The Male Perspective on Divorce with John Nachlinger and James Bastian
When it comes to divorce, there are three sides to the story: Your side, your ex’s, and the truth. Yet certain sides of the story are given more voice than the others. It may come as a surprise, but the male perspective on divorce is a side of the story that rarely gets airtime. This may be the only instance in which a straight man can say he doesn’t have a voice. Jokes aside, gendered social differences affect the way in which men go through a divorce. T.H and Jessica sat down with John Nachlinger, attorney, mediator, and divorce coach extraordinaire, and one of his most influential clients, James Bastian, to hear about the male perspective when it comes to divorce.
John, James, and “Divorce Shield”
T.H. and Jessica met John when they were guests on his podcast “Divorce Shield.” John is an attorney as well as a mediator specializing in family law and is also a divorce coach. John was a divorce attorney for 17 years. He has dealt with approximately 1500 divorce and family law cases, of which half were men. Over the years, John realized that men and women approach divorce differently. He noticed that men don’t have the same resources that women do; this largely has to do with gender disparities. Women are more inclined to reach out to their female friends in times of need, whereas men tend to hold back from sharing how they feel. Aside from gender issues, there are more women-centric divorce resources that are easy for women to find. After a while, John realized he hated divorcing people as an attorney because it’s very stressful. You bring your work home constantly, you’re living it 24 hours a day, and you’re seeing the worst of almost everyone you represent. Despite that, John really loves helping people, so he started “Divorce Shield,” which is a company that only works with men. It helps them plan for divorce, go through the divorce, and then start the recovery. There’s even a private Facebook group for the Divorce Shield community that’s hundreds of men strong. The interaction is beyond anything John could have ever imagined guys doing. John works one on one with clients, and he’s trying to develop online courses to help them move on even further.
James Bastian is a screenwriter, producer, and creative consultant, but most importantly for this conversation, he’s a divorced dad. He is passionate about helping dads recover from divorce and move on to the next chapter of their lives. James has been such an inspiration to a lot of the Divorce Shield guys because men like to hear other men’s stories of how they got through it and persevered.
James’ divorce story is a common tale.
Like most men, James cruised on autopilot throughout his relationship. James had been married for about 20 years. He knew his marriage was not healthy, but he took it for granted. He assumed things were going to get better on their own. In hindsight, James sees that he misunderstood his wife’s needs. What he perceived as her needs weren’t her needs at all. He was going along, believing he was doing all the right things. He even thought that he and his wife would make it out of their funk and arrive at a good place in their relationship. Alas, that was not the case. James’ relationship hit a low plateau that wasn’t going to shift. On James’ birthday, his wife told him she didn’t love him anymore. It blindsided him because he figured that no matter how bad it got, given all that they’d been through over those 20 years, they would stay together. Both James and his wife had reasons to leave before, and they had stuck it out. But at that moment in time, when things seemed like they were coming together, was the moment she decided she was not in love with him anymore. That rattled James and that’s when he began the journey. In that time, going through that process, James had seen several of his best buddies get divorced. And for guys, it is different. Guys tend to go, ‘Okay, you’re getting divorced. That sucks. That’s really a bummer, man. I’m here for you.’ That’s where they leave it. It’s like, ‘Okay, you’ll reach out to me if you need me, but otherwise, I get it. It’s personal. It’s your space. I don’t want to get too much into your space, but I’m here for you whenever you need.’
There were nights when James didn’t think he could survive another second. He wanted to reach out to his friends, but he didn’t want to burden them by calling too much. Fortunately, he did have friends that had been divorced. They became more engaged, and they set a better tone for him and a better example. They knew to say, ‘Hey dude, you call me any single moment you need. When you get to that dark place, you call. Promise me?’ And they would say, ‘You promise me you’re going to call.’ Looking back, James feels like a jerk that he didn’t say that to other friends that had been divorced earlier. He didn’t know. The thing is you don’t know what you don’t know.
For men, divorce is a blindside.
John, speaking from the male perspective, notes that a lot of the men he works with feel blindsided by divorce because most of them were putting their heads in the sand and not really recognizing what was going on. The problem with guys going through a divorce is that they don’t ever want to look outside their own immediate surroundings. They’d rather just pretend like it’s not happening. Most men don’t get to the point where they see this positivity about what their life could be, because, for them, change is happening. Middle-aged men particularly do not like change because they don’t want to start over. John has divorced many people over the years, and he can tell you if he goes five years out, his female clients are almost always in a better place than his male clients.
There’s something powerful about women being able to bond with other women. There’s an exchange that happens that John thinks lets women have an easier time seeing the positives of divorce. John thinks men don’t always recognize that they can be happier and that they should be happy. Men look at marriage a little bit more as this is their job and so they forget about their own happiness somewhere in the mix. They don’t necessarily see that they can concentrate on themselves now. Women don’t have as much of a difficult time finding their happiness again or finding their purpose. That’s why if you look at divorce coaches, and you look at resources for women, John says, almost all of them have been started by women who are divorced. They’ve taken that and they’ve seen the positive parts of getting out of a relationship that wasn’t great. You don’t see that with men.
