The Men Left Behind After a Divorce
I want to thank all of the men who trusted me in their “brokenness.” At no other time was my perception of their strength so real. Their stories inspired this article, and it hopefully will go on to help others. -MJR
Women still initiate most divorces in the United States. The reasons are varied, and it doesn’t really matter why it happened in the mind of the man who is left. If there are kids, the silence can be deafening because the kids usually go with the mom. Feelings of anger and rejection can overpower men and lead to life-threatening behaviors. Many times, men do not have the support network to offer emotional support and encouragement like women do. This leaves them to vices such as alcohol, driving too fast, physical aggression, and violence. When men are upset, it takes their heart, respirations, and blood pressure longer to return to normal readings than it does for women. For most men, having their wife walk out on them is a sign of failure, and failure is unfortunately viewed as being weak. The only way a guy is taught to handle feeling weak is to get angry, which begins a cycle of anger.
When men feel alone or hurt, they are not socialized to go to other men to talk about their feelings. They are socialized to talk to women. This usually leads to them “hooking up” with another woman before they are prepared emotionally. Women view relationships with more intensity in the beginning than men. This usually means for the guy who isn’t emotionally available that, once again, he will fail and be rejected. Women are also judgmental of these men as the men often don’t get close enough or vulnerable enough to be understood. If she cannot understand, she has no recourse other than to judge the present behavior.
By the time these men make it into my office, they are broken. Many times they are sleep deprived, confused, hurt, and angry. Trying to convince him at that time to cease using the vices he has been socialized or mentored to use by friends, family, and the media is almost impossible. He needs a fix, but his emotional and physical health depends on him feeling the pain and grieving it before moving on. He won’t trust his ability to grieve until he has other options to help him manage it. Here are several options for men dealing with a loss of love that can be done alone or with the guidance of a counselor or third party:
Begin writing down your thoughts. Writing it seems to be cathartic, whereas holding it in your head can make you more confused and angry. Get a journal and make it your mission to fill it daily or hourly.
Each day, make sure you talk with someone you trust. This can be a simple text or email, but communicating with someone else is important. This will help give you balance and stability at a time you feel off-kilter and rocked.
Pray. Pray every day. It doesn’t have to be an organized prayer, just talk to your god. Talking to a minister or mentor from the church can help you feel less alone.
Go to the gym or walk outside each day. Movement releases endorphins, which helps improve your mood and lower your depression.
Watch what you eat. When you eat more carbs you may become more tired, depressed and unmotivated. Your body reacts to your moods, so taking care of your body when you are down becomes more essential.
If your family is concerned that you are acting depressed or moody, don’t get defensive. Make an appointment to see your doctor; it is not a sign of weakness to go on anti-anxiety medication or anti-depressants at this time. Many times, when we are depressed or anxious, those closest to us see it first.
Allow yourself a specific amount of time to think about your ex each day. Shorten that time by minutes or hours each week. In the beginning it will be very difficult to distract yourself, so use exercise as a way to do that. When you find yourself thinking of your ex, do 50 pushups or sit ups. You will begin feeling more confident and in control.
If you have children, continue your relationship with them. Children feel grief intensely and act on it quickly. They will be struggling, too, so try not to dump adult emotions on them. Never let your anger for your ex become stronger than the love you feel for your children.
Night time is the worst time; for that first week or two, have someone you can talk to even in the middle of the night when it is really bad. Good friends and family will understand and want to help.
If there ever was a time to adopt a dog, this may be the best. A dog needs a home and you need unconditional love.
Many men see a divorce or a break up is a sign of failure. That may or may not be true, but it takes two to fail. It wasn’t all your fault no matter what your ex may say. We all make mistakes; the important aspect is to learn from them. Investing yourself in a higher cause post break-up will help occupy your thoughts and surround you with like-minded people who know how to give back. Doing something physical helps most guys process anger without acting it out in a way that can be harmful. The biggest hurdle for guys dealing with any crisis is that they aren’t allowed by the “man code” to ask for help. This may sound ridiculous to women, but it is true. I am not sure who developed the man code, but this part of the code needs to change.