T.H. and Jessica pass over the mic to the boys in this episode and learn about all the ways in which the guys’ perspective on divorce differs from ladies.
- Divorce for men is an isolating time. They are not encouraged to reach out and seek help. Men lack the resources that women have when it comes to divorce.
- Divorce Shield aims to create a community in which men can discuss their divorce journey.
- The key to divorce recovery for men is acceptance of the situation and avoiding unhealthy solutions.
OUR GUEST – JOHN NACHLINGER, DIVORCE SHIELD AND JAMES BASTIAN, LIFE COACH
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 Jessica and T.H.
T.H.: Today’s podcast, we have two great guests. We met John Nachlinger a week or so ago through podcasting. We were on his show Divorce Shield. He is an attorney of law, and he’s also a mediator specializing in family law, and also now a divorce coach really focusing on the male’s perspective in terms of the divorce process. As we all know, there are three sides to every story, her side, his side and the truth. We’re just going to the other side today. Welcome John and you’ve got a special guest with you today?
John: Thank you, ladies. It’s such a pleasure to be here. Yeah, we have James Bastian with us. He is a screenwriter, producer, a creative consultant, but most importantly for today, he’s a divorced dad. He really is passionate about helping dads recover from divorce and move on to the next chapter of their lives.
Jessica: So important.
T.H.: Welcome to the show.
James: Yeah, thank you. It’s an honor to be here. Thank you so much, John, Jessica, and T.H. for inviting me. This is awesome. I’m excited.
Jessica: It’s great to meet you. I feel we should get the intro. John, if you can give people a quick rundown of your experience and what you do, and what Divorce Shield does, which will explain why James is joining us today as well.
John: Sure. I was a divorce attorney for 17 years. I handled over 1500 divorce and family law cases, and a little bit more than half of those were men. Over the years, I really got to see how men and women approach divorce differently and the different kinds of issues that they both have. I realized early on that men just don’t have the type of resources that women do, and some of that is just gender differences in the way that women reach out to other women, whereas men don’t do that quite as much. Some of it is real in terms of there was a lot of female centric divorce resources out there that women can easily find. After a while, I realized I hated divorcing people 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 everybody that you represent. But I really love helping people, so I 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. But I don’t really go too much into the recovery part of divorce, because that’s not really what my goal is. It’s been awesome. We have a private Facebook group that’s hundreds of men strong. The interaction is beyond anything I could have ever imagined guys doing. I work one on one with clients, and I’m trying to develop some online courses to help them move on even further. James joined the tribe, and I met him through a different forum, but he has been such an inspiration to a lot of our guys, because men in particular, like to hear other men’s stories of how they got through it, and they were okay, [so do women] because those are true horror stories. Yep, so that’s really my story about how I got here.
T.H.: You like to know you’re not alone. Man, woman, whoever it is, you just want to know you’re not alone. It’s really important to have that kind of support.
Jessica: And part of why we connected with you John and love what you’re doing with Divorce Shield is because you’re helping the men. We think that most of our people are women, but I think there’s crossover on both sides, and not to mention, both sides want to hear what the other side is doing anyway. It’s all useful information all around. We’re just all putting it out there, paying it forward.
John: Yeah. I will tell you, so I interviewed Jessica and T.H. last week, I believe it was. I put up their interview on the Divorce Shield tribe private Facebook group, as a sneak preview before I put it out to everybody else. Let’s just say there were some strong reactions to some of the things that T.H. and Jessica said.
T.H.: We’d like to hear them.
Jessica: Do tell.
John: Because what’s interesting is it is things that I’m sure both of you when you said them were like, this is not how you made me feel, but many women hear things so differently as you’re going through the process. When you thought you were giving credit to your ex-husband, all they heard was male bashing. It was just really interesting about that.
John: But that’s exactly why what we’re all doing is so important. All of that comes from a lack of communication, a lack of education, and it all comes from a place that I think is correctable, because there’s no need to feel like it is man versus woman. That’s really what divorce is about.
Jessica: Okay, but we need to know one or two examples of that.
John: I’m trying. The second I brought it up, I knew you were going to ask me for examples.
Jessica: Details. We need details.
T.H.: Spill the beans. You can’t just put a carrot out there.
