the other hand, they are not newly confronted with the challenge of raising chil-
dren; in addition, they possibly have better emotional regulation, given their longer life
experience than individuals who divorce younger (Charles & Carstensen, 2007).
Strongly related to the issue of age is the duration of the marriage. Marital breakup
after a long-term marriage often necessitates a departure from accustomed roles and in
turn adaptation to new ones after decades of adhering to a specific status quo. It has been
shown that the length of a marriage proves predictive for agitation or stress symptoms
(Chiriboga, 1982; Wang & Amato, 2000). However, just as for age the duration of mar-
riage has hardly been considered in divorce research.
Considering these research gaps, the overarching aim of the present research is to
explore psychological adaptation to marital breakup in individuals who have been
married for an average of 25 years.

Psychological adaptation to divorce
There is a great body of empirical evidence that associates divorce with symptoms of
depression, grief, and anger, which may in turn have detrimental effects on well-being

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388 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32(3)

(Amato, 2010; Lorenz, Wickrama, Conger, & Elder, 2006). For most individuals, marital
breakup is psychologically stressful and socially destabilizing, but the way adaptation
occurs can vary widely. There have been several theoretical attempts to explain the
effects of divorce on well-being outcomes. One of the most influential approaches, on
which we rely on in this research, is the divorce-stress-adjustment perspective (Amato,
2000). This approach considers marital dissolution as a process that begins before the
event happens and ends after divorce is concluded. The divorce process is typically asso-
ciated with various stressors that increase the risk of negative psychological distress and
health outcomes (Amato, 2010). The severity and duration of the adaptation process
depend on a variety of protective factors such as personal resources (Amato, 2010).
Embedded within the divorce-stress-adjustment perspective are two contrary models.
The one, the crisis model, assumes that the negative consequences of divorce represent
a temporary phenomenon to which most individuals adapt over time (Clark & Georgel-
lis, 2010). The other one, the chronic strain model, contrastingly presumes that being
divorced entails chronic stress (Amato, 2000).
Research of the last two decades is inconclusive regarding whether the crisis or the
chronic strain model is more appropriate for explaining adaptation to divorce (Amato,
2010). Whereas many individuals adapt rapidly to marital breakup, others remain vul-
nerable over a longer period of time, and some do not seem to recover at all. Results from
longitudinal studies, for example, by Hetherington (2003) suggest that there are indeed
various patterns of adaptation to divorce. Six years after divorce, one fifth of their study
participants were very well adjusted to their new situation, whereas 10% were still
hopeless and depressed. The others, the large majority, adapted quite well and had average
scores for most indicators. Another study conducted by Mancini, Bonanno, and Clark
(2011), which examined trajectories of life satisfaction in the years before and after
divorce, the majority of participants showed little change in annual assessments of life
satisfaction, while some trajectories diverged sharply from the modal response.
Taken together, it seems that while the crisis approach applies for most people, for a
minority it does not. By adopting this differentiated and extended crisis perspective,
the aim of this article is to explore the variability of psychological adaptation to divorce
after a long-term partnership and its determining factors.

Role of stressors and resources for adaptation to divorce

The most studied stressors are related to the time before breakup (e.g., dissatisfaction
with relationship) as well as after it (e.g., continuing conflicts with ex-spouse). However,
the effects are not always clear. While some studies suggest that persons from low-
distress marriages have more difficulties in adapting than those from high-distress ones
(Amato & Hohmann-Marriott, 2007), other studies could not replicate these findings
(Johnson & Wu, 2002; Waite, Luo, & Lewin, 2009). Another stressor could be that one
spouse desires to end the marriage more than the other. It has been argued that being the
initiator of divorce enables the individual to have more control over the event, which thus
may lead to better adaptation after separation (Hewitt & Turrell, 2011; Wang & Amato,
2000). Further possible stressors include the way the divorce has been experienced,

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Perrig-Chiello et al. 389

continuing conflicts with the ex-spouse, or increasing financial problems (Braver, Sha-
piro, & Goodman, 2006; Krumrei, Coit, Martin, Fogo, & Mahoney, 2007).
The effects of divorce-induced stress can be moderated by protective factors such as
intrapersonal resources like personality. Individuals with low scores in neuroticism and
high scores in openness and extraversion seem to be better able to adapt to the new sit-
uation (Hetherington, 2003; Pudrovska & Carr, 2008). But also trait resilience, which
refers to the ability to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and
physical function in the face of disruptive events, can have a beneficial role on adapta-
tion (Bonanno, 2004; Mancini & Bonanno, 2009; Ong, Bergeman, Bisconti, & Wallance,
2006). Among the interpersonal resources, the existence of a new relationship results
in a significant predictor of good psychological adaptation after divorce (Kulik &
Heine-Cohen, 2011), but also having children can represent an important resource
(Williams & Dunne-Bryant, 2006).
Whether men and women differ with regard to adaptation is rather controversial.
Whereas some studies found men to adapt better and more quickly to the new situation
(Simon, 2002), others found just the opposite (Andress & Brockel, 2007) and still others
did not find any gender differences at all (Gardner & Oswald, 2006; Strohschein,
McDonough, Monette, & Shao, 2005).

