Recently, a reader contacted me about his own divorce and the unique challenges men often experience during a split. I asked him to write a guest post and here it is. I learned a lot and think you will, too. Enjoy!
Thank you for sharing your story and making me think. There are too few resources, blogs and help for men going through a divorce for men or by men. Too many males (and some females) suggested that as a man, I must be coping with my split by drinking a lot of alcohol and having lots of casual sex. This seems to be a common myth on how men respond to a divorce, and what is seen as a healthy and traditional response. This approach was not what I wanted or was comfortable with. Instead I focused on myself and children, cared for us, educated myself as to effects of divorce and how to address them, and consulted with good friends and family. While less exciting, it was both the right thing to do and looking back I am glad I followed this path. I have learned by reading professional material, internet sources, consulting with friends who are professionals, and observing others. Without my friends and their expertise I would not have fared so well. Therefore the reason I am writing this is to inform other men, and friends and family of other men, with the hope that the information is helpful. When it comes to relationships that end men and women are much more similar than many believe. There are however some distinct differences. Finally, while every situation is different, much of the scenarios and situations have been repeated a million times over. Regardless of gender, we all suffer through some variation of the seven stages of grief after a split. When we are married to an addict or alcoholic, we are dealing with a person whose development in many ways is stunted from the point of addiction. The reason I wrote this is so that many may realize that while there are not many resources for men, often resources for women apply in a similar if not exact same manner. That is how I found myself reading Lizzy’s blog. There are however some distinct differences that men can do and should expect.
BOOTED TO THE CURB
While divorce may be the fault of both parties, women usually initiate divorce. Men are often angry and feel blindsided by it. It is important to focus on is the physical and mental health of these men and their children. They need to focus on the little things: sleep, healthy eating, moderate use of alcohol or medications, showing up (for kids, family, friends, obligations, work, etc.). Navel gazing and self absorption is natural but dangerous if over done. Men often experience depression and are more likely to commit suicide than women. Hence this needs to be monitored by those that care about them.
While I do not necessarily suggest this approach, a friend of mine was concerned about the stress I was under. He and his wife invited me to dinner and eventually they brought out a very expensive bottle of Anejo Tequila which we polished off and followed with another. Yes I had too much to drink and slept at their house. Their concern was that I would do this alone. The next day they advised I had this out of the way and now I need not do it again or without them. Point taken. While I did not see myself sliding into alcohol as some do, it was a needed release, with good friends in a safe environment where only products of Mexico were injured.
During a split, men need to act like the adults they are. If this is you, remember that you have responsibilities to yourself and your children. Too often, men leave the relationship and their children behind. Even perfect fathers who love and doted on their children during the marriage just walk way. This is completely beyond my understanding. Why did you have children? Do you feel alienated or not part of their lives? Do you want to find a younger or newer woman and hit the “reset button”? Regardless, you need to stay involved in your children’s lives out of love, and if not, at least out of responsibility. Man up! It’s not about you, or your ex, it’s about the children. Total lack of involvement can cause all sorts of problems for them– abandonment issues, lack of a role model, depression and more. Realize that many studies show that boys are usually affected and act out right away, while girls are more likely to have a delayed negative affect from divorce and it will often play out later in their late teens, 20s and 30’s. You also need to act in the children’s best interest regardless of what they or your ex says or does. Usually kids will figure out what happened and will come around if you act in a loving, caring, stable, and responsible manner. While both genders engage in saying negative things about the other ex, women tend to do this more than men. Regardless of what is said or done your response, if anything, should solely or primarily consider the wellbeing of the child. Further, many things are not appropriate to discuss with children. Simply tell them that you are for them. Provide stability and reliability in a chaotic world and at a chaotic time. For example, when my ex tried a pre-emptive strike by discussing with my children “that daddy thinks I have a boyfriend” I did not respond that she had been banging everything on two legs for the last 20 years, including one of our groomsmen, showing them pictures and internet documents. My response was that the marriage was over, that the reasons were between their mother and myself, and that all they needed to know is that we loved them and that I was there for them. There is NO purpose in really responding to your ex’s message to the child as you cannot change your ex, but you can confuse or hurt your child, and later the kids usually figure things out anyway. While your ex may do things to harm your relationship with your children, you must fight for your children and yourself. Fight for custody or visitation. Sometimes children need more time with one parent or the other based on age, gender, or the individual. You need to fight for this and educate others including your lawyer and the court as to why this is important for the child.
YOU CANNOT FIX CRAZY OR ADDICTED
Every divorced female thinks their ex was a narcissist and divorced males think their ex was crazy. Regardless if your ex or spouse is addicted, then you can’t fix them, they need professional help, it is their fault and responsibility, and you need to focus on the safety and wellbeing of yourself and your children. If they have mental health issues it is very similar but they may be maintained by medication and treatment. Also keep in mind that addicts often had mental health issues before they became addicted or as a result of being addicted. For example sober alcoholics who have abstained for years often have behaviour issues of alcoholics or recovering alcoholics. When a partner is addicted it does not matter if you are male or female. Keep in mind that intelligent and loving family, friends, and clergymen may be enough to assist you, but Al-Anon or professional help may be required.
ARGUING AND COMMUNICATING WITH ADDICTED, CRAZY, HIGH CONFLICT EX OR THE WIND
Sometimes it does not matter what the subject is, what is said or how it is said……it just ends up as an argument. Worse yet it is used against you. The focus needs to be on your and your children’s best interest. Remember that at this point, the relationship is over and now it’s just business. This sometimes seems to be harder for many males. Even if there is an emotional issue about the children (like changing the child’s first and last name, their religion, denying access, parental alienation, etc) try to let the courts handle it. Be aware of your rights, what you and your children want and need, and act in a manner that you can tell your relatives, parents, colleagues, clergymen, and a judge comfortably and with no embarrassment. If the person is crazy, addicted or it is a high conflict split you can count on them lying or trying to manipulate. Therefore anything important should be communicated by email, stored and printed for future use or required. Limit verbal and text exchanges to non important issues. When you do this there is a paper trail or proof that cannot be ignored. Also wait to respond if you angry or have another of sound mind read it. How often do we see text-a-mania when people are emotional or drunk. Discussing communication with your lawyer and a professional may also help you obtain the best outcomes legally and non legally.
WHO ARE MEN AND WHAT VALUE DO THEY HAVE?
Men are often socialized to value themselves largely based on their work, position and economic benefits they can bring to their family. Therefore during a split there can be two negative outcomes that are common: 1) Coming to the realization that he is more than his work and people they love are much more important. When this occurs, he may crumble or act in self destructive ways. 2) He throws himself into his work and abandons most everything else, thus living a false reality or eventually common to the realization with a predictable meltdown of some sort.
Men need to self evaluate and determine what is important and continue to do so until they have reached a level point. This will probably involve discussing matters with friends and family. Female family members, friends and friends wives may offer an important perspective. Don’t ask people at work or discuss this at work unless they need to know something. Further a counselor or medical professional may be helpful. While I was highly skeptical and not trusting of a counselor, I went to one at the suggestion of my friends who were in the field. I think a counselor can be useful if you find the right one. I was lucky that I had a dream team supporting me, but the counselor still offered an unbiased perspective. Largely it was a lot of “what do you think of this,” “am I crazy or …. ” and confirmation. There were a couple “A-HA” moments and those were worth the price alone. Some men do not want to communicate with people they know and this is helpful to them. EAP, medical plans, local religious groups and charities often have people that can be approached if finances are an issue. Educate yourself on the type of counselor you think is best for you in your area.
There are so many other things to discuss and point out. I hope this drop in the bucket is useful to someone.