John: I know. Let’s see, I believe I think it was T.H., she was talking about her ex husband and his personality and how that was really what moved this into a four year odyssey. I had more than one guy immediately say, ‘Well, of course, she’s blaming her husband. Women always blame men.’
Jessica: But we know his personality.
John: I know that, but I’m just saying the second that started happening, a woman is saying my husband was the reason that I believe this divorce took forever, all men hear is, ‘Well, of course they’re blaming me. She didn’t have any blame.’ That’s not what you said at all, but that’s all they heard. I just think it’s interesting, because that’s why these conversations are so important.
T.H.: That’s clearly a trigger for that person. I think that anybody who reacts immediately like that, it becomes a trigger, but I definitely own my stuff. I’m always interested in getting feedback from the other side. Maybe we’ll put a few questions out there for James later in the interview, and see how we’re doing.
Jessica: Let’s get over to James. James, thank you again so much for being with us today. We do think it’s so important for people to be able to hear the male perspective on all of this, particularly all the stuff that we talked about. Can you give us a little background or a lot, whatever you’re comfortable with, on your divorce story?
James: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, again, it’s my pleasure to be here. I appreciate sharing my story, because it’s very common, particularly today.
Some of the research I’ve been looking at, that they’re ferreting it out and teasing it out, but I’ve shared this with John and I share it with a lot of people, because it’s surprising in relationships where the female partner spouse is college educated, where there’s a divorce, 90% of the time, it’s the female partner that saying, ‘I’m the one that’s out here. I’m ending this.’ It’s very common for guys to be cruising along like I was. I’d been married 20 years or there about, my oldest child was just graduating from high school, getting ready to go into college. She’s actually here. She’s getting ready for medical school, she’s job shadowing today, and she spent the night last night.
T.H.: That’s awesome.
James: Yeah, she’s amazing. She’s so amazing. But you get to this place, and I knew my marriage was not healthy, and I knew it was not strong, but I kind of took it for granted. Okay, things are going to get better. They are. I feel like I’m working it at responding to the needs that I’m understanding my spouse has. Even this last little bit of discussion, it’s true that what I perceived as her needs probably really weren’t her needs, and that’s what I was hearing and understanding. And so here we’re cruising along. I think I’m doing all the right things. I think I’m helping in the right way. I made some career changes. I think, okay, I’m making the right kind of money. Everything should be okay. We’re going to really get to this place where it’s better. Anyway, it didn’t turn out that way. I was surprised, the story goes. I was in Las Vegas with one of my sons at a soccer tournament. I got this really strange email from my spouse, and I’m like, wow, this is different. She’s a certain way and we argue plenty. We have our stuff, but this is different. I came home a day or two later, and it was my birthday. I’m sure my daughter’s heard this part of the story. She’s downstairs. I was thinking, okay, it’s my birthday and something really weird’s going on, but at least maybe we can connect tonight. Getting into bed, she came out, sat down, and you feel the energy was so different, like ‘huh’. I’m kind of thinking well, maybe we’ll heal this, we’ll fix it, we’ll patch it up at least for tonight. Instead, it became a conversation of I don’t love you anymore. That was blindsiding to me because I figured that at least as bad as it got, given all that we’d been through–we’ve been through a lot of stuff over those 20 years, hard things, and overcome them. I had reasons to leave, she had reasons to leave, and we stuck it out. But at that moment and of all moments, when things seemed outwardly they were coming together, this is the moment you’re deciding you’re not in love with me anymore. This is the moment you’re deciding that we’re probably getting divorced, and that’s the way it’s going to be. That began the journey for me. In that time, going through that process, I had seen several of my best buddies get divorced. And for guys, it is different. My approach to–
Jessica: How do you feel it’s different?
James: Seeing buddies get divorced, and I understood this when it became my turn to go through it. It was like, ‘Whoa, I was really wrong about that.’ But 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 you kind of 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. I’m totally here for you whenever you need.’
Jessica: I think it’s similar for women in that way also, which is why it’s so important to be able to know that you have people that you can reach out to, and that will reach out to you. But go ahead.
