Is Divorce Recovery For Men Different?


Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Divorce etc… podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica. 

T.H.: Today, we’re talking about the guy’s side of the story. We always talk about the women, what we go through, and how we feel. We have Rachel Sussman here today, a nationally recognized relationship expert, specializing in breakups and divorces. She is the therapist for many men, helping them with their recovery from their divorces and their divorce journeys. We want to hear about it. There are three sides to every story, but we only know one. Welcome to the show, Rachel.

Rachel: Thanks so much. Hi, Jessica. Hi, T.H. Thanks so much for having me.

Jessica: Thanks so much for taking the time. I feel for everybody out there going through it, a lot of our community is female.

Everyone’s always wanting to know what is it like for the guys? Our emotions are so different, and the way we handle it is so different. What are they really thinking? What are they scheming? What’s happening behind the scenes?

T.H.: I think that’s more of what they want to know. I don’t think they really want to know or care what they go through, but I think it’s important for us to know, [it is] because there are always three sides.

Jessica: So what are the differences?

Rachel: Well, look, I just want to say there are lots of amazing guys out there who get dumped by really mean women.

T.H.: No, women are cruel.

Rachel: There are a ton of men out there whose relationships end and they’re loyal, and they don’t want them to end. They would have kept carrying the family flag for a really long time. These guys hurt, and they’ve suffered too.

In some ways, they suffer worse than women, because they don’t know how to use their resources. They go through an abundant amount of shame, and embarrassment, and it’s not natural for them to call a friend and say, ‘Can I talk? I feel a little depressed today.’

Jessica: What are they feeling shame and embarrassment about specifically, in your experience?

Rachel: They take a lot of responsibility. They should have been able to fix it. They should have been able to prevent it.

A lot of women who leave men will say you weren’t romantic enough, you weren’t successful enough, you didn’t have a good love language, and you never told me this and that, so they could feel they’ve really failed like they’ve been fired from a job. Or what I often see is men who work really hard at their jobs, but they’re doing it for the family, and they’re just not articulating it the way that they need to or not listening the way they should, so their partners do end up leaving them. They come to me and they don’t know what just happened. They’re shocked.

Jessica: It’s so interesting because it sounds like it’s a lot of the same issues that women are dealing with like feeling they could have done it better, they didn’t do enough of this, the husband saying I didn’t get enough attention, you always focused on the kids. Maybe for the men, it’s the job, but for the women, a lot of times the second you have kids, everything goes downhill. It’s interesting that it’s actually very similar.

Rachel: It’s very similar, but men don’t have the number of resources and sometimes the EQ, the emotional intelligence, to help them figure it all out.

They could be really very isolated and very alone during a divorce. It’s not natural and comfortable for them to reach out to family, friends, or a therapist. They feel ashamed and embarrassed to talk about it. They feel they should be doing better than they are. They don’t understand some of the emotions on this vast emotional roller coaster that we all go through. It’s a very confusing time for men, and because of this, they do some things that aren’t in their best interest or aren’t in the best interest of recovery. That’s why exes and people in the community often tend to think that their exes are doing so great because you find out that they’re dating, or they’ve taken a vacation, or they’re posting great pictures of themselves. But in actuality, what might really be happening is they’re very upset and very broken. They just don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing.

T.H.: Do you think it’s a societal thing then that there’s a macho stigma like, ‘Don’t cry about it. She was a bitch. Don’t cry about it. She’s this.’ Some men talk about how awful their exes were and some women talk about how awful their exes were and all they do is bad-mouth each other. You ask any guy, why did you get a divorce? ‘She’s crazy.’ You ask anyone why he–‘He cheated. He didn’t love me.’ I feel those are the stories that I hear, and I’m like, ask about me and the story is I was crazy. Is that what you heard?

Rachel: These are stories you hear when people constantly regularly bad-mouth their ex. What concerns me is they’re not doing the work on themselves, because if you have a crazy ex, what does that say about you?

I think in order to go through the different stages of recovery and come out the end you want to have a full understanding of why your relationship didn’t work. Why did you pick the person that you picked? What was her fault? What was your fault? Because it does take two, and I say to all of my clients, it’s 50/50. Okay, you don’t want it to be 50/50? It’s 49/51. There’s a cause and there’s an effect. If you can’t take responsibility for your piece in this, how are you going to have full healing? How are you going to recover your confidence? How are you going to get out there and meet someone really terrific?

Because I’ll tell you, when I’m doing dating coaching, it’s a real turnoff when you go out with a guy and they bad mouth their ex.

For you guys that are listening out there, the best thing you can say is, yeah, I was married, she was a great girl, we have some great kids, it just didn’t work out. We’ve both worked hard on ourselves. For the sake of our kids, we get along pretty well.

T.H.: That’s a very good motto.

