Men Dealing With 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 10 pieces of guidance, to help you process and move through divorce with wisdom, dignity, confidence, and self-compassion.
1) Take 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.
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.
Ask yourself what you want out of the divorce.
This can include your material items like your house, furniture, and financial assets.
It can also include your inner-peace and the spiritual meaning you seek in life.
Developing a list of all these will help.
Finding a divorce coach who will help you organize these goals and hold you accountable to them will aid in the process immensely.
If possible, at the very least strive for amiability with your STBX (soon-to-be ex).
That doesn’t mean you have to be friends immediately, or even 10 years post-divorce. But that might make the rest of the process move more smoothly and the difficult conversations easier to have.
Simple, not easy.
2) Outer work: exercise and eat right
Divorce can make us feel sad, angry and weak.
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.
The physical act of overcoming a literal obstacle can help us to overcome the internal obstacles that amount with divorce.
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.
And hey, physical fitness could be a good routine to pick up that can benefit you when you are ready to date again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, remember to check in with yourself to consider how you’re feeling and who might be able to help.
5) Find a community
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.
Men have a tendency to isolate, and are reluctant to ask for help.
It’s also 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.
6) Take the high road (but don’t throw in the towel)
No doubt that, at times, even in relatively amicable divorces, there will be challenges you face with a difficult ex, or friends that have changed their tune.
Perhaps it will come through in a random and petty text/email/gesture from your ex, and you might find yourself triggered by the experience.
This may also happen in the process of separating assets and moving out. Know that it’s totally normal and happens in many divorces.
But this is also an opportunity for tremendous growth as you consider what is so triggering about the event and behaving in a mature way nonetheless.
You may be tempted to stoop to their childish level, but you know that won’t help anything in the end, even if it feels justified in the moment.
That doesn’t mean you give up entirely.
A good politician knows how to build up the proper capital and spend it when right.
It may feel like you’re taking on more loss when you don’t respond just as your poked. But it will fortify you for the tougher conversations that matter. And you invest the proper energy in establishing new boundaries and standards for your life.
Save your energy for the debate and negotiations that matter.
7) Don’t see yourself as 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.
8) Don’t date immediately
Plenty of coaches, friends, and family members will tell you, “There’s lots of fish in the sea,” and that you should “Get back out there as soon as possible.”
Someone might even say, “The best way to get over someone is to get ‘under’ another.”
This is all well-intended advice, but may not be that helpful in the early/middle stages of divorce. Especially, if you haven’t completely separated from your ex.
It may take time to get yourself back on secure footing with finances and a new place to stay.
And you may be emotionally raw, not completely through the grieving process, or even started out on your internal growth process.
All of which will be easily noticeable to the person your date. For that matter, the dating world now may be completely different from when you first fell in love with your ex.
But you will have plenty of time to explore dating once you’ve gotten in better touch with yourself.
Take some time to date yourself and learn about who you are now before dating.
Date with intention.
And remember there’s nothing more attractive that a man that takes accountability with for his actions, walks with integrity, and knows what he wants.
9) Think about the kids
It’s highly important to consider how divorce will impact your children- at any age and stage of their growth.
It will matter how you communicate about the divorce to your children from the first moment you do so and through their upbringing as adults.
Telling your children about the divorce can be a way to create a foundational agreement with your ex, and to instill the kids with a sense of hope despite the breakdown of your family.
Allow your children to experience whatever feelings and thoughts they might have about divorce. And it will be your job as their parent to comfort and assure them that everything will be OK regardless.
More-so, what and how you communicate to your children about your ex during divorce life can have lasting impacts.
Consider what it might be like for your children if you tell them that their parent is “crazy,” or “an ass.”
Children can easily internalize those same criticisms and develop serious questions about their own self-worth. But if you show your children how you, personally, have grown, rebounded, and become resilient despite the hardships you’ve faced in divorce, you’ll be setting them up with internal muscles unmatched but biggest body-builders in the world.
10) Get your finances in order
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk finances.
Next to prioritizing your children (if you have them) and your own health (mental and physical) finances are a major item that require consideration and planning.
A lawyer alone might ask for a retainer somewhere between 7k-10k. And that’s without even going to court, which could inflate your expenses well beyond that.
Let’s not also forget that life after divorce requires payments and savings as well.
Many men still move out and need to establish themselves in a new residence in addition to alimony and/or child support payments.
And then there is planning for your own future with savings accounts and retirement.
If you’ve got kids you might also need to consider how you will pay for their education should they be enrolled in private school, or wish to attend university.
Nor is it wise to spend your money as if you were still married.
There simply isn’t enough to go around.
With spousal maintenance in the picture it’s helpful to know the difference between and important and frivolous purchase and expense.
So, think carefully and wisely about how you’re going to managed your expenses.
Noam is a single dad, rabbi and certified divorce coach who specializes in working with men as they go through divorce
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