Men and women tend to perceive and survive divorce a bit differently because of some natural psychological and cultural differences between the sexes.
However, we should not assume that men find divorce less painful. On the contrary, research shows that a breakup hits men harder regardless of whether it is an amicable or highly contested divorce.
How Divorce Affects and Changes a Man
Divorce is a stressful life event that negatively affects both spouse’s physical and mental health. Whether you are a man or a woman, divorce is a difficult process and requires coping skills.
The stress of the process, the financial challenges, and the emotions related to ending a marriage have long-lasting effects on anyone ending a marriage. Men tend to have more significant short-term consequences on their well-being from a divorce than women.
Men are also at a much greater risk of developing long-term health problems during and after the divorce process.
According to a study, divorce (both directly and indirectly) affects men’s physical, psychological, social, and even spiritual health.
Moreover, divorced men suffer more from cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, stroke, weight gain, and other conditions than other men.
Men coping with divorce are also more likely to lead an unhealthy lifestyle. They often fall into alcohol abuse, tobacco use, and use other high-risk substances and behaviors to numb the emotional pain of divorce.
Negative consequences of divorce may be more likely if the husband doesn’t initiate the divorce. And recent studies show that women initiate divorce more often than men.
However, this is only a tiny part of the picture. In addition to the physical effects, divorce often has serious psychological consequences for men.
Depression is a severe mental illness triggered by prolonged underlying stress, and divorce certainly causes prolonged stress.
The National Institute of Mental Health describes some of the symptoms of depression as follows:
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Feeling anxious or restless
- Loss of interest in work, family, hobbies, etc.
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or “empty”
- Not being able to remember details or concentrate
Studies show that men are more likely to suffer from mental illness, (like depression) after divorce than women.
A Canadian study revealed men who are separated or divorced are more likely to be depressed than women for four years following the divorce or separation.
Men are also far less likely to seek mental health care than women. One study showed that 28% of men with mental health issues refused to seek professional help, compared to only 19% of women.
For men, according to Brene Brown, “weakness” is felt to be shameful and men often think of getting help as “weak.”
Additionally, women are far more likely to discuss their mental health struggles with friends and family than men, and this offloads some of the burden of carrying their struggles alone.
It can be hard for a man to accept a new reality after divorce. Ignoring the emotions surrounding divorce and the end of a significant relationship leads to an accumulation of negative thoughts, which can lead to a downward spiraling of hope in the future.
A study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that divorced men are 9.7 times more likely to take their own lives than divorced women. Additionally, men are also more likely to be successful at taking their own life.
If you or someone you know needs emotional support and has suicidal thoughts and depression, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It works 24/7.
Alternatively, text 988 for an accredited crisis counselor.
Decrease of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect
Divorce creates great emotional turmoil, particularly if it is seen as a failure in cultural situations, such as religious institutions or family norms. Feeling like a failure can lead to a drop in self-esteem.
A divorced man may consider himself unworthy of a good relationship, love, care, and respect. He may cease to see good qualities in himself and focus only on shortcomings, setting himself up for a downward spiral.
A big contributor to this is loneliness. Divorced women are more likely to have a large social network. Divorced men experience significantly more loneliness than women, yet another risk factor for mental health issues.
Because divorce often means separation from their home and their children, loneliness can be intensified for divorced men.
Anxiety disorder in a divorced man can be characterized by a fear of the unknown. They may not know how to move forward and feel thrown into the ocean of a new life for which they are not ready.
This is especially true when the divorce is unexpected.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America describes anxiety symptoms as:
- Intense and persistent fears or worries
- Inability to deal with uncertainty about future events
- Intrusive thoughts
- Excessive and meticulous planning
- Fear of making the wrong decision
Robin Goldstein, EdD Licensed Psychologist, says that anxiety in divorced men can be exhibited by irritability, chronic worry, increased fearfulness, among other symptoms.
She also adds that many men can lose weight because of anxiety.
Ridwan Shabsigh, MD, President of the International Society of Men’s Health, agrees.
He also emphasizes the need to continue the research on the impact of such effects to develop diagnostic and treatment recommendations for doctors and mental health providers.
6 Emotional Stages of Divorce For a Man
Men going through a divorce can experience a whole range of different emotions. Some of them are encouraged by society, while others are considered unacceptable, even shameful, for a man.
The truth is that it is healthy to experience emotions in any way and there is no “normal” way to feel after a divorce. Each man experiences it individually.
The list below describes some of divorce's most common emotional stages.
‘It Can’t Be True’ Stage
Initial denial is common in divorce (or any other form of grief) and typically involves shock and denial. If a man does not foresee a divorce, and some studies show that this is most often the case, the news about a breakup can be hard to take in.
At this stage, the man may feel numb. He may not believe the divorce is actually happening. Instead, he denies the situation and thinks about how he may produce a different outcome. By not accepting the breakup, the man tries to avoid pain.
‘I’m Hurt, But I Won’t Show It’ Stage
In this stage, the hurt begins to sink in. However, some men may try not to show it. They take an “I’m totally fine” stance, but their behavior may indicate the opposite.
Some men coping with divorce turn to binge drinking, endless parties, and promiscuous sex. Others give in to loneliness, sadness, apathy, and depression.
The goal is to outwardly project that the divorce has not actually hurt him at all and to show the world that he’s living his best life with newfound freedom when the truth is he is actually grappling with pain.
‘I’m So Angry’ Stage
Many men progress to anger when they let the hurt take over. They feel out of control and at the mercy of their spouse and the court system.
Some men are angry with themselves (for not keeping the family together, not recognizing the signs of an impending divorce, or not being an ideal partner for their spouse).