Rachel: That’s the guy that women are going to respect, and that’s a guy that’s going to get a second date. But when you go out and you start bad-mouthing your ex, a lot of guys do this, and women do it too, but a lot of men do it, and it’s really bad. Nobody wants to hear that. You’ve got to do the work to get out of that victim mentality. When you’re healing, you’re allowed to feel like a victim for a little bit of time, but take that and turn it around and do something with it.

Jessica: I was going to say so then guys listening or women listening who have male friends, or male family members that are dealing with a divorce, what do they do?

Where do they start in order to be able to move past this and start recovering and healing themselves?

Rachel: Well, the first two things that they should do is put away the alcohol and close out your dating app, because those are the two biggest mistakes that men make that women don’t.

As I explained, they’re sitting with these complicated emotions, and they don’t know how to deal with them. Men like solutions, and men like to fix things. They immediately go download a dating app, they immediately start dating, and they drink too much. They’re going out, they’re drinking too much, they’re dating, and they’re going to have a bad experience, because all they’re doing is telling these women what a bitch their ex was, and it’s really going to be a turn-off. Conversely, these men dive into new relationships, and if that relationship doesn’t work out, they’re going to have a double break up, because they’re not even healed from the first breakup.

T.H.: That’s what I was going to say. I feel like men more than women, all of a sudden, you’re like, wait, he’s dating already?

Rachel: Well, and that’s why women have such a hard time recovering because they find out that their ex is in a new relationship two months after their husband filed for divorce. It’s so painful to think that someone asked to divorce you, and now they’re with someone else. You immediately start thinking about what’s wrong with you and that you weren’t good enough. But it’s not about you, it’s about them, because who starts dating two months after you’ve ended a 20-year marriage?

T.H.: Oh, don’t worry. What about dating four years before you ended your marriage?

Jessica: But hold on, T.H. experienced all the things you’re talking about right now. And I will say I can understand a spouse who’s been cheated on, who’s been unsuspecting about it, who maybe thought they were in a good marriage. Getting out there and starting to date again is going to be a process because they were blindsided. There are a large number of marriages where it’s really not working out for quite a while before you actually get to the point.

Rachel: 100%.

Jessica: I do think then it’s interesting when people are like, ‘How long have you been separated or divorced?’ You’re like, ‘Oh, well, it’s been a month.’ They’re like, ‘Oh my god, and you’re dating already?’ You’re like, ‘Well, it’s been over for a year and a half.’

Rachel: But you’ve got to qualify that. You have to say, four years ago, my wife and I made the decision that we were going to separate, but because of the ages of our children, we chose this time. We’ve worked on our marriage so that we could be good co-parents. Although I only moved out a month ago, we are both dating, and it was an agreement that we made because the marriage officially ended four years ago.

T.H.: I think that’s important.

Rachel: You’ve got to qualify it.

But Jessica, back to your comment about what men should do. They’ve got to put on the brake. You have to walk before you run and go slow. You need to talk to someone about this. If you don’t want to speak to a counselor, call a friend, a sibling, a cousin, or even a mother or father, depending on your age, and just talk through it. Talk through what happened, and be curious. What was your part in it? Is there something that you might need to work on? Think about some of the criticism, even if it’s constructive criticism that your ex gave you. There’s grist for the mill in there. Might there be something you need to work on? Do you need to become a better communicator? Do you need to be more thoughtful and caring? Do you need to spend more time at home and less time at the office? If you don’t work on these things, they’re just going to come up again in your second, your third, and your fourth marriage. That’s why you hear of people being married four and five times. You’re just going to keep repeating the same thing over and over again. So for the guys out there, if you could just slow down, talk to someone, understand your emotions, work on yourself, and then just go enjoy yourself for a little bit as a single guy. Go on some road trip, go to an exercise boot camp, or go travel by yourself. Then when you get out there and date, you have such a great story to tell.

T.H.: That’s great.

Jessica: Do you feel the majority of guys recognize the things that you’re talking about? Are they as open-minded as women are with regards to seeking out therapy, seeking out help to get through it, or a more stiff upper lip like, I can do this on my own, and it just is what it is?

Rachel: Well, I think you are describing the majority, Jessica, but they’ll trip and fall eventually. Either they’ll trip and fall through another breakup, maybe their boss will tell them they don’t look good, or they’re staying out too much, or they’re missing deadlines. Or a sister–I mean, I can’t tell you how many calls I get from sisters.

T.H.: Looking out for their little brother.

Rachel: ‘Yeah, I’m really worried about my brother. He promised me if I found a therapist, he’d go.’  And once I get the guys in, once they make the first appointment, they’re pretty good about sticking around. I love working with men. I was in business for many years before I became a therapist. My style is very “coach”. I’m very direct. I’ll tell you, these guys will say after a couple of appointments how grateful they are, how good it feels to emote, and how wonderful it feels to see the changes that they’re making. They’re really proud of themselves.

