Thursday, October 22, 2015

Helping Men Through the Pain of Divorce

It seems that recently, more and more, I've been meeting men who are going through the pain and turmoil that comes with the divorce experience. Whether I'm at work, church, traveling or just in social settings, increasingly I've been meeting men who are hurting. Some have been married for years; others are relatively newlywed - 2 years and under; some were actually never married but were in relationships headed for marriage but somehow got derailed on the way to the altar.

All of these situations seem to have a common thread - the pain is very real. And seemingly, because of certain societal expectations, many of these men have a difficult time dealing with their emotions. They have challenges trying to reconcile their true emotions with stereotypes such as "real men don't cry."

Perhaps, as you read this, you're a man dealing with the new normal - life without the person you thought you'd spend the rest of your life with. And perhaps you think that your situation is unique and no one else is feeling the turmoil that you're experiencing now. It could very well be that as you read these words, you see this as your last glimmer of hope in your state of hurt. Maybe you’ve seen your life savings and investments wiped out in a maze of attorney fees, child support and alimony payments. And perhaps for the first time in your life you find yourself sitting on a psychologist’s couch  sharing your innermost feelings.  

With all of this in mind, I've decided to share these words that I believe will be an encouragement to you. You see, I can very much relate to the pain and disappointment that comes with the ending of what I thought was the relationship of a lifetime. If you should meet or speak with me, what you might witness on the surface is lots and smiles and laughter. But if you look a bit further, you'd see that beneath the outer surface are the battle scars from past relationships gone wrong. The wounds have healed for years and I've come through the storm just fine. I'm now happily married with 2 kids. But still, I can very much relate to the present suffering of the hurting who I have the privilege of meeting.

I went through a divorce in the early 2000s. The marriage ended formally in 2002 but because we had a daughter - a 4 year old at the time - for the next few years it seemed that I was always dealing with some new post-divorce issue relating to her. On this blog, I've shared different posts about my own journey - posts such as:

The Story Behind the Upbeat Dad

The battle scars that I refer to go back to even before that marriage. In the mid-90s, I experienced the ending of the relationship with my college sweetheart. That might sound like no big deal today but at the time, it sent me into a tailspin because for 3 years we talked about the wonderful married life we would live together. And somehow it all seemed to fall apart overnight. As bad as that experience was, it paled in comparison to what came a few short years later - a messy divorce with a child involved.

All of this preliminary information on this post has brought me to the point of saying this: life goes on after relationships end. And if we take the right approach, we can come through the storm virtually unscathed, with an even better outlook on life.

Each time that a relationship ends, I believe that we are left with 2 basic choices: yearn for the rekindling of that relationship or move on with the rest of our lives. As fundamental as that sounds, in practice, it's not always such an easy choice. When people don't recognize the simplicity of these choices, sometimes what results can be quite alarming - things such as:

- depression
- domestic violence
- drug and alcohol abuse
- suicide
- murder
- murder suicide

Extreme, though these may sound, believe me when I tell you that, under the right circumstances or wrong circumstances, I should say, even the most warm, gentle, kind-hearted person can be so negatively affected by a broken relationship that these issues become associated with them.

Having had disappointing ends to a few relationships I can say with certainty that it's better to move on. The harsh reality is that we can't control other people so, regardless of how we may feel about the possible future of a relationship, it takes two people to make it work. And if one party is no longer interested, there's very little one can do to change them. We can wish and pray that there's a change of heart but unless there is such a change, we have to either move on or be stuck in a perpetual state of yearning for the past.

As men, we can be stubborn. And believe me when I say that I've dealt with some stubborn men over the past few years. Their wives or girlfriends leave and they are so determined to get them back that they adopt uncharacteristic behaviors in that pursuit. In some cases, they win them back. In other cases, when they are unsuccessful, they have a hard time moving on so they become bitter. As I went through my own divorce, a gentleman who mentored me told me, "It is better to become better than to remain bitter." (Read To Become Bitter or Better:The Choice is Yours for more about this topic.)

Here's something that has worked wonders for me. Just like when a loved one dies, we go through a period of mourning. And then, in time, we recover and move on with our lives. In the same way, I believe that it's best that we mourn the death of our relationships. It's difficult and very painful to see the love fade to the point of death; that's why the period of mourning is so crucial. But after the death and burial, it is best to resume living, slow though the process may be.

To become completely healed and whole after a broken relationship, I believe that forgiveness is necessary: forgiving the other person and forgiving yourself for any and all hurt. Forgiveness entails holding someone blameless, even if they can be blamed. Letting go and leaving them blameless is such a powerful tool because it releases us from the chains of bitterness. (Read Forgiveness: The Key to Healing After Divorce)

I know some people - both men and women - who are never quite the same after divorce. They live the rest of their lives thinking about the one that got away, rather than moving on and embracing the gift of life. I think it's best to move on, live your life and you'll be fine.

If you're a dad, keep in mind that divorce means you're no longer a husband but you'll always be a dad. Issues of custody and child support can be overwhelming but just know that through it all, you're always and forever a dad. That's one of the things that kept me sane throughout the turmoil that ensued following my divorce. That marriage ended 10 years ago - it's a distant memory. But our daughter's a wonderful, well-adjusted 14 year old high school freshman who still has the love and admiration of her mom and dad.

Here is something that has kept me going - and I believe that it can work wonders for you as well. After going through the ending of my marriage, I thought how good it would be if, after the storm subsided, I could encourage other men who experienced a similar plight. My experience wasn't for me alone - it was for the hundreds and thousands or even millions of men and women who are left with the choice of picking up the pieces and moving on or being forever stuck in a rut because of the pain caused by divorce.

The vast array of family law issues that can really be a financial and emotional drain on even the most optimistic person. So as you come through the storm - as you certainly will - strengthen those who also deal with these unique feelings.

Today, I'm in a much better place. I've had custody of my daughter for the past 5 years. I'm happily married to a wonderful woman and we have a precious 2 year old son. I know all this would not have been possible had I not made the choice 10 years ago to let go of the pain and move on.

I would have never had the insight to start the Upbeat Dad Organization without some of the lessons that I learned in that very challenging chapter of my life. Perhaps you can do something similar after making it through your storm. Or maybe you have family members or friends or co-workers who experience the hurt that comes with divorce. You can help them to get back on the right track. My point in all this is that the experience isn't for you alone - it's meant for you to strengthen others.

I hope that this post has been an encouragement to you. Life is a precious gift and although divorce is something that many of us experience, it doesn't have to mean doom and gloom. As you come through it all, devote yourself to making it through the storm and coming back stronger and better than ever. You can and you will, if you embrace the principle shared here. I'm pulling for you and so are many others throughout the world.

Enjoy the rest of your day.

The Upbeat Dad