Many psychologists believe that men and women tend to perceive and survive divorce a bit differently because of some natural psychological differences between the sexes.
However, we should not think that men react to divorce less painfully. On the contrary, research shows that a breakup hits men harder regardless of whether it turns into a contested divorce process or an amicable one.
This article will describe how divorce affects men. We’ll also talk about men and the emotional divorce stages they experience and provide some insights on how to cope with divorce as a man to return to a happy life.
So keep reading to learn more!
Such a stressful life event as divorce negatively affects each spouse’s physical and mental health, sometimes causing post-traumatic stress disorder.
A person can get emotionally traumatized from a relationship breakup, especially when going through lengthy legal battles and spending a fortune. The experience can take a toll on both the body and mind.
However, men are at a much greater risk of developing long-term health problems during and after the divorce process.
According to a study by three scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Utah State University, and University of Nebraska Medical Center, divorce, directly and indirectly, affects men’s physical, psychological, social, and even spiritual health.
The research called The Influence of Divorce on Men’s Health, published in the Journal of Men’s Health, states that the death rate of unmarried and divorced men is 250% higher than that of married men.
Moreover, divorced men suffer from cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, stroke, weight gain, and other conditions.
Men coping with divorce are also more likely to lead an unhealthy lifestyle considering it the only way to survive. They can fall into substance abuse, smoke cigarettes, and use other high-risk substances and behaviors to numb the emotional pain of divorce.
It is common in situations where the husband didn’t see the divorce coming. And recent studies show that women initiate divorce more often than men.
However, this is only a tiny part of the picture. Indeed, in addition to the physical effects, divorce also has serious psychological consequences for men.
Depression is a severe mental illness triggered by prolonged underlying stress. National Institute of Mental Health describes some of the symptoms of depression as follows:
The research authors found that divorced men are more likely to suffer from this disease. Moreover, they seek therapy ten times more often than married men.
However, divorced men do it later. Usually, when depression reaches a critical level. It happens because society has long been cultivating the stereotype of a “strong man who does not give in to his emotions.”
It can be hard for men to accept a new reality without the family he has built. When a man denies himself and doesn’t talk about his pain, negative thoughts accumulate, and at some point, they can turn into thoughts of suicide.
In fact, the study mentioned above stated that divorced or separated men have 39% higher suicide rates than married men.
Another research, “Understanding Recent Changes in Suicide Rates Among the Middle-aged: Period or Cohort Effects?” discovered that unmarried men between 40 and 60 years old are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than married men of the same age and unmarried women.
If you or someone you know needs emotional support and has suicidal thoughts and depression, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It works 24/7.
Divorce is a great emotional turmoil, hurting a man’s self-esteem. He begins to consider himself unworthy of a good relationship, love, care, respect. A man ceases to see good qualities in himself and focuses only on shortcomings.
According to a European study entitled, “Associations between relationship status and mental well-being in different life phases from young to middle adulthood,” among men, being single or divorced is associated with lower self-esteem, especially at ages 32, 42, and 52.
So, as you can see, marital status is vital to men’s mental well-being.
Anxiety disorder in a divorced man can be characterized by a fear of the unknown. They do not know how to build their lives further and feel thrown into the ocean of a new life they are not ready for. It is especially true when the divorce was unexpected.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America describes anxiety symptoms as:
Robin Goldstein, EdD Licensed Psychologist, says that anxiety in divorced men can be exhibited by irritability, chronic worry, increased fearfulness, etc. “It is not unusual to remain preoccupied with details of the separation, the problems of the relationship, and wondering what the other person is doing.
This obsessiveness can interfere with concentration, sleep, and everyday function.” She also adds that many men can lose weight because of anxiety.
A statement by Ridwan Shabsigh, MD, President of the International Society of Men’s Health, summarizes all of the above:
“Popular perception, and many cultures as well as the media present men as tough, resilient, and less vulnerable to psychological trauma than women...
The fact is that men get affected substantially by psychological trauma and negative life events such as divorce, bankruptcy, war, and bereavement.”
He also emphasizes the need to continue the research on the impact of such effects to develop diagnostic and treatment recommendations for doctors.
Men going through a divorce can experience a whole range of different emotions. Some of them are encouraged by society, while others are considered unacceptable, even shameful, for a man.
However, we abandon such stereotypes and support the idea that emotions do not depend on gender. Moreover, regardless of sex, every person has the right to feel what they feel. The only difference is how healthy these emotions are and what to do with them.
In the list below, we describe the most common emotional stages of divorce. The presentation order is not standard. Moreover, emotions are purely individual, so remember that every man can experience these stages in a different order and with a different intensity.
This stage can combine several emotions. But typically, it is shock and denial. If a man does not foresee a divorce, and some studies show that it’s most often the case, the news about a breakup can confuse him.
At this stage, the man seems numb, as are his emotions. He doesn’t believe in what happened. Instead, he denies the situation and thinks about how he may produce a different outcome. By not accepting the breakup, the man tries to avoid pain. However, sooner or later, it will find him.
This is the stage where the pain comes in. However, most often, men try not to show it. They take an “I’m totally fine” stance, but their behavior may indicate the opposite.
At this stage, the man may turn to unhealthy escapist behavior, using it as a defensive mechanism or a tool to relieve pain (spoiler: it doesn’t work that way).
Some ex-husbands turn to binge drinking, endless parties, and even promiscuous sex. Others give in to loneliness, sadness, apathy, and depression. These scenarios are destructive for a person’s mental and physical health and don’t solve the problem.
According to society’s perception, anger is probably the most acceptable and expected emotion for a man. It is a strong feeling that creates the image of an invulnerable man who does not know weakness.
A man losing his family may feel out of control, while anger is a perfect tool for feeling power.