T.H.: I was just very quickly going to say, I have a friend who’s a man, who went as a last-ditch effort for his marriage, to counseling. He didn’t want to go anymore. It was over, and then he hung around and he was like, ‘Can I come back?’ Then he went back a few times because he really wanted to know, ‘Am I really the guy she’s talking about? I don’t think I’m that guy.’ Then he got to the point she goes, ‘I think you’re good.’ Go get him. That one went really well.

Rachel: That’s great. When I’m seeing a couple and it looks like it is ending and the therapy isn’t working, we go into some divorce counseling. I’ll say to both of them, ‘Look, I’m invested in you guys. Any of you could come back for tune-ups.’ I just want to say one more thing about counseling for guys out there. Some men go to couples counseling with their wives, and they have a very negative experience. They feel that the wife and the counselor gangs up on them because most counselors are female. They often don’t feel as articulate or they can’t express themselves as well as their wives and as their counselors. That gives them a real turnoff to counseling. When they come in, they’ll tell me that story, and I have to really show them that there’s a difference between couples therapy and individual therapy and that I really do want to meet them where they’re at. I really do want to hear their story. That being said, the guy who’s going to bad mouth their wife the whole time, I’ll say to them, after two or three sessions, if you can’t take some responsibility yourself, you’re not going to grow and change in a way that is going to make you proud of yourself. And I do make them take some responsibility.

Jessica: Are there certain, I hate to use the word exercises, but certain tasks or exercises that you generally will recommend to your male clients in terms of you should be started doing this? I don’t know if it’s journaling, or whatever, probably a lot of guys don’t want to journal, but these are some steps you should be taking to be proactive about things to be able to move forward in your life now.

T.H.: But if you’re a macho guy, no one would even know if you’re journaling. There are certain things you can probably do that you don’t have to tell anybody. Then there are other things that are more out there. But go ahead,

Rachel: Exactly. Well, sometimes I start with getting them to stop some of the bad behaviors they’re already doing like signing out of the dating apps, making a commitment to be more healthy, what they’re eating, and what they’re drinking. Then we talk about how they can engage in healthier behaviors. And again, guys are doers. I’ll ask them what they want to accomplish, and what are some of their goals? We’ll try to work on the goals, and in between the goals, I get them to slow down. Even meditation, or going to a yoga class, something like that, that they wouldn’t ordinarily go to. Or if a guy has a dog, I’ll say, ‘When you’re walking your dog, sit on a bench for a little bit. Don’t rush back. Watch the world go by and tell me what comes up for you.’ Then I’ll ask them to talk about what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling when they’re feeling down. I do suggest they write it down for our next appointment because they’ll say sometimes that they forget. Oftentimes, writing them down is the gateway to journaling. Sometimes I’ll find they just find it themselves.

Jessica: It really sounds like your methodology so to speak, is full mind and body and not just what happened in the divorce and how can we get you to be feeling better? You’re like looking at all of these other outside elements. What are you eating, how active are you, and all of these other things.

Rachel: Full mind and body, because if you’re just focusing on the mind, and you’re letting the body go, what’s going to happen when it’s time to date? I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. The person is going to say, ‘I’m just not recovering well. I’ve gained 20lb and nothing fits me’ or ‘I’m just not recovering well. I don’t like the way I look. I’m just not feeling good.’ Through the mind and the body, if you’re having a great exercise class, working with a nutritionist, or changing the way you eat, you’re starting to regain your confidence. At the same time, psychologically, you’re putting your pieces together.

T.H.: I think it’s all just taking responsibility. You’re coaching them and pushing them on what to take responsibility for. I know for me when I put something to paper, it’s like shouting it to the world, but nobody hears it, and then I close the book.

Jessica: Manifesting.

T.H.: Right. But it’s off my chest. I put it on the paper, and now I’m good with it. It’s hard to take responsibility for things. It’s hard to own things and put your name on them. You’re right, you’re an all-around being with all these tentacles that touch other people, touch other parts of life and other activities, and stuff. If you let part of that die, then the other parts are not going to thrive the way that it should like. I know for me, it’s everything. If my jeans don’t fit, by the way, I will be miserable, and I will not buy another pair of jeans.

Rachel: And it can’t be one without the other.

T.H.: No it can’t.

Rachel: You can’t do body without the mind and you can’t do the mind without the body. It’s a journey and it all needs to come together slowly. If you do the work, you will change. If 10 years after your divorce, you’re stopping anyone you meet on the street to say what an asshole your husband was or what a bitch your wife was, people are going to look at you like you’re crazy.

T.H.: Also, it’s just really ugly. 

Rachel: It is really ugly.

T.H.:  And that was something that I really–it wasn’t really so hard, but I wasn’t going to say anything bad, and I wasn’t going to speak badly about him to my kids, but it only makes me look bad. I’m talking about their father. I’m not going to be the one doing that.

Rachel: That’s for a whole other podcast. If you speak negatively about your ex consistently, even if you’re whispering it into the telephone, your kids hear it. What does that say about your kid’s father, your kid’s mother?

Jessica: Totally.

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