It is Saturday morning…the Saturday morning that David plans to tell his wife he wants a divorce. David has been thinking about divorce for at least six months, but has been afraid to approach the subject. Still apprehensive, he decides get up early, make a nice breakfast and set the stage for a civil conversation with his wife before the children wake. His wife rolls out of bed around 7:00 and greets him with a good morning kiss on the cheek as she grabs a cup of coffee. Their eyes lock and in that moment, she sees there is something wrong. His eyes look puffy and bloodshot, his forehead has those wrinkles he gets when he is worried about something, and his lips are pierced like they are when he has something important to say. Rather then sit in silence and wonder she says, “What’s up hunny?” He has already decided that the easiest way to tell her is to just ‘spit it out’. So, he says, “Jane, I would like to sit together over breakfast and talk about our relationship. I have decided that I want a divorce.”
Talking about divorce is an emotionally charged human experience that brings individual values and beliefs to the surface quickly. These may be grounded in a variety of things like personal experience, observations of others, spiritual beliefs, or feelings of fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Many have a mental picture of how divorce looks, and often it is different for men than women. Most common is the picture of a man transitioning through divorce largely untouched, and the woman struggling to support herself and her children. For many men this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
David, like many men is:
Experiencing a range of emotions: He feels guilty for breaking off the marriage. He already misses his wife and the way they used to love each other. He is grieving the loss of his friends, community, house, and daily routines. He is afraid that he will not get to see his kids as much. He doesn’t know where he is going to live, or how he is going to support himself while paying alimony and child support.
An active dad: David spends a lot of time with his kids. He wants to be involved in their lives and worries that he will have fewer and fewer opportunities. He is even afraid of being replaced by another man. He knows that his children will miss the stories he reads every night and the Saturday afternoon bike rides.
Worried about his future: He and his wife spent the last 10 years building a life together. He worries they will have nothing left by the time the divorce is final. He plans to let his wife stay in the house with the kids. But, he has no idea where he is going to go. The future in front of him is one of completely starting over.
Isolated: He has nobody to talk to about the divorce. He feels like it is his job to stand strong, work hard, and make sure that his ex-wife and children are provided for. Many of his friends are “their” friends and he knows that some will stop talking to him. He may not even know that he is going to need a new support system and he struggles to ask for help.
Are you a man or a woman experiencing divorce? Is somebody close to you going through this transition? Do you work with people who are trying to move on and rebuild their lives? Remember that every divorce is unique depending on the circumstances, resources, and personalities of the people involved. In today’s world, it is too complex to make generalizations about men and women. Regardless of gender, people can begin rebuilding their life by having compassion for themselves.
The Dalai Lama said, “If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.”
When you have compassion for yourself, you can have an amicable relationship with your ex-partner and a fulfilling connection with your children. How do you develop compassion for yourself?
- Allow yourself to have ALL your feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, without judging yourself for them. What you resist often persists. As strange as it sounds, allowing yourself to be angry is often the first step toward forgiveness.
- Find healthy outlets. You are going to have to replace old routines with new ones. If you find yourself doing something unhealthy when you are sad, worried, or angry, replace it with an activity you like or the company of a close friend.
- Treat yourself to something that makes you feel good. Maybe you like to read the paper in bed, take your dog to the dog park, or go to the movies.
- Give yourself a break! You may be ‘off your game’. Adjust your expectations of yourself and then communicate those adjustments to those who might be impacted. They will understand.
I would enjoy hearing your thoughts! What are your experiences with divorce or separation? What do you do to have compassion for yourself?
Shelly D. Mahon, Ph.D. Candidate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Program Director for Apart, Not Broken: Learn, Connect, & Create! You can sign up to take advantage of this free, online, multi-media program to help fathers adjust and parent after divorce or separation at www.DivorcedDadInstitute.com. Shelly also has 20 years experience working with youth and families. Follow her blog at shellydmahon.wordpress.com