Lean into your support network, recognizing that they will struggle to help you and may well fail you. If you are going through a personal trauma like divorce, you need to have personal relationships to sustain you through that. Sadly, many men don’t have many other male friends, and divorce itself may end up cutting you off from what you thought was your support network. Many married men, for example, are friends primarily with other married couples, and that because the wives are friends with his wife. It can end up that the divorcing wife keeps the friends and the husband gets frozen out or ends up more distant from his previous network.
Churches tend to be unrelentingly pro-wife in their public teachings, but in my admittedly limited observations, pastors tend to be more evenhanded in private counseling situations. Nevertheless, you may find yourself explicitly or more likely implicitly expelled from your church. The other women of the church may well side with your ex-wife, which can render your position untenable.
In either case, I don’t think there’s much to be gained to try saving these relationships once they evaporate or go south, except for other men who were your personal friends prior to meeting and marrying your wife. In my view, they are just part of the losses you take when divorce happens. Best to accept it and move on. You can always try to rebuild these relationships later when the fallout of the divorce has died down.
You do need to press into what relationships with other men you do have. (I’d avoid relationships with women like the plague – see below). This might have to be with people at a new church. Just recognize that they are going to struggle to support you. What would you say to someone whose child has died, or who is dealing with cancer, etc.? I bet you’d struggle to find the right words. Life’s worst experiences are terrible to endure, and even for those who have previously gone through them it can be difficult to know what to say to someone to whom it is happening now. Divorce is not the worst thing that can happen to you, but it’s on the list of bad things. This makes it hard for people to know how to help you. Recognize too that you are yourself probably a pain in the butt to put up with (see that email above).
Looking back at the time after my divorce, my friends and ministers from the church seem to me to have been serious and genuinely motivated to help me. But probably 90% of the value was in just having someone willing to listen to me rampage. The contents were irrelevant. It may well be the same for you. You need people you can simply connect with. But it’s likely to be awkward and you shouldn’t expect too much insight.
There are a couple of possibilities to consider apart from friends, family, and the church to talk to. One is to see a therapist if you can afford it. If nothing else, they are paid to listen to you unload on them. Just having an outlet like that for venting might be useful, but it’s something of a crapshoot as to how much value you’ll get. You can always treat it as an experiment. If it’s valuable, great. If not, that’s all right too. You can always stop going.
The second is to seek to befriend someone who is in even worse shape than you. This may require you to have done some healing first, but is a great way to keep you from falling into that bitterness spiral.
A former pastor of mine used to observe that even when you are focused on overcoming your sin, you are still focused on yourself. The Christian life always has an other-focused element to it. We fall into a trap when we end up obsessively focused on ourselves, even when we are focused on our own legitimate problems. Clearly there are times when we can’t do much for others and have to take care of our own business, but most of the time that is not the case.
There’s almost always someone in a worse place than you. A couple years after my divorce I met a young, troubled man who’d gotten connected with our church. He was 18 or so, had gotten kicked out of his house, had some history of problems with drugs, and had the scars to prove he’d tried to kill himself. I decided to take him to lunch once a week at a local diner to talk to him. That was it. No getting too deeply pulled into his problems, which I was poorly equipped to deal with, but just to try to provide positive companionship and connection. One day he was upset because, he claimed, the TV crews had come to his door trying to interview him. That sounded bogus to me, so I asked why they’d done that. He said they wanted to talk to him about his dad getting out of jail and that his dad was a super-famous murderer known statewide as the Such and Such Killer. I went home and googled that, and wouldn’t you know, that killer was being released from prison and his last name was the same as this kid’s. Whatever problems I had, they were nothing like his.
Again, we have to guard against getting pulled into other people’s dysfunction. But just spending time with others in need, who are often very lonely themselves, will turn us away from ourselves and towards others, put our own problems in perspective, and help us realize how difficult it actually is to help someone going through a major struggle.
Know that while in the short term women tend to recover better from divorce than men, over time this may reverse. For whatever reason, women seem to move on from a divorce faster than men. Just ask yourself, for example, how many “divorce parties” you know of that have been thrown by men vs. women. I’ve never met a man who celebrated his divorce (at least not until long after the fact). A reader of the preview edition of this newsletter responded with this account:
I was at the UPS store this week dropping off a package, and I saw a man and woman walking out of the store (there was a line outside because of the COVID thing). She was wearing a shirt that said “you go, girl!,” and as she walked out several of her friends milling around in the parking lot starting “high fiving,” and generally celebrating. The man, however, sat on a bench just outside the door and starting weeping his eyes out. Several people walked over to talk to him… They were having their divorce (maybe separation) papers notarized … I found the entire thing disgusting! It’s not enough this man has to go through this, but there is his ex-wife and her friends publicly shaming him to his face. What have we become?
