co-authored by Imei Hsu (RN, MAC, LMHC)
Okay, so someone doesn’t want to be with you anymore – or you don’t want to be with her. There are 6.7 billion other people on this planet for you to get to know. When it comes to finding a loving, compatible relationship, it really isn’t over until… well, it’s never really over.
The idea for this collection of suggestions actually came about after I recognized that people were searching Google for more information on my own divorce(s). Not to mention, I’ve had close guy friends who have gone through divorces ask me how I have coped. Well…
It’s okay to ask for help. I’ve co-authored this set of tips with Imei Hsu (RN, MAC, LMHC). The list is far from complete, but it’s based on our collective experience – me as a divorcé, and she as a relationship counselor. She’s not MY therapist, of course – but if you’d like help with your own relationship issues, she takes clients from all around the country in a virtual capacity via Seattle Counseling. She’s even available to help you via email or Skype.
How can a guy survive divorce? It’s not easy. Take heart in knowing you’re not alone, but don’t expect to rush out to the book store and find a shelf full of help for you. Most “support” documentation has been written with females in mind. After all, doesn’t modern society encourage the myth that it’s wrong for a man to ask for help?
Marriage is the most sacred of trusts between two people. Therefore, the dissolution of a marriage is no laughing matter, and we take it very seriously.
The following tips are meant to be thoughts to consider while you navigate the muddy waters of divorce. They are not meant to be a replacement for counseling or coaching from a trained professional. We hope that these ideas might help guide you towards resources and strategies to make the best possible decisions for yourself and your family. We (Bernice Imei Hsu and Chris Pirillo / Lockergnome) cannot be held liable for any unanticipated outcomes you might encounter by misapplying these tips to your own relationship.
This article is intended to provide accurate information for men facing a marital separation, but is shared with the understanding that neither the publisher nor the authors are engaged in rendering any financial, investment, legal, tax, or other advice. If you desire specific advice, consult a trusted and competent professional. Any similarities between the anecdotes the authors present and any actual person, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Many of the suggestions we share in this list can be applied to a same-sex partnership and/or civil union. Please read the gender specifications with this in mind. We honor that any love relationship that ends can be difficult and painful.
We’ve also posted divorce tips for women, too.
If anything, just know that you’re not the first guy to go through a divorce – and you certainly will not be the last. We encourage you to find or create gatherings in your city that allow you to safely explore options concerning your divorce and recovery. Check out our page “Divorce Sucks” on Facebook.
- Make a commitment to take better care of yourself: mind, body, and soul. You are going to need everything you have to close the relationship. When it comes to the body, it’s “garbage in, garbage out.” If your partner has been providing all the meals, it’s time for you to learn simple procedures. Dining out every day is not only expensive, it may not be healthy unless you know something about selecting balanced meals. Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: at the bottom level, you should be meeting your needs for food, shelter, rest, and safety.
Get a haircut. Shower. Shave. Wear cologne. Don’t forget to remove extraneous ear and nose hair. The first thing to go for most men is self-maintenance. Keep your job and keep your friends by not smelling like beer and pizza, or looking like that’s all you eat.
And if you didn’t do any of that before the divorce, there’s no time like the present to begin!
- Don’t engage in unnecessary emotional banter with your soon-to-be ex-partner (or anybody connected to her in some capacity for that matter). These fights are almost never worth having on the way out the door of the relationship. Be the bigger person in the room: end the fight, attempt to set up a more productive time to discuss any necessary questions or plans, and leave the room, if necessary or possible.
- Think before you put anything in writing: email, tweet, letter, etc. Whatever you post online could end up there forever. In the heat of the moment, it might seem funny to take revenge and say some tactless words, post funny pictures of your partner, or shame your partner by disclosing sacred stories shared between the two of you. If you must, write it down for PRIVATE purposes, have your laugh, and then discard it. You’ll be glad you didn’t air your passive-aggressive move in the public sector.