Research questions and hypotheses

Considering this background, the aim of the present article is to grasp the large individual
differences by exploring possible patterns of psychological adaptation to marital breakup
after a long-term marriage. Psychological adaptation is understood as a multidimensional
concept referring to an individuals response to the critical life event. In order to have a
differentiated view, several indicators are taken into account: affective well-being
(absence of unpleasant affects namely depression, hopelessness, and mourning), cognitive
well-being (life satisfaction), and subjective health (Luhmann, Hofmann, Eid, & Lucas,
2012). In addition, we will examine the role of intra- and interindividual resources and
of possible stressors for group allocation. Thus, our research questions are as follows:
 What are the patterns of psychological adaptation (in terms of life satisfaction,
depression, mourning, hopelessness, and subjective health) in persons 4565
years old who experienced a divorce within the last 5 years after a long-term
marriage (i.e., at least 15 years)?
 How do the individuals in the identified groups of patterns differ with regard to
intrapersonal resources (personality and resilience), interpersonal resources (new
relationship and having children), stressors related to marital history (dissatisfac-
tion with marriage, initiator status, and divorce experience), sociodemographic
variables (age, sex, education, work status, and financial situation), length of
marriage, and time since separation and divorce?

We expect:

 In accordance with the crisis approach (Dupre, Beck, & Meadows, 2009), and
substantiated by finding from resilience research, it can be expected that the large

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390 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32(3)

majority of individuals are well adapted, as the mean time since divorce in this
study was around 3 years. Specifically, we expect three patterns: a large cluster
of average-adapted individuals (moderately lowered life satisfaction, subjective
health, and moderately increased depression, mourning, and hopelessness) and
two small clusters, one consisting of vulnerable individuals (with the most nega-
tive outcomes) and another of persons showing the most positive outcomes.
 According to the divorce-stress-adjustment perspective, the three clusters are
expected to differ from each other primarily with regard to the individuals intra-
personal resources: the group with the most positive outcomes is expected having
the lowest scores in neuroticism, and the highest ones in extraversion, openness
and resilience, and the vulnerable group correspondingly the lowest respectively
the highest scores in these measures. The best adapted group is furthermore
expected of having the shortest duration of marriage, being the initiator of separa-
tion, being separated longer, having children and a new relationship, and being
financially better situated than the average adapted and, especially, than the vul-
nerable group. Considering the inconsistent findings, we do not have any specific
expectations concerning the satisfaction in former partnership, age, gender, edu-
cation, and occupational status.

Study context and participants
Data come from a questionnaire study carried out in 2012 in Switzerland.2 This study
aims at gaining insights about psychological adaptation to marital breakup in the second
half of life, be it due to divorce or bereavement. In this article, we concentrate on the
sample of divorced individuals. To generate the sampling frame, the Federal Office of
Statistics supplied us with a random quota sample stratified by age, gender, and marital
status. A total of 1,082 persons aged between 45 and 65 years who divorced within
the last 5 years were contacted by postal mail and asked to participate in a questionnaire
survey. Nonrespondents were recontacted twice by postal mail. Participants had the
choice between filling out a paperpencil questionnaire or using an online version.
The return rate was 42.8% (n 422); 9% used the online version. This return rate is quite
satisfactory, considering the fact that divorced people tend to have higher nonresponse
rates than their nondivorced counterparts (Mitchell, 2010).
In our analyses, we considered only those individuals who had been married at least
15 or more years prior to the divorce in order to ensure a more homogenous sample of the
long-term married, allowing thereby clearer conclusions. A total of 308 persons fulfilled
this criterion. Their average length of marriage was 23.62 years (range 1540). The
final sample comprised 113 men (Mage 56.18 years; SD 5.80) and 195 women
(Mage 54.95 years; SD 5.33; no significant gender difference in age: MannWhitney
U 9622.5, p .06). The large majority (84%) was Swiss (14% European and 2%
other). The average time since divorce was around 3 years (M 2.88; SD 1.56;
range .65). In all, 31% of the women (n 61) and 55% of the men (n 62) were
in a new partnership (significant gender difference, f .238, p < .001).