James: Yeah. Okay. So that’s interesting, because what I would learn later, and I would be kicking myself, like, what a jerk. I should have been calling my buddies every single day. As I’m going through this, this is the most traumatic painful thing I’ve been through my entire life. There are nights when I’m just going I don’t think I can survive another second. I can’t do it. Wanting to reach out, but then thinking, gosh, I talked to my best friend a week ago. If I call him again, that’s too much, but I’m suffering and I need help. Fortunately, I did have these friends that had been through it. They became more engaged, and they set a better tone for me and a better example. They knew, ‘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 that, ‘You promise me you’re going to call.’ I’m thinking what a jerk I was. I didn’t say that to them. I didn’t know.
T.H.: But you didn’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know.
James: You don’t know what you don’t know.
T.H.: That’s why Jessica and I started exEXPERTS. Our tagline really is ‘We’ve lived it, so we get it.’ Your tribes, your support, are really the people who understand what it’s like to go through. You’re not going to ask for help. What does that look like for me if I reach out and say, ‘Can I help?’ Are you being a wimp? Are you being lame? Who cares, but I’m just saying a lot of people feel, ‘Well, do I look weak if I ask for help?’ The truth is it’s so critical to your growth.
James: Yeah, I agree. I think I had a sense before I went through it. I think it’s pretty prevalent still today that it’s almost contagious. It’s like, man, you’re going through divorce, if I get too deep into that, that’s going to rub off on me. I don’t want any part of this.
Jessica: Not to mention, I think there’s a fear for all of us who are going through the divorce at any given time that, John knows this, the analogy that I use is often someone who has a new baby. They’re like, ‘Oh, how’s the baby?’ They just want to hear you say, ‘Fine’. They don’t really want to hear all of the details. I think that when you’re going through a divorce, you assume that they don’t want to hear all of the details. You feel like you can’t call because you feel you’re just going to be the person who every time you call, you’re complaining, and you’re moaning and groaning and woe is me, and you’re the victim. 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.
James: Yeah. That’s the wrong approach, obviously. You hold it in and it builds up and becomes cancerous in a way. You do need to be able to let those negative emotions out. You do need to be able to release that and come off as negative. You can spit and cuss and do all the stuff. Get it out, because if you hold that in, man, recovery is going to be that much more difficult. Not only that, but you risk losing your children, you risk losing even the potential of a positive, healthy, somewhat healthy co-parenting relationship in the future if you don’t find a release.
That’s the journey that I’m on. It’s been four years now, and this year is the year where it’s like, okay, I promised myself back then if I survive this, I’m going to get back. This is opening my eyes. I’ve had opportunities and missed them. I’ve been given many opportunities since to coach people now. ‘Hey, I’m here for you. Let’s talk about it. You need a little bit of hope today, and obviously, I can give it to you. It’s going to be better. Trust me.’ Sometimes just hearing that is enough. Now I’m expanding that and building a bigger platform to get that message out. John helps people through divorce. Me, I want to be the guy that picks them up as they walk out of mediation or out of the courtroom and look at and go, ‘What now? Here I am.’
T.H.: Right. Especially when it’s over on that day, as elated as I was, all my paid people disappeared, like we’re done. Well, who’s going to listen to me? Who do I ask the question to tomorrow? Where is everybody? How am I going to do this tomorrow without this whole support? Whether you pay them or not, it’s a scary thing, and you feel like you’re out there without a net.
Jessica: I also think it’s so powerful. I feel like I’m going to be repeating myself the whole time that we’re talking, to hear that that’s how guys think. I also want to talk for a second about the overall social stigma of divorce. I do think that when people generalize men going through hard emotional, traumatic situations versus women, it’s like the women are falling apart and they’re a total mess. The guys are stiff upper lip, and they’re just going to grin and bear it and get through it, and that they don’t need that brotherhood, so to speak, of people around them. I think there will be a lot of people that would be surprised to hear you say that, ‘I needed help’ and that I needed people around me I could talk to about it, because we think the reason that guys don’t talk about it is because they don’t need to talk about it.
T.H.: What would be your top three tips James that you would give people going through it knowing what you’ve gone through? How did John play into that for you?
James: Are you talking about men giving to men?
T.H.: Well, whatever you think. It could be if you think it’s only relevant to men, or for anyone?
