By Dr. John Schinnerer
I have counseled and coached men for over 20 years. Nothing cuts a man down at the knees more than slogging through a divorce. I’m assuming you are interested in this topic as you are going through, recovering from, or considering going through a divorce. For whatever reason, she does not want to be with you; you don’t want to be with her; or you have agreed to mutually part ways. Regardless, divorce is a taxing, tiring and draining process for most.
I started working with men around the issue of divorce following my own divorce in 2010. Upon looking online for resources for men going through divorce, I found that there were no high quality, science-driven resources. There were a few people out there writing about their experience and offering their thoughts on what helps. I was looking for research-backed suggestions on what works and what doesn’t in a variety of areas – managing depression, stopping thoughts of failure, creating new friendships, regaining my confidence, when I would regain my energy and motivation, getting back into the dating pool, coparenting advice, mediation vs. litigation and much, much more. Since that time, I have guided numerous men through their divorces. And now that I have some distance from my own divorce, I have put together a program to support divorced men. I’ve attempted to lay out many of the more valuable tips and advice which served me on my path from tragedy to triumph.
In my opinion, the legal system is still relatively biased against men. Lawyers, judges and social workers are more than likely to assume
- that mothers ought to be the primary custodial parents,
- that men accused of abuse must be guilty,
- that men alleging abuse are lying or exaggerating,
- that women are not as capable as men of earning money and
- that men are less deserving of assets earned by a woman than the other way around.
While it is possible to even out these longstanding biases and get a favorable outcome, you must begin to learn the ins and outs of the process. The tips below will be of massive help to you to gain your own favorable outcome in your divorce.
Disclaimer: Please note that I hold the sanctity of marriage in the highest regard. This advice is meant to give you things to ponder while you maneuver through the maze that is divorce. It is meant to provide some sign posts and guard rails to ease your journey. It is not meant to replace counseling or coaching from a trained professional. While I trust these nuggets will serve you to make better divorce decisions, I cannot be held liable for any undesirable actions or outcomes which may arise if you mistakenly apply these tips to your own life. This information is shared with the understanding that I am not giving financial, investment, legal, or tax advice. The advice below is based on real-world examples from my own divorce and those of my clients. For specific advice on your situation, please contact a qualified professional in the area of coaching, counseling, law, tax or finance.
- Keep the faith. First, a word of encouragement. Depending upon where you are in the divorce process, please remember that you will survive this. Write it down on a post it and put in on the bathroom mirror – “I will get through this. I will be happy again. My children will be fine.” Repeat these lines as your new mantra several times a day. Divorce is not insurmountable. This is NOT the end of your life. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. AND, this is the beginning of the next chapter of your life. In the vast majority of cases that I’ve guided men through, the second chapter is much, much more enjoyable than the first one.
- Emotional triage. Just like a first aid kit for minor injuries, you need a first aid kit for your emotional pain upon separation. This is known as emotional triage. When a relationship ends, the mind overfocuses on the question, “Why?” So the first step is to come up with an answer to the question, “Why?” Unfortunately, your ex may not be of a mind to share any such information with you. That’s ok. You don’t need THE answer. You need AN answer. It doesn’t even need to be 100% correct. You’re just looking for an answer to satisfy your questioning mind and allow you to sleep at night. To this end, come up with your own answer. Perhaps it was poor communication. It could have been her growing contempt over your lack of career advancement. Maybe it was her depression. Perhaps it was a lack of intimacy. Maybe it was that you two simply weren’t a good fit. Remember – good marriages don’t end in divorce. The specific answer is less important than coming up with an answer. Per Susan Winter, a relationship expert, “the cure to emotional pain is mental.” Thoughts lead to emotions. It is how we think about the divorce that dictates how we feel about it. If you think, “I’m a failure as a husband” or “I’m unlovable” you will feel worse. If you think, “my wife and I had a great run and it didn’t work out” or “we weren’t a good fit” you will grieve less about the separation. Second, avoid the obsessive cycle. Stay away from Facebook. Don’t stalk them to find out what your ex is doing, who they’re dating, and what they are doing with the children. Unfriend your ex on Facebook. You don’t want to see their current photos. Don’t look at old wedding photos or vacation photos. Distract yourself. Hang out with friends. Work out. Live your own life. Flip the switch that powers the attentional flashlight that shines on your ex-wife. Dive back into life. At every chance, you want to separate yourself from your ex. When you do run into them, realize that it will activate your negative emotions once again. That’s normal. Simply be aware. Take a deep breath. Be polite and excuse yourself as quickly as possible.
- Back to basics. Going through divorce is a stress marathon. You need to be in the best possible physical and mental shape for the race. No matter where you are right now physically, make a conscious choice right this instant to put good self-care at the top of your list. This means eating well. Stop eating out every meal. Learn simple, healthy meals that you can cook at home. Youtube is great for this.
