Both men and women experience divorce differently. In either case, divorce is a struggle – but it can be especially difficult for men. From dealing with child custody battles and quantifying assets to adjusting to a completely new lifestyle, men confront a number of challenges when undergoing a divorce. Following are some of the common struggles husbands – and fathers – face when they separate from their partner.
Why Is Divorce So Difficult for Men?
Divorce Is a Loss
Even if you initiated the divorce proceedings, the aftermath creates a severe sense of loss. You’re facing the loss of routine, usually the loss of the family home, and the loss of children, if there are any. For many, this can lead to a loss of identity. A divorced man is likely to ask himself, “Who am I now?” No longer a husband, father, or provider, you’re forced to create a new identity for yourself. When divorce is seen as a failure, your self-esteem can plummet.
While divorce is indeed a loss, it can also be turned into a new beginning. Following a divorce, you will have alone-time that didn’t exist during your marriage. Make a choice to use that time for some real inner reflection. What have you always wanted to do but put off? What goals or dreams have you put on the back burner? You’re starting life as a blank page waiting to be filled. Don’t deny the loss, but allow yourself to consider new possibilities.
Loss and Grief
Most women grieve following a loss. Tears can serve as an emotional balm. This, however, is not how men are taught to handle negative feelings. A “chin up and move on” is considered the manly way to deal with grief. Sharing these feelings with friends can be considered a weakness, so men are more likely to keep to themselves and remain in denial about their inner turmoil. During marriage, even if it was unsatisfactory, men could talk to their wives about their problems. This emotional remedy has now been removed.
For these reasons, men easily shun outside help such as counseling. They go through the motions, pretending everything is just fine while sinking deeper into anxiety and depression. Men’s health can suffer from excess stress. During marriage, it is frequently the woman who tends to the family’s healthy eating habits. Following a divorce, men are likely to settle for junk food, gain weight, and suffer further health problems. Unlike women, who usually have a strong female support group, men find themselves having to deal with the effects of divorce alone. Women are more likely to broaden their social circle after a divorce, while men become more solitary.
If you have gone through a recent divorce, consider counseling as a step toward a new beginning. The problem isn’t the pain; it will be there regardless. It’s how you deal with the pain that matters. If counseling isn’t an option, try to find a trusted friend in whom to confide.
Divorce and Reckless Behavior
Divorce can certainly mean freedom. However, men don’t always handle that freedom well, especially in the first few months following the divorce. While stoically denying any pain, they can easily engage in reckless and dangerous behavior.
Total emergence in work is probably the least hazardous way of coping, but it can cause stress. Other coping mechanisms, such as alcohol and drugs, are more dangerous and self-destructive. Excessive drinking and drug use may momentarily dull the pain, but it is only a band-aid. If this behavior continues, it can lead to job loss, financial ruin, and considerably more stress.
Men are also far more likely than women to jump back into the dating pool. Another woman, any woman, serves as a self-esteem boost and a means of self-validation. A newly-divorced man can tell himself, “See, I’ve still got it.” Thanks to Tinder, a new woman can be available and bedded as often as needed. Frequently, alcohol and women are combined as the drug of choice.
This boost is only a very brief and temporary respite and invariably leads to a further emotional downward spiral. Even if divorced men don’t engage in bed-hopping, they are likely to enter a new relationship far too soon, which will only lead to another break-up.
Life after divorce can be lonely. Again, it’s how you deal with the loneliness that is important. Chasing women in an effort to feel “manly” and prove something to yourself and the world rarely works out well. Instead, post-divorce is the perfect time for a genuine new beginning. Whether it’s going back to school, engaging in a new hobby, or joining a new group with similar interests, it can be an opportunity for real growth. Make the most of learning how to be single again.
Joining a gym is great for both your physical and mental health. Make an effort to eat healthy foods. Becoming a better version of yourself is a great mood booster.
Divorced Men and Children
Divorce is hard enough, but when children are involved, it can be overwhelming. Gone are the days when custody was automatically awarded to mothers. Joint custody is becoming more the norm. Whatever the situation, however, your role as a father will be naturally diminished. You won’t be there every night to tuck your children in, hear about their day, and enjoy their latest accomplishments and daily antics. This can be devastating.
It can get even worse when the children blame you for the breakup and refuse to remain on good terms with you. Or if you ex subtly or not so subtly tries to prevent contact between you and the children.
The truth is, you will probably have to work harder at being a parent following a divorce than before. You can’t depend on your children to remain in touch. Their lives have been uprooted through no fault of their own. It will be up to you to contact them regularly via phone, email, or Skype. Even if your children seem indifferent to your presence, attend their school functions and important events. They will remember it.
While you may still harbor ill-feelings toward your ex, it is critical you put those feelings aside for a while. Discuss whatever concerns you have about the children, and request regular updates. Work together on disciplinary issues instead of trying to upstage each other. Contact the children’s school and ask to be put on their list for any notice regarding your children.
Make the most of your time with your children. If you are not the primary caretaker, it can be tempting to turn visits into Disney-type fun time. Your children may enjoy themselves, but this will do little to enhance your mutual relationship. Instead, talk to them. Take them to brunch and ask them about specifics in their lives – friends, classes, teachers, etc. It may take time, but they will eventually open up. If you have some fun activity planned, occasionally ask them to bring along a friend. This will allow you to get to know who they hang out with.
Creating a New Life After a Divorce
- Deal with yourself compassionately.
It is natural to obsess after a divorce. What did I do wrong? How could I have made so many mistakes? It takes two people to maintain a marriage, and you probably weren’t perfect, so give yourself a break. It’s smart to learn from past mistakes, but wallowing in blame is simply ineffective. Mistakes were made. Resolve not to repeat bad patterns and move on.
- Remember old friends.
When people get married, old friends frequently fall by the wayside, either because there is less available time or the new spouse doesn’t like them. Now is your chance to re-establish contact and renew old friendships. Having friends to spend time with will go a long time to alleviate the inevitable loneliness that follows a divorce.
- Enjoy some indulgence.
Consider yourself a bachelor again. That doesn’t mean going out every night and getting drunk. But you can leave the seat up, have pie for breakfast if the mood suits, and take complete control of the remote.
- Explore something new.
Cooking class? Book discussion group? Jogging? This could be the time to get your degree. Consider the world your oyster.
- Reassess your goals.
Are there options available now that weren’t available before, such as more travel? Reflect on where you are and where you want to be.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Everyone needs a helping hand at some point.
Divorce is one of the hardest times you will go through. It will help considerably if you accept all the negative emotions of loss and work through them. It’s okay to feel bad. Expect to feel lonely. These emotions are perfectly natural. Recognize them and work on feeling better. It’s a good time to watch your health, exercise, and eat healthfully.
Your children have also suffered a loss. They won’t understand what is happening, so being there for them is very important. Don’t let anger at your ex prevent you from being a dad. Your ex is out of your life for a reason. There is no reason her actions should still control yours.
Work on forgiving your ex. That doesn’t mean she was right. It means you will no longer wallow in bitterness. Let her live her life. You are living yours to the best of your ability. Any type of relationship you can establish with her for the sake of the children will be beneficial.
Don’t consider your divorce the end. It is the beginning of many new possibilities.