Some men are angry with themselves (for not keeping the family together, not recognizing the signs of an impending divorce, or not being an ideal partner for ex-spouse). Others may be angry with their wives, accusing them of “all sins.”
If the ex-husband continues to feel anger towards his former spouse, the chances are high that subconsciously he doesn’t want to break the connection with her.
Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., wrote in her article published in Psychology Today that anger is a form of intense attachment (albeit negative attachment), just like love.
Both forms of emotional intensity keep us close to the other person, which is why so many couples are legally divorced but not emotionally divorced.
Without working out his anger, a man can stay connected to his ex-wife and get stuck at this stage, never getting closer to a new life.
Psychotherapist, relationship coach, and divorce mediator Toni Coleman says that men are less likely to ask for help. She says, “Males lean heavily towards a belief that they should be able to deal with their own problems and solve them themselves.”
She adds that asking for help was always seen as a weakness. “In earlier generations, the joke (and it was so true) was that men would not stop and ask for directions when lost.
They would drive for hours, lost, but refuse to ask for help and instead try to find where they needed to go on their own... Guys don’t like to be vulnerable or appear weak.”
A man either tries to cope with his divorce emotions on his own, or he turns a blind eye to his problems. After all, asking for help, according to some men, means admitting that they can’t cope on their own.
But there is good news. This situation is starting to change. Men are becoming more open and allowing themselves to feel vulnerable. Of course, complete emotional honesty is still a long way off, but the first steps in this direction are already being made.
This is a turning point in the post-divorce period that determines whether a man recovers or not. Or, maybe, the situation will get worse.
If a man copes with his emotions and analyzes his previous relationship independently or with someone else’s help, he can start moving forward.
Moreover, when a man understands himself and his feelings, he can choose the methods that suit him specifically. For instance, if he feels he needs therapy for full divorce recovery, he will consciously take this step, not paying attention to social stereotypes.
Sometimes a person chooses a strategy of doing nothing. In this situation, he lets his life take its course. But then, it all depends on how the chips fall. Perhaps his friend or a family member will help him get out of this pit of negative emotions.
Perhaps at some point, he will understand on his own that something is wrong with his life.
The worst scenario is when a man tries to start a new life, but his every attempt seems to go from one extreme to another. And he is basically ruining his life.
For example, a man may decide that a new relationship will help him survive the divorce, and he rushes into it without hesitation. Some studies show that many men start dating much too soon.
And without analyzing previous relationships and emotions, the likelihood of making the same mistakes in the next relationship is high.
This is the ultimate goal of most men, healing after divorce. Some try to reach it consciously, from the very beginning thinking over every step on the way to this goal. Others move as if in darkness, falling and rising again.
It’s almost impossible to say how long it can take because recovery after a broken marriage is purely individual.
Some psychologists argue that an average of one year of recovery is required for every five to seven years of marriage. Others suggest using the 6-months rule: 6 months for every year you were in a relationship.
In general, a long-term relationship needs a more extended recovery period. The whole process can go faster if there are no children involved.
The answer to the question of “how to deal with divorce as a man” lies in accepting your emotions and letting yourself feel what you feel. Dr. David M Reiss, a practicing psychiatrist and trauma expert, notes that men’s pain after divorce is natural because they lost someone they once loved.
He says, “Assuming that a marriage was initially based on love, caring, and the desire to spend time in each other’s company, the ending of the marriage is inherently sad and painful, regardless of the circumstances.”
While it’s challenging to start a new life facing such significant changes, everyone has the opportunity to get rid of the post-divorce bouquet of negative emotions.
Working with a professional psychologist or establishing a good support system can be more effective and bring faster results.
Here is some advice on how to get over divorce as a man and fight negative feelings to take the first steps towards recovery.
According to Jennifer Carter, Ph.D., a counseling and sports psychologist at the Center for Balanced Living in Ohio, moving your muscles has mental health benefits.
She advises her clients to walk while they talk. “I often recommend exercise for my psychotherapy clients, particularly for those who are anxious or depressed,” she says.
Exercise can improve your mood, distract you, and increase your self-confidence. Sport activates chemicals in your brain, such as endorphins, making you feel happier and more zen. It’s also considered one of the best approaches to self-care.
Men’s emotions after divorce may vary. But sadness, exhaustion, anger, bitterness, regret can pull them deeper and deeper into the pit of negativity, making them lose motivation to move on. Sometimes, even small reminders of the good things in your life can help fix it.
Buy a journal and write down all the things you are grateful for in your life. It could be Saturday night out with close friends, Sunday shopping, your favorite job, or spending time on the couch with your dog watching a baseball game or your favorite TV show.
And when you feel overwhelmed again, open your notebook and remind yourself how much good there is in your life.
Focusing on breathing can relieve anxiety. Slowing down your breathing helps lower your heart rate and blood pressure, which creates a feeling of calmness and a stable emotional state.
It works pretty simply:
Mindful breathing is one of the mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness itself teaches us to let emotions run their course. In divorce, it can be called “successful grieving,” which most men skip.
When you allow yourself to feel emotions, not pushing them away, it can become easier to bear over time.
Getting through a divorce for a man can be no less complicated than it is for a woman. Because of their emotional unpreparedness, men can go through a severe crisis.
The situation is aggravated because men are less likely to ask for support or seek professional help, choosing the “pull yourself together!” strategy.
However, this approach can lead to even more severe negative consequences for men’s physical and mental health.
Life after a divorce is not a reason to give up or run away from emotions. On the contrary, it is a respite before a new phase of your life.
But you shouldn’t rush into it immediately. Instead, take your time to do the inner job and change something in yourself to avoid repeating past mistakes in new relationships.
Do not miss the chance to understand something about yourself and change your life if you get such an opportunity.
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