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How men (dads) can cope with marriage breakdown

February 26, 2016 2:46 am | Published by | Leave your thoughts

Researchers and society have traditionally paid little attention to the difficulties faced by men versus women and family life. Issues such as separation or divorce tend to focus on the mother (woman) especially if children are involved. There are more studies now that should shed more light on how to support men (in particular dads) through separation.

Separation is a stressful event in anyone’s life and it can inflame a range of reactions and raw feelings for both men and women. When a couple separates or gets divorced, the depths of emotional responses that occur are often compared to the effects of a death in the family.

I hate to say it but things may get worse for our society before it gets better as divorce continues to be a pervasive feature of Australian social life: 32 per cent of current marriages are expected to end in divorce and it has been predicted that this may increase to 45 per cent over the next few decades if current trends in recent marriage cohorts continue.

Traditionally, women tend to be more responsible for, and invest more in, the emotional maintenance of the relationship, care of children, and the day-to-day functioning of the household. Men, on the other hand, tend to contribute less to the running of the household but invest more in the financial stability of the household. Interestingly though, evidence suggests that men’s non-traditional gender role beliefs (i.e. “my wife is my equal”) reduce the risk of marriage breakdown, but women’s non-traditional gender role attitudes (i.e. “I am economically independent…”) increase the risk.

Economically independent women are more likely to end their marriage.

So what does this mean for men?

The first step towards creating a healthy relationship is willingness to work at it. Many couples (especially men) leave it until their relationship has started to fall apart before they consider doing anything about the difficulties they have.

Their wife’s economic independence has left men more vulnerable than previous generations. Not only does divorce affect more men (and women) today, it impacts their emotional wellbeing in a way that their fathers or grandfathers did not experience.

Research into the psychosocial aspects of divorce indicates that wives take more responsibility for the emotional and relational aspects of the marriage than do husbands (Steil 1997). Differences between husbands’ and wives’ experiences and perceptions of their marital relationships have implications for marriage breakdown. For example, women are more likely than men to report infidelity, mental or physical abuse and alcohol or drug use as reasons for divorce, and are less likely to report communication problems or to claim that they do not know what caused the divorce.

In some circumstances wives initiate separation because their husbands are unhappy, or because they do not want their children to be exposed to a bad marriage, not because they themselves are necessarily unhappy with the marriage.

So what are the solutions for men after separation?

We know that relationship education programs such as relationship counselling have been found to produce improvements in couple communication and relationship satisfaction in the short term. Relationship counselling may work for couples at high-risk of relationship deterioration. But how can counselling work after separation?

It often takes two to three years or more for a couple whose relationship has ended to begin to put their lives back together again and to recover from their emotional pain and trauma. Many dads can develop serious health and emotional problems during this time. Financially, many men are significantly worse off, following separation and divorce. Also, the link between couple distress and mental health problems (such as depression) is cyclical with both negatively affecting each other.

The good news is that there are now much better resources and services for men facing a relationship crisis and its knock-on effects than in the past. This is important because part of the problem for men coming to terms with a marriage breakdown is that they tend to clamp down on their emotions rather than talking them through with friends and family as women might. For men, this sense of isolation can be deepened by the fact that men often lack the supportive networks that women rely on. After divorce, some men find themselves excluded from friendships and social groups that had been initiated by their partners in the first place. Seeking professional help is therefore very important, especially for men.

“And one by one the nights between our separated cities are joined to the night that unites us.”

Pablo Neruda

If you are suffering any of the symptoms of post-divorce stress, post-traumatic stress or depression then I can help you, from a mind and body perspective. I will provide assistance and guidance to help you deal with these issues so that there is minimal ongoing impact to your life and personal relationships.

Find out more or call me on 0415 392 009

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