- Don’t use your partner as a therapist for your emotions. Ask friends to listen empathetically (without much feedback) if you need to vent. Pets make great listeners!
Do not use your partner as a dumping ground for your guilt, anger, or remorse. If you have apologies to make for your behavior, let your partner know, and let your partner choose a time to hear this from you. Process your guilt and anger with someone else (but exercise discretion).
- Call your closest friends and family and ask for their support without taking sides or placing judgment on either you or your partner. Ask them to be there for you when either you or your partner moves out, to talk with your children (if there are any), and watch your pets while on travel or vacations. Most people feel helpless as to how they can be a part of your life when you are in transition or crisis. Make a list of some easy tasks or involvement that lets your closest confidants know how much you need them and want them to be a part of your life – on either side of the divorce.
- Do your best to get adequate sleep, food, and exercise on a regular basis. Schedule it into your calendar like you would meetings for work. Food and exercise help elevate your mood, as well as give you energy to stay in the game [Music is also an instant mood elevator, as it is pure emotion. Design some playlists of music that makes you feel upbeat and positive - and play it when you wake up in the morning.]
- Don’t drink and/or drug your way through your issues. You need a clear head and steady emotions to handle the many difficult choices ahead. If you notice you’ve been hitting the bottle often, try other mood-elevating activities, such as exercise, music, rest, and spending time with good friends in an enjoyable activity.
That’s not to say it’s not fun to dull the senses every so often, but if it gets to the point that the ONLY way you can rest is by drinking or drugging yourself there, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
- If you have difficulty sleeping or eating because of depression or anxiety, seek medical attention from an MD or a therapist. Imei suggests you shouldn’t let this go longer than three weeks; immediately if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others. If you still can’t sleep well past three weeks, it’s time to help your body get back into a rhythm.
The Web is a great resource to find local health practitioners who treat Adjustment Disorder related to stress and transitions such as a divorce. If you have health insurance from your employer, you’re paying for these benefits, anyway (might as well use them).
This kind of problem likely isn’t going to take care of itself.
- Notify family and hold age-appropriate conversations with your children as soon as you have both made a decision to end the relationship. Have a plan in place, and be open to feedback and negotiation, on how to best care for your children. You’d hate to discover this kind of information about one of your family members from someone who wasn’t a part of the family, wouldn’t you?
- Seek a therapist or life coach to help process issues related to the ending of a relationship, especially if you feel you are repeating familiar patterns that lead you to feel you are “stuck”. This person should not be connected to you or her in any other capacity. Don’t expect them to pass judgment in your favor, either – that’s potentially the court’s responsibility. A fresh perspective is seldom a poor one.
The dirty little secret in some marriages is the amount of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse originating from the woman rather than the man. Shame usually binds these men to silence, but the plethora of websites addressing spousal abuse, custody rights for men, and resources for emotional abuse tell us that you are not alone.
- There is a reason why people warn you about the “rebound” relationship. Consider yourself vulnerable, and don’t be too eager to jump into another serious relationship.
Rule of thumb: one month of singleness for every year of marriage. If you have been married for many years, tell yourself to not be in any hurry to find another partner (for any kind of serious relationship – including another marriage). Slow down, take your time, and give an appropriate rest to the relationship you are ending.
- Set rules for communication with your soon-to-be-ex-partner, including when to end discussions that become heated. Even if you think you’re headed for an amicable split, you should expect the unexpected.
It’s likely that communication issues are what tore the two of you apart – you should expect they’ll worsen while in the process of deciding how to end your partnership.
If need be, call in an arbiter – a neutral party. Family or friends don’t usually count (the exception: cultures that use an older family member to solve domestic disputes).
- Don’t binge on anything: spending money, sex, drinking, drugs, TV, entertainment, sleep. Most of these will simply serve to dissociate you from what you need to attend to. If an activity is overtaking your responsibilities, you’re probably bingeing.
Not only is this behavior typically self-destructive, you probably don’t want to give any more fuel to the other side’s fire.
