Dealing with Divorce from the Blindside

Wives now initiate two-thirds of all divorces, but many husbands are unaware that their marriages are in trouble until the news of the divorce hits them from the blindside. Some 26 percent of the husbands say they had no idea a divorce was on the horizon, compared to just 14 percent of women who were caught off-guard.

As psychotherapist, author and collaborative divorce coach, Micki McWade says: “The sad fact is that by the time a partner asks for a divorce, it’s often – but not always – too late to save the marriage. The initiating partner has turned an emotional corner… She may have wanted change for a long time but was refused. He may have warned her that he wasn’t happy but she didn’t pay attention. Eventually, when requests have been ignored for too long, the person wanting the change shuts down emotionally. The relationship has gradually eroded away, abraded by disappointment. He or she becomes discouraged and eventually gives up.”

Divorce is typically a painful process for everyone. The end of a marriage, which is a legal act, does not coincide with a couple’s emotional disconnecting.  Adults often stumble trying to regain their psychological footing, and children struggle to regain stable perspective. Post-divorce hostility between spouses harms the children, and it strongly suggests that the emotional split is incomplete.

For many men, a wife’s request for a divorce is the first inkling that something is wrong with the marriage. It hits them out of the blue.

Many men just don’t recognize the signs. For example, a wife snipes at everything he does, but the husband never stops to ask why she’s always angry.

After the bomb drops, men hit from the blindside are usually in terrible shape, say Steven Lerner, Ph.D., of Kansas’s famed Menninger Clinic, and Betty Carter, M.S.W., head of the Westchester (New York) Institute for Family Therapy. Blindsided men don’t just lose their wife and kids; they lose their entire social network. Ashamed of being “done to,” ashamed about the distress they’re experiencing, men who have been blindsided often sink into depression. Sometimes they refuse to let go of a marriage that is gone.

Lerner and Carter say they must redefine their masculinity. They need to shift their focus from their former partners to themselves.  Women often live their husband’s emotional lives for them, protecting them, not expecting much of them – and then divorcing them for living up to those low expectations, says Carter. “It’s a time for guys to pick up the developmental pieces of themselves they lost along the way,” says Carter. “They need to do the developmental work that they didn’t do at the time they left home.”

Most men must develop an emotional connectedness they did not have and take responsibility for contacting and building their own supportive social network.

Many men will almost instinctively try to isolate themselves, but both Carter and Lerner believe they must push in the opposite direction. This means making contact on their own, and cultivating a friend. Otherwise they stay stuck in permanent grief over the loss.

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