Others may be angry with their spouses, believing they are being treated unfairly. They may also become angry with the court system, perceiving it as rigged.
Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., wrote in her article published in Psychology Today that anger is a form of intense attachment (albeit negative attachment), just like love. When a man feels anger towards his spouse about divorce, it indicates there is still an attachment there.
‘I’m Not Going to Ask For Help’ Stage
Psychotherapist, relationship coach, and divorce mediator Toni Coleman says that men are less likely to ask for help. She says, “Males lean heavily towards a belief that they should be able to deal with their own problems and solve them themselves.”
She adds that asking for help is often seen as a weakness. “In earlier generations [pre-GPS], the joke (and it was so true) was that men would not stop and ask for directions when lost.
They would drive for hours, lost, but refuse to ask for help and instead try to find where they needed to go on their own... Guys don’t like to be vulnerable or appear weak.”
A man may either try to cope with his emotions about divorce on his own or turn a blind eye to his problems. After all, asking for help, according to some men, means admitting that they can’t cope on their own.
Refusing to see a therapist, talk to peers, or reach out for support causes men to cycle through anger and loneliness without finding a way to move forward.
‘I’m Going to Rebuild My Life’ or ‘I’m Not Going To Do Anything About My Life’ Stage
This is a turning point in the post-divorce period that determines whether a man recovers or not.
If a man copes with his emotions and analyzes his previous relationship independently or with someone else’s help, he can start moving forward.
Moreover, when a man understands himself and his feelings, he can find a path forward and rebuild his life.
These men begin the upward optimistic spiral of focusing on the future.
Some men may instead choose a strategy of doing nothing. In this situation, they let life take its course. Some men who don’t take proactive steps are lucky to have a friend or a family member help them find a way forward.
Some, however, remain stuck and often, less fulfilled.
Some eventually understand on their own that something is wrong with their lives and make changes later.
Although progress is good, some men take things too far and fast.
Some studies show that many men start dating much too soon after divorce. While optimism and forward focus are important, ignoring the grief or what went wrong sets up future relationships for failure.
If you move forward but don’t do the emotional work to get through the pain of divorce, it can end up backfiring and a rebound relationship may not last.
‘I Admit What Happened. I Understand How It Happened. I Accept It’ Stage
This is the ultimate goal for most men: healing after divorce. Some try to reach it consciously, from the beginning, reflecting on every step to this goal.
Others don’t know that’s where they are heading but eventually end up there, particularly if they get curious about themselves, their lives, and their healing.
Recovery after a broken marriage is individual and everyone has their own timeline.
Some psychologists suggest that an average of one year of recovery is required for every five to seven years of marriage. Others suggest using the 6-month rule: 6 months of recovery for every year you were in a relationship.
In general, a long-term relationship needs a more extended recovery period. The whole process often moves faster if no children are involved.
Life After Divorce for Men: Practical Tips to Deal with Negative Emotions
The answer to the question of “how to deal with divorce as a man” lies in accepting your emotions and letting yourself feel what you feel. Additionally, getting curious can help the healing process.
Dr. David M Reiss, a practicing psychiatrist and trauma expert, notes that men’s pain after divorce is natural because they lost someone they once loved.
While it’s challenging to start a new life facing such significant changes, everyone has the opportunity to get rid of the post-divorce bouquet of negative emotions.
Working with a professional mental health provider and establishing a good support system can be very effective and help resolve the pain.
Here is some advice on how to get over divorce as a man and fight negative feelings to take the first steps towards recovery and happiness.
According to Jennifer Carter, Ph.D., a counseling and sports psychologist at the Center for Balanced Living in Ohio, moving your muscles has mental health benefits.
She advises her clients to walk while they talk.
Exercise can improve your mood, distract you, and increase your self-confidence. Sports activate chemicals in your brain, such as endorphins, making you feel happier and more zen.
Try Gratefulness Practices
Men’s emotions after divorce may vary.
Unfortunately, sadness, exhaustion, anger, bitterness, and regret can pull them deeper and deeper into negativity, making them lose motivation to move on.
Sometimes, even small reminders of the good things in your life can help.
Buy a journal and write down all the things you are grateful for in your life. These can be as simple as a Saturday night out with close friends or spending time on the couch with your dog watching a baseball game or your favorite TV show.
If you have kids, start a tradition of identifying your “highs” for the day, or the positive things. It’s okay to identify the “lows” too but get curious about how the “lows” might be reframed into something positive.
And when you feel overwhelmed again, open your notebook and remind yourself how much good there is in your life.
Practice Mindfulness Breathing
Focusing on breathing can relieve anxiety and stress. Slowing down your breathing helps lower your heart rate and blood pressure, creating calmness and a stable emotional state.
It works pretty simply:
- Sit down and put your hands on your knees
- Focus on your body and think about how you feel in this position
- Take three deep breaths. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Keep sitting for 5 more minutes, breathing normally, and focusing on how the air passes through your body
- Random thoughts will come to you. Notice them and let them move on past without focusing on them, continuing to think about your breathing
- Open your eyes
This kind of mindful breathing is an important mindfulness technique. Mindfulness itself teaches us to let emotions run their course without judgement. In a divorce, it functions as successful grieving, which most men skip.
When you allow yourself to feel emotions, not pushing them away, it can become easier to bear over time.
Getting through a divorce is no less complicated for men and women. However, many men are trained not to think about or deal with emotions, which then means they are less likely to ask for support or seek professional help, choosing the “pull yourself together!” strategy.
However, this approach can lead to even more severe negative consequences for men’s physical and mental health.
Taking the time to feel and acknowledge your emotions and proactively work on your well-being can help you successfully navigate divorce.