Is there such a thing as a stereotypical divorcing couple? Ask many people and I think they’d picture a caddish husband running off with a younger woman and his martyred wife then chasing him through the courts for a suitably sized financial settlement.
Of course this is a stereotype, and a crude one at that. Women are actually more likely to initiate divorce proceedings than men, and only small minority of these divorce proceedings are sparked by criminal matters like domestic violence. More often than not, couples simply drift apart. They realise that they are not as compatible as they once seemed, that they want different things, that one has outgrown the other.
Men are still statistically more likely to the wealthier partner on divorce and it is quite that they should pay their way when they are. But there is no getting away from the fact that divorce is a major, stressful life change and men on the receiving end of divorce still have to deal with the emotional aftershocks.
If your wife one day announces that she wants a divorce or is leaving you for someone else, how do you, as a man, deal with that?
Women are quite at liberty to freely discuss their emotions with their friends, but this pressure valve is not, on the whole, open to men.
As a society, we are still, I think, rather uncomfortable with male emotion. The male ideal is still strong, silent and emotionally bullet-proof and we look askance at those who wear their hearts on their sleeves and are too free with the tears.
There are few options open to men struggling to cope with their divorces beyond professional help, and an article in today’s edition of the Daily Mail paints a vivid picture of just how bad the situation can become. It tells the tale of man called Bob Greig, whose wife left him for another man in 2004.
As he tells it:
“One minute I was standing in a hotel foyer holding a cup of coffee, the next a crushing pain spread across my chest as I dropped my drink and fell to the floor. I couldn’t remember where or who I was: the only thing I felt sure of was that I would be dead within seconds. ‘I’m having a heart attack,’ I gasped, with terrifying certainty.”
In fact he had suffered a ‘vasovagal’ attack, a condition in which one of the blood vessels in the heart stops working. His doctor told him that stress had triggered the episode, and there was no doubt in his mind as to what had caused that stress.
To quote the article:
“…I realised with absolute clarity that it had been caused by the stress of my divorce. Since my wife left me for another man in May 2004, I’d run the gauntlet of emotions, from shock to grief to a stubborn determination to survive. But I’d refused to deal with what I was feeling, and my denial was coming back to haunt me.”
The article also cites the recent experiences of businessman Duncan Banntyne, known for his appearances on TV show Dragon’s Den, who recently suffered what he thought was a heart attack only to find that it was stress-related. The businessman apparently believes that an acrimonious divorce had brought on the attack. He is quoted as saying:
“It’s the divorce. Divorce can be very stressful.”
After medical treatment, counselling and resigning from his job, Mr Greig eventually set up a support group for single father, and was, he says:
“…staggered that the health of so many other men had been affected by divorce. Some had heart attacks, while others had developed mental illness.”
So it seems that strong and silent is certainly not the way to deal with divorce. If you are man who has been catapulted into a separation from your partner, don’t make Mr Greig’ mistake. As he notes:
“Like most men, I ‘dealt’ with my emotions by pretending they didn’t exist.”
Slow down, take a deep breath, seek professional help if you need it, and find a way to come to terms with what you are going through.