James: Yeah. One of the things I did, and I think this is interesting, is I actually pulled up a spreadsheet and I put down the names of my allies, people I felt like I could talk to. It wasn’t a very long list, right? It’s family, it’s maybe my best friend I’ve had my whole life, and my assistant at work. She could care less in so many ways, but it just felt good to just dump it on her, that sort of thing. Then you start looking for professional help. That’s, I guess, second point: reach out. Whether it’s a coach, a therapist, sometimes it’s tricky geographically, but now we live in a world where we can connect just by internet, by phone, whatever. Reach out and find somebody. That’s a real stigma, I think for guys. ‘They’re going to tell me something’s wrong with me’, and usually, that’s not the case. They’re probably actually going to say, ‘You know what? This is really hard, brother. Hang on. Sure. You have some stuff, you have some flaws and weaknesses, but everybody does, so let’s help. Let’s understand this. Let’s get you through it. I’m going to listen to you.’ Again, that listening part that validation part of, ‘This is hard. This sucks is wow, okay, I guess I can feel this way. I can be angry. I can be sad. I can be devastated. I would just say guys do feel that. Every guy I know, even as tough as they are on the outside, you break it down with them, and you really get into them, ‘Oh man, divorce. Wow. That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I mean, I didn’t know I was going to make it.’ It’s an event that I wouldn’t wish on anybody truly. You guys having been through it probably wouldn’t wish on anyone either, but it definitely impacts guys. And again, we show up differently, and we present to the outside world. I would imagine there aren’t very many men that have good relationships with their mom, who are looking for that phone call, ‘Mom, hey–’, tears running down their cheeks, ‘What do I do next? Am I going to lose my kids? Tell me it’s going to be okay. I wasn’t prepared for this.’ I guess the third tip is look at divorce as an opportunity. It’s tricky to do that in the middle of it, but hey, wow, okay, this is a massive reset my life. I can choose to be bitter, I can choose to punish my former spouse, I can choose to self medicate, I can do all of these things, or I can be real honest with myself and say I want to be happier on the other side of this. I want to have a better relationship with my children. I want to have a better romantic relationship in the future. I know I’m not perfect, and I’m being brought down to my knees and all my faults are being revealed. Let me embrace those and go, ‘Okay, great. I’ll own this.’ Now what? It’s not like a massive transformation. Every day you get to choose. Today, I’m going to get up and put a smile on my face. I don’t feel like it. Huh. I’m going to try to make a deposit with my children, or I’m going to make a deposit on myself. I’m going to listen to a podcast. Huh. All right, I feel a little inspired. Maybe that helps. Small victories, day in and day out, it’s going to be probably a lifetime process, but truly, you give it a couple of months, you make it a habit of I am going to use this to be better. I’m going to have a more abundant life. I’m going to be happier. Dang it, I’m going to do this. You get going on that trajectory, and the momentum will carry you.
T.H.: I love everything you’re saying, and I think that it definitely pertains to men and women the same. As you’re speaking, I’m conflicted in my head. John, I’m curious what your spin is on this, but in my head, I feel for myself, and it sounds like for you James, and I know for Jessica, it’s a little bit of a weird gift, divorce. You get a second chance to do better than you did before. You don’t want divorce, but I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t go through all that. I wouldn’t have been happy if I stayed in my marriage. Physically, it was not humanly possible to stay in that marriage. It was killing me.
How do you work through that? It’s such a conflict. It literally just came in my head as James was talking. I mean, I am just the best form of me in the last several years. Jessica and I are 12 years out now, almost 13, and I’m the best form of me, but how do you reconcile that with yourself?
