When men and women go through a divorce, they may experience many of the same emotions, but these can often be harder to process for men. Psychiatric nurse Aaron Stevenson likens a divorce to a trauma like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Paul Wiseman from Relationships Australia, Victoria, with more than 20 years’ experience as a counsellor and mediator in family dispute resolution, agreed that for a some men this was the reality, particularly in the early stages of separation.
“Symptoms can escalate into extreme situations when people’s willingness and or capacity to seek help and support is poor,” he said.
While both men and women suffer during the experience, Mr Stevenson said men tended to fall apart in “spectacularly destructive ways”.
“They go out and drink, do drugs, smash things, break things, get IVOs (family violence intervention order) against them, which causes another set of problems,” he said.
While there are many services for men and plenty of books, articles and blogs about relationships, Mr Stevenson struggled to find any clear practical guidelines.
So Mr Stevenson compiled all his research into a guidebook, including his own experiences and his 32 years of clinical work.
The secret art of breaking up: Surviving and thriving is a guidebook for men trying to navigate the crisis of their relationship. The first part outlines options for saving a relationship and the second part is how to make it through the “brutal process” of an inevitable break-up.
The 2016 Census found that 41.5 per cent of divorces were from joint applicants while 32.5 per cent of single applicants were initiated by women.
“There’s a significant percentage where it’s women initiating and a lot less where it is men initiating,” Mr Wiseman said.
While the initiator may have spent much time thinking about the separation, the non-initiator was quite often taken by surprise. Mr Wiseman said divorce was harder on men largely due to the higher levels of social isolation many men experienced. He cited a 2015 survey by Beyond Blue that revealed that 25 per cent of men between 35 and 65 had few or no social connections.
Why Divorce Hits Men Harder
The Journal of Men’s Health states divorce can have a greater toll on men than women. Men are prone to deeper depressions and more likely to abuse substances after divorce. The suicide risk for an unmarried man is 39 percent higher than that of a married man. Men are also at greater risk for physical health problems such as heart attacks and stroke.
Men start to mourn later in a divorce than women, thus extending the grieving process. Since women are more likely to initiate divorce, men may experience denial during the initial stages of separation.
When actively dealing with divorce, men are more likely to use action rather than words to express their feelings.
Women experience more financial distress after the divorce. Since often times women have custody of the children, they are responsible for more of the household and family expenses than men. According to an article in the American Sociological Review, ‘The Effect of Marriage and Divorce on Women’s Economic Well-Being’, women do not completely recover from their financial loss due to divorce until they remarry.
Women have less physical health problems than men in the beginning of their divorce. Because of psychological stress and often poverty, physical health is the outcome of these results. These physical health problems can range from the common cold to heart conditions and even cancer.
Although the statistics may range in severity from men to women, most symptoms are frequently the same. Healing from a divorce is like healing from any other sort of loss. It must be acknowledged, felt, and grieved for as long as the time is needed.
Because men generally tended to be solution-oriented, Mr Stevenson used a crisis intervention model in his book as well as worksheets.
Some of the immediate strategies involved making a commitment to the need for change including strategies in being proactive, finding support, and planning responses.
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