To some, divorce can be a release. To others, it is a devastating blow. For others still it heralds a new and better beginning. So why does the experience vary so much, and why do men especially seem to struggle with divorce?
Yes, that is right, men struggle with divorce. They are not automatons, things without feelings who can brush off the loss of a long-term relationship with ease and nary a backwards glance. While some studies show that men end up wealthier after divorce on average, it is also proven that men suffer from a higher rate of suicide after divorce, and are more prone to alcoholism, weight gain and mental health issues. So why do some men thrive, while others sink into a pit of despair and destructive behavior?
Men, Divorce, Emotions, and Ego
After divorce, men go through a crisis that is all too often oversimplified in their own eyes and the eyes of society. Being sad and regretful is one thing, but these are transient phases. Anyone (male or female) who loses something important to them experiences what we would commonly call grief. Losing ones wife/family is similar in how it hits our psyche as the death of a family member, the loss of a job, or even the loss of a sentimental item. It is a process to overcome that enormous loss -- one that has a profound effect on how we see ourselves and our place in the world. A man who is divorced must come to terms not just with this loss, but how that loss affects his ego.
I should break off here to explain ego. While the term is often used to describe someone who thinks too much of themselves -- as in having a "big ego" -- the root meaning of the word is our internal sense of who we are as a reflection of other people and society. It is how we view our role and place in society based on a lifetime of interactions with the society in which we live. The ego is a necessary thing for us to function in society, but it also causes some extreme problems when it comes to loss and grief due to how tightly our ego is tied up with family, love and marriage.
Often men who get divorced have to contend with the fact that his entire sense of self worth was tied up with his marriage. He had locked his self worth to his heart as soon as he said "I do" and probably well before that. The binding of marriage to his ego was then reinforced by society's notions of commitment, love, fatherhood, and responsibility of being the head of the household. A man who has been divorced finds himself adrift without knowing his place or worth because he gained so much of his sense of self from his partner and had not developed a true understanding of his real self. When you feel the pang of loss and grief, this is your ego raging against the situation. This is what causes the anger, the depression, the anxiety and desperation.
Self Esteem and Men Recovering From Divorce
With this information, we can begin to understand a man's emotional turmoil after divorce. We can also see why certain patterns of behavior appear and what they really mean.
Long have women been amazed at the behavior of some divorced men, where they fling themself into extreme situations that end up being quite self-destructive. Some men turn to work and throw themselves into it with ferocity, some men choose alcohol as a salve, some choose harder drugs, and other still turn to dating well before they are ready. All of these things and more are linked to a single thing -- an ego that is hurting and the desperate need to boost their self esteem to feel valued, or feel pleasure in other ways.
This is a terrible trap for the unwary as any activity that raises your self esteem temporarily is followed by a crash when you come back to earth and you still have a shattered ego. Bedding a new woman might feel good for the night and makes you feel wanted, but it doesn't last. Going clubbing makes you feel young, fun, and in control of your life, until the next morning when you do not. The worst offenders continue trying to get these quick self esteem boosts over and over like a drug as they fear the comedown worst of all -- but none can escape the inevitability of hitting the bottom of the barrel.
Men recovering from divorce need to put aside the quest to make themselves feel better through short-term self esteem boosting activities, and focus instead on building their self respect. Recovery from divorce for men is about moving through the phases of grief and coming out the end with a new outlook and a new life, not fighting to put your old life back together as your ego wants it.
Kyle Morrison is a happily divorced man with two amazing sons, possibly the laziest cat on earth, and an ex-wife who he has learned to forgive, and co-parent with despite the messy break up. He works as a consultant in higher education and has a burning passion for learning, men's rights, and mental health.