One often-repeated statement about divorce is that afterward, women’s standard of living goes down, while men’s goes up. While this isn’t universally true, it often is, and it leads to a stereotype of men living it up after divorce, throwing money around and enjoying their new “freedom.”
But just because some men are financially better off after divorce doesn’t mean that divorce is good, or easy, for them. In fact, the stereotype of the carefree divorced man living his best life masks the suffering that many men experience during and after divorce—suffering they may be embarrassed by and struggle to talk about. Unfortunately, shame and isolation only make things worse.
Let’s take a look at how and why divorce hits men hard, and what they can do to make things better.
In discussing some of the struggles men experience in divorce, we are necessarily generalizing. But of course all men don’t experience the same challenges, and we are not trying to say that women don’t experience many of these issues, too. That said, there are aspects of divorce that tend to be more difficult for men than for women.
One of these is the grieving process. We think of grief as something people experience after a death, but grief is a part of any major loss, including divorce. The loss of a marriage is one of the most significant losses a person can face. When someone loses a spouse to death, they are expected to grieve and are supported in doing so. When a man loses a spouse to divorce, the stereotype mentioned above can hamper the natural, and essential, grieving process. His friends may slap him on the back and tell him to “get back out there;” the culture in general may shame him for crying and urge him to have a stiff upper lip. But as many a therapist has noted, there is no getting around grief; one must go through it.
When men try to get over their grief prematurely without processing it, it often manifests in other ways, many of which are destructive. Unresolved grief may show up as anger, or may be self-medicated with alcohol or other substance abuse. If the substance abuse is severe or prolonged, it may affect a man’s ability to see and spend time with his children—leading to more unresolved loss and grief.
Women also tend to have more and deeper social and emotional connections than men. They are often the “relationship managers” within a marriage, arranging gatherings with friends, calling family members, remembering birthdays, etc. Men may keenly feel the loss of these connections after divorce. Whereas a woman who is grieving the end of a marriage may vent to friends or family, talk to a therapist, or join a support group, men may lack the strong connections that enable them to really talk with someone about their loss.
In addition to managing a couple’s social relationships, wives also often are the ones who look after husbands’ health, by cooking healthy food, urging them to make doctor appointments, and so on. Men are, of course, perfectly capable of cooking and placing phone calls. The reality remains, however, that many men put their health on a back burner after a divorce.
Let’s take a moment, too, to talk about men’s relationship with their kids, which can take a hit after divorce. Whether the children live primarily with their mother or not, divorce can complicate a relationship between fathers and their children.
Despite Minnesota’s effort to reframe divorced parents’ time with their children as “parenting time,” rather than “visitation,” many men do indeed feel like visitors in their children’s lives, especially if the children’s mother took the lead in parenting during the marriage (arranging playdates and doctor appointments, being involved at school, providing most care at home). If the man’s role in the family unit was primarily as a provider, he may feel relegated to the role of writer of child support checks in divorce. Most men want a close relationship with their kids after divorce, but many are unsure how to achieve it.
There are a lot of forces at work against men after divorce, none more powerful than the social expectations that they “bounce back” quickly. These expectations, unfortunately, provide a framework that doesn’t really work for men—socially, emotionally, or financially.
There are two primary things, that can be done in tandem, to help men weather a divorce and its aftermath. The first is to get experienced legal representation, ideally working with a family law attorney who sees you as a person, not a stereotype, and who is in tune with your needs and goals for your divorce. The second is to work with a reputable counselor. Many of the struggles identified in this blog stem from a loss that men may not have the emotional tools to work through. Counseling, whether short-term or ongoing, can help you develop new skills for dealing with your new reality: processing grief, making new connections, maintaining and growing your relationship with your children.
You deserve to have your needs met, but in order to do that, you have to acknowledge that you have needs. If you have questions about navigating the divorce process or the period after your divorce, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law. We’re happy to help you get the assistance you need to create the future you deserve.