- Stay in the house. One of the biggest mistakes men make when facing a divorce is that they tend to be the ones who agree to leave the house, apartment or condo. Don’t do it! I did this in an attempt to be flexible and accommodating, and it was used against me. This is the most frequent and largest mistake men make when divorcing. When you move out, you will see your children less frequently. You hand over control to when you see your children to your ex. She now has the reins. Your divorce will be more expensive than if you remain in the home. If you don’t have any current legal proceedings dictating that you cannot be in the house, go back. Move back into your house. Now. Otherwise, she will later argue that you don’t care about the children because you are not around and don’t see them frequently enough. Of course, if there is emotional or physical abuse taking place, then leaving may be the only option. Here’s how it generally goes… the man moves out of the house in an attempt to do what is right. Then you open yourself up to being painted as the “absent father” who has little regard for his children. You become the guy who “moved out and left the family.” Divorce is finalized in one of two manners – a settlement that is agreed upon out of court or you go to court to let a judge decide things for you. If you go the first route, good for you! If not, you are legally obligated to adhere to the conclusions of the judge. When you move out, you usually are out of the loop of the daily schedules of your children. You immediately weaken all arguments that you should be the parent with primary custody of the kids. Next, while you are out of the house, the attorneys will decide on a temporary order. These temporary orders are extremely important as it sets the expectations and framework for everything that comes later. And the usual argument is “The temporary order seems to be working fine as it is. The kids seem to be doing well. Why change it?” Further, staying in the home makes good financial sense. You are maintaining one household rather than two. In my divorce, my ex stopped paying the mortgage after I moved out. This destroyed both our credit ratings but she got to stay there for free for nearly a year. And I was unable to do anything about it. Finally, when you move out, you leave behind your possessions. When and if you move out, go through every room with a video camera and record the items. Be sure to get copies of all the financial documents.
- Exercise again. Good self-care means getting back to the gym. A workout regimen is critical. If you are not currently exercising, start small: A 5-minute walk. Every three days, add 5 minutes to the walk. When you get to 30 minutes of walking, add a few minutes of jogging to the routine. Start with cardio and, when you are able, add weights. Get a weight bench for the garage and begin lifting light weights. Need motivation? Biceps are key for meeting cute women which you will want to do down the line. Prior to my divorce, I had never lifted weights. I was too embarrassed to go to a gym. So I got a used weight bench off Craig’s List. I started doing bicep curls in my garage with 15 lb. weights. 5 years later, I’m in the gym 4 times a week and can curl 75 pounds. Start small. Build over time. You will be pleased with the results.
- Relaxation ritual. Good self-care also involves a regular routine to clear your physiology of all stress. Part of this might be aerobic exercise. Part of it might be weight lifting. Those are necessary but not sufficient for divorce-level stress. Start a morning ritual which includes mindfulness, or TM meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga. You will need a way to calm the mind, the heart and the body. The better you get at allowing stress to pass through you, rather than hold onto it, the better prepared you are for the divorce marathon. If you are in a contentious divorce, this advice is key as divorces that wind up in litigation are largely a battle of attrition in which the one who can manage their stress better wins. There is an app in the iTunes store called Meditation ($3.99) which I really like for introducing new clients to meditation. The meditations are brief (2 – 11 min.) and high quality.
- Rest easy. Sleep is instrumental in managing emotion, clarity of thought, and energy level. Depending upon where you are in the divorce process, your sleep is likely to be restless. Get back to sleep basics. Darken your room. Keep the temperature in your room cool. Put away your electronics one hour before bedtime. Drink something soothing one hour before bed (e.g., sleepy time tea). Limit your alcohol consumption. Read some inspirational literature. Keep your bedtime consistent every day of the week. Listen to a relaxation app before bed (note: there are several in the Meditation app).
- Study, study, study. Read some balanced books on divorce and mediation such as Putting Children First or Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life. If you have an ex whom you suspect of truly having a personality disorder (e.g., narcissistic, borderline, sociopathic), the best book I’ve read is Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Make a commitment to getting through your divorce without bitterness and anger. Join a men’s divorce group. Or if you prefer video, check out an online video course for divorce for men such as that at DivorceSupport4Men.com. If you prefer a workshop, look for divorce bootcamps, preferably run by men who have been through divorce themselves. Don’t waste your time and energy looking for things that help pin the blame for the divorce on her.
- Up your game. One adage that carries a lot of truth is from George Herbert who wrote, ‘Living well is the best revenge.’ The only thing you have control over in divorce is you – your thoughts, your feelings, your actions. Focus on you. Up your game. Get a shave. Get a sharp haircut. Tune in to those random, inch-long, curly hairs in your eyebrows, nose and ears and trim that nasty shit! Have a female friend shave your back (seriously!). Get a couple new colognes and wear them daily (but only 1 or 2 squirts guys. Cologne is meant to be gently discovered by others. It is not meant to assault others’ nasal passages!). Go out with a friend who has some style and pick up some new clothes, a sharp hat, tight shoes and some men’s bracelets. The idea is to pick up some new items for your wardrobe that put a hop in your step and a boost in your confidence. Push slightly out of the comfort zone of what you’d normally wear. Slowly recover your swagger.
- Stop social media. When I went through my divorce, I ceased most social media. If I needed to post anything, it had to be positive and unrelated to the divorce. Keep in mind that everything you post online can be used against you in a court of law forever – photos of new girlfriends, proof of income, expensive vacations, new purchases, or embarrassing the ex. It is far better to write it down privately and dispose of it in an industrial-strength shredder.
