Monday, January 14, 2013

The Effects of Divorce on Men

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The tendency is to think about the effects of divorce on children, but it may be as important to consider the effects of divorce on men and women, particularly men. The image of the divorced man is one of the carefree, self-centered individual set loose in a world of fun and frivolity.

The reality of life for the divorced man appears to be quite different. The suicide rate for divorced men is four times as high as married counterparts. They are ten times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric help. They are twice as likely to die prematurely due to cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke.

Does this appear happy and healthy to you? I think not, yet men are often more resistant to doing the work necessary to maintain their marriage (not that women are workhorses in this area either). I think there are many reasons for this; here are a few:

Men lack confidence in relationships. Women begin practicing relationship skills when their brains develop the ability to assume another’s point of view, say in her preteens. At that age boys practice sports and videogames. So when guys start trying to connect with girls in their teens they mostly feel incompetent and the girls often let them know they are right. Men lack confidence in their ability to offer the woman an emotional connection, so they focus on wanting to please or avoid criticism, much like a child to a parent.

Men avoid being vulnerable. The best way for a man to connect with a woman is by sharing vulnerable feelings, yet boys are taught that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. If their fathers didn’t teach this lesson, then other boys in school made it clear that the vulnerable boy is the one who will get his ass kicked, much like the animal world devouring the weak.

Men think in terms of avoiding shame, not connecting with their partner. Women complain, cry and criticize in order for their partner to recognize the tear in the fabric of the relationship…they feel a disconnect and are trying desperately to express the pain of this disconnect. The man only hears that he has fallen short in her eyes, that once again he does not measure up to her expectations. This leads to withdrawal or a counterattack – can you say downward spiral in connection?

Men avoid pain, particularly women’s pain that they have caused. Men are uncomfortable around pain. Children sense this and run to women with their pain. Men even deny their own pain when around other men (but can be babies with a woman).

But men are most uncomfortable when they must sit beside their partner’s pain when they have caused the pain. Women want to be reassured that her partner understands her pain and is willing to be soothing, while men back away from the pain by trying to superficially fix it or by minimizing her feelings…a leading reason women want to exterminate men from the earth.

Women must understand that it takes much more courage for the man to deal with relationship issues than she believes. She must understand that her experiences with other family and friends who are female are not a standard to be applied to her partner. Women must make as much effort to understand men as they want their partner to understand them.

Men must recognize that relationship failure is the norm. It is ok to fall short but those failures must be addressed, including the painful feelings. Men must have the courage to develop skills to connect to their partner. When it comes to relationships, men have to learn to ask for directions. I spend much time coaching couples to practice skills of connection because I know the reward is a healthier life that not only can prevent deep unhappiness, but may keep you out of the grave.

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