Divorce typically leaves at least one partner struggling to cope, and in some situations it will derail both of them. In fact, the most common cause of depression among women is the loss of a partner, whether it is due to death, separation, or divorce. Divorce ranks as the second highest cause of stress after the death of a loved one. (Naylor, 1998)
Men, too, though they may put on a tougher exterior, often experience profound struggles to cope with the changes that divorce brings. As McLanahan and Sandefur (1994) report, “Compared with married fathers, divorced fathers experience higher levels of depression and psychological distress.” Men can feel just as lost, just as powerless, just as hopeless as women do from the loss of a partner and the breakup of their family. In fact, research shows men often have the hardest time coping with divorce, especially if they didn’t want it. “The fact that divorced fathers report higher levels of depression and psychological problems than divorced mothers underscores the fact that a substancial number of fathers suffer terribly from the disruption of their relationship with their children,” state McLanhan and Sandefur. (ibid, p.131).
“Moreover,” they add “when friends and neighbors are forced to take sides in a contested divorce, it is usually the father who looses out. Fathers who loose contact with their children also loose access to the social capitol that children provide access to in the form of friendships with other parents and, later on, in the form of adult support for aging parents.” (ibid, p. 136)
So don’t get suckered into that “manly man” nonsense. A man’s DNA contains the same propensity for emotional responses as a woman’s. In fact, research tends to show that men are more love-needy than women. Men are simply taught to bottle up this emotion, which generally isn’t a very good coping strategy. Struggling to cope with the aftermath of divorce doesn’t mean a man is weak, it means he is human.
Coping with the changes that divorce brings
Divorce often creates a crisis in a person’s identity. Some may find it difficult to adjust from their role as husband or wife. They may need to rethink their roles as parents, workers, and caregivers. They may find themselves struggling to cope with questions such as…
- Who am I?
- What do I want to do with my life?
- Has everything thus far meant anything?
- Where do I go from here?
- How desirable am I as a person? As a partner?
- Am I still as important to my children?
- What type of purpose does my life have now?
Parents, partners, providers – these are profound identity shifts that cut to the very core of how we see ourselves as a person. Difficulties are inevitable as parents grapple with these identity issues and adjust to new roles after a divorce. Whereas one parent might have been a primary caretaker before the divorce and the other the primary breadwinner, each parent will need to become the Jack-of-all-trades after the divorce. This can seem overwhelming, especially at first.
Most adults find that it takes at least two or three years to adapt to the changes brought about by divorce and get to the point where they really feel settled in their new life. Additional turmoil during this time – stressors such as a lost job or a significant move – can extend this period further. So recognize that it’s normal to feel out of place for some time. As long as you’re making strides in the right direction, that’s what counts.
How well you cope with divorce also has an impact on how well your children fare. They will struggle more when you’re struggling to cope yourself. Since children are profoundly influenced by the moods and emotions of their caregivers, helping them requires that you be in a right mind yourself. If you’re detached, depressed, and neurotic, you’re going to be less available as a parent, and less able to provide them with the type of comfort and support they need.
The Basics of Coping with Divorce
The remainder of this chapter is devoted to helping you deal with the mental challenges that divorce brings; everything from adopting the right attitudes to coping with feelings of hurt or loss that often accompany this transition. But first, here are a few basics:
- Find divorce support, and utilize it
Find a trusted friend for whom you can talk things over with throughout this process. Simply talking things out can be therapeutic, because it helps us express emotions and get a better handle on the issues we struggle with. As Rasalind Spinks-Saey says in talking about her divorce support group, “you might not think you need it, but once there you will realize how much you’ve been trying to shoulder on your own.” (Borquez et al., 2006, p.133)
If you don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to, there are hundreds of divorce support groups you can access online. These can be an indispensible resource throughout the divorce process, just be sure to utilize them to an appropriate degree. There is a tendency to get absorbed in such online forums and devote more time than was originally intended. Your children will be dealing with less available parents as it is, it won’t help if you’re spending 5 hours a day in a chat room. But used in moderation and to an appropriate degree, these cyber communities can be a valuable resource, especially when the kids are with the other parent.
- Don’t forget to breathe
Down time is important. So as your life grows more hectic, don’t forget to leave a little room for recreation and relaxing. If you have the kids, try to arrange this down time around relaxing activities that include them, such as going for an evening stroll or playing with the dog in the backyard.
- Try to grow emotionally
Anytime you’re dealing with a disruption in your life, one of the best ways to deal with it is by hitting the books and engaging in a little self-study. Most people would never attempt to take apart and reassemble a car engine without first reading a manual and having some idea of how it works. Yet when it comes to life problems, rather than car problems, most people approach the situation blind, knowing little about the processes governing their own thoughts. Your brain is way more complicated than a car engine, and it’s governed by any number of reflexive tendencies and default modes of operation. Just like an engine, the more we understand these inner workings, the more we can keep them operating smoothly.
We would strongly recommend parents read our sister publications, The Psychology of Healing and The Family Recovery Handbook, both of which cover general psychological and recovery concepts that can be applied to your everyday life. Beyond that, your library has a number of great resources. Simply search for books on cognitive therapy, emotional intelligence or social intelligence. If nothing else, this wisdom can help you find insight and direction about what people in similar situations have gone through.
- Acknowledge your progress
As you go about the process of recovering from divorce, count the positive steps you make and pat yourself on the back for every stride forward.
Get more coping tips in our Divorce eBook.