- Boost your mood. Be curious about what boosts your emotional state at this phase of your life. You might make a playlist of your favorite songs that inspire, uplift or get you dancing. You might start a library of funny movies and stand up comedians. You might take a hike in nature regularly. Check out some live music. Go to the gym. Go with a friend to the shooting range. Visit the beach. Go to a piano bar and sing with the entire bar. Pick up a new hobby. Play an instrument. Take an online course. Learn to salsa dance (a great way to meet women). Visit some comedy clubs with friends. This is an excellent opportunity to get back to basics. Take advantage of it.
- Hold tightly onto core values. Discover or re-discover your core values and clutch them tightly to your chest. Whether your core values are integrity, courage, wisdom, pursuit of wealth, or a spiritual life, remind yourself of them several times a day. Write them on a post-it and put them all over your bathroom mirror. Put a 3×5 card of them in your wallet. Refer back to them when you begin to get emotionally triggered and ask yourself, “Is this how a man of integrity [or other value] would act?” If you need help figuring out your values, check out this one page exercise outlining the top 36 values that exist worldwide.
- Seek professional support. Everyone going through a divorce should have a professional to guide them along the way. This is usually a coach or therapist who specializes in divorce-related issues. The individual guiding you should not be connected to you or the family in any way. They need to be objective. A divorce support group for men is an excellent way to get high quality professional support at a lower rate than individual therapy (but I’m biased!). While going through divorce, stress, emotion and fatigue are quite high. This means you are operating at a deficit in terms of rational thought. Chronic stress leads to impaired memory, irritability, trouble sleeping (either too much or too little), slower performance at work, and intrusive thoughts. Thus, you are not your normal self. That’s ok. You simply need to ensure you have the proper support around you to look after your best interests.
- The Dirty Secret of Abuse. When I was 20, I backpacked through Europe, staying at hostels along the way. In one hostel, I met a guy, a big guy. He was about 25 years old, 6’4”, 250 pounds and cut like a brick shit house. He could have crushed me. We sat talking for almost an hour. And he shared with me that his wife, who was 5’0” and 100 pounds, was physically abusive to him. She would go out drinking by herself. When she returned home, she would rage at him, throw things and hit him. I was shocked. It was the first time I had ever heard of a man being abused by a woman and the first time I had ever thought of someone physically smaller abusing someone larger and stronger. Since then, I’ve discovered that it happens. Men can be abused by their wives. In fact, the stats say that 1 in 3 who suffer abuse are men. That’s 33%! Physical abuse might include hitting, biting, weapon use, harming pets or destroying things. Emotional abuse includes extreme mood swings, constant anger or displeasure, withholding sex, name calling and public humiliation. Don’t let shame keep you quiet. There are a number of resources for you. Be prepared for an difficult battle in convincing others, however. To begin, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), The National Domestic Violence Hotline which is available 24/7. If you are being abused, first, get out of the house. Go to a safe place where you know you and your children, if any, will be safe. If you have kids, this may help you in your divorce and in your custody case. Police are under a legal obligation to protect children in cases of potential abuse. Don’t respond to her abusive behavior. If you allow her to incite you into reacting, she may call the police and claim you abused her. This can get you arrested. Most importantly, gather evidence of her abusive behavior in a safe place. Take photos of any injuries. Record violent incidents if possible to do so safely and discreetly. Report all incidents to the police. Maintain a journal noting down each incident and any people who witnessed it. When a restraining order or other legal action becomes necessary, such evidence will help you succeed. It will be a journey to heal the emotional damage from these experiences, so find a therapist with whom you are comfortable to help guide your healing.
- Know the warning signs. If you find yourself drinking to excess, taking other drugs, having trouble sleeping, sleeping too much, eating too little or too much, feeling depressed or hopeless, having suicidal thoughts, hiding away in your home, or being overcome by anxiety, make an appointment today with your primary care physician or a qualified psychologist or therapist. Let them know on the phone, when you make the appointment, that you are having thoughts of hurting yourself (if that’s the case). They should see you immediately (or find someone who can).
- Watch the booze and drugs. While I’m not opposed to relaxing with a drink now and then, divorce can often lead to an increase in drug and alcohol usage. Be aware of your usage. You don’t want to walk through the motions of a divorce in a drug-induced haze (although it may feel desirable at times). In the long run, it’s a bad strategy as it causes more problems than it solves. If you are drinking on your own, or if you are drinking more than two drinks a day, it’s time to see someone to get some honest feedback. And be careful about rationalizations too. “I only have two drinks a day!” And those two drinks are 2 16 oz. tumblers of 8 shots of Jack Daniels and Coke. That’s not gonna work! Also, watch out for increases in marijuana and hash use. And be very tuned into increases in your prescription pill use. You do not want to lose time with your children because her lawyer gets proof that your Xanax usage has doubled in the past 6 months, or gets photos of you hitting a 3 foot bong in the backyard. If the only way you can relax is through using drugs and/or booze, you need to seek out help. Be smart. Use moderation.
- Let’s talk about failure. When I went through my divorce, I was besieged by thoughts of failure; “I’ve failed as a father. I’ve failed as a man. I’ve failed as a husband.” Bullshit. I didn’t fail. The relationship failed. Sure, there were some things I may have done better. All of the men with whom I’ve spoken have had similar thoughts. So understand that these thoughts and feelings are NORMAL and are simply part of the process. They are not true. The mind just spits out random thoughts. These are normal thoughts that people hear at the end of a marriage. But they are not true. You are not a failure. You’re just going through a challenging time. Challenge these thoughts when you hear them. “I’m a failure. No that’s not true. I’M not a failure. My marriage just didn’t work out. I’m still a good person and a good father.”
