On our podcast ‘Tales That Tethr’, tethr Founder & CEO Matt Zerker interviews entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, and regular people about what is means to be a man, the challenges that modern men face, and how to overcome challenges and live life in a more connected and authentic way.
Divorce is hard. It usually involves a grieving process and a restructuring of your life that is unique to your and your relationship. This can also make it isolating. But in reality, you’re far from alone. We talked to several experts from different backgrounds to get a full picture of the best advice out there. Unsurprisingly, there were many similarities in the responses we got from different people, in different countries. Here are the five most meaningful pieces of advice, according the to experts.
1. Find your community
Jason Henderson and Matthew Williams are the co-founders of Boulder Man Coaching. They are men’s coaches who support men on their journey when going through challenging life transitions including separation/divorce, and offer coaching to realize their own path and purpose. “Going through divorce can make you feel incredibly alone,” they told us. “Find support in a trusted friendship where you are able to speak your mind and what you are going through without judgment, or too much advice. You need someone to listen.”
Ned Presnall, LCWS, also started by stressing the importance of connection — and these doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of new relationships. Presnall is a professor at Washington University in the Brown School of Social Work, a research collaborator at St. Louis University, and the Director of Clinical Services at Plan Your Recovery. He told us that “it can be really helpful to return to a relationship that you find significant comfort from. This doesn’t need to be a romantic relationship — rebound relationships often aren’t super helpful immediately after a divorce.”
Instead, Presnall recommends investing your time with family and friends who make you feel secure and cared for. While it may feel like you’ve lost a lot, these relationships can ground you and help you see what you still have.
Kevin Darné, author of Every Ending is a New Beginning: The Journey from Breaking Up to Moving On, suggests relying on close family and friends during the initial grieving process. But, “when you feel ready, get out and socialize in order to meet new people.” He recommends trying new things you haven’t considered before, like an online dating app, a local hobby or interest group or even a cruise (of course, not right now). He encourages those who are ready not to be a “passenger in your own life. Take the wheel!”
2. Take Responsibility and Learn What You Can
John Kenny, author and relationship coach, stresses the importance of seeking to understand what went wrong and how you played a role. “Sometimes we can blame (and this may be justified), leading to difficult emotions we find hard to manage,” he says. “Acknowledging your role in the breakdown will help you accept where it wasn’t working and what you may want to do next time you are involved with someone.
Kenny points out that this is not just a means of coping with the current loss and grief. “Relational patterns play a big part in the people we choose to have relationships with. Are you aware if there is an underlying pattern in your choices? By understanding these things, we can look back and see where the marriage may have gone wrong and ensure that the next time you embark on a relationship, you can choose the right type of person.”
3. Take the time and space to properly heal
When making the space to heal, Kenny first suggests acknowledging that your marriage is not a failure. “Things such as washing machines fail as they are made for one purpose and not the complexities of human relationships. Knowing this can help you with the break down and to not see yourself in such a negative way.” In other words, start with a little kindness towards yourself.
Presnall expanded on the same idea, acknowledging that many people will wonder about things they could have done differently. It’s normal, he says, to feel stuck on small things you wish you changed but it’s also important to give yourself a break by making space for other thoughts. “Over time, these thoughts will diminish, but you can’t immediately turn them off.”
If you try to avoid them completely, it’s likely that you’ll still have to feel them eventually. Henderson and Williams say that some people experience emotional turmoil directly after the divorce while others face it months down the line. “Unfelt emotions metastasize in the body and can wreak havoc on your body and mind. So make the space for those emotions from day one,” they recommend. And if you’re struggling to face the emotions on your own, find someone to sit with you through them.
4. Establish New Routines and Self-care
In terms of a direct coping mechanism, establishing new routines was by far the most commonly recommended approach. These routines should involve some form of self-care, even if it’s unconventional.
Darné suggests a vacation of a weekend getaway in order to connect with yourself. He notes that some men prefer to do this alone, as a way to unplug, while others want to make it a celebration of their new life with family and friends. This often depends on the circumstances of the divorce. He says that some men view the divorce as a sad ending while others see a bright beginning — and neither are wrong.
If a getaway isn’t manageable, Henderson and Williams recommend starting small with your new routines. Create new habits for your morning and evenings, such as a set meal time. This can help you feel safe and grounded in a new environment. A divorce can have “a massive impact on your self-worth and self-esteem,” they point out. “Make self-care your number one priority. Schedule time for you, get sweating and move… Make sure you follow a healthy diet to maintain and support this. Get your sleep to support your mental health.
Presnall adds that the routines and self-care don’t necessarily need to be new. “Continue to engage in the things that are meaningful to you.” He suggests doing small things, like a walk or listening to a song you love, when the pull to shut down or binge on junk food feels particularly strong.
5. Address the Legal/Logistical Issues
Lastly, with everything else you’re experiencing, it may be easy to let the logistical aspects slide. “You may need the assistance of a lawyer, or a mediator in order to secure the necessary paperwork for the process,” say Henderson and Williams. “It is not something that you may wish to do, but it is necessary to manage the relationship with your ex/kids/financial obligations. It can even provide a sense of safety, security, and at the same time stipulates the interactions moving forward.”
As Darné points out, this is especially true if children are involved. He recommends avoiding any “side deals” or making cash payments for child support. Handling it through the courts ensures that everyone has proper legal protection.
Beyond legal obligations, he also recommends prioritizing the logistics of co-parenting, even if it feels overwhelming. “In the event you have children and will be co-parenting, you will want to make sure there is space to comfortably accommodate them when they are with you. This may entail purchasing additional bedroom furniture, TVs, and other creature comforts to give them the feeling of being home. Make sure your children know that just because you’re no longer married to their mother doesn’t mean your love for them has changed.”
And if there aren’t children involved, Darné warns against the logitical issues of friendship with your ex, at least in the short term. “It is probably best to enact the “no contact rule” for a while... Block phone numbers, email addresses, and unfriend from social media,” he suggests. “Keep up with what is going on with your ex keeps you from moving on and enjoying your own life.”
The Bottom Line
There’s no one size fits all approach for coping with a divorce. Only you know what’s best for you. “While experiencing grief, try to remember that while you have painful thoughts, you are not only your painful thoughts,” Presnall suggests. “Know that the uncomfortable thoughts are just one part of the larger being that is you — they’re just one planet in the universe that is you.”
Looking for more advice? Start a thread on tethr to connect with other men who get it.