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Perrig-Chiello et al. 391

Dependent variables. Life satisfaction was assessed with the Satisfaction with Life scale
(Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985; Schumacher, 2003) consisting of 5 items
(sample item: I am satisfied with my life) with answers on a 7-point scale (1 completely
disagree to 7 completely agree; M 4.83, SD 1.23) and loading onto one factor.
The internal reliability of the scale was good (Cronbachs a .87).
Depression was measured with the Centre of Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale
(ADS-K, Hautzinger & Bailer, 1993) consisting of 15 items (M .59, SD .50; sample
item: During the past week I was bothered by things that usually dont bother me) and
answers on a 4-point scale (0 not at all; 3 all the time; internal consistency Cronbach
a .90).
Hopelessness was measured with a short version of the Hopelessness scale
(Beck, Weissman, Lester, & Trexler, 1974; Krampen, 1994). The 10 items (sample
item: I never get what I want, so its foolish to want anything; answer scale: 1 very
much untrue to 6 very much correct) assess negative expectations of persons
concerning themselves, their environment, and their future (M 2.62, SD .73;
Cronbachs a .83).
Subjective health was assessed with the widely used single item question How are you
presently doing health-wise? The answer options range from 1 very good to 5 very
badly (M 2.01, SD .88).
Mourning: With a self-developed item we inquired whether the participants
mourned the loss of their partner: Do you mourn your ex-relationship? Answer
options were 1 yes, very much, 2 sometimes, 3 no, and 4 no, quite the opposite
(M 2.64, SD .91).

Independent variables
Pre- and postdivorce history (possible stressors).
Length of marriage and length of relationship: Besides the length of the marriage
(M 23.62 years; SD 6.15; range 1540) the length of the relationship was
also assessed, which includes also premarriage period (M 26.05 years; SD
6.19; range 1547).
Satisfaction with former relationship: With this self-developed item respondents
rated on a 10-point scale (1 very unhappy; 10 very happy), how generally
happy they felt in their former relationship (M 5.84; SD 2.16).
In addition, respondents were asked whether they were the initiator of the separa-
tion process (44%), their partner was (40%), or both (16%).
Separation experience: Participants had to rate how they had experienced the
separation (1 very negatively; 10 very positively; M 4.21, SD 3.05).
Current relationship and familial situation: Respondents were asked whether
they were in a new relationship at the time of the survey, and how they judged
their current relationship with their former partner, rating it on a 5-point scale
(1 extremely tense; 5 very good; M 2.80; SD 1.34). Respondents had
also to indicate whether they had children in common with the former partner
(M .89; SD .05).

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392 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32(3)

Resources. Personality was assessed with the Big Five Inventory (BFI-10; Ramm-
stedt & John, 2007), which consists of 2 items for each of the five personality dimen-
sions: extroversion (I see myself as someone who is reserved), agreeableness (I see
myself as someone who tends to find fault with others), conscientiousness (I see myself
as someone who does a thorough job), neuroticism (I see myself as someone who gets
nervous easily), and openness (I see myself as someone who has an active imagina-
tion). Each item can be scored on a scale from 1 disagree strongly to 5 agree
strongly. Mean scores: extroversion M 3.32, SD 1.06; agreeableness M 3.50,
SD .77; conscientiousness M 4.20, SD .72; neuroticism M 2.64, SD .93;
openness M 3.76, SD .96.
Resilience was measured with the brief version of the Resilience scale (RS-11)
(Schumacher, Leppert, Gunzelmann, Strauss, & Bahler 2005; Wagnild & Young, 1993).
The RS-11 is a one-dimensional scale with 11 items (I can usually look at a situation in a
number of ways; answer options range from 1 I dont agree to 7 I agree completely,
M 5.54, SD .85) and correlates strongly with the full version of the RS-11 (r .95;
Schumacher et al., 2005). In our sample, the scale demonstrated good internal consis-
tency (a .86).
Time since separation and divorce, demographic. To control for the role of time on the
psychological adaptation to marital breakup, we considered the time passed since the
separation (years since the separation (M 6.59; SD 3.58; range .7216.75) as well
as since divorce (M 2.88; SD 1.56; range .65), as the temporal gap between the
both events may vary to a considerable degree.
The analyses were controlled for respondents gender, age, level of education (from
1 Primary school to 6 University level; M 4.00; SD 1.34), work status (85%
employed, 19% homemakers, 8% retired, and 2% unemployed), and self-declared finan-
cial situation (from 1 I do not have enough money to support myself to 3 I have more
than enough money to support myself; M 1.99; SD .43).