- Grieving Process. When you end a significant relationship, it is a death of sorts. Just as when a loved one dies, you will encounter grief throughout your divorce. Grief is typically experienced as alternating waves of anger and sadness. These waves are big and intense at first. Over time, they will subside and visit you less often. This grieving process is normal. Nothing is wrong with you. You are not going crazy. You are having a normal response to an abnormal situation. As you go through these waves, practice kindness towards yourself. Give yourself room to feel the anger and sadness. Allow room to sit with them. You don’t need to DO anything about them. This is a much more effective approach than stuffing and ignoring them. When you are in the ocean, you cannot stop the waves but you can learn to surf them.
- Make honesty your default. If you are unlucky enough to get pulled into litigation, everything you say and do will be examined and questioned – from drinking behavior to lifestyle to parenting to earning potential. However, when you default to honest answers throughout the process, you will be golden in court because her attorney will have a hard time attacking your integrity on topics such as child-rearing, finances, work ethic and commitment to family. In divorce, your best strategy is to be honest (assuming you’ve led a relatively upstanding life prior to the separation). This frequently pays off as the judge learns to place more trust in you and, ultimately, rule more in your favor.
- No diarrhea of the mouth. Stop confiding in your ex right now. When I was growing up, my dad had a saying about folks who talked incessantly without a point – they had “diarrhea of the mouth.” Communicating with your ex is far worse than speaking without a point. There are times anger rears up and you can hurt yourself with an angry text, email or phone call. When those moments come up, simply ask yourself, “Is this the diarrhea of the mouth Dr. John was talking about?” If so, stop. Shut up. Put the phone down. Step away from the computer. Wait. Let the anger pass. Be calm, cool and pragmatic. You will solve nothing by raging at your ex. And you are likely to give her more ammo for child custody, mediation or litigation. When you are in a contentious divorce, everything you share with friends and family has a way of making it back to your ex, and then to her attorney and it will be used against you. Instead, remind yourself, “This is merely a business deal.” Take a deep breath. And let me repeat this because it is vitally important…Put the phone down. Step away from the computer. Wait. Let the anger pass. Be calm, cool and pragmatic. Rest assured, angry communications will come back to bite you in the ass if you go to court. Instead of venting to her, set up a text relationship with a friend in which you can send those flamers to him instead of the ex. DivorceSupport4Men.com offers an invaluable service by which you can send angry texts and emails to them first for objective feedback and screening. This service alone might save you thousands of dollars.
- Get off social media. While I mentioned this above in the Separation section, it bears repeating. Another mistake men make during divorce is sharing too much information on the web – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, Match.com, YouTube to name some of the biggest problem areas. The sites you visit and what you post on them tells a powerful story about you as an individual and perhaps as a father. And that story can be damning in court as it can all be printed out and used against you. The general rule of thumb I used during the three years I was in litigation was to only post positive things online and nothing about the family or the divorce. This included article I wrote, sayings and inspirational items. I never posted about my personal life. I never put up anything derogatory about my ex. I never put up any items having to do with the children. Now that my divorce is finalized I post about trips I’ve been on and concerts I’ve attended. However, when you are in the thick of it, this info will be used against you. For example, you might set yourself up for arguments such as “Your honor, he has been dating since before date of separation.” Or “Obviously he has extra disposable income as he just went on a trip to Paris.” Be smart. Stay off the social media sites or just keep it vague and positive. Nothing specific.
- Rekindle old friendships. Many of the men I’ve worked with have shown a similar pattern. They get busy with work. They get busy with the family. And they don’t put much energy into maintaining old friendships. Then they are too embarrassed to reach out when the marriage goes south. Make a point to reach out to one old friend a day. This is easier than ever with the internet, text, email and Facebook. Trust me, your friends will be happy to hear from you! They have missed you.
- Get out of your cave. Most men going through divorce get numb, hopeless, irritable, and bummed out. This is the male version of the grieving process. And it often can cause men to isolate themselves – to withdraw to their caves to lick their wounds and heal. While there is a time for this, push yourself to be social frequently. Being around others lifts your spirits and distracts you from the problems at hand. The longer you stay ensconced in your cave, the longer you will stay in a funk. Remember, the opposite of depression is not happiness. It is hope. And hope is far more powerful than you ever dreamt. Hope can be reignited with the realization that it’s merely a three step process. Step 1 – Decide on a goal (e.g., new place to live, start dating, get back to gym, drink less, etc.). Step 2 – Know the path to the goal (e.g., compare gyms, call a gym, sign up, set a date to first go to gym, sign up with personal trainer). Step 3 – believe you can get to the goal. When hope breaks down, you can check in with each of these steps to find and eliminate the breakdown. The ultimate goals are for you to emerge from this challenging situation with a) better physical health, b) more friendships, c) more hope and energy, d) a greater awareness of your own resiliency, e) emotionally fit, f) improved relationships with your kids, g) financially fit and h) the return of your mojo.