John: I’ve got to tell you, it’s really difficult. I must speak more from the male perspective right now. The problem with a lot of the guys that that we work with is they felt blindsided by the divorce. That’s mainly because most of them were putting their head in the sand and not really recognizing what was going on. Because of that, and because they don’t actually reach out and get help the way James was talking about if you have friends, and we all know a lot of middle aged men don’t really have as many close friendships as a lot of women do, but even if you have friends, a lot of guys don’t want to talk to them the way James is talking about. How many times have you said, ‘Let me know if you need anything’, but you never expect anyone to actually call. I mean, that’s like saying, ‘How are you doing today?’ You expect just to hear ‘fine’, and you don’t expect to hear, ‘Oh god. I’m having a shitty day.’ You don’t even expect to hear any of that. The problem with guys going through this is that they don’t really ever want to look outside their own immediate surroundings. They’d rather sit in their man cave and just watch TV and drink a beer and 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. Again, not to pick on middle aged men, because me and James are both middle aged, middle aged men do not like change. They just don’t. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s moving out of a house, marriage, it doesn’t matter the kind of clothes they wear, the kind of food they eat. It doesn’t matter. You could add that on top of my whole divorce is ending, and now I’m going to have to start over. To me, women have an easier time doing that than men, and I don’t know why. Like I said, I’ve divorced so many people over the years, and I can tell you if I go five years out, my female clients are almost always in a better place than my male clients, almost always. Going back to why I started my company, that’s one of the reasons. I think it goes back to what James was saying, there’s something about women being able to bond with other women like the two of you have that went through this process. There’s an exchange that happens that I think lets women have an easier time seeing the positives of divorce. Quite frankly, children in particular don’t need married parents. They need happy parents. I think that men don’t always recognize that they have the ability to be happier, and that they should be happy. No, men look at marriage a little bit more as this is my job. My job is to provide for my family. My job is to provide this kind of structure for my kids and so they forget about their own happiness somewhere in the mix. They don’t necessarily see, ‘Okay, I’m divorced now. I can concentrate on myself now.’ It’s still a job for them. It’s just really interesting that you bring this up T.H., because it’s real, in terms of a lot of women don’t have as much of a difficult time finding their happiness again, or finding their purpose. To go back to where we started this conversation, that’s why if you look at divorce coaches, and you look at resources for women, I would say 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 and how it can really change the course of your life. You don’t see that with men, present company excluded, James. You don’t really see that with men, and it’s a really interesting dynamic.
Jessica: What’s so fascinating about what you’re saying is that it is true that many men that I’ve spoken to have said I would have stayed. I do think that’s really interesting, because I think that the impression that a lot of people have, and again, this is the discrepancy between the way men think and the way women think, I think I would have assumed that most of the time these guys would have been like, ‘Yeah, I’m fucking out of here. I’m so glad that I’m done with this ball and chain kind of thing.’ It’s been very eye opening to hear how many guys would have stayed. Then when I’m like, ‘Well, were you happy?’ Because they tell me they were blindsided, and then they’re like, ‘No, I was miserable, but I would have stayed to do the right thing.’ I could not agree with you more John, that kids don’t need married parents, they need happy parents. I think that’s been so surprising, how many men would have stayed.
I think that part of the reason why women may have an easier time with it, well, first of all, if the majority of the time women are the ones asking for the divorce, and James, I loved your statistic about education, so I have a graduate degree so that it makes sense that I’ve asked for two divorces, but I think if women are the ones that ask for the divorce, as devastating as it is, and as hard as that is, to be in that place, you have mentally prepared for it, obviously, more so than the guys have. Then you talk to other female friends, and I’m curious to know if this is the truth, you talk to any woman who’s been divorced, and we’re all like, ‘You are going to love it! It’s going to be so much better later.’ I mean, the divorce sucks, but you’re right, five years out, I don’t know one woman that’s been divorced, who five years out is not like, ‘Thank the Lord that this is where I am now.’ Maybe guys, James barring you because now you’re having such a positive energy around it and helping other men deal with it, but I wonder when guys talk to other guys about divorce, if they’re five years out, and they’re like, ‘My life fucking sucks. This whole thing has been such a drag and it’s terrible’ that it makes it scarier for guys, I wonder.
T.H.: Well, do you think it’s such a drag, because those are the guys who are not dealing with their own stuff? They’re still living in that frame of mind of being in that relationship. I think that there are definitely women out there who are still curled up in a ball because they’re not dealing with their part of the marriage problem. I mean, it was a problem, and it does take two. I also want to go back to something that John said. It’s interesting women five years out seem better, but I’ll tell you, and this is all society stigmas so I’m curious of a response here. The guy’s got a girl on their arm like that *snaps fingers*. They look like they’re so much happier. They’ve got their shit together. They’re already with this 27 year old and living large. All of a sudden he’s got money, he’s traveling, and he just bought a new car. This is obviously a very general statement, but in my mind, it’s the women who are mobilizing and getting the kids, getting the house, and getting everything together. What am I going to do? What’s the plan? My job–and the guys are already off. It’s interesting that you say that because the way that it looks is a little bit different right afterwards. What do you guys think of that?
