A reader with the handle Wood Chipper left the following comment on my post about the challenges of being a single father:
“That was an insightful post. As a father in my early 30s currently going through a divorce, there are defininetely a lot of unknowns right now about how things are going to work and what to expect. Was there anything else you found particularly helpful early on when emotions were high?”
The early months of going through a divorce, especially for a blind-sided nice guy, are the most difficult, emotionally, many men will face in their lifetimes. Your whole world is crushed, all of your plans for the future have gone up in smoke, the basis for your entire existence is pulled right from under you.
If I could help divorcing fathers get through this stage even a hair better than I did I will have succeeded in my mission for this blog. I would expect to see much of what I am writing here in my book on divorce that needs to hit top of my priority list ASAP. Consider this a sneak preview.
I gave some thought to Wood Chipper’s comment, and looking back, here are the 7 things I did, or should have done, that would contribute to making the best of being a father going through a divorce.
1. Grind – Go to work every day and give your best to your career
As men, we were meant to work, and work hard. Few things bring greater satisfaction than a hard day of honest effort. This is one of the truly cathartic activities availbe to a father, or any man really, going through divorce.
Your career is your greatest financial asset, do not neglect it at a time when it might be easy to justify doing so. Now, more than ever, your career is the most important pillar of your life.
You need the satisfaction that work brings, along with the economic security provided by the accompanying paycheck. Without this everything becomes much harder for a divorcing father.
Lawyer fees, child support, running a household on one income, etc. This will all require maximum funds from your day job. Grind away.
2. Get a “go-to” friend and tell them EVERYTHING
There are some things that men going through divorce will often keep to themselves. One of the most damaging is the insecurity created when a wife leaves for another man. The mental images of the woman you devoted your life to banging another guy are downright torturous.
During my divorce I called on my best friend. I went to his house one evening, I hadn’t told anyone about what had happened yet, and I spilled everything to him about my situation. Every feeling, thought, and fear was laid right on the table. I knew I could trust him and he wouldn’t judge me.
My friend was absolutely essential to getting through the early months of my divorce. Irreplaceable. A few months into it I hit my lowest point, where I was crying in a courtyard outside of my office. I was completely disoriented, the gravity of it all had finally hit me.
At that point I sent my friend a simple text that said, “Pray for me, buddy, I’m not in a good place today.” His simple reply of “Done” was all I needed to move forward. I needed to know that someone knew what I was going through.
If you can’t think of a friend or family member that you can entrust with darkest details of your divorce, reach out to someone anonymously in the online community. They don’t even need to know your name.
I offer some limited divorce coaching calls through Skype where I simply charge for my time. A couple of hours venting to someone who has been there before can do wonders for your recovery.
3. Don’t date
About two months after my ex moved out of the house I went on a date. It was a total disaster. I met some tatted up chick on PoF and met her at the coffee shop, by the end of our chat I was plotting the course to our wedding. Thankfully, she sensed my neediness and never returned my texts. I took the next year off from dating completely.
I know some guys will advise that you go out and get a few notches to shake off the ego cobwebs and prove your virility. I estimate that very few men will benefit from doing this. Those that would aren’t really struggling with their divorce to begin with.
Most of us fathers who find ourselves in the midst of a divorce are recovering “nice guys” who could easily fall into damaging decisions with new women, even ones that were only meant to be casual and temporary.
My hard and fast rule for divorced guys is to take a full year off of dating, and a full five years off of marriage, minimum. It takes time to overcome and change patterns that caused such poor outcomes the first time around.
Keeping your dating life out of the picture for a while will help you focus on getting other more important areas of your life in order without distraction. There will be plenty of time for dating later on, and trust me, it will be a lot more fun when you’ve shaken the emotional burden of divorce.
About 4 months after my ex moved out I got wind of her dating a new guy. Up until that point, my focus was on simply surviving a move to a new home and keeping my head above water.
Hearing that my ex was now (already) dating someone new was crushing to me. I look back and realize it was silly, especially considering we got divorced because she was having an affair, but for some reason that news hit me hard.
The night I found out about it I stayed up all night crying. I did not sleep a single minute. That was a turning point in my recovery from divorce. Our bodies react chemically to crying, in a good way.
Crying rejuvinates the soul, it’s like a pressure relief valve for our grief. Let it flow.
I’m not getting all sensitive and soft here, but the truth is, it is OK for a man to cry once in a while, necessary even.
5. Go to bed early, rise early
I find it nearly impossible to be depressed watching the sun rise. On the flip side, I find it difficult not to get melancholy when I’m tired and alone at 11pm.
In the first year after my divorce I made a point to get to bed early and rise early. None of my thoughts that occurred after 10pm were productive, and the fatigue only heightened my emotions the next day.
In the peak of summer I found myself going to bed before the sun had even set, it felt great. It was like giving the middle finger to those late night demons that would come to visit if I’d overstayed my welcome in the current day.
Find a reason for a waking early. Mine was taking a walk and drinking a cup of coffee. Simple, but I quite looked forward to that routine, and the fresh air was therapeutic as well.
6. Forgive your ex
I recorded a shaky podcast on this subject recently. Give it a listen.
Forgiveness is the most important thing you can do to clear your emotions. If you harbor any anger your recovery will stall. You must forgive.
Anytime someone hurts us we want to be angry. It’s a nature response, but if it lingers too long ti crushes us.
Remember, your ex is a broken human being that is more deserving of pity than hate. Her own emotional prison is punishment enough to venge for any wrong she’s done to you.
In the words of Elsa, let it go.
7. Take your time
If you have kids then you’ve probably seen the Pixar movie Cars, right? Maybe some of you even saw it as a kid yourself.
You know the scene where Lightning has to repave the road in town, but the first time he goes too fast and it’s a bumpy mess?
The same applies here, there is no rushing this. There is no magic secret that can speed your recovery along, any attempt to do so will result in having to go back and start over, often with more cleanup along the way.
Let this process unfold like any other. When you’re falling in love, and you try to rush it, things come undone. The same applies to recovery, let the pace go naturally.
You’ll want to press and move on faster, that will be the naturaly tendency. The best thing you can do is resist this urge, and approach any feelins of recovery with an abundance of caution.
You will declare yourself healed many times before that statement rings true.
Recovering from divorce is a five year process. However, you can do yourself a lot of favors by taking the right steps in the first few months, this will ease the burden later on. Allow yourself some space to make mistakes while keep the boundaries up on the non-negotiables like your career and your children. Use the hurt as a catalyst to reinvent your life however you see fit, for you’ve been give a blank slate from which to rebuild.