- Fix up your new cave. A man’s home is his castle and your new digs are no exception. When you do finally move out of your old house, put some time, money and effort into fixing up your new place so that it appeals to you, your children and potential dates. Put up framed photos of you and the children, vacations and nature scenes on the walls. Putting photos, decorations and art on the walls goes a long way towards making a house feel like a home. Get some comfortable, stylish furniture. Get a comfortable mattress with top shelf bedding (high thread count sheets and matching pillow cases, comforter and duvet cover) for your bedroom. Set up cool bedrooms for the kids. Use this as an excuse to do a project together. Get their input. Go shopping for new bedroom items with them. Paint the room together. Then, have a female friend, who has some style and taste, come over and offer suggestions.
- Be open to receiving help. This one is hard for every man with whom I’ve ever spoken. We men seem to struggle with allowing others to help, and, more specifically, asking for help when we need it most. This is likely the most challenging time of your life. I strongly urge you to put aside your discomfort (that’s all it is!) and allow friends and family to help you during this trying time. Please! If your friend is willing to come over and help you move furniture, accept and say “Thank you so much.” If your mom wants to bring over dinners to put in the freezer, accept and say “Thanks mom, you’re a life saver.” You can always pay it back when you are back on your feet. For now, be humble enough to accept the kindness of others. After all, by allowing them to assist you, they feel better about themselves. So if you need to reframe it, consider that you are helping them to feel better by allowing their altruism.
- Don’t think you can do this alone. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen men make is trying to go through a divorce by themselves. This is not a time to isolate. This is not a time to be proud. This is not about how strong you are. This is about taking care of yourself at a highly challenging time. Reach out to friends and family. Accept assistance. Surround yourself with others for support.
- Dealing with old items from marriage. A question which I am often asked is “What do I do with wedding album, photos of me and my ex, wedding gifts, engraved items and so on?” Do not go through these items immediately after separating. There is too much emotional charge present and they will trigger you. Simply box them all up and store them in the garage. Roughly one year after your divorce has been finalized, go through the box(es). At that time, you will have a better idea which items you want to donate, throw out or keep. Tip: If you have nice frames housing wedding photos, take the photos out and keep the frames for re-use.
Parenting and Children
- Make the children your top priority. This one is absolutely critical. Modify your schedule to make yourself as available as humanly possible for your children. Attend little league games, teacher conferences, music lessons, sports practices, doctor appointments and their friends’ birthday parties. If you’re not already instrumental in the lives of your children, become integral. If you are incredibly involved, become more so. Do you know what they like for meals? Can you cook those meals? When do they go to bed? What’s their favorite book to read at night? Who are their friends? What subjects do they like at school? Becoming more involved makes good sense on multiple levels. You will become a better dad. You will get closer to your kids. You will become more attractive for your future significant other. You are more likely to do well regarding custody. Keep a log of all you are doing with the children. Logs are strong proof in court. Worry less about her parenting. That is out of your control. Focus on being the best father you can be.
- Reassure the kids. As often as you can, reassure your children that the divorce has nothing to do with them. Let them know that mom and dad will always love them very much. Tell them that your time with them will not change and, if anything, they will be seeing more of you (if true). If you have children over the age of 14, they may have a voice in custody issues – where they want to live and how often they will see each parent.
- Listen to the kids. Talk to them often. Listen to their needs, their feelings and the fears. Listen without judgment. The divorce is not their fault. They are simply looking for a way through this challenge. Reflect back their feelings. “It sounds like you are upset/scared/nervous/worried. Is that right?” And then be quiet. Allow them the space to talk. Hold onto your hurt and anger and share that with a therapist or friend.
- Talk up your ex to the kids. This one is hard as hell yet very necessary. Your ex is always going to be the mother of your children. Simply because the two of you could not make it work, does not detract from this fact. You owe it to your children to put aside your anger and grief to be supportive of your ex in front of the kids. The person you married is going to be the same person you divorce. They will not change. So the same things that annoyed you about them during your marriage will still arise when you are divorced. If you didn’t like parts of their parenting then, you won’t now. Understand what you can control and what you cannot. You cannot control how your ex parents when the children are at her house. You cannot control whom your ex brings around the children. You can’t control when she brings others around. Your emotional management skills will be tested. When your ex starts dating a guy in a biker gang with tattoos, you will likely get triggered. Talk to a friend or a therapist. Practice finding the silver lining in everything your ex does and says. So when she introduces the biker to the children, and the kids tell you about it, respond as positively as you can, “Wow. That sounds exciting. I’ll bet you can learn some things from him that I can’t teach you.” Always find the silver lining…as difficult as it is.
- Dating sites while in litigation. If you are on dating sites, be honest in your profile. I’ve had clients who have lied on dating sites, such as Match, PlentyOfFish, or The League, and it’s been used against them. For example, if you write in your profile that you are childless when you have children, it supports the argument that you are distancing yourself from the kids, you aren’t a worthy father or you don’t want the children that much. If you post photos of yourself with expensive toys, it fuels the argument that you have more money that you could be putting up for child support and alimony. Remember, the toys don’t have to be yours. Everything is open to interpretation. And you have to ask yourself, “What is the worst possible way this photo (or text) might be interpreted?” As that is precisely how your ex’s lawyer will use it. And all the lawyer needs to do is raise the possibility of the wrong interpretation in the mind of the judge. On the flip side, pay attention to your user name. It’s important. Make it stand out and accentuate something about you – intelligence, fun, humor, sexiness, athleticism and so on. Use words that are associated with attraction, playfulness and intelligence (e.g., hot, smart, wise, funny, lover, manly). Do not use words that have negative connotations (e.g., little, limp, weak, small). If possible, start your username with a letter that is early in the alphabet as search engines will present based on alphabetical order.