Analytical strategy
Following Asparouhov and Muthen (2013) and Lanza, Tan, and Bray (2013), a two-step
procedure was used to investigate individual differences in reacting to marital breakup.
In the first step, an exploratory latent profile analysis (LPA, Lazarsfeld & Henry, 1968)
was used to assess different types of responses to divorce. Like latent class analysis, LPA
is a person-centered approach that identifies respondents with similar patterns of
response on a number of numeric variables (Bauer & Curran, 2004; Marsh, Ludtke,
Trautwein, & Morin, 2009). The difference in variable-centered analysesfor example,
factor analysisis that whereas those highlight relationships among the variables, the
LPA model highlights relationships among individuals. That is, LPA clusters individuals
into unobservable subgroups with different probability distributions (Lubke & Muthen,
2005), and the choice of the correct number of groups is estimated by means of
goodness-of-fit indexes (Nylund, Asparouhov, & Muthen, 2007). In this study, three
types of indicators were used: the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC), the boot-
strapped likelihood ratio test (BLRT; McLachlan & Peel, 2000), and entropy. The BIC

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Perrig-Chiello et al. 393

assumes that a model is penalized by the number of estimated parameters. The best
model is indicated by the lowest BIC. The BLRT indicates whether including one extra
class in the analysis produced a significant (i.e., larger than zero) improvement in the
model fit. The best fit is indicated by the last significant BLRT. Entropy gives informa-
tion on the probability of respondents being classified into more than one cluster. Values
of entropy near 1 indicate high certainty of classification, while small values of entropy
indicate a high probability that respondents could be classified in more than one class.
After having assessed the number of profiles, standard procedures assign each indi-
vidual to the most probable profile to estimate between-class differences on covariates
(Clogg, 1995; Morselli & Passini, 2012). This method uses the latent classification as
an observed variable, thus losing the benefits of a latent model that account for classifi-
cation uncertainty (Clark & Muthen, 2009; Lanza, Tan, & Bray, 2013; Vermunt, 2010).
Alternatively, Lanza and colleagues (2013) proposed a technique that estimates the clas-
sification as a latent variable and at the same time the difference between the estimated
classes on a number of independent (distal) variables. In Lanzas method as implemented
on Mplus 7.11 (Muthen & Muthen, 19982013), an auxiliary model is estimated where
the distal variables are used as latent class predictors within a multinomial logistic
regression in addition to the original LPA measurement model. This method has the
advantage over other methods for the use of covariates in LPA (e.g., Clark & Muthen,
2009; Vermunt, 2010) not allowing the distal variables to drastically change the compo-
sition of the classes. Thus, the equality of means across the latent profiles is tested for
each independent variable one at a time using an overall Walds test as well as pairwise
class comparisons between distal variable means (Asparouhov, 2010).
Given that the Lanzas method is also fairly robust under violation of the assumptions
of multinomial logistic regression (Asparouhov & Muthen, 2013), it is of particular
interest for comparing profiles of adaptations to critical events in which maladaptation or
complete resilience may be relatively rare and researchers need to compare small and
large groups of people (e.g., Bonanno et al., 2002). To ensure that model results did not
depend on local maxima, each final model was reproduced by increasing the number of
random starts to 5,000, the number of iterations to 1,000, and the number of final-stage
optimizations to 500 (Hipp & Bauer, 2006; Marsh et al., 2009).

Latent profiles of responses to divorce
One to six LPA models with the five indicators (life satisfaction, depression, hope-
lessness, subjective health, and mourning) were tested via maximum likelihood esti-
mation with robust standard error. Indicators were controlled for the questionnaire mode
(paperpencil vs. online) and centered on the grand mean. Centering in LPA allowed to
estimate which indicators were significantly different from the grand mean and con-
tributed to identify each profile. The best fit of data was given by the five-group model,
as reported in Table 1.
The five groups extracted by the LPA were composed of two larger groups of indi-
viduals that adapted quite well or very well to marital breakup, and of three smaller

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394 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32(3)

Table 1. Fit indexes for model with 1 to 6 latent profiles.

Group number BIC BLRT Entropy

1 3,778.76
2 3,393.06 1,846.40*** .91
3 3,308.66 1,636.37*** .80
4 3,289.63 1,576.97*** .82
5 3,278.63 1,550.27*** .83
6 3,295.31 1,527.58 .85
Note. BIC Bayesian information criterion; BLRT bootstrapped likelihood ratio test.
***p < .001.

Table 2. Average latent profile probabilities for most likely latent profile membership (row) by
latent profile (column).

