Most of us are already familiar with the fact that roughly 50 percent of all American marriages end in divorce. In other developed nations, this number tends to be just as high. It has also become somewhat common practice to marry more than once. It is estimated that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce, 60 percent of all second marriages end in divorce, and a whopping 73 percent of all third marriages end in divorce. When it comes to divorce, the woman in the relationship is more inclined to get the upper hand. How so? Well, 79.6 percent of custodial mothers receive a support award, while only 29.6 percent of custodial fathers will receive a support award. A recent survey (which was conducted on over 2000 heterosexual couples) found that in over 70 percent of divorce cases, the woman was the initiator. Because women tend to initiate divorce far more frequently than men, and because they tend to report higher levels of dissatisfaction within their romantic partnerships, society as a whole tends to coddle divorced women more so than divorced men.
“Of course they got divorced – he was an asshole.”
Divorce Rates Amongst American Adults
Up until relatively recently, it was widely presumed that children should always stay with their mother after a divorce. While the majority of states no longer honor this presumption (and some states have even passed laws stating that there is no custody preference), mothers are still significantly more likely to gain full custody when parents divorce. The general standard used in the current day and age revolves around honoring the “best interests of the child”, which typically entails placing the child with his or her primary caregiver. This standard attempts to accurately determine which of the two parents met the majority of the child’s basic and daily needs – shelter, feeding, bathing, playing, getting ready for school and putting to bed, emotional support, adequate medical care, and so on and so forth. Another major factor that courts take into consideration when determining custody rights is the relationship between the parent and the child – which parent fostered a stronger and more nurturing bond with his or her offspring. In most cases, the youngest child will have a stronger parent-child bond with his mother. This is not a reflection of the presence or involvement of the father, but rather of typical parenting roles during infancy. The mother will generally feed and support her infant throughout the earliest stages of his or her life, and as a result, young children tend to turn to their mothers first when they are in need of emotional support (and to fulfill their basic, daily needs). Of course, the more involved a father can be with his infant, the stronger the parent-child bonds will be. Yet it seems that even when the relational bonds are comparably strong, custody will still be favorably granted to the mother.
Men and Custody
All this to say that divorce has an extreme and seldom-discussed impact on men. Despite the fact that the emotional effects of divorce are typically discussed in regards to the woman in the relationship, men struggle just as much (if not more) with lasting psychological and emotional consequences. Societal standards of masculinity also play into this disparity, but alas – men are not emotionless automatons, programmed to rapidly heal from the loss of a significant long-term relationship. Recent studies show that men who undergo divorce are more prone to suicide, the development of substance-related problems (such as alcohol abuse), weight gain, and mental health issues (such as depression). Many men who undergo divorce (especially those who lose custody of their children in the process), will wind up sinking into a pit of self-destructive despair – and societal standards will prevent them from reaching out for the emotional and mental support they need.
Why is Divorce So Hard on Men?
Why is divorce so hard on men specifically? The internal crisis that men undergo is all too often simplified in their own eyes, and in the eyes of society. In reality, there are numerous components that make the process of divorce potentially more difficult for men than it is for women. Losing a spouse in a divorce can have a major effect on the psyche, and a man who undergoes divorce must mourn and grieve the significance of this loss – while simultaneously experiencing the negative effects that this loss has on his masculine ego.
An ego, in this sense, refers to our internal sense of who we are in terms of others and society – it is how we view our role in society based on a lifetime of experiences and interactions.
Men who go through the disbanding of a marriage will often find that their sense of self was utterly tied up in their relationship. They will find that marriage was bound to ego as soon as the vows were spoken (maybe even long before), and that societal standards relating to fatherhood, fidelity, and ‘bringing home the bacon’ quickly came to form their personal identity.
Personal Identity and The Ego
It is not uncommon for men to get married before being granted the opportunity to develop an authentic sense of self. Because of this, many men feel hopelessly lost after they lose the one thing in their lives that has seemingly given them purpose. The loss of this sense of self and this sense of purpose will often throw men into an emotional tailspin, causing them to act out in self-destructive and impulsive ways. They may begin devoting an excessive amount of time to their careers, working extra hours and spending much more time at the office than necessary. They may turn to heavy drinking, relying on excessive alcohol consumption to help numb the emotional pain they are feeling. They may begin dating before they are truly ready, or use sex as a salve to soothe the deep-seated hurt. Because the ego has been so badly damaged, they will do what they can to seek validation and regain some sense of control over their own lives.
If I am not a father, if I am not a husband… what am I?
Healing from Divorce
Rather than diving headfirst into an array of self-destructive behaviors (subconsciously geared towards repairing the shattered ego), it is important for men who have undergone divorce to focus on long-term self-esteem building. In recovery from divorce, men must develop a strong sense of authentic self, and begin to understand and appreciate their true, inherent worth. We at Next Chapter have ample experience working closely alongside men who have been through divorce and custody battles, and we understand the importance of the grieving process as well as the multi-faceted reality of the healing process. Our goal is to help men formulate an entirely new outlook on life, rather than stay trapped in the desolate confines of their ego-driven pasts. For more information on our comprehensive program of recovery for men, please feel free to contact us today.