- Dating sites when divorce is final. Once your divorce is final, your online dating strategy loosens up significantly. At that point, you can focus on proven strategies that work better to find someone new. Here are a few suggestions to get you going. Post high quality photos. Get a professional photographer to take some business-type headshots and some casual, relaxed photos (perhaps of you in jeans and a while button down shirt in a natural setting). Add photos of you out having fun with friends. Take selfies with friends at concerts, sporting events, comedy clubs, and doing physical activities like hiking. It’s important to show that you have friends. It’s better to show yourself with some hot female friends (ideally, women who are smiling at you) as it demonstrates your desirability. Show a genuine smile, one where the corners of your eyes crinkle (This becomes easier, the further you get from the divorce!). A slight tilt of the head has also been shown to be more effective. The color red is subconsciously viewed as passion and gets the heart rate up. Adding red to the photo in clothing or background is associated with greater response rates. When writing your profile, be honest. Too many people lie on dating site profiles – taller, thinner, younger, or wealthier. You do not want to start off a new relationship based on dishonesty. Period. If they don’t like you for you, forget them. Move on. There are hundreds of people for you. You just need to find them. I frequently hear from my male clients, “All the women out there are looking for one thing – money.” While that may be true that some women are looking for a knight in shining armor to come rescue them financially, not all of them are. When a woman tells you that you don’t make enough $, or that she is looking for someone wealthy, simply thank her for that valuable information and be on your way. You don’t want to be with someone like that anyway. She just did you a huge favor. Finally, do some research into the most popular profiles on Match or other sites. Do a search online for “best online dating profiles” and do some reading there. Put some work into writing your profile. Studies show that a combination of writing about yourself along with the attributes you are looking for in a women is most effective (i.e. specifically at a ratio of 70:30!). Women prefer men who exhibit adventurousness, courage and a willingness to take risks. Think about the ways in which you can differentiate yourself from other daters. (e.g., humor, education, passions, hobbies, or cool stories). Experiment. Join a few different sites and try out different types of profiles – humorous, sexy, poetic, straightforward, long and short. Track which profiles get you the best results. See which profiles lead to more winks, first dates and responses. If you are having trouble with your profile, or getting interest from women, be sure to run it by a (preferably female) friend for feedback. You can also use a service offered by a group like DivorceSupport3Men.com which reviews dating profiles to maximize their effectiveness.
- Beginning the conversation. When you find someone whom you would like to talk to, simply send one brief, positive remark to them. The comment should directly address either a character trait (which you have gleaned through their profile indicating you have read their profile!) or one of their photos. Don’t go overboard with your praise. Keep it realistic. Women are suspicious when you are overly effusive. It raises suspicion about your motives and can make you come across as smarmy and disingenuous. You can also try working in a rhyme with their user name as rhyming has been shown to be appealing to us at a subconscious level. Once you have sent the initial comment, wait. There are three options. First, she may ignore your comment. Second, she may respond with a variation of “No thank you. I’m not interested.” If you get this response, please respond with “I understand completely. Best of luck in your dating!” Do not attack her in anger. I’ve seen too many men do this. It makes all of us look bad. Third, she may respond with interest and curiosity. When a woman responds with interest, ask her one open-ended question to start a conversation. “What did you like about my profile?” Or “What do you like to do for fun?” Quick responses are desirable on your part. I don’t recommend making her wait as a strategy. The more you can be witty and funny, the better. Play around with it. The better you get at this, the more successful you will be at dating. It has a powerful subconscious effect in that it makes women imagine laughing and being in a good mood with you in the future. Gradually reveal honest, personal info to her. And ask questions about her of a similar nature. While some women may shy off of this, studies show that the better we know each other’s personal trivia, the more likely the relationship will be successful long term. Research indicates that we are most attracted to someone initially when we are somewhat uncertain of whether they like us a little or a lot. So please don’t be the guy who tells his woman “I love you” after the third date. You are shooting yourself in the foot when you do so. Winks and impersonal messages (that could be going to anyone) are not typically successful. Women want to feel special. Make the women you contact believe they unique and valued. Concerned about being deceived by the women you date? A good idea is to save early communications so that you can compare it with later conversations to see how consistent they are. With the right woman, this increases your level of confidence in her degree of honesty and integrity. Ask to meet early rather than later. Two days to three weeks of digital communication is best (depending on how much communication you’ve had and how well it’s gone). Waiting over three weeks usually will work against you. I’m dating an amazing woman right now. We’ve been together over a year. I asked her to go out for coffee the same day I began texting her. She couldn’t make that work, but we got together two days later for a lunch date.
- Manage your excitement. Many men get very excited and/or nervous when in the early stages of courtship. They make contact with a cute woman on a dating site (or elsewhere). They begin messaging via the dating site. They make the jump to email and/or texting. They go out on one date. Then, they get too damn excited and do something stupid like offer to get off all dating sites! Don’t be this guy. Do not overplay your hand. Yes, you are excited to be talking. Be authentic. Feel free to express interest in her. But, by all that is good and holy, don’t shoot yourself in the crotch by telling her you are in love after one date, or saying you want to be exclusive after a week. New rules. New world. This is adult dating. Most people are actively dating several people simultaneously. You need to be also. Why? It increases your perceived desirability when you do meet that one special woman. It provides a needed distraction which lessens the pain you feel when a woman tells you it isn’t a match for her. You will overcome your jealousy. And you will learn a tremendous amount from every woman whom you date. So be cool. Breathe deeply. And manage your excitement.