1 2 3 4 5

1. Malcontents .892 .000 .017 .057 .035

2. Resilients .000 .907 .000 .093 .001
3. Vulnerable .067 .000 .926 .000 .007
4. Average copers .019 .093 .000 .879 .009
5. Resigned ones .012 .000 .002 .106 .880

groups that in contrast had a hard time to adjust to the new situation. The largest group
was named the average copers (n 151, i.e., 49% of the sample). The mean scores of
this group were the closest to the overall sample mean, with lower scores on the
depression scale and a tendency to higher life satisfaction and better subjective health
(Table 2; Figure 1). Compared with the test standardization sample, their depression
percentile rank (PR) was 41 (Hautzinger & Bailer, 1993) and for hopelessness 50
(Krampen, 1994).
In contrast to this group, the malcontents (n 37, i.e., 12% of the sample) and the
vulnerables (n 18, 6% of the sample) showed the most negative well-being out-
comes of all groups, with similar patterns of response in all five dependent variables
(Figure 1). Although patterns were similar, the deviance of vulnerables from the grand
mean was larger. Members of both groups reported low satisfaction with life and high
lack of hope, but the vulnerables also scored markedly higher on the depression scale
(PRdepression 96; PRhopelessness 98) and lower on subjective health. The resigned
ones (n 12, i.e., 4% of the sample) category grouped respondents with high scores
on the depression scale (PR 86; Figure 1). This group revealed the highest scores in
the mourning measure and relatively low subjective health, although coefficients were
not significant. Due to the small number of cases in this group, confidence intervals
were relatively large.
In contrast to these three groups with negative outcomes, the resilients (n 90, i.e.,
29% of the sample) group included respondents with the highest scores in life satis-
faction and health and the lowest in hopelessness (PR 16), depression (PR 14), and

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Perrig-Chiello et al. 395

Figure 1. Latent profile analysis on the independent variables.

*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

mourning (Figure 1). Respondents classified under this profile are those who could be
described as having successfully adapted to marital breakup.

Profile differences
To explore the differences among the five profiles, the independent variables were
introduced as distal outcomes in the model. The mean scores for each profile, Walds test
approximate w2, and pairwise comparisons are reported in Tables 3 and 4.
The only age difference was between resigned ones and the other profiles: members of
the former being older than the others. Concerning gender, the malcontent group contained
on average more women than other profiles; however, the difference was statistically
significant only in relation to the resilients and the average copers. In addition, malcontents
had also a systemically lower levels of education than resilients and average copers, but
similar levels to the other two profiles. Resilients were more educated than average copers;
however, both profiles did not differ from the vulnerables and the resigned ones. Similarly,
resilients declared to be in a better financial conditions than the average copers. No per-
sistent difference was found between average copers and the resigned ones. The most
maladapted profiles (malcontents and vulnerables) declared lower financial resources than
all the others. No or marginal statistical difference was found concerning work status.
However, the resigned ones and the malcontents were the less likely to be employed.

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396 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32(3)

Table 3. Profile means, standard errors, and equality tests of means of the demographics.

Average Walds
Resilients copers Resigned ones Malcontents Vulnerables test

Variable M SE M SE M SE M SE M SE w2

Men .45 .05a .37 .04a .38 .13a,b .17 .06b .31 .11a,b 13.89**
a a b
Age 54.75 .56 55.72 .45 60.63 1.08 55.06 .89 53.31 1.23a
a b a,b.c
Level of 4.34 .13 3.96 .11 4.14 .34 3.40 .22c 3.85 .32a,b,c 14.63**
Employed .89 .31a .89 .03a .56 .14b .66 .08b .84 .09a,b 12.95*
Financial 2.16 .45a 2.02 .03b 2.13 .11a,b 1.77 .07d 1.71 .11d 30.06***

Note. Means with differing superscripts within rows are significantly different at the p < .05 based on Walds
test paired comparisons.
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