- If you ever thought that mediation and yoga might be useful, this would be a good time to investigate. More than 18.3 million people in the U.S. say they practice yoga on a regular basis. It’s likely being offered in your gym or an area studio. If you think it’s for women, think again: most of the most prominent teachers of yoga are men. Yoga clears the way for mediation to occur. You’ll like the way you feel and think after a few sessions of asana (physical component of Yoga).
Set up private sessions if you’re feeling self-conscious about it.
- Make a list of the things you enjoy doing, and try to work in one of two of those activities a week, such as shooting hoops with friends or working on a hobby or project. Enjoyable tasks will help to ground you in the understanding that there is life after divorce. It might actually be fun! If you don’t have a hobby, make a list of things you’ve always wanted to try: sailing, scuba diving, painting, wine tasting, cooking, partner dancing, playing a musical instrument. Look in your local community college catalog, comb online class offerings, and sign up for lessons in whatever your interest is.
- The person you are divorcing is not the same person you married. If you’re shocked at the anger, bitterness, ambivalence, or venom you are receiving from your partner, remind yourself that divorce is difficult for both people, no matter the circumstances. If her reaction seems like “more of the same” (i.e. it has been this way with you from the get-go), don’t spend a lot of time using logic or reason to “fix” the reactions you are receiving. Count yourself fortunate you are ending this relationship, as it isn’t good for either of you to continue hating each other and fighting.
You may never receive answers to your questions about this relationship. The more you keep looking for “why,” the more frustrated you will likely become.
- Read books on divorce that are balanced and fair. There is a way to divorce without becoming bitter or tainted. Make notes of the things you need to do. If you prefer workshops, look on the web for a “Divorce Bootcamp”, but be prepared for much of these to be overrun by women.
If you’re looking for materials to help you place blame on her and the things she did, or to help you justify your decisions, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
- Be respectful of your personal needs for space and “quiet,” and be respectful of your partner’s needs as well. If you are doing a partial separation under the same roof, get reacquainted with your MP3 player and Bose noise-canceling headphones – and be aware that using your PS3 at 2am at full blast is likely going to agitate your mind (and hers). Sit down with your partner and calmly discuss household rules to make this awkward period of time a little easier on the both of you.
And yes, believe it or not, this scenario (especially in a down economy) is quite common. It can save money, but shouldn’t be done at the cost of your mutual sanity. A mediator or counselor can be very helpful in creating boundaries and rules of a separation under the same roof.
- If you use the Internet to communicate, refrain from using emotional language. Keep it to business and simple questions. If the emails are lengthy, remind your partner of the purpose of the communications, and stick to those reasons yourself. If you feel you are being repeatedly harassed by the content of the emails, scan them briefly and save them for a rainy day with your attorney.
It’s possible that anything you do can be used against you – in or out of context. If you are unsure if you should send a particular email, have a trusted friend read it and make suggestions. Rule of thumb: never send an email when you are angry or exhausted.
- If you have an attorney involved in coming up with an amicable agreement or a hostile takeover, don’t use your attorney as a therapist. You’ll only waste time and money, and your attorney will likely send you to a therapist. You want your attorney in your corner, so watch it if you tend to vent your frustrations with a raised voice, expletives, or passive-aggressive threats.
- If the lines of communication are still open (relatively speaking), and neither one of you is pleading “no contest,” consider looking into the option for what they call a “Collaborative Divorce.” It’s far less vicious than the traditional divorce through legal means. Be warned that a collaborative lawyer is not the same process.
This option, of course, is assuming it’s not too late to opt for a friendlier split.
- Respect your needs for a safe and private living space, including temporary accommodations. If you’re the one to move out, do your best not to live like the stereotypical bachelor. That’s usually pretty darn depressing! If you have your children over to your place, it might alienate them from you. If you are the one who remains in the house, have your partner store or remove her things in a timely manner. Have a friend take a look at your space and make suggestions on what you need to make your space more comfortable and inviting. A man’s home is is castle.