John: I was going to say T.H., that it goes back to a second ago that men don’t like change.
One of the things they don’t like is once they’ve been married, and they have been part of that marital unit where they maybe had a wife that’s taken care of them to some degree in certain ways while they’re working, they want that again. That’s why on the flip side, the guys that more often than not start a divorce already have their next woman already on their arm, whenever they decide they want their divorce. That’s what makes it easy for them, because they’re not going to be alone now. The person I’m with is going to change but nothing else is. That’s sort of where I think to some degree that comes from. You guys have a much more of an ability to be alone for a while, to really try to rediscover yourself, and to lean on friends in a way that men just don’t, for the reasons we talked about before about the lack of intense male relationships that middle aged men have. But what do you think, James?
James: Yeah, it’s fascinating, all of it. Granted, there are stereotypes out there. There is a spectrum of men, for sure. I do believe that for most of us, especially where it’s not expected, it is such a confusing time because you do go to this place of why didn’t I see this coming? Okay, maybe I did see this coming, but why did I just keep fighting for it? We are programmed that a wife is what you do. You have a wife and you take care of her. You think you’re taking care of her, but maybe you’re not. You work, and you show up for your kids. There’s kind of a programming that takes place, and suddenly when the linchpin of all of that, the wife, fails and you’re not expecting it. It’s like, whoa, wait. Denial is a very real thing. For me, I was fighting hard for the marriage for six months, even though the reality was it was over. She’s gone. It took me six months, and I’m grateful for that period of time, because it allowed me to ease into the reality and arrive at acceptance eventually, but it is a confusing time. I think you see the guys that jump into, ‘Well, I’m just going to prove you wrong and have better. I’m going to get the fast car and the hot girlfriend.’ A lot of alpha guys are remarried within a year. Are they better? Are they having better marriages? Let’s be honest, no. I’ve got to be honest, I got a fast car, and I love it.
T.H.: A fast car’s way easier than a fast girl.
James: Exactly. It feels great. I mean, it’s a sort of self medication. It’s like, okay, I probably couldn’t have this when I was married, so dang it, I’m just going to do it now. There’s a benefit to that for sure. But by and large, I think John’s right. I’ve seen so many guys even being remarried, they’re still recovering. They would like to project to the world that, ‘Nah, this didn’t hurt me at all. In fact, I’m better off’ but emotionally they’re recovering. I think even financially, you dig into the finances. I think that’s a bit of a myth. I mean, I’m still recovering, and it’s been nearly five years for me. It was a crater in my finances. Divorce, it’s just massive, right? It takes a long time, and then the emotional part, the healing, part reconciling that. If you do it the right way, I mean, I’m hoping I’m doing it the right way, how do I become a better human being so that in my next relationship, or my current relationship, I show up better? I don’t make the same mistakes, I’m more present. And that unfortunately, I do think is where guys–it’s very hard, and it’s very difficult, but we don’t always communicate in that way. The alpha male driving the fast car with a hot girlfriend, if you go up and say, ‘Hey buddy, be real with me. Let’s have straight talk right now about your divorce. How do you feel?’ Inside he’s dying, right? He’s torn to pieces, but he’s not going to tell you that. But then if you look closely, the relationship with this kid sucks, he’s the guy that’s still texting his ex-wife five times a day trying to pick a fight about everything because he still needs that interaction, even though he’s got what the world would say this great, beautiful girlfriend, whatever, whatever, whatever. I think that’s very telling. It is a hard place to be I think for everybody. And again, nobody goes into this thinking they’re going to get divorced. As a guy, you’re just cruising along and you do feel like you’re doing the best you can. Okay, well, we had a fight. Maybe I fell short here, and I did this. Granted, there are guys that really blow it and they find themselves kicked to the curb. I understand that totally. I think listening to you guys when you’re listening to the podcast you had with John, if you’re going to have an affair, be you manly, go talk to your spouse say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working for me. I’m feeling tempted to go out. What do we do? Let’s end it now, so I can get be free and not hurt anybody?’ There’s a better way to go about it, right? I won’t lie, the stereotype fit certain guys, but I would say there are also a lot of guys, a lot of the guys I know, they suffer. It hurts. Man, I built this whole world, this whole identity around my wife, my kids, my work, and now it’s all in question. I don’t know if I’m going to see my kids ever again? How am I going to maintain work? I don’t feel like working anymore. This sucks. The thing I was passionate about, providing for my family, has now gone. Huh, who am I? That’s a huge, huge question that I think we all walk away with.
