5 Steps for Men after Divorce
So, your wife asked for a divorce.
As my friend Rob says, “that moment often leaves us thinking, ‘WTF do I do now!?”
According to the American Sociological Association, almost 70% of divorces are initiated by women. And among college-educated women, this number jumps up to 90%.
It should be no surprise, then, that a male counterpart could feel blindsided by the request from their soon-to-be ex.
That shock may leave a man with a natural physical and psychological “fight or flight” response to divorce.
And while that’s a legitimate response, it’s not entirely helpful.
For one, fighting through the first stages of divorce with accusations, blame, and potentially yelling at your partner, never really solves anything (even if they feel useful in the moment).
But running from the event won’t help either.
There’s much more to lose in divorce than just your marriage.
One thing for sure is: going through divorce alone is daunting, isolating, and feels overwhelming.
And your friends who are married, just don’t get it.
“Ah, that sucks, man."
“I didn’t really like her anyway.”
“Man, think about all of the women you’re going to hook up with! Is it bad to say I’m jealous?”
Finding other men and women who have gone through divorce could be the most important investment of your divorce.
Problem is, most men haven’t made new friends since we were in college.
Our wives handled the social calendar.
Kids’ sports and neighborhood dads were the extent of our social life.
Someone wise once said, ‘don’t take advice from someone who hasn’t been where you want to go.’
I’m Noam Raucher, a divorce coach, rabbi, and divorced dad to 2 kids.
Here are 5 things you can do during and after your divorce to help you get through it:
1) Take some perspective and time to set divorce goals
The easy thing to do is lawyer-up and prepare for a fight.
Granted there are some divorces that are highly contentious that require the best legal approach possible. Maybe even a battle in court. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Ask yourself what you want out of the divorce.
Finding a divorce coach who will help you organize these goals and hold you accountable to your goals will aid in the process immensely.
👉 WHY IT'S IMPORTANT: Taking a little bit of time to think about what you want out of the divorce, even if you were surprised by it, can go a long way for your benefit, and for your children, if you have them.
✅ ACTION STEPS:
- Talk to a divorce coach
- Make a list for what you want want (custody, property, financial assets)
2) Outer work: Exercise and eat right
Divorce can make us feel sad, angry and weak.
These are all legitimate feelings for a major and surprising life transition.
Feel those emotions, but don’t dwell in them.
Getting into your body through exercise and a healthy diet could help you process those emotions and begin to think clearly. Sometimes mental and emotional challenges appear smaller after we have accomplished something with our bodies.
If divorce feels like a “marathon” consider taking up some running so you can feel and understand what it takes to map things out, prepare appropriately, pace yourself and move towards the finish-line feeling accomplished and even successful.
If you feel like divorce requires flexibility without breaking, perhaps consider yoga.
If you are looking for strength, hit the weights.
Is balance something you want? Consider taking up tai-chi or surfing.
👉 WHY IT'S IMPORTANT: The physical act of overcoming a literal obstacle can help us to overcome the internal obstacles that amount with divorce. And hey, physical fitness could be a good routine to pick up that can benefit you when you are ready to date again.
✅ ACTION STEPS:
- Get a gym membership/personal trainer, or friend, who will help hold you accountable for doing 20-30 minutes of exercise 4-5 days a week
- If you have the money, buy yourself some new clothes. A new external image can reinforce a new internal narrative.
3) Inner work: Emotional and spiritual growth
“Inner work” is a popular catchphrase today.
But despite the pop-culture references there is good reason to take some time for introspection.
It’s the time to ask yourself about what you may, or may not, have contributed to your marriage that lead to your divorce, and what requires accountability or forgiveness on your part.
If you find something you should apologize for, share it with your ex.
It may not save your marriage, but may go a long way at smoothing the process with your ex-partner.
Whatever you discover is worth holding on to so you can draw out the lesson involved and become wiser from it.
But the inner-work isn’t just about looking inward by yourself.
This is a great time to go into therapy from a trainer professional.
I know, therapists are not the first people men turn to when seeking help.
But if you think you’ll be able to process all the emotions and think clearly on your own, think again.
Let’s also remember that depression is no stranger to men.
It behooves you to know the signs and do something about it before it gets too late.
Rather than self-medicate, consider if proper medication is the path for you.
👉 WHY IT'S IMPORTANT: You will need a vessel in which you can pour your emotions in a safe and non-judgment way.
You don’t want to make big decisions in divorce from an emotional space, and you don’t want your children to effected by your impacted emotions when you haven’t processed them like a mature adult.
✅ ACTION STEPS:
- Find a therapist: This might take time to find a therapist that is just right. But find one and share everything with them. Take their feedback as a gift even if it’s hard to hear and challenges your assumptions.
- Men's group: Find a men’s group so you can feel seen and heard by other people in your same situation.
- Ask trusted friends for feedback about who you are, and know that they are sharing from a place of love for you, and want for you to grow into you potential.
4) Grieve the end of your marriage
There is no way to sugarcoat it. Divorce can mean the death of different things.
Not only the death of your marriage, or the death of a family, but also the death of a dream you might have had for your future.
Granted these aren’t literal deaths that require a funeral.
But there is a mourning period and grieving that can help us move through the typical stages that come with loss most popularly outlined by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
With the help of a therapist, divorce coach, clergy, or spiritual guide you can figure out what stage you’re in and how to make progress through them. Although it’s also helpful to know that moving through the stages isn’t linear and experienced differently for everyone.
In addition, divorce can bring on a specific type of grief known as “Ambiguous Grief.”
This type of grief is experienced from the loss of a loved one who is still alive, accompanied by a change or a death in the relationship.
👉 WHY IT'S IMPORTANT: With ambiguous loss, there is no closure; the loss is unclear. It can leave individuals and families feeling confused and hopeless. Those feelings can last for years and may lead to depression and anxiety. Remember to check in with yourself to consider how you’re feeling and who might be able to help.
✅ ACTION STEPS:
- Write down Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief and keep them with you in a place that’s easily accessible.
- When you’re feeling a strong emotion, ask yourself if its related to divorce (probably is) and ask where it falls in the stages of grief.
- Measure this across time to see how these feelings show up 3 months 6 months, a year, and 2 years out of divorce.
5) Find a community
You’re not alone in divorce. But you're not popular either.
Divorce can do strange things to our social lives.
Friends we thought would be there for us might fade away.
Sometimes people think that divorce is an illness they don’t want to get.
And we may also feel awkward in environments we used to frequent for fear of being stigmatized because of the divorce.
The good news is, even if you lose friends, you won’t always be alone. There’s a huge divorce community out there if you’re willing to look for it.
And that’s really what it comes down to.
It’s well documented how difficult it is to make friends after 40.
The only thing holding you back from true loneliness is your will-power and desire to find people who accept you for who you are.
This may take some time and bravery, but there are plenty of opportunities in men’s groups, meet-up events, and/or single-parent support/social groups like Divorced Over 40.
This may also be a chance for you to find a new hobby in a running club, pottery class, or yoga studio.
👉 WHY IT'S IMPORTANT: Men have a tendency to isolate, and are reluctant to ask for help. And that can be a dangerous place to be.
✅ ACTION STEPS:
- Make a list of 2 divorce communities (i.e. Meetup, Divorced over 40)
- Reach out for those groups and find out when their next event is.
- Don’t go with the pressure of making lots of friends. Just dip your toe in and see what it feels like. Take one step at a time.
Pro tip: Ask yourself if you feel like divorce stigmatizes you, and then say, “F it” and go
Remember, divorce does not make you a failure.
American society and religious values can make you feel like a failure for your marriage falling apart.
But know even if you failed, and your marriage failed, that DOES NOT mean that you, as a human being, are a failure.
With the divorce rate in the United States being close to 50% it would be wise to consider separation as a normal occurrence.
The fact is, even if you were dedicated to your marriage and family, there is nothing that guarantees either of those will last the way you expect.
That being said, while the idea of failure might sting, it can also be an opportunity for something new.
A new you, new chapter in your life, and a new story you are empowered to write yourself. Remember, everyone loves a comeback story.
Hope this helps.