Related to your space, people ask Imei what to do with sentimental items, such as pictures and personalized objects (i.e. charging glasses, etched glass frames, etc). The time of the divorce is not the only time you will grieve this relationship’s end, just like a funeral is not the only time you grieve the loss of a loved one. Suggestion: gather a few boxes and fill them with the sentimental items. Seal them with tape and store them in an attic or a closet that you do not access on a regular basis. One year from the time of your divorce settlement, grab a friend, open the box, and sort through the items. You’ll know if it’s time to either keep them, donate them, recycle, or (in the case of one person I knew) smash the charging glasses with a baseball bat.
One recycling tip: remove large pictures of your wedding from its frame, discard the picture, and reuse the frame at a local frame shop with new art. Better yet, learn how to re-frame art yourself and save money.
- Make sure to schedule time with your children and your pets. The energy it takes to care for yourself will often displace what you have to give to others.
Do your best to communicate how much you care, and how you will make sure that they have access to you as much if not more as before the divorce. If your children are 14 or older, they have some stake in custody issues. Listen to their needs, recognize that they may need someone to vent anger and fear with (including anger AT you), and reserve your own hurt for a session with your therapist, good friend, or family member.
Animals are sensitive to your presence and absence, and need more care than just food, water, and exercise. Put your pets on a schedule as well for health care, grooming, activity, and interaction.
- Let people give to you [unless the giver is a slithery golddigger - in which case, drop kick her to the curb]. If your sister wants to come over and make a bunch of fresh food to put into your freezer, let her. If your best man-buddy offers to come help you move furniture, say please and thank you.
Thinking you can make it through this experience alone is naïve – I don’t care how strong you THINK you are.
- This would NOT be a good time to post pictures of yourself with younger and happier-looking bimbos (even IF you paid good money for them at that strip club). As much as that might be ego-boosting to you, it will not get you what you want out of your divorce. In fact, it could score you less leverage in the long-run.
She’s going to think whatever she wants to think – no matter what you do or do NOT do. Don’t give her any more ammunition, okay? Don’t stop living life, but don’t flaunt your indiscretions, either.
- Though the Klingon’s are right, “Revenge is a dish best served cold” – you don’t really want to take revenge on your partner (even if you feel like you do). The elation that MIGHT come from retaliation to any perceived (or actual) wrong-doings is only short-term – and is not itself a solution.
If you really want to survive this divorce, don’t destroy yourself (or anybody else) in this process. We believe it is entirely possible to come out a better person on the other side of divorce. Hopefully, you’ll both be better people.
- Leave her friends and family out of your fights – and ask her to leave yours out of hers. If necessary, use a mediator or a therapist to help the two of you process the ending of the marriage. A mediator can call a “time out” when things get heated, and name when either of you are investigating unhelpful directions.
This will probably be the most difficult suggestion to follow.
- Make plans to say good-bye to your partner’s family of origin. Just because you are divorcing your partner doesn’t mean that family members don’t want to say good-bye. They may not be happy, but saying good-bye is part of doing closure on this chapter of your life.
If and when this happens, don’t share ANYTHING other than pleasantries and a heart-felt good-bye without sarcasm or complaint.
- If you aren’t planning on celibacy during your divorce process, be responsible. Take any tests necessary if you have any question about exposing yourself to an STD during your marriage (or if you’ve moved on with other sexual partners). Don’t be stupid: you don’t need to take anyone’s word for it. Get tested before further activity, and always use protection.
- You can still impregnate your partner with a “last fuck” (a.k.a. “for good time’s sake” sex). If you decide to have sex with your partner during the divorce, you should also decide what kind of birth control to use.
“Last fuck” sex is almost always a bad idea. It tends to confuse the issues and pour more hurt on any open wounds. That doesn’t mean there won’t be moments that you catch a glimpse of your partner, and recall the special moments of intimacy and ecstasy you share. However, you won’t be able to resolve any relational issues with sex. If your partner is resistant to the separation and tries to put the moves on you, you may find yourself in the strange and undiscovered country of saying no to sex. You’re not crazy. Just say “no”.