- First dates. When you arrange a first date, make it short, simple and sweet. After doing a lot of dating when I was first divorced, I resolved to only meet women for coffee or a drink. This keeps it to roughly an hour. It keeps my costs low. And it provides you with an automatic out if it’s not a good match (which most will be!). If you like them, set another time to meet. Good, inexpensive dates include hikes, picnics at a local park, free concerts, used book stores, flea markets, planetariums, dog parks with the dogs, cooking class, ice cream, street festival, rock climbing, bowling, or a painting class. Keep the early dates to public places to reassure her safety needs. While on your date, you will score more points with her by agreeing with things she dislikes than things she likes. Positive gossip about others is good but beware of complaining too much about your ex or women in general (I’ve seen it happen!). Don’t sweat any mistakes you make. Mistakes are far more noticeable to ourselves than others. So if you make a mistake in conversation, or trip over a word, ignore it and continue as if nothing happened or make a joke of it. For example, “I apologize, my tongue keeps tripping over my lips” and smile. Be wary of presenting yourself as overly perfect. If you feel you are doing so, you can share a story about an embarrassing moment you have had in the past. This usually comes across as endearing and self-effacing.
- Don’t marry the first one. Maintain perspective when you first start dating. Do NOT marry the first one out of the gate. Be cautious when you first start to date after your divorce. The natural tendency is to overcompensate and find the exact opposite of your ex. For example, if your ex is controlling, you find someone very passive and agreeable. The first serious relationship you have following your divorce is known as the “waffle” because she is waffled between your ex and your next real, fulfilling relationship. Do not settle for the first person you find who likes you. This woman will likely be better on many fronts as compared to your ex. But in most cases, she is not the pinnacle for you. There will be better relationships. Don’t marry the first one!
- Have an exit strategy for unsatisfying relationships. If you cut your finger, you know what to do. Clean the wound. Bandage it. If you need to get out of a so-so romantic relationship, you need to know what to do as well. Yet, few of us know how to break up wisely and kindly. We suck at break ups. If you wait until the relational shit hits the fan, when you are overcome with emotion, you are toast. So you need to prep for the break up ahead of time. The first goal is to stop the emotional bleeding. The mind and heart want a reason, an answer to the heart-broken question, “But why?” Come up with a temporary reason. “She can’t commit.” “We weren’t a good fit.” “I loved her much more than she loved me.” Stop the bleeding. You can always go back and look for a deeper, more accurate answer when you are calmer later on. I mentioned this idea earlier but it is so critically important it bears repeating. Susan Winter, a best-selling author said, “the cure to emotional pain is mental,” that is thinking. It is our thoughts which lead to our emotions. It is how we think about the break up that leads to how we feel about the end of the relationship. If you think, “nobody loves me” or “I’m unlovable” you will feel more depressed. If you think, “we gave it our best shot and it didn’t work out” or “the relationship wasn’t the right fit” you will feel better about the end of things. Second, stay off the obsessive cycle. Avoid Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Don’t sleuth around to find out what your ex is doing, who they’re with, how they are spending their time. Unfriend your ex on Facebook. You don’t want to see their current photos. Don’t look at old photos of the two of you. Stop replaying past videos in your mind. Distract yourself. Hang out with friends. Work out. Live your own life. The goal is to use your mental discipline to keep your mind off of your ex. Turn off the switch that powers the attentional light which shines on your ex. Re-immerse yourself in life. Dive in. At every chance, you want to separate yourself from your ex. When you do run into them, it will activate your emotions again. That is normal. Be aware. Breathe. Say “hi” and excuse yourself as soon as you can.
- Know what you want. This is absolutely critical for your future happiness. Know what you want in a partner. To find a true love (yes, there is more than one out there for you!), get crystal clear on what traits you want in a significant other. Are you looking for someone who is honest? Emotionally aware? Sexy? Fit? Good sense of humor? Kind? Supportive? Someone who wants to travel? Values physical touch? Empathic? Assertive? Successful career? Make a list of your top ten attributes. Make another list of deal killers. These are attributes which instantly tell you this is not the right person for you. For example, if you want someone who doesn’t want any more children. If you meet someone who must have a child, this may be a deal killer for you. Share your lists early with the women you are dating. Better to be up front and eliminate those who you find wanting than getting attached and then having to break it off down the road.
- Know what you need. Do you know what you need in a relationship? Are you comfortable asking for it? This is surprisingly difficult for most people. Basic human needs such as appreciation, respect, honesty, trust, safety, touch, sex, security, love, interdependence and laughter are met within relationships. The most important relationship is often your significant other (children and parents notwithstanding!). As a case in point, if you don’t feel safe and secure within a relationship, we now know that you have eliminated 50% of the positive emotions which you can feel with that person. Safety and security are necessary precursors for the existence of many positive emotions. Start to think about what your needs are, and jot them down, so that when you get into a relationship, you are comfortable asking for those needs to be met.