The length of the former relationship was fairly similar across the five profiles, with
the resigned ones having experienced a longer relationship. This applies also for the ex-
marriage length; however, the resilients tended to have a shorter marriage than the
average copers (w2 3.90, p < .05). Virtually all vulnerables and average copers had
children with the previous partner, and in this differed from resilients and malcontents,
which were characterized by similar percentages of respondents with children. It is worth
noting that the percentage was fairly high (minimum 76%) across all profiles.
Concerning the reported satisfaction with the former relationship, surprisingly there
were no statistical differences across profiles.
The role of time differed significantly among the profiles: The resigned ones had
separated and divorced more recently than all other groups. On average, the malcontents
had the earliest separation and divorce; however, the difference with the average copers
and the resilients was not significant. A similar picture is revealed when looking at the
length of the transition: the resigned ones also experienced the shortest transition. The
time lapse between divorce and separation was similar between average copers and
malcontents and between resilients and vulnerables.
Interestingly, no statistical difference emerged across profiles when comparing the
initiator of the separation. When looking at group differences, the vulnerables and the
resigned ones were more likely to attribute the separation to the partners decision than
their own, and vice versa, for the resilients and the average copers, although the results
were not statistically significant.
With regard to intrapersonal resources, the overall picture shows the resilients being
generally opposed to the maladaptive profiles (resigned, malcontents, and vulnerables),
while such opposition was less marked for the average copers. In particular, the resilients
scored lower on neuroticism than all the other profiles, while the vulnerables, mal-
contents, and resigned ones scored significantly higher. On extraversion, resilients also
scored significantly higher than the vulnerables and malcontents. Significant differences
were found between the resilients and malcontents, resigned ones and average copers on

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Table 4. Profile means, standard errors, and equality tests of means of distal variables.

Resilients Average copers Resigned ones Malcontents Vulnerables Walds test

Variable M SE M SE M SE M SE M SE Approx. w2

Length of the relationship 25.20 .61a 26.32 .51a 30.38 1.79b 26.26 1.00a 24.85 1.43a 8.78
Length of marriage 22.53 .57a 24.06 .52b 29.55 1.86c 23.40 .97a,b 22.50 1.37a,b 15.06**
Children in common .87 .04a .95 .02b,c .76 .12a,c .87 .06a 1.00 .00d 32.04***
Satisfaction with former relationship 6.20 .21a 5.75 .18a 5.43 .61a 5.68 .36a 5.26 .52a 4.89
Years since separation 6.05 .38a,b 7.01 .35a 3.46 .99c 7.29 .73a,b 5.36 .72b,c 16.31***
Years since divorce 3.04 .15a 2.84 .35a,b 1.84 .39c 3.34 2.42a 2.22 .37b,c 14.58**
Length of transition 3.17 .28a 4.03 .31b 1.80 .57c 4.02 .62a,b 3.04 .55a,b,c 13.79**
Initiator: self .56 .05a .44 .04a .37 .13a .44 .08a .36 .12a 5.17
Initiator: both .11 .03a .18 .03a .13 .09a .15 .06a .07 .06a 4.617
Initiator: partner .34 .05a .38 .04a .50 .14a .42 .08a .57 .12a 4.201
Separation experience 5.13 .31a 3.92 .25b 3.92 .82a,b 3.95 .48b 2.09 .44c 31.706***
BFIneuroticism 1.91 .07a 2.67 .07b 3.25 .15c 3.39 .17c,d 3.71 .19d 180.475***
BFIextraversion 3.68 .10a 3.28 .09b,d 3.30 .27a,c,d 2.78 .17c 2.71 .24c 30.146***
BFIagreeableness 3.71 .08a 3.43 .06b 3.37 .15b 3.37 .15b 3.36 .18a,b 10.869*
BFIopenness 4.00 .09a 3.76 .08b,c 3.65 .17a,c 3.00 .20b 3.77 .23a 21.376***
BFIconscientiousness 4.33 .07a 4.18 .06a 4.08 .15a 4.20 .14a 4.03 .19a 4.771
Resilience 6.21 .05a 5.57 .05b 4.90 .19c 4.81 .14c 4.45 .23c 180.391***

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Current relationship with ex-partner 3.04 .14a 2.79 .11a,c 3.39 .36a 2.47 .22b,c 1.78 .27c 32.038***
Currently in a relationship .60 .05a .39 .04b,d .29 .13c,d .18 .06c .06 .06c 60.642***
Note. BFI Big Five Inventory. Means with differing superscripts within rows are significantly different at p < .05 based on Walds test paired comparisons.
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

398 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32(3)

agreeableness, and between resilients and malcontents in relation to openness. Unex-

pectedly, resilients did not differ from the vulnerables on openness, and only marginally
on agreeableness (w2 3.18, p .07). The mean scores of average copers were not
statistically different from resigned ones on extroversion and from resigned ones, mal-
contents, and vulnerables on agreeableness and openness. The five profiles did not
significantly differ on conscientiousness. The resilients scored higher than all other
groups on resilience with the average copers scoring second highest, while the three
maladaptive profiles did not significantly differ.
Concerning the relationship situation, resilients, average copers, and resigned ones
had similar mean scores and declared a significantly better relationship with the ex-
partner than malcontents and vulnerables. The vulnerables declared on average a more
tense relationship with the former partner than all other groups and were the least likely
to be in a new relationship. More respondents in the average coper profile were in a new
relationship than those in the malcontent and vulnerable groups but less than the resili-
ents. Indeed, 60% of the resilients had started a new relationship, much more than the
39% of the average copers and the 16.36% of the maladaptive groups.