What, indeed. Keep in mind that because women are typically the one filing for divorce, they do it at a time that is convenient for them, not necessarily for you. It’s often quite a bad time for you, as I noted above.
Longer term, divorce is rarely turns out to be as a great deal for women as they think. Books like Eat, Pray, Love – at least for a while a staple of women leaving their husbands – fill their heads with the possibilities of the future. The media loves to extol this, creating myths such as the “cougar” (an older woman who dates much younger men) that sell them on the idea that life will be better after they divorce their husbands.
Sometimes, women who divorce their husbands do hit the jackpot. One woman in my network divorced her husband and got remarried to a wealthy man. She’s seems to be living the dream.
More often, it doesn’t work out that way. Women are less likely than men to remarry. For people over the age of 35, other dynamics come into play like the fact that large age gaps in marriage are more likely. Remarried couples on average have a larger age gap than first marriage couples. Men are more likely to marry someone younger than their ex-wife, for example. According to Pew Research:
Not only are men who have recently remarried more likely than those beginning a first marriage to have a spouse who is younger; in many cases, she is much younger. Some 20% of men who are newly remarried have a wife who is at least 10 years their junior, and another 18% married a woman who is 6-9 years younger. By comparison, just 5% of newlywed men in their first marriage have a spouse who is 10 years younger, and 10% married a woman who is 6-9 years younger.
So once you recover from your divorce and want to remarry, there’s real chance you could marry someone much younger than the ex-wife who left you. Keep in mind though that larger age gaps, like second marriages themselves, have a higher risk of divorce.
Also, though she might have ended up keeping most of your shared friends, as above, over time, people who are single (including divorced) and those who are married tend to bifurcate into separate social circles. She may well have already migrated towards a new friend set of divorced women before leaving you, but don’t be surprised if she ends up drifting further and further apart from the married couples you all used to hang out with, even if she seems to remain close friends with the wives in the short term.
And even if your ex-wife got custody of the kids and child support, single motherhood is still tough. Think about a single mother right now during the coronavirus shutdowns trying to work from home without any childcare.
I’m not telling you to wish ill to befall your ex-wife or that you should celebrate if it does. In fact, don’t do that. But early in a divorce it can seem like she got you, she won, she’s coming out clearly on top, which can fuel a sense of bitterness. This isn’t always the case, of course. But if it is in yours, just remember that things might look very, very different five or ten years down the road.
Hold on to your faith. Divorce has two primary effects with regards to faith depending on the individual. The first is to send non-Christians to Christianity, similar to how other “hitting rock bottom” experiences do. This was the case for me.
For those who were already Christian, divorce can be a crisis of faith as in the email above. Divorce was not that for me, but after becoming a Christian my life went straight downhill for three straight years that included a series of bizarre experiences I still cannot explain. I remember thinking to myself in that time that I could not in good conscience ever recommend that someone become a Christian.
I’m not the biggest fan of Oswald Chambers, but out of that experience I’ve come to consider one of his his lines perhaps the most profound truth outside of the Bible: “Some extraordinary thing happens to a man who holds on to the love of God when the odds are against God’s character.”
Personal suffering and tragedy like divorce calls into question the character of God, particularly when it frequently seems to be meaningless. This is when the problem of evil gets personal.
Just remember that you are in good company. Jeremiah lamented that God had deceived him, for example. The scriptures are full of people wrestling with God over the toughest issues. The entire book of Job is famously dedicated to it.
I am firmly convinced that if you hold on to your faith through this crisis you will never regret it. I can’t give you any logical proof nor make big promises about how your life will be so amazing in the future the way Job’s ended up.
What I can say is that the Bible is full of promises about God’s faithfulness. “Whoever believes in Him will never be put to shame,” for example. I’ve seen that in my own life. And I’ve seen it in everyone else who has trusted in God during times God’s character is in question.
My strongest encouragement would be to continue putting your trust in God. Nothing else is more important.