- Although the process can be a time of learning for both partners, it usually isn’t a great time to do any kind of risky experimentation, such as a risky business venture, sexual experimentation past your own limits, or huge changes in jobs or lifestyle arrangements. Although potentially exciting, they tend to sap energy away from constructive change [plus your friends who act like they envy you will likely be laughing at you and thinking you need to grow up]. For example, wearing silver spandex publicly is almost never a good idea.
- If you are middle-aged (or older) and your marriage has lasted longer than 15 years, it’s likely time for a relationship “tune up”. Even if you blame your partner for the divorce, you are NOT God’s gift to women. You might want to brush up on everything – from cooking to communication. It’s a whole new world out there!
- Look outside of your own frame of reference for clues as to what “fair and equitable” means. By knowing how these terms translate into dollars, cents, objects, and your partner’s well-being, you will neither be “taken for a ride” nor be unfair to your partner and children. Every state / country is equipped with different laws. It is your responsibility to know your rights.
- Things are just things. Items can usually be replaced. If you find yourself getting angry about what possessions you are about to lose or give away, remind yourself: “these are just things”. You get to keep your soul. No one can take that away from you.
- Take a break from talking about the ills of the relationship and the divorce process every once and awhile. Watch a movie, play catch with the kids, walk your dog. When most of your thoughts are negative, so will your life experience be.
- If your self-esteem has taken a blow (i.e. you’re the one being dumped), do your best to figure out what went wrong, and put yourself on a self-improvement plan. This isn’t for her, it’s for you! Get back in touch with what makes you appreciate your true self. If you simply blow your partner off as the one who needs to change, you will lose your learning opportunity to better yourself.
The Universe does give second chances, but if you didn’t learn your lesson, it tends to say “Meh” and bestows gifts on someone else. Or worse: dooms you to the same fate. We call it Karma.
- Watch a lot of comedy. Laughter really is the best medicine. Expand your repertoire. See the lightness of humor in everything, including your own self-righteousness. If you can’t find a reason to laugh, you’re taking yourself too seriously. The situation sucks, but if you let it get the best of you – that’s precisely what it’ll take from you.
- Be prepared to lose friends. In Burt Bacharach’s “Darkest Place”, Elvis Costello croons: “Meanwhile, all our friends must choose who they will favor, who they will lose.” Many people are unable to be friends to both partners; a few might be able to demonstrate the kind of maturity it takes to “hold” while the two of you are at odds with each other. You might also receive some unkind remarks, even if you haven’t done anything overtly wrong.
People have their own projections and fears about divorce, and they may treat you like your divorce is contagious. Others will take potshots at you (or her) in efforts to feel more superior. Don’t give their remarks too much power over you.
At the end of the day, you’re in the divorce with her – and nobody else. Do your best to ignore unwarranted, unprofessional, and uneducated judgments.
- If you don’t actually know this, it is customary to return the ring to the partner who purchased it. If you purchased her ring, she should return it to you, although you have the option to allow her to keep it. If it was an heirloom from her family, she will keep her ring. If she purchased your ring, you should offer it to her.
When it comes time to figure out what to do with the ring(s), consider consigning them and offering the money received in a gift towards the children, the house, or some other tangible form of care.
If you purchased the ring for her and she does not return it… well, that’s rather telling, isn’t it? Remember the previous rule: things are just things.
- If this is the first time you have experienced either a marital dissolution or a long-term relationship termination, you should consider various options, timelines, and fiscally-responsible ways to divide your assets according to your state’s or country’s laws. Beyond legalities, however, there are also other considerations: when to remove your partner from a family calling plan for mobile devices, how to deliver adequate health care coverage and for how long, etc. Note that some businesses do not allow you to turn over an account to your former spouse, so who ever is named on it may retain the account value.
- Your wife has the choice to retain your last name or revert to her maiden name throughout the divorce process. Your children’s teachers and adult mentors should be notified if there is a change of names for your spouse and/or your children’s names.