Jessica: It is a huge question and one of the topics that T.H. and I keep revisiting is the idea of the stigma around divorce. We obviously are coming from the female side of it, and possibly projecting out what we think people think when they look at us and we’re divorced. I’m so curious to know, from your side James, do you think that there’s a stigma around divorce for men? Do you think if there is, that it’s different from the stigma around divorce for women, or how is it different?
James: Okay, yeah, absolutely. I would say, and this may be a bit cultural, maybe a bit regional, but I know for example, here, ‘Oh, James is getting divorced?’ The very first question, ‘What did he do?’ And I see this, so I didn’t do those things. I was blindsided.
I feel like I was a good husband. I didn’t cheat. I wasn’t looking to cheat. I argued too much. I maybe wasn’t hearing the right things. That sort of stuff happened, and there’s not like this big red flag, but most people think there is. For example, I still have one son that I’ll take back and forth. Most of my kids end up living with me full time, but I have one son that I’ll take back to his mom’s. I know when I go over there to pick him up or drop him off, there’s a neighbor across the street, an old guy, and he is always out working in his yard. He looks at me like, ‘You failed men, James. You did something.’ And it’s like, you don’t have a clue. You really don’t. But that stigma is there.
Jessica: The stigma being that it’s the guy’s fault, that you did something wrong?
James: Yeah. That typically is what I’ve seen. It’s the guy failed. Being in New York City or New Jersey, maybe it’s a little different, but in my experience, when dating, for example, you start digging into it. ‘Oh yeah, the guy failed. The guy failed. The guy failed.’ By the way, I guess I should be honest, I had an affair. Oh wait, it suddenly changes, right? We’re not in that world anymore where it’s usually the guy that’s out philandering, the guy that’s out goofing around. I know that happens, but I think for every guy that’s having an affair, he’s got to have a partner. It’s happening on both sides, but I do think the stigma is still such that the guy has to prove that he didn’t do this, that he’s worthy of the children. Again, the stereotypes are what they are because they’re merited. I think for a long time that was generally the truth, the guy blew it. But now in the world today, I would say I’m encouraged. I see so many guys who are showing up for their kids. My kids are number one, I am there. They have stuff, I am there. I will be there to every meeting, I’ll be there every game, I will love them, and I will listen to them. You’re not paying the health insurance? I got it. I got it. There are so many guys that are like that, and then you look at the people they’ve been married to and it’s like, ‘Whoa, you got a raw deal, man. This person is not showing up. They’re spinning all kinds of garbage about you. They’re treating you like garbage.’ These are the women that are texting the guys 20 times a day, ‘You failed me’ and ‘My sex life is so much better now’ and just instigating not letting it go. But I do think the stereotype is still and the stigma is still it’s usually the guy that’s doing that.
T.H.: The overall thing is that perception of other people on you and I don’t remember if I brought it up in our podcast John, but through my therapy afterwards, I took a long time to learn how to be like Teflon. That’s basically what my therapist said, ‘Try to figure out what’s noise and what’s not noise.’ That was really hard because you buy into the noise so easily. It’s such an easy path to the devil. Like, don’t go down that road again, but you go. It’s like a train wreck, and everybody’s got to look. Like, why do you have to look? It’s not going to be good. Just keep going on your same way. The whole idea of the blame game, I think it just makes it easier for a woman also to blame, as I’m sure it is for a guy because I think we’ve also talked about this, ‘She’s always crazy. That’s the narrative like ‘She’s nuts.’ ‘She was nuts and he was a jerk. He was a cheater.’ In both of our cases for me and Jessica, they cheated, but that was just the last straw. People who don’t know don’t know, and those are the ones who spew the noise, and those are the ones who chirp. That’s the guy standing on your–because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. It’s just easier to blame than to accept your own responsibility. And no, you know what? Yes, he cheated for a long time, but just the fact that I was so happy to be out shows that that was not the only thing that was wrong in our marriage. There was other stuff going on, and that was just it. Just because he went the extra step further than I would have gone, doesn’t mean that was the only reason that a marriage breaks up. Just know that anyway, if people are looking at you and stuff like that, we all know on this chat that there’s way more to it, way more.