When you’re going through a divorce you assume no one wants to hear about it.
Jessica likens it to this analogy: when someone has a new baby and people ask how the baby is, all anyone wants to hear you say is, ‘the baby is good!’. They don’t really want to hear all the details about how many dirty diapers. When you’re going through a divorce, you assume that people don’t want to hear all the details. You feel like you can’t call because you don’t want to be the person who’s constantly cynical and complaining. Even if that’s not who you are, you’re afraid you’re going to come off that way. You’re afraid people aren’t going to want to hear what you’re going through, so you just don’t share.
Not sharing is the wrong approach, obviously.
For men and women, you hold it in, it builds up, and your pain overcomes you. You do need to be able to let those negative emotions out. You do need to release that and accept that it’s okay sometimes to be negative. You can spit and cuss and do all the stuff. Get it out, because if you hold that in, recovery is going to be that much more difficult. Not only that, but you risk the potential of a healthy, co-parenting relationship in the future. James is four years into his journey, and this year is the year where he started giving back to others. Now he’s expanding his community and building a bigger platform so that others can share their issues more freely. John helps people through divorce. James wants to be the guy that picks people up as they walk out of mediation or out of the courtroom, and says, “Here I am.”
When the divorce is over, all the paid people that were there to listen to you disappear. You wonder, “who’s going to listen to me now? Who do I ask the questions to tomorrow? Where is everybody? How am I going to do this tomorrow without all of this support?” It’s a scary thing, and you feel like you’re out there without a net.
The hardest thing for men to do is accept they need help.
There’s a stigma around men reaching out to others to vent. To do so feels like they failed. But it’s not a sign of weakness to admit you can’t do something on your own. As humans, we’re a social species and we need someone to connect within difficult times. For James, it took time for him to reach out to people. Once he did, it set him forth on a positive trajectory. He wants men going through divorce to seek help sooner than later. He wants them to realize that they don’t have all the solutions to recover on their own and that’s alright.
Most men struggle to find themselves.
One change men fear coming out of a marriage is losing that marital unit. They want that wife figure again. That’s why the guys that often initiate divorce already have their next woman on their arms. That’s what makes it easy for them because they think they’re not going to be alone. For many women, being alone can help them find themselves. Men don’t let themselves be alone. What helps women not feel lonely when they are alone is leaning on their friends in a way that men just don’t. James and John believe that divorce is a confusing time for men because most men don’t see it coming and/or are not mentally prepared for it. James says men are programmed with the mindset of providing for their wives/partners. There’s no room for a failure scenario in your mind. Then, when it fails, denial kicks in. James fought hard for his marriage for six months, even though the reality was that it was over. He’s grateful for that period because it allowed him to ease into reality and be able to accept it.
Men are guilty until proven innocent. And women are just crazy.
An interesting twist on how people view divorce from the men’s or women’s side, is around what actually went wrong and what “caused” the divorce? Jess and T.H. were surprised to hear James say that the very first question people seemed to ask him (or about him) was “what did he do?” Insinuating that he had cheated on his wife, which he had not. When a woman tells people she’s getting divorced, the question is ‘What did he do?’ But for men, it’s ‘what did you do?’ It seems that it’s husbands who determine the fate of their marriage and they take on all the blame. It’s the guy who failed. But even though the men often carry the public blame, women get labeled as crazy. It’s as though a woman’s behavior justifies a man’s actions.
In all of John’s years divorcing people, almost every single woman told him their husband was a narcissist, and almost every single man told him their wife was bipolar. We all see what we want to see in our spouse. It’s easy to blame instead of looking inward and taking responsibility for what we did wrong. There’s a lot more that goes into ending a marriage than infidelity. To get to the place where Jessica, T.H., and James are, you must reflect on what you did and recognize that there were two of you in the marriage.
Divorce is a strange gift. You get a second chance to do better than you did before.
No one wants a divorce, but sometimes it changes you for the better. It can almost be a sort of self-medication. Truly, you do have to own the way you represent yourself in any relationship. James will always say it’s not the easiest to accept that you can’t change anyone except yourself. You can’t expect anybody to take better care of you than you can take of yourself. If you understand those things and apply them, you’ll be the best version of yourself you can be. It’s all about trying to embrace the divorce and learn from it. It is part of your journey. In James’ case, he didn’t choose to be divorced, but he sees it as a funny gift. He gets a chance to get married again. That’s still his goal. He’ll come into it a bit smarter and a bit wiser the second time around. In the process, hopefully, he can help others like him. James and John are trying to empower others on their divorce journey so that they do see it as an opportunity and have a better outcome.