Despite the existing vast body of consolidated knowledge on divorce and psychological
adaptation, various shortcomings still remain. This article makes three main contribu-
tions to close some specific gaps. First, it extends prior research by focusing on marital
breakup after long-term marriages, namely after around 25 years. Traditional research
has largely neglected this increasingly relevant topic. Second, it makes an innovative
contribution to clarify the role of time in the psychological adaptation process by disen-
tangling two factors that were often confounded in research, namely the time since
divorce and the time since separation. It is knownespecially in long-term mar-
riagesthat a considerable time lag between the two events can be expected. Third, it
uses a most innovative methodology that allows to shed light on the heterogeneity in
adaptation to divorce.
This article identifies patterns of psychological adaptation inherent in marital
breakups after a long-term marriage and sheds light on the discriminant features of these
patterns in terms of life satisfaction, depression, mourning, hopelessness, and subjective
health. In accordance with our expectations, our results revealed a large group of aver-
age-adapted individuals (49% of the sample) with moderately lowered or increased indi-
cator outcomes in addition to another relatively large group (29%) of divorced
individuals who showed rather positive outcomes (resilients) when compared with the
other groups and to the test standardization norms. These results are similar to those
found by both Hetherington (2003) and Mancini and colleagues (2011), demonstrating
that a majority of the divorced adapt quite well after marital breakup. Additionally, ana-
logous to both the aforementioned studies, only a minority (20%) shows pronounced
psychological problems. However, in contrast to our expectations, the psychologically
less adapted individuals did not constitute one distinct group, but three smaller ones, sug-
gesting that the suffering from marital breakup is diverse. Of all groups, the vulnerables
(6%) showed the most negative outcomes with regard to all indicators of psychological

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Perrig-Chiello et al. 399

adaptation, followed by the malcontents (12%) with fewer pronounced negative out-
comes except for life satisfaction, which was extremely negative. Finally, the pattern
of the resigned ones (4%) was evenly negative, without extreme peculiarities.
The comparison of the five groups with regard to resources and stressors allows for
interesting insights. As expected, the patterns of adaptation to divorce depend on intra-
and interpersonal resources. A good adaptation is primarily associated with intrapersonal
resources, namely low neuroticism and high scores in extraversion, openness, and
resilience. Compared with the resilients, all other four groups scored higher in neuro-
ticism and had lower scores in extraversion, openness, and trait resilience. These results
confirm previous researchespecially with regard to the negative impact of neuroticism
(Holland & Roisman, 2008; Pudrovska & Carr, 2008)and augment it by showing the
important role of resilience, which has rarely been investigated as a predictor in this
context. There is some empirical evidence suggesting that psychological resilience
predicts accelerated recovery from stressful events (Bonanno, 2004; Ong et al., 2006;
Sbarra, Smith, & Mehl, 2012); however, little literature devotes attention to the role of
resilience in psychological adaptation to divorce. These results suggest that persons with
higher levels of emotional stability and adaptability are in general psychologically better
adjusted after marital breakup.
Interpersonal resources proved to be of the utmost importance for psychological
adaptation. Being in a new relationship was a significant factor for overcoming the
breakup. This result, which confirms our expectation, is also in line with the findings by
Johnson and Wu (2002) who found in their longitudinal study that psychological distress
due to marital breakup declines only upon remarriage or the formation of a new coha-
bitating relationship. In fact, a new romantic partnership and remarriage have also been
found to increase adjustment in various other studies with younger participants (Locker,
McIntosh, Hackney, Wilson, & Wiegand, 2010; Quinney & Fouts, 2003; Wang &
Amato, 2000). There are several factors that may account for this result, but essentially a
new partner may limit the extent to which an individual focuses on negative thoughts
concerning the old relationship and alternatively contributes to positive behaviors
including increased social interaction.
Concerning pre- and postdivorce stressors, our results harmonize only partly with our
expectations. Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the ex-marriage, is in contrast to existing
research, not necessarily related to better adaptation to divorce. Also in contrast to our
expectations and existing literature (Wang & Amato, 2000), the initiator status seems not
to play a relevant role for psychological adaptation. In the current literature with younger
participants, it has been suggested that people who initiate a marital breakup generally are
better off because they, through their perceived instigation and anticipation, have an
increased sense of control over this critical life event (Hewitt & Turrel, 2011; Steiner,
Suarez, Sells, & Wykes, 2011). However, in our sample, for a large majority (69%) of the
divorced, the separation was not unexpected. It could be that in long-term marriages, a
separation is more likely to be anticipated, as the causes for separation are not unexpected
events but rather stem from long-lasting discord. A further revealed stressor was the way in
which separation was experienced as well as the postdivorce relationship with the ex-
partner. Especially the vulnerables reported the most negative emotional experience from
the separation as well as a more tensed relationship with the ex-partner than all other groups.