John: Yeah, I was just going to say that people care way too much about what other people think anyway. I think that’s human nature. I know I’ve said this to all three of you before, in all my years divorcing people, almost every single woman told me their husband was a narcissist, and almost every single man told me their wife was bipolar. We all see what we want to see in our spouse. It’s really easy to blame instead of looking inward about what we did wrong and where our shortcomings were. In order to get to the place where Jessica, T.H., and James and where you all are now where you’re much happier, you have to take stock about what you did and recognize that there were two of you in the marriage. If someone has an affair, it’s always really easy just to blame them. That’s super easy. But there’s always a background that comes before that. I just think that it’s really interesting that the cultural and geographic perspective that James started with, living in New Jersey where I was an attorney, it’s one of the most culturally diverse states in the nation. I can tell you the differences between different cultures and the way they view divorce and particularly men and women within those cultures would make your head spin. We’re talking about this very generally across all groups, but you really get down to some groups and men have it really bad in some cultures, and women have it really bad in some cultures. None of that is legal, it’s just the shame. There’s certain cultures where people don’t even feel comfortable traveling back to their countries to see their family if they’re divorced because there’s so much shame. As bad as people think they have it, there’s always other people in other cultures that it even worse, and that it’s really difficult. I really applaud all three of you. You guys have done such a great job in recovering from divorce. I really hope people find a lot of inspiration here as they move forward.
Jessica: Well, thank you.
T.H.: Thank you John. And James, if there’s one thing you wish you knew, looking back, what would it be? The top thing, we all have a lot of things, but the top thing?
James: The top thing? Well, first of all, I’d like to say there’s a lot of truth in this conversation and it’s very powerful. I’m grateful to hear it. Truly, you do have to own the way you represent yourself in any relationship. I would honestly say that’s probably the biggest take away. It’s not always the easiest one to accept and it’s one that I’m still working on, but I can’t expect anybody else to change. I can’t expect anybody to better care of me than I can take of myself. If I understand those things and apply them, it’s not easy. I’m still very much working on this, and I’m probably going to have a better outcome. Hey, okay, this marriage isn’t perfect, but I’m going to work on me. If you choose to leave, that’s on you, and that’s your choice. Let’s make it amicable if we can. There is I guess that notion, and I still battle it, that hey I’m going to get married and it’s all going to be great after that. Okay, maybe this wasn’t quite perfect before, but it’s going to be better after. That’s not reality. Reality is okay, I’m going to be the best human I can be. I’m going to keep working on that and I’m going to find satisfaction in that. I’m going to be proud of myself for that. I’m going to show up as a dad and be the best dad I can be. I’m going to be really proud of that and I’m going to experience the benefits and fruits of that because I’m going to see my children come around. Like my daughter, she gets to choose and she stays with me. It’s a beautiful thing. But that self-ownership and then that understanding that running out and finding the young hot wife made me feel great and there’s some benefits to that, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re going to have a brighter future or be happier the next time around. You may actually really get your butt kicked on the second divorce. Yeah, it’s just trying to embrace, I’m a human being, and this is part of my journey. In my case, I didn’t choose to be divorced, but it’s a gift, a funny gift. I get a chance to hopefully get married again. That’s still my goal. Hopefully, I’ll come to it a bit smarter and a bit wiser, and in the process, hopefully I can help other people like all of us are trying to do. We’re trying to empower others on this journey so that they do see it as an opportunity, so that they do have a better outcome whether they’re in the process of divorce now, or walking out of the courtroom, ‘I’m free. Now what?’ or even down the road, ‘Hey, this has been bumpy. I’m five years in and I’m not happier yet. What do I do?’ Yeah, you can still be happier. I’m grateful for you guys for creating this forum to talk about stuff like this. This is awesome.
Jessica: Thank you a million times both of you guys for joining us. We’re going to have to continue this conversation another time too. Especially I had such an ‘aha!’ moment just listening to you talk about the difference of the stigma for men and women. That’s a whole conversation in and of itself, because I think that a lot of women totally would interpret that completely differently. We have a lot more material and a lot more ground to cover, but thank you guys really for taking the time for today because I think this is a lot of great information.
James: You’re welcome.
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