This post is the first in a series and is taken from excerpts from Masculinist Newsletter #40.
It’s well established that women initiate the vast majority of divorces – about 70% of them (though the specific number varies by source). If women filed for divorce at the same rate as men, it would cut the number of divorces in half. Nothing better demonstrates that we don’t live in a patriarchy than the statistics on divorce.
Certainly, many men do dump their wives. I’ve seen it happen personally in the most stereotypical of ways, such as a man in the midlife crisis zone reconnecting with his high school girlfriend on Facebook, then running off with her.
There are also men who do things that would cause most people to see a divorce as justified: having an affair, physical abuse, etc.
Even so, in my experience, the majority of divorces are women divorcing their husbands for no reason that any church would consider theologically justified. The research is not conclusive, but from the studies I have read also lean this direction. And I’ve seen some truly extreme cases, like my former pastor’s wife dumping him after he was disabled in an accident.
So what do you do if that happens to you? And how should we as friends or as the church help men in these situations?
As it happens, I myself was previously divorced. I’m not going into any specifics because I want to respect my ex-wife’s privacy. But when I talk about this, I’m not just drawing on observations of others but also personal experience. So I think I satisfy the “skin in the game” principle.
Because I’ve been through it, I know better than to give trite answers or act like there’s some simple solution or course of action. It’s not that simple. I will instead try to give some more general principles that I hope you find helpful, along with some tools that I used that helped me.
Even if you are not personally going through this, I hope you still find it valuable. It may be useful for friends that you know when it happens to them. But also, in today’s world, no married man is immune from the risk of divorce. If you think it could never happen to you, think again. If you don’t believe me, just ask your divorced friends how many of them saw it coming.
From what I see, men tend to end up on one of two paths after this kind of divorce. A number of them end up falling into a downward spiral from which they never emerge. Another group is able to recover from the crisis, often transformed and sometimes with their lives improved over the longer term.
In my view, the most important thing to do when your wife divorces you is to make sure you end up in the second category not the first one, to be one of the people who recovers and perhaps even becomes transformed for the better as a result of the experience.
When you are going through an extended personal crisis like divorce, cancer, or the death of a spouse or child, the future can seem grim. It can feel like we will never heal and nothing will ever be ok again.
It’s natural to go through the stages of grief. But for those of you who are going through a divorce right now, I can tell you it does get better. There is hope, even if you can’t see it now. If you don’t lose sight of that and determine that you will make it through the experience, I’m convinced you can.
With that in mind, I will share some observations.
Recognize that recovering from divorce is likely to be a long ordeal, probably around three to five years. Some people, such as those in their mid-20s who rapidly divorce without children, can recover quickly and write theirs off as a “starter marriage.” For those who are older, have been married longer, or who have children, it’s usually much more difficult and takes much longer than we would like.
Not only does divorce itself require time to recover from, but it is also often paired with other life setbacks. In fact, those setbacks are often one of the precipitators of a wife-initiated divorce. I mentioned above my pastor whose wife divorced him after he became disabled. But more often it’s some sort of career reversal. Divorce becomes more likely when the wife’s career is doing well and the husband’s career is not. Marriages are more likely to end in divorce when the wife makes more money than the husband. Male unemployment, for example, raises the risk of divorce. (That includes the wife divorcing him, but also him leaving his wife). This means that those of you who have lost your job due to coronavirus are at elevated risk for divorce right now. That’s just reality.
So there’s a decent chance that not only are you dealing with the divorce, itself a big emotional and financial blow, but also with some sort of other major personal problem that compounds it. Realistically, that’s going to take time to recover from.
Especially if you are early in the process, this probably isn’t pleasant news to hear, but understanding it can help you persevere when you are still stuck in the valley. You can and will come out on the other side if you keep marching forward. That’s true even if you have children, which causes lifelong complication. Most people seem to come to some sort of workable equilibrium over time, even if there’s an extended period of acrimony.
Recognize that you have been a victim of injustice. I’m assuming here that your wife didn’t catch you in an affair, that you didn’t beat her, etc. but rather this is the more ordinary case of divorce without due cause.
For Christian men (though not necessarily other men), I see a great tendency for them to find ways to end up blaming themselves for the divorce even when their wife divorces them against their will. A lot of today’s Protestant theology holds men responsible for anything that happens in the home, even the things his wife or children do, so this is in line with various teachings.
When something like your wife divorcing you happens, it’s natural to ask ourselves, “What could I have done differently?” As we are all sinners, it’s always very easy for us to find many bad traits and bad actions in ourselves, which we can then blame for what has happened to us.
This is compounded by Christianity’s stress on forgiveness. Especially today this can be stressed to the practical exclusion of justice. Many others have already written about how the command to forgive has been used to deny justice in cases of abuse in the church, for example.
While we should certainly always look to identify and correct our own mistakes and wrongs, and while we are commanded to forgive, those things do not justify someone else committing a crime, act of abuse, or other injustice against us. Full stop.
While how you act towards her and navigate the divorce process is your decision, it’s important to be clear to yourself that her actions are wrong and are an evil committed against you (and your children if you have them).
Just as your can’t love your enemy until you first acknowledge that he is your enemy, you can’t forgive someone who’s wronged you unless you first acknowledge the full scope of the evil that was done.