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400 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32(3)

With regard to the role of time since separation and divorce for psychological
adaptation, the results are in line with our expectations. The most maladapted of our
sample, specifically the resigned and vulnerable individuals, had separated and divorced
more recently than all other groups. Interestingly, the other group of maladapted, the
malcontents, had the largest time lag since separation and divorce (on average 7.29
years). This result substantiates on the one hand the crisis model and on the other the
chronic strain model. Whereas resigned and vulnerables still struggle with the critical
event, malcontents persist in negative feelings.
The role of age and length of relationship in dissolving a marriage was of major
interest in this study. Our results show that even though the resigned ones were sig-
nificantly older and had both a longer relationship and marriage than all other groups, the
other two maladaptive classes did not differ from resilients and average adapted on this
regard. This result suggests that a marital breakup at an older age after a long-term rela-
tionship is likely associated with feelings of resignation, possibly due to fewer resources
and options. However, age and length of relationship per se are not discriminative for
low psychological adaptation in general. Due to the previous lack of data, these results
are highly interesting and suggest that older age and longer relationship duration are not
necessarily factors that increase vulnerability in the case of a divorce.
Finally, gender was only of marginal importance for discriminating among the dif-
ferent groups. In contrast, the level of education, employment status, and financial
conditions (all highly correlated) were crucial variables for the group allocation. This
supports existing knowledge that postdivorce financial concerns are among the highest
stressors (Knox & Corte, 2007).
All things considered, our study results reveal a substantial degree of variability in
individuals adjustment to divorce after a long-term marriage. Perhaps the most impor-
tant and innovative contribution this research accomplishes is in demonstrating that the
maladapted are a reasonably heterogeneous group. This finding is of practical as well as
of scientific relevance and provide information regarding differences among the various
classes of maladapted concerning resources and stressors. In fact, this knowledge is
essential for developing both more differentiated and specific measures in counseling
and prevention and intervention techniques in clinical and social services. At the same
time, it became clear, that more research is needed to better recognize the differences
among the maladapted individuals with regard not only to resources and stress but also
to understanding the further trajectories of these specific subgroups. Furthermore, also
the factors that lead to a positive adaptation need to be more illuminated in future studies.
Despite the increasing interest in research on resilience and personal growth in overcom-
ing critical life events, the knowledge on positive adjustment to divorce is still rather
modest. Finally, our study provides compelling evidence that the crisis and chronic strain
approach should not be treated as contrasting but rather as complementary perspectives.
Even though our study makes a substantial contribution by extending existing
knowledge on divorce, some limitations must be considered. The first concerns the cross-
sectional design of this study, which does not supply a conclusive answer to the question of
whether marital separation can lead to enduring psychological vulnerability or if it instead
is a temporary crisis. Nevertheless, our results can be considered an important first step
toward a better understanding of the role of time passed since the critical life event.

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Perrig-Chiello et al. 401

A second methodological limitation concerns the fact that some of our variables were
measured with single items (such as subjective health, relationship quality, and
mourning). Even though the utility and validity of single item questions (especially of
subjective health) are uncontested, we must maintain some critical reservations with
regard to their reliability (Bowling, 2005).
Finally, focusing on an increasingly larger category of divorcees (45- to 65-year-olds
divorcing after a long-term partnership) is on the one hand a strength of this study, as it
addresses an important age and relationship longevity-based research gap. On the other
hand, the generalizability of the results is limited, as we did not compare this group with
other groups of divorcees (e.g., same aged with shorter relationships). Given the lack of
data pertaining to divorce after long-term marriage, it will be important in future research
(a) to gather more data from this specific age-group and (b) to compare them systema-
tically with those of other divorced groups.

The authors were supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (project no.
125770) awarded to P.P.C. The project Vulnerability and growth: Developmental dynamics and
differential effects of the loss of an intimate partner in the second half of life is part of the
National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES Overcoming Vulnerability over life course.

1. The total divorce rate of 43% in 2012 in Switzerland is comparable to that of other European
countries such as Finland, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, Luxemburg (Rausa,
2009). Despite the fact that Switzerland has a multicultural population, there are no differences
among the language regions and cultures regarding divorce rates.
2. The study has been approved by the ethical committee of the University of Bern, Switzerland.

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