Divorce, of course, is a stressful time in a person’s life. Emotional reactions include depression, anger, jealously, humiliation, disorientation and sense of loss.

The sense of loss arises not only from loss of positive aspects of a marriage, but also from loss of negative aspects of a marriage. Divorce researchers Andre Derdeyn and Elizabeth Scott have written: "The sense of loss can be just as great if the relationship had long since been almost exclusively negative and conflictual. . . . ‘[T]he intensity of grief is related to the intensity of involvement rather than of love.’ For many spouses, the marriage–whether dominantly positive or negative–was an integral part of their emotional being and the loss of the marriage can be very disruptive."

Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly, who research the effect of divorce on parents and children, found that the average time after a divorce for women to reestablish "inner equilibrium," "external stability" and "a sense of continuity in their lives" was three to three and a half years. For men, the average time to reestablish continuity was two to two and a half years. Men had a shorter recovery time than women because men, as a group, had more external supports, including greater financial security and job satisfaction to help the transition process.

Although most spouses recover from divorce with the passage of time, some do not. For those who do not recover, the decline in adult functioning becomes chronic. Spouses who are not able to regain equilibrium often had their primary identity wrapped up in the marriage and have few inner or external resources on which to fall back.

Parents who divorce often find that their parenting skills drop during the period of divorce. In the time surrounding a divorce, it is common for parents to become more self-centered and less available to the child as parents cope with their own wounds. In most (but not all) cases, parenting skills return to normal after a few years.