- You should have an agreeable plan as to when to divide and close any joint accounts at your bank. If you have concerns about unauthorized access to your private bank accounts, change the account numbers, create new passwords for online access, and notify all automatic deposits and withdrawals (i.e. auto deposit from your employer). This includes thinking ahead about the upcoming tax year and whether it makes sense to file taxes jointly or separately.
This should be one of the first things you try to figure out together. If one person makes the wrong move, it could damage the other party in the short-run – but the wronging-initiator will likely be hurt in the long-run.
- Fact: you CANNOT be expected to trust your partner during and after a divorce. Trust issues will abound. Don’t even try to resolve emotional issues between the two of you after you are separated. Work on your issues of trust apart from her, and be aware of your natural propensity to project your trust issues not only on your partner but also on others, including colleagues, friends, children, and lovers.
- In all likelihood, the amount of emotional, physical, and spiritual energy it takes to end a marriage will leave you feeling like you are operating at about 60-70% of your normal capacity. You may notice memory lapses, tasks taking more time to complete, difficulty sleeping (or oversleeping), and daydreaming. Use these signs to identify moments when you need to hack yourself, slow down, or do some contemplating on how to work through whatever blocks you are encountering.
- Be responsible. Take inventory of any damage you have caused to the relationship. When you’re ready, do your best to make restitution. A few well-timed words can go a long way, along with practical restitution. For example, if you broke her favorite vase, replace it; if you called her mother a bitch, send flowers and an apology Do this even if you aren’t getting this in return from your partner. This is not about her: this is about you doing what it takes to move on and to close the relationship. This may include practicing forgiveness.
- As corny as it sounds, practice the attitude of gratitude. Be glad that you are still breathing in and out, even if you believe your partner wishes that you would choke on a chicken bone, die, and hand over your life insurance benefits before the divorce papers are signed. When you connect with why you are still breathing in and out, you have a reason to wake up every morning, get out of bed, go to work, and pay your bills.
- One of the feelings you’ll find it most difficult to overcome is your instinct to protect her. You’re dissolving your marriage, whether or not you played a part in that decision. You are primarily responsible for yourself now – not her.
To repeat: YOU ARE NO LONGER RESPONSIBLE FOR PROTECTING HER.
And yes, to deny that you (as a male) may have this feeling is to deny your very basic maleness (if you’re mentally healthy). Your relationship is coming to an end, and the sooner you wake up to this, the better off you’re going to be. You can still be nice to her without protecting her – or coming up with excuses as to why she’s doing what she’s doing. If there is some question as to her ability to care for herself or your children, alert a responsible family member and allow that person to step in.
- Make a new budget for yourself. Didn’t have one to begin with? If you were waiting for an invitation, this is it. When you don’t have a handle on your finances, you could find yourself (and your credit rating) in gigantic trouble.
You could be wasting money if you don’t know where it’s coming from and where it’s going. Get a handle on it NOW, even if you weren’t responsible for these matters in the past. Your future stability is at stake as much as hers is.
- If she’s not acting to bring closure to the situation, take the lead to make this divorce final. Additionally,lingering issues will not do you any favors if you begin a relationship before the divorce is finalized. Heal old wounds before putting on new clothes.
- Document everything. If you hadn’t saved much information to this point, you’ve certainly got your work cut out for you – but it’s not too late. You have the right to obtain copies of what documentation she might have in her possession. In a legal capacity, this is known as “Disclosure.” This might include bank statements, bills, receipts, etc.
And don’t wait another moment to start recalling and recording names, dates, times, locations, etc. The more you have (and the more you can remember), the better. Facts are far more relevant than opinions in all divorces. You never know when this information might come in handy.
Even if you don’t need documentation, keeping it won’t hurt – if only for future reference.
Stay focused, keep your wits about you, and remember that this time in your life will pass. Make the most of it.
You have your whole life ahead of you, man – start living it.
If you have other tips to add to this publication, please leave a comment.