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Man Up! – How divorce affects men.

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Man up! You often hear this expression.  As though someone shouldn’t be affected by something like a divorce. Traumatic events such as redundancy or divorce aren’t supposed to affect fellas; they’re supposed to man up and deal with their problems in an organised and efficient manner.

None of that is true.  Divorce affects men as much as it affects women.  If anything, women initiate divorce in nearly 70% of cases and so tend to be better prepared to accept it.

Let’s explode 3 of the most toxic myths about men and divorce, and instead look at how divorce affects men.

1. Divorce doesn’t affect men as much as women

Divorce is the second most stressful event that can affect you in your life, after the death of a spouse or child.  As a man who was divorced at the age of 32, I can tell you that it is as stressful as anything you might go through.

And, I’m not alone.  Divorce can have a devastating impact on men.  Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2008 found that rates of divorce closely followed trends in suicide in young men at the end of the 20th century (both increased into the 1990s and then showed a decline up to 2001).

Dr. Justin Denney, a sociology professor, has conducted similar studies in the USA.  In 2009, he published data in Social Science Quarterly that concluded that men who are divorced are 39%  more likely to commit suicide than those still married.

Divorce affects everyone and men aren’t immune from the feelings of loss, guilt, anger and blame that arise after separation.

2. Breaking up with your wife means breaking up with your children

One of the major fears that men face when considering divorce is the impact that separation will have on their children.  I suspect that countless parents, like me, stayed married purely for the sake of their children.

daddy and daughter blowing a bubbles in the park
1 in 3 children live without their father (ONS)

Once you have made the decision to separate, however, you have to put the needs of your kids to the forefront.  With emotions running high, and accusations flying around it can be hard to remember what’s best for your children.  What is best is that they should have good quality contact with both parents.

Don’t be scared of going to court to secure a contact order for your children if your ex is being obstructive.  Kids who maintain contact with both parents grow up more emotionally stable, educationally advanced and less likely to get into trouble with the law.

In addition, maintaining contact with your kids can also help your emotional wellbeing.  Dr Denney’s subsequent research, published in February 2010’s Journal of Marriage and Family concluded that children offered a major protective effect against suicide. For each additional child in a household, adults were 6 % likely to commit suicide.

Just because you have left their mum doesn’t mean you’ve left them as well.

3. It’s always the man’s fault

If you’re going through a separation or divorce, it’s hard not to feel responsible.  I spent years blaming myself for the relationship break down.  Looking back, that was palpably not the case.

Around two thirds of divorces are initiated by women (69% in England and Wales in 2003) with ‘unreasonable behaviour’ the most common reason given.  Even if you’re in a situation where you’re the supposedly innocent party, it can be hard not to feel that you could have done something better or differently.

It will take time to get over these feelings, and it may also affect the way you deal with any subsequent relationships.  The scars from a divorce can last for a long time, and you won’t get over them straight away.  You do need to remember, though, that it takes two to tango, and that not everything that happened was down to you.

How should men divorce?

If you are a man divorcing, you will have a lot of difficult emotions.  You will need to deal with them in some way.  One reason men have higher rates of alcoholism and suicide is because this is an unhealthy way they deal with emotions.  So talk to friends or a professional.  Talking is essential – you just need to decide who will be most helpful to you.

Do continue to see your children and you will need to accept the legal game.  It is unfair towards men but if you do not play to these rules, you will not see them.  So keep going with the process and find ways to deal with the emotions that come with the custody negotiations.  

Finally reflect on what you have learnt from this relationship:  what you know about yourself, what you want from a relationship, what you do and don’t want in your next life.  Talking about this will probably help too.

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