- Planning on having sex? Before you open yourself to the idea of having sex with a new partner, be sure to get tested for STDs. Simply go to your general doctor, and let him/her know that you are starting to date again. Ask to have a blood test to check for any sexually transmitted diseases. STDs are a topic you have to be aware of and willing to discuss with any potential partners before you have sex! Have another STD test done every six months. Keep the results so, if necessary, you can share them with partners. On the other side, don’t take anyone’s word that they are STD-free. Some people are motivated to keep STDs a secret until it’s too late. Always use protection unless you have proof she is STD-free. Wrap it up!
- When to introduce a lady to the kids. My general rule of thumb is to date a new lady for six months before you introduce her to your children. Why? Because you want to make sure that she is someone who is worthy of inserting into your children’s’ lives. Don’t be the guy who is rotating women through your bedroom while your children roll their eyes and say, “Dad’s got a new one this week!” When you introduce a girlfriend to your kids, ideally they will get attached to her. They will like her at first and hopefully will come to love her over time. It’s emotionally difficult for them if such a person is suddenly ripped from their lives because the two of you break up. Be aware of the emotional impact of your dating on your kids. If you are going to introduce your children to your girlfriend, make sure she is worthy of a long-term relationship.
- Forgive your friends. When you change, when you go through a divorce, some friends will stay with you. Some will not. That’s ok. Divorce makes many people, particularly married people, highly uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say or how to act. Some friends will chose to support your ex. Some people will hold on to an old story, or even a false story, about you. That’s ok. And it’s ok to miss them. The loss of friendships, especially for men is one of the most difficult facets of divorce. Give yourself room to mourn those losses. And be grateful for those friends who stick with you – even if they don’t know exactly what to say. I’ve found that divorce makes everyone uncomfortable. Give your friends room to be uncomfortable. That’s ok.
- Shatter old, ineffective frameworks. One of the greatest ways that we learn is through post-traumatic growth. There is a reason you are going through this pain and suffering. The reason is to fuel your desire to evolve into the best possible version of You. The impetus provided by a traumatic situation, such as divorce, may be used to fuel immense personal development. A radical shattering of your framework, the lens through which you see the world, forces you to rebuild a new lens. This is a massive opportunity. So along with processing issues around depression, anger, communication and parenting, a professional can assist you in identifying harmful patterns from your past relationships – patterns which you do not want to carry over into your next relationship. And even if you are of the opinion that you will never, ever, ever be in a relationship again, it’s still a good idea to unearth those patterns and create new, healthier ones. Believe me, at some point, you will be interested in dating again. Sex, intimacy and touch have an inexorable pull that way. This is one of the biggest blessings in divorce – you get a chance to learn to do relationship right. Learn everything you can about positive ways to communicate, tips to heighten sexuality, discover the 5 love languages, practice gratitude for your new partner, and so on. Just like happiness, these are learnable skills. Now is the time to invest in yourself to insure you take your future relationships to a higher level.
- Learn to Laugh Again. After slogging through your divorce, it is important to learn how to laugh and smile once again. Laughter has many beneficial effects – greater relaxation, more creativity, increased attractiveness to others, stress release, and so on. Don’t wait to feel like laughing. Seek out situations that may make you laugh even if you don’t feel like it. Think of it as priming the pump. Create a library of your favorite comedies, stand up comedian specials, and sitcoms to watch at home. Go out to local comedy clubs. Sign up for emails which notify you when top flight comedians are coming to perform near you. Some of my favorites include Kevin Hart, Louis C.K., Demitri Martin, Jay Pharoah, Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr, and Christopher Titus. Practice being quick and easy to smile and laugh.
- Be Grateful. One of the most helpful and effective practices you can adopt to help you restore your balance and reclaim your life is that of gratitude. To do so, you have to get down to basics. I didn’t understand this fully until I saw a video of a motivational speaker who had been paralyzed from the neck down as a high school senior. He opened his talk by asking the audience, “Did you wake up breathing this morning?” The audience laughed uncomfortably. He went on, “Because I did and I’m grateful for it!” And this young man, despite being fully paralyzed, was married, has two children, speaks many times a year and paints…using his mouth to hold a paintbrush. When practicing gratitude, you need to understand all you have for which to be grateful. There is the roof over your head, the bed in which you sleep, your children, your health, your ability to walk and talk and make love, the clothes on your back, your friends and family and much, much more. Make gratitude a daily practice – either when you wake up or before going to sleep. Simply come up with three specific things for which you are grateful. For example, “I am grateful for the freedom I now have. I am grateful for my children who tell me they love me every time I see them. And I am grateful for the hike I went on with Jim this morning.” The more specific you can get, the better.
- Make Restitution. Take a moment to consider where you lashed out and caused wounds during the heat of the divorce. Take a deep and honest look at your own past behaviors. Were there instances where you insulted her mother? Did you break something in anger? Did you say some things you now regret? Once you have come up with a list, begin making restitutions to those whom you’ve wronged. Send a letter of apology. Send flowers to her mother with a kind note. Mend the rifts so you have an easier time looking at yourself in the mirror. You don’t want to carry around that anger, hurt and embarrassment a second longer than you have to.
I hope this has been of tremendous assistance to you. If you have more ideas to add to this growing list, please feel free to add them in the Comments section below!
You can find more divorce resources for men at DivorceSupport4Men.com