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"It's crucial to prioritize your mental health after a separation or divorce - you don’t need to do it alone."

According to the American Psychological Association, at present, roughly 40 to 50 percent of married couples end up getting a divorce. For those in subsequent marriages, the divorce rate is even higher [1].

Separation is one of the most stressful life events we may ever deal with, and it can be especially complicated if children are involved. Whether it’s a divorce, separation, or tough breakup, many men feel ashamed, sad, and alone. It’s not unusual for your partner to be your closest friend and confidant, a person who you can turn to about anything. Suddenly not having them in your life can be jarring, and it can be difficult figuring out who else to turn to when you’re struggling.

Additionally, a lot of guys unfairly internalize the breakdown of a relationship as a weakness or a failure on their part. Guys may feel pressured to ‘man-up’, ‘stay strong’, and move forward as if nothing happened. But not reaching out for support and bottling up emotions only leads to loneliness and frustration.

So it’s no wonder studies have found an increased risk for depression and suicide after divorce. In one study, men were found to have a 6-fold increase in risk for depression after a divorce, compared with men who remained married[2]. Dealing with a separation is tough, and regardless of whether or not you’ve dealt with depression before, it’s crucial to prioritize your mental health during this time – you don’t need to do it alone.

Here are some tips to get you going: 

Allow yourself to feel

Any separation is rough – it’s okay to be upset.

  • Denying how you’re feeling won’t make your emotions magically disappear. Instead, they’re more likely to come out in other less-helpful ways, like anger or hostility.
  • Your partner was most likely a huge part of your life, and suddenly not having that close relationship can be incredibly painful. It’s important to acknowledge your pain, and not to skip over the grieving process of having lost a partner.
  • Every situation is different, so don’t get hung up on what you or other people think you’re “supposed to feel” or  “supposed to do”.
  • Allow yourself to feel however you feel, and take time to work through your feelings instead of pushing them aside.

Try not to internalize separation as personal failure

Relationships are complicated, and things don’t always work out.

  • Oftentimes, there are things that both parties could have done better, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you as a person or that it’s all your fault that the relationship ended.
  • It could have been that you grew apart, weren’t compatible, or there were other issues at play. Ultimately you will probably look back and be happy you parted ways, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. 
  • Avoid negative thought patterns and blaming yourself. Talk therapy can be a great help with this.

Double down on healthy habits

After a breakup, your routine will likely change – living in a new place or taking on tasks that your partner used to handle is an opportunity to develop healthier habits. 

  • If you’re struggling with lifestyle adjustments, creating a weekly schedule for chores will help you stay on track. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, paying for a weekly cleaning service (if it’s within your means) can help you stay on top of things while you get back on your feet.
  • It’s important to keep focused on the basics to give yourself a strong foundation – this means eating healthy, staying physically active, getting quality sleep, and managing stress. All of these aspects of health are essential for supporting your mental wellbeing.
  • Often it’s a partner who urges guys to go to the doctor, so remember to keep up with regular health appointments.
  • Starting these healthy habits early-on is key, even though it may be tempting to let things slide when you’re feeling down. It may be overwhelming at first, but as time goes on, you’ll better adapt to your new routine.

Don’t try to drown out your sorrows

No matter the reason for your separation, it’s never easy getting over a break-up. Numbing the pain with drugs or alcohol may be a tempting short-term fix, but will only extend your pain in the long run. 

  • Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol creates bigger issues down the road because you’re not addressing the root cause of your feelings. It may be uncomfortable, but sometimes you need to sit with unpleasant feelings in order to work through them.
  • If you tend to rely on unhealthy habits to get you through tough times, try to avoid them in the immediate aftermath of the separation so that they don’t accidentally become the norm. Try to find positive distractions instead, like spending time on old hobbies, trying new activities, learning new skills, or meeting up with friends. 
    • For example, if you find yourself spending more time eating microwave meals in front of the tv until late at night