Trying to tell a guy how to cope with divorce is a daunting task.
Not exactly a waste of time, but a process that may wind among the most frustrating things you’ve ever attempted if you’re a friend, parent, sibling or even a therapist.
Because, no surprise, men can be reticent and complicated at times, too.
There are always exceptions to the rule, but by man’s very nature, most guys tend to clam up when it comes to talking about their innermost feelings and emotions during a divorce.
That means there’s a good chance that offering advice on how to cope with divorce as a man may have no impact whatsoever. But if you’re a guy going through a divorce, that doesn’t mean we can’t put some strategies on the table and leave it to you to decide if they will help you or not.
It’s your life. It’s your marriage. It’s your divorce. You decide.
At times such as this, it’s a lot like all that advice you first got when you became a parent or when you graduated from high school or college. Parents, relatives, know-it-alls, and even strangers at Denny’s always find a way into your life to offer up pearls of well-intentioned wisdom, whether you want it or not.
You may be proud and hard-headed, or you may be lost and totally open to taking direction in all forms at this point. Here’s the best we can offer…take the advice that resonates with you and if it helps get you through the day or from one moment to the next, use it.
If not, then move on.
No matter where you are in the process, know this.
It gets better. With time, it gets better.
Until you reach that place, here are some other things that may help you.
It’s okay to admit that sometimes you’re not going be able to cope.
Divorce will mess you up in ways you never imagined and at times when you least expect it. You can have three or four days in a row where you’re focused on other parts of your life like your career or your children and then…BOOM! You wake up one morning and you’re drowning in emotional quicksand.
You’re moody. You’re angry. You’re depressed. You want to lash out. You want to just hide from everyone. It may only be 9 am, but Netflix and chill is your only goal for the day. This is especially problematic if you have a 10 am meeting on a Tuesday with your boss or an important client.
Soooooo……not coping sometimes is normal.
It sucks, but it is normal.
A bit ironic, but the first step in coping is to understand that you’re not always going to be able to cope.
Knowing this won’t really fix anything in your life, other than making you aware that it’s okay to feel like shit every now and again.
Another way to look at it is that trying to cope all the time with such a traumatic event is not healthy. If you keep your manly emotions in check 24/7, sooner or later they’re going to blow up on you like your own personal Chernobyl.
Accept your personal reality, even if that means you might go off the rails a bit from time to time.
Don’t get hung up on what you’re “supposed to feel.”
Much like politicians who use the line, “this is not who we are…” if you feel a certain way about your divorce, then this IS who you are. At least for now.
Therapy, self-help books, online columns and advice from everyone under the sun is all well and good, but when it ventures into places that put you feeling a certain way by a certain time, your best bet is to put in your earbuds, crank up your favorite playlist and wait for all that bad advice to float gently down river.
Much like parenthood, you’re going to say, think and feel things you never thought imaginable. Some of those thoughts may be very dark at times.
You are you. And you are unique. So your own way of feeling about things is going to be just as unique and it will be on it’s own time schedule.
Depending on the situation, some guys will move through their emotions fairly fast. Other guys will get hung up at certain key parts, like when you talk to your spouse after not hearing from her for a couple of weeks, or when you actually file paperwork, or when you actually get paperwork. Triggers are landmines and you never quite know when you’re going to step on one of them.
Seemingly stupid things can trigger emotions too. Seeing two people holding hands, hearing “that song” from your past, or driving by the place you met or shared your first date can cause an uncontrollable upswell you’d rather not face.
You may try to bury those feelings or others may tell you to just slough it off. Maybe you will, and maybe you won’t.
The bottom line is that if you’re feeling a certain way, it’s because you’re supposed to be feeling a certain way. It’s part of the grieving and the healing you have no choice but to go through.
Engage in child’s play.
In large part, you can’t control your divorce. It’s going to happen. You may be relieved or you may be totally upset about the prospect and the process. But the bottom line is that it’s going to happen.
You need to work through what you can control and let go of what you can’t. Easier said than done. I know.
So shift your focus. And there is no better way to do that than to focus on your children if you have them.
Your world is being rocked but it’s nothing compared to the emotional upheaval a child is going through. This doesn’t just apply to children who are three, four or five years old. It applies to your children no matter what age they are.
A 14-year-old teenager or even a 20 year-old-sophomore in college still needs to hash out their feelings and get reassurances from you. In cases like this, it’s best to fake it until you make it. You’ve got to be calm and fatherly whether you feel like it or not.
You may be tempted to let your frustrations and anger bubble over into any conversation you have with your children. Don’t! This is your personal hell, not theirs.
You think you have a hard time coping? It’s nothing compared to how hard it is for your children.
Spend time with them. But don’t guilt out and buy a pony (or a car!). Just being there is the most valuable gift you can give. If they want to talk, and chances are they won’t, then let them get their feelings out in the open. Otherwise, try to maintain a sense of normalcy without crossing the lines you have set for yourself.
Attend soccer games. Meet for lunch. Take them to a movie. But above all else, be cool.
The other thing about kids is that they can be brutally honest. Things you may not have wanted to hear from your spouse, you may hear from your kids.
Tough love works both ways. Listen and learn.
Here comes the judge.
You’re probably due for some introspection and some criticism, but a little bit of that can go a long way, assuming you’re not a complete lecherous cad, deserving of everything bad said about you.
Other people will be sad and angry over your break-up. Your male friends will try to carry on as if nothing has changed, and you need a certain amount of that. But some will tell you what you did wrong, over and over.
At some point, that damages your ability to cope instead of helping your ability to heal. You’ll know when.
Also, know when to spot constructive criticism and when to recognize destructive criticism. If your load feels lightened after having a heart to heart with someone, then that’s constructive. But if you walk away hating the other person when your chat is done, some of that may be self-directed anger, but some of it may be over the line, even if it’s meant to be well-intentioned.
You are reforming your relationships and making relationships under a new identity, so you need to be patient with yourself and with your circle of friends and family. It’s awkward at times, but you’ll learn how and when to draw boundaries. That’s part of the healing process as well.
You’re not alone.
You don’t really realize how many other people have been on the divorce train until your own ticket is punched as well. Much like when you have kids, you are granted admission into certain circles and conversations that didn’t apply to you before.
Even if you’ve helped others going through a divorce, it is waaaaayyyy different when it’s you.
Whether it’s by nature or nurture, most men are more lone wolves than women are. Reaching out can be tougher for some. Other guys torture themselves a lot more than they have to before connecting with other like-minded men who can help them.
This may sound funny, but one of the great things about divorce is that there are so many of them.
Huh? Here’s why.
While nobody wishes divorce on anyone else, unless there are ulterior motives, because so many men are getting divorced, there is a full continuum of men in the various stages of the divorce pipeline.
This means you always have somebody who has just gone through what you’re about to go through. Others have kids or similar amounts of financial assets and concerns. And others are veterans of the whole process and can take a more detached view and offer advice based on their experiences from start to finish.
You may seek out advice from friends. You may seek out advice from men’s groups at church. A therapist is also a great place for advice and to download your problems.
It’s a bit cliché, but there really is strength in numbers. You might be surprised at how good you feel when another guy opens up about what it’s like.
And an even better feeling is when you can counsel and listen to someone who may not be as far along in the process as you. Helping them is a form of helping you.
Anger. Acceptance. Action.
You know about the stages of grief that you go through during a loss, such as when someone dies. You experience many of those same feelings with the death of your marriage.
It’s okay to be angry, especially if you didn’t initiate the divorce. That ambushed feeling is among the worst of all the feelings you will have to cope with. Even though things may not have been perfect in your marriage, you may couple your feelings of anger with feelings of shame, betrayal or defiance.
They’re beasts of burden and they may weigh quite heavily on your psyche for a long time. Nobody knows for sure how long that will be. Recognizing they’re on board is a good thing, instead of dealing with that “starting in a hole” feeling every morning and not knowing why.
You may even tell yourself that you’re over these things. You may be telling yourself a lie. You may not. But deep down, you’ll know.
And it won’t be like flipping a switch. These feelings will ebb and flow for some time and they’ll gradually diminish. If they don’t, that’s unhealthy.
Gradually, expect all that negative energy to be replaced by a form of acceptance. Sooner or later you’ll realize you can’t change things. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but you will get there at some point. That’s called healing.
Acceptance happens when you have bottomed out and you are starting to rebuild your new life. Your relationships have been redefined. You have a new normal. Your life falls into more of a routine. Awkward at first, but time helps the process. You just need to string together as many days as possible where nothing dramatic happens.
When you have achieved a certain level of acceptance, you can truly start moving forward with positive actions in your life. Until then, you’re just in an angry reaction mode. It won’t stop you from doing things, but you’re more likely to regret actions and decisions made in anger than when you have your head screwed on straight.
The good news is that men are more about action than they are about talking things out and dealing with their feelings. To men, taking action is a form of dealing with feelings.
Short-term, you can focus on the small day-to-day stuff like improving your diet, getting plenty of exercise and connecting with friends. Pursue a new hobby, join a group, volunteer. Suck up those hours spent in anger that’s no longer there with more positive and productive uses of your time.
Long-term, start rethinking your life’s goals, including your existing relationships with others. Decide if you are really happy with your current job or career. If not, now may be the time for a reinvention.
Anger, acceptance and action do not happen in separate vacuums. They will overlap and you may not even be aware simply because you are more engaged and happier than you were a week, a month or a year ago.
No rebounds. No rings.
We’re stealing this phrase from the Showtime Lakers coach Pat Riley who made it a mantra to help the Lakers become one of the great NBA dynasties a few years back.
How does it apply to you and coping in a divorce?
You may be tempted to jump right back into another relationship to help fill the void left by your divorce. It’s not always a bad thing, but more often than not, you have a lot of feelings to process, and adding such a big and important layer to your life so quickly is messing with fire.
You need to establish a new normal for yourself before you can do so with another person. That takes time.
You are probably also going to still be setting up boundaries between you and your ex-wife. That will not happen without a few rough spots.
You may be able to devote the energy required to end one relationship and carry on a new one. But you could also be setting yourself up for more damaging failure if you’re not careful.
You need to take stock of your emotional, physical and social health. Telling yourself that you’re alright is not the same as actually being alright. You’ve got to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else.
There’s break-up funk, and then there’s depression.
Let’s cut straight to the chase on this one. When you bottle up your feelings and don’t offload them the right way, chances are you are setting yourself up for some major league depression.
Depression is more than just a mental funk, it can manifest itself physically as well.
When you get caught in an endless cycle and hopelessness, when bargaining for a different outcome has failed, you could be headed for a fall.
It’s so important to recognize the symptoms of depression that we’re going to quote directly from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on what the exact symptoms of depression are:
- Depressed mood (i.e., sadness, emptiness, hopelessness) most of the day, nearly every day.
- Decreased interest or pleasure in formerly enjoyed activities.
- Significant changes in eating habits (i.e., eating significantly more or less, and associated weight gain or loss).
- Significant changes in sleeping patterns (i.e., excessive need for sleep, or inability to sleep).
- Fatigue or loss of energy most days.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- In severe cases, psychomotor agitation (purposeless, repetitive motions such as wringing hands, tapping of the foot, pacing the room, etc.) or psychomotor impairment (slowed physical reactions as a result of sluggish cognitive processing, for example, slow speech and walking).
- Also in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.
If you experience any of these and they persist…GET HELP IMMEDIATELY!
Even Superman was vulnerable to kryptonite, and since you’re not Superman, you are at risk if you don’t get help for the things that can harm you.
When you combine depression with alcohol or drugs to cope, you are flat out messing with the devil.
Moderation is the key. Repeated binges are not.
You’re already dealing with one massive hangover, do you really need another one? It’s destructive and it could make the road back a lot harder and a lot longer than it needs to be. And worst-case scenario, it could kill you. No fooling.
If you need help…
Get therapy. Having someone to talk to and provide you with the emotional support you need is absolutely essential. Consider online therapy sites like BetterHelp. BetterHelp lets you choose from thousands of licensed therapists starting at $40 per week for unlimited counseling. You can try BetterHelp here >>
You also may need to deal with divorce-related PTSD.
Believe it or not, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a thing for men in divorce. Even when a divorce is not especially contentious, there may be a lot of underlying stress associated with it and that may manifest themselves much later down the road, both physically and psychologically.
In fact, a contested divorce is ranked on the Holmes-Rahe scale as the second most stressful life event.
The symptoms may be similar to depression or may reveal themselves a bit differently. Again, even if it is a year or two, or longer after the fact, if you’re having problems, get help.
You don’t get any medals for fighting depression and PTSD on your own.
But you do get better if you’re smart enough and strong enough to get the help you need.