Life is unfair, at times overwhelmingly so. Two years ago, my friend David’s life imploded when his wife threw him out and moved in her boyfriend, a nineteen-year-old boy she met while working part-time at the grocery store.
Another Dad Blindsided by Divorce
David had to leave the family home and his two children, aged 9 and 7, and move into a tiny studio apartment, which was all he could afford once he had paid the mortgage, child support and a contribution towards the household bills.
He worked hard all day only to come home to an empty room, while a stranger, working only part-time himself, got to live in the spacious, comfortable family home with David’s wife and children. Children the boyfriend had no interest in and made no particular effort to connect with.
David understood that it was right for the children to live with their mother, who was their primary caregiver and as a part-time worker was able to be around for them before and after school. But still, the helpless feeling that life is unfair was crippling to him for a while.
Now, two years down the line, he has put his life back together again in a way that has impressed all who know him.
Talking to him about it, I know that he is far from being alone in going through this situation. The tips he shared can help anyone find their way and build a happier future, despite the pain when life is unfair. It’s not an easy path, but he showed me that it is possible to get through the darkest of times and find happiness again.
In sharing his process, I hope that others might find hope as they face the future and start rebuilding their lives.
Building A Positive Life Even When Life Is Unfair
Picking yourself up and putting your life back together again is never going to be simple or pain-free. But if you keep on trying, day after day, things will get better. It is possible to take a terrible situation and shape it into something positive. Remember, things are always changing, and it is a great skill to be adaptable enough to deal with changes and be stronger because of them.
Below are the areas that David focused on, with some tips to help you get the most out of them.
Look After Your Health
It’s very easy to forget self-care when you’re in mental and emotional pain. But don’t. A healthy body will help you cope better with psychological trauma.
Physical exercise is known to lift the mood and release chemicals into the brain and help you feel better. Even if you’re not a runner, just start walking regularly. Make yourself a priority now; you are the one who has to take charge and look after yourself. You may not feel like it, but if you force yourself to get out there, walk somewhere green if you can and do it regularly, both your body and mind will benefit
Don’t ruin the good work by eating poorly. You know what’s good for you. You may feel like eating a family-size pizza and a whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s but don’t. You deserve better. Again, be strict with yourself and don’t let things slide. Good health is a fundamental part of feeling more positive.
When it comes to alcohol, try not to over-indulge. Alcohol is a known depressant. Any temporary relief will be far outweighed by longer-term negatives. If you’re feeling down, it’s very easy to slide into over-consumption. Break the drinking habit and look after your body instead. Your ex might have treated you badly, but make sure you treat yourself well.
Get enough sleep. Don’t slump on the sofa in front of a mediocre movie or all-night sport. Lack of sleep has a detrimental effect on our feelings; regular good quality sleep will give you the best chance of feeling positive.
Train Your Thoughts
Early on in a separation, it is tough to stop thinking about the situation you find yourself in. All your hopes and dreams that have been shattered, the anger you may have, the frustration at the way you’ve been treated and the helplessness you feel at your position.
This is all completely natural, and of course, you do need to think things through. Life is unfair, but don’t let yourself obsess endlessly. If you’re tired of going over the same issues again and again, then try and think of more positive things for a while instead.
Spend some time asking yourself what you are grateful for and what you have to look forward to. It might not be much right now, but something as simple as connecting with a friend or going to see a game. Alternatively, visualize a place where you are happy or somewhere you’d like to visit one day. Spend some time thinking about those things, including all the small details.
Get into the habit of pushing away the negative thoughts when you have them. Tell yourself you’ve dwelled on the problems and frustrations for long enough, now you’re putting them away for a while, and you will deliberately think about something positive instead. . As psychologist Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D. puts it, “If you pay attention to the darkness, you will never find the light.”
This takes a while to become a habit, but if you keep doing it, it becomes easier, and eventually, your mind will look for the positives itself.
With little or no spare cash, it might seem impossible to indulge yourself. But even a simple, low-key treat can give you a bit of a lift. Plus it will leave you less time to mope around dwelling on a situation that probably can’t be changed by you.
Hobbies and pastimes
If you’ve got a hobby or a favorite pastime, chances are it took a back seat once you had a family. Now is the time to resurrect it. Be it fishing, photography or running, you probably still have the equipment somewhere, so dig it out and reconnect with the pleasure it once gave you.
Invite a friend or two round and make a simple meal. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; the point is more the company they’ll bring. Good friends always leave you feeling better than you did before. If you’ve lost touch over the years, now is the chance to catch up and expand the circle of people you enjoy spending time with.
A good book
Remember books? Unlike a screen, they offer complete relaxation and the chance to escape into another world. Visit the library or ask friends for recommendations. If you’re feeling particularly low, look for funny or uplifting stories. Some doctors are even prescribing books these days for those with mild depression.
Walk, cycle or go for a drive. Head for somewhere with natural beauty such as the beach, lake or mountains, or explore a city. Don’t give yourself a chance to dwell on negative emotions; keep moving if you have to, but just enjoy the change of scenery. It might be an effort to start with, but by the time you return home, you should be feeling more positive.
Learn something new
Is there something you always thought you’d enjoy but never had the time to try? Do a bit of online research and see if you can find some interesting podcasts about it. There are lots of things you can start at a basic level very cheaply, at least to see if you like it.
If you have a gym membership, take full advantage. Try the extras that you’ve never got around to before. If you’re not a gym member, go for a swim at the local pool. Physical fitness and exertion really do help with mental health and good sleep.
Put some real effort into being a good friend. After you have kids, friendships can dwindle. Now is the time to reconnect. You don’t need expensive nights out; a couple of hours here and there is enough. A beer and a chat will do wonders for your spirits. It’s important to remember to be a good friend though. While your friends will sympathize with your plight and be happy to listen to your woes, you can’t expect them to do that time after time. Have a moan, then put it aside and talk about other things. Make sure you ask them about their lives: what’s going on with them, what’s causing them stress, what they might need from you. And try and have fun. That way, they’ll be more than happy to hear from you again. And you never know, if you try hard enough you might actually have fun.
Making Peace is Part of Co-parenting
However hard it is, try and make some sort of peace with your ex. This isn’t just for the sake of your children, although that’s a big part of it. It will also help you, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first. The situation won’t change through your anger and irritation. Wasting time and energy being difficult or nurturing loathing will have a negative effect on you.
You cannot change what has happened or the position you are in, so try and aim for acceptance. Anger will eat away at you and make moving on so much harder. Try and be civil and as easy going as you can. You may find that your ex becomes more reasonable too and that you’re better able to co-parent your kids when your first concern is them rather than scoring points and obsessing over petty details.
Focus on what really matters; your children first, and then your own life. Refuse to allow negativity in. Again, it will be difficult at first, possibly the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, but do it for the kids, and do it for yourself.
Spending Time With Your Kids
Try and plan in advance what you’ll be doing with your children. Allow for plenty of downtime when you can just hang out together, play and catch up with their lives. Often the memories you’ll return to when the kids aren’t around are the times when you were just chatting or watching a movie together.
If money is tight, look for free activities. There are plenty of suggestions online, particularly on local websites. Look for seasonal lists, like articles on summer fun, to find lots of inexpensive ideas that work year-round.
Keep things positive when you’re with the kids. Don’t be on a downer, don’t make them feel guilty when it’s time to go and try not to let them form an impression that you’ll be sitting around feeling sad when they’re not there. And don’t ever denigrate your ex to them. They love both their parents, and they won’t want to feel conflicted. Ultimately, they’ll work out for themselves what sort of person each of you is.
Make sure you’re the best dad you can be and keep your negative emotions well away from your time with them.
Look To The Future
You don’t need to do this too soon after a traumatic break-up, but the day will come when you want to start thinking about your future. To start with it may seem very bleak, but it really won’t always be this way.
Ask yourself where you would like to be in five years’ time, in ten years’ time. Look at the steps you need to take to get yourself there. Keep it realistic; you won’t be able to magically gain custody of your children, but you can certainly build a good relationship with them. You might have professional ambitions, and it might even be a good time to make changes in your career. Or you might want to move house or find a new partner. Just thinking about the life you want can be encouraging, and there is no reason you can’t build that life and find happiness again.
Rolling Up This Divorce Advice for Men with Kids
Getting through this isn’t easy. You’ll no doubt feel hurt, alone and miserable. You’ll probably feel angry and frustrated. That’s all part of the process. But be firm with yourself; you’re not going to feel this way forever, and you shouldn’t wallow in misery more than you can help.
Be strict with yourself. Make yourself do the things you know deep down will benefit you. To start with, you’ll be going through the motions and often it will be a tremendous effort. But as time goes by you’ll adjust and you’ll start finding pleasure in life again. If things start to overwhelm you, imagine you are advising a friend who is in your situation. It is often so much easier to give advice to a friend than follow it yourself. But be firm with yourself. You’re the best friend you have right now, and deep down you know what’s likely to help you.
Build the best relationship you can with your children in the time you have together. Remind yourself that you’re a primary parent and no-one can replace you. Eventually, your children will be at an age where they can decide who to spend time with. Work on being the sort of dad they want to hang out with. Someone who is happy, energized, and with an interesting and fulfilling life.
If you’ve been hurt enough to hit bottom, please don’t despair. Give yourself the care and kindness you deserve, and things will turn themselves around. Change is hard, but future happiness is always possible.