Break-ups are never easy. But the consequences can prove especially bleak for men. Research from the Journal of Men’s Health found that divorced men have higher rates of death, substance abuse, depression and lack of social support. The study also found that divorced or separated men have a suicide rate that’s 39 per cent higher than that of married men.
The take-home: if you’ve got a friend who’s navigating a break-up then you need to have their backs. But what’s the best way to support them? We asked nine divorced dads to reflect on their experiences and share some of the key dos and don’ts.
Don’t slag off his ex
My marriage broke up after my ex-wife had an affair with someone at her work. After that, whenever I saw one of my best mates he was always slagging off my ex and saying what a bitch she was. I know he thought he was being supportive. But that wasn’t I wanted to hear. Of course, the whole thing was soul-crushing – I never saw any of it coming. But my ex and I also have two children so, like it or not, she’ll always be in my life. Once I got over the initial anger – which took some time, believe me – I found demonising my ex wife didn’t help. TS
Keep the invites rolling
I live in the country where social lives tend to be very couple-centric. After I got divorced the invitations to drinks and barbecues really dried up. I did feel a bit isolated for a while back there. And I felt my kids missed out, too, as we stopped getting invited to things as a family so much. Yes, my life changed with the divorce, but I still wanted some parts to feel the same. I don’t feel like my social life had to change as much as it did. JD
Go easy on the happy-clappy stuff
My friend is a personal trainer and a big believer on positive self-talk. Even a couple of weeks after I moved out, he was trying to find the silver linings in my situation, saying I’d have my independence back, could get back into dating… all that stuff. He definitely had good intentions, but it started to grate. Straight afterwards I just needed to process the situation for a while. Did that involve a bit of moping about and self-pity? Yes, it did. But I needed that phase to digest what the hell had just happened to my life. LS
Wait for them to bring it up
I see a lot of my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, as they live in the same suburb. It was clear he was concerned about watching me go through the divorce that, to be fair, did put me right through the wringer. I appreciated his support – I always knew I could count on him. But what he didn’t get was that I didn’t want to be constantly discussing how I felt or the legalities of the divorce every time we played golf or went for a drink. That shit was already going through my head 24/7. Sometimes what I needed was a distraction rather than an endless post-mortem. I even started avoiding him for a while as it was doing my head in! I couldn’t discuss my break-up the whole time. ND
Let them date when they’re ready
Most of my mates have been married for a while. When I suddenly became single again, it was like some of them were trying to live out their bachelor days again through me. One guy in particular was obsessed with getting me signed up on Tinder. He wanted to check out the different women, hear about the dates, all that stuff. He’d must’ve been pretty disappointed because those early dates weren’t too eventful. I wasn’t ready to get back into all that for a while. Those first six months, I just wanted to stay home, lick my wounds. MK
Don’t question the decision
My wife and I weren’t happy together for a long time. But splitting up was still a total head-fuck. I found myself questioning everything in those first few months from my career to my whole belief system. And part of that was agonising over whether we’d been right to split – especially given the potential effect on my kids. Looking back, I think my confidence was shot and I became very suggestible.
I’ve got one old school mate whose wife is close with my ex – we used to all socialise together a lot. He kept hinting that I should maybe give it another go, asking how the kids were coping through a grimacing face… He meant well. But at that stage I didn’t need to be double-thinking anything more than I already was. What I needed was validation that I was doing the right thing and reassurance that everything would be alright. CD
Encourage them to get professional help
When my wife left me, I didn’t handle it well. I started drinking heavily for a while back there – that was my way of coping, but it didn’t help anything, of course. It was just a way for me to hide from my emotions. What helped me to sort myself out and get my head straight was seeing a counsellor. It wasn’t easy – I learnt a lot of hard truths about myself. But those sessions also helped me to piece things back together and move forward. If your mate is going through a marriage break-up, encourage them to get professional help. They need that a hell of a lot more than a drinking buddy. BS
Help them find a new normal
I was married for 15 years. Divorce was more of an adjustment that becoming a dad in the first place. Suddenly I found myself living in a barely furnished flat in a new suburb. We used to spend a lot of time with my ex-wife’s side of the family, but after the split they closed ranks. So many of my routines and pastimes went out the window. It took me a while to accept that and realise that I needed to start finding new ones instead. In the end, I started playing tennis again once a week with a mate, I also started taking my boys to the football again, too, with another family. If you can help your mate find a new “normal” by establishing those new routines, you’ll be doing them a bigger favour than you think. PF