Before you experienced divorce for yourself, you may have been under some false impressions about divorced men. Maybe good. Maybe not. After all, the guy at work seemed to do just fine following his divorce last year. Truth be told, you were a little envious. He had a dating profile up and running on a site in no time at all. Today we get a look back from two guys who have been through it, and tell us what they wish they had known.
The Marriage Had Been Over For A While
It’s easy to picture Walt as a friend. At 50, he’s successful in business, seasoned just enough to be valuable, and confident in his skills. Fit, friendly and quick to smile, he has a firm handshake and easy laugh. He’s comfortable in his own skin.
A longtime information technologies consultant, Walt made the switch to employee when his children were young. He didn’t want to miss their formative years. Somehow, the marriage didn’t turn out as well as the kids. Separated in 2014, he and his wife officially divorced in March 2015.
It wasn’t until the separation that Walt even realized the marriage had been over for a while. “I’d get home and she wouldn’t speak to me. Wouldn’t even tell me why. I just let it go to keep the peace.”
Approximately two-thirds of American divorces are initiated by women. In our society, we’ve long known the standard response to divorce: isolation, substance abuse, replacement partners and denial. These are all perfectly acceptable responses for women. Culturally, we expect divorced men to be angry, routinely discounting their grief, sadness and humiliation. In Walt’s case, infidelity fueled his anger for a short while, but then the unexpected happened.
An Overwhelming Sense of Relief
“It was liberating,” recalls Walt. “My kids and I were relaxed and happy. We could do what we wanted.” Over the years, subtle behavior changes had led to an untenable existence. “Life is so much easier now.”
The Devil Is In The Details
The surprising part of the divorce for Walt was the everyday minutiae. The grocery shopping. The dishes. The laundry. The doctors’ appointments. The household stuff. “It takes me a long time to do the dishes, but I don’t mind. I don’t mind any of it. It’s just work that needs to get done.”
Maintaining social ties is essential for divorced men trying to rebuild a life without their partner. Luckily for Walt, his friends and family network is strong. Living within walking distance of the neighborhood school in a small town, he’s a familiar face and an active volunteer parent for the school’s sporting community. He simply needed to step it up a notch. “All of our friends have chosen to remain part of my life. I still see the same people.”
Setting Priorities and Taking Control
A new life calls for new skills and, as a divorced father, Walt was quick to delve into the legal system to decipher child custody laws. Although not an attorney by trade, he’s learned all the fine print that goes along with 50/50 custody. From the beginning, Walt made certain his four children were his top priority. “I couldn’t keep paying an attorney; I had to learn the law for myself.”
I Can See Clearly Now the Pain Is Gone
Studies show that two years after a divorce, both men and women feel as though their lives have improved, regardless of who initiated the split. In Walt’s case, it’s almost two years to the day since his divorce, and he couldn’t agree more. While it’s more difficult financially, overall his quality of life is greatly improved. “I didn’t realize how unhappy I was.”
Recovery Stages for Divorced Men
The recovery stages following a divorce follow a fluid timeline. While the two-year mark indicates a high level of recovery for most, it isn’t an easy path for everyone. Mark is in the early lifecycle of his divorce. Married for a dozen years, he and his wife had experienced their share of troubles and even separated at one point.
But when they reached the decision to divorce, he wasn’t expecting the relationship to turn ugly. “I expected the hurt, the sense of loss,” he explained. What surprised him was the complete turnaround he experienced with his former wife. “You start to think about how your security and your home are compromised by someone you loved and trusted.”
While he experienced anger when his marriage dissolved, the true sadness seemed to manifest unexpectedly when he had to find new homes for his dogs. “It wasn’t fair to them; I work 12 hours a day. They deserved more than I could give right now.” After placing the dogs that he and his wife had bred professionally, the grief threatened to overwhelm. “It was worse than when she left.”
Silver lining? A return to self
Like Walt, after the initial shock, Mark is experiencing something of a rebirth. “I’m actually feeling kind of free to return to the person I used to be,” he said. Prior to his marriage, Mark was an active outdoorsman enjoying hunting and fishing among other active pursuits. During the marriage, those interests gradually fell away. “I was always reminded I should be doing something with the family.”
Handling the small things, like chores and grocery shopping, are now added to the growing to-do list. While not considered beforehand, these jobs are simply accomplished on days off from work. The evenings are quieter, but not unwelcome.
Reviving his old self is something Mark is looking forward to doing in the coming days and months. Recovery and renewal are the final steps in the healing process, “I’m looking forward to being me again.
I’m looking forward to being me again.
Business coach and speaker Bill Douglas echoed those same feelings of freedom he experienced with his own divorce. Speaking with The Huffington Post last year, Douglas viewed his divorce as a wakeup call to be the “best dad and the best me I could be.”
That freedom also meant he could choose his own way to bond with his sons (dinner at a different restaurant every Monday night, sans phones) and that freedom also led him to set up his house and his life, exactly as he liked.
Welcoming Room To Breathe
While there may be stages that most everyone experiences with the loss of a partner, there is no “one size fits all” in terms of hindsight. It’s an individual thing, just like any one of us.
What we might find surprising is the sense of space that surrounds us, the feeling that we have room to grow and change. The feeling that our story isn’t over, even if a new chapter in a new place is beginning. Call it a sequel if you’d like.
“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.” S.J. Watson
An Unexpected Bonus – Wrapped In the Mundane
Trying to picture what happens to divorced men, you probably never contemplated the laundry, or how busy the market would be on a Friday night, or the phone number for the pharmacy. But your head was most likely filled with all the negatives each of us envision in the wee hours of the morning on a sleepless night.
Take a breath, and take a moment now to consider the once unthinkable: the most unexpected thing you discover might be some one you knew all along. That someone is You.
Do you know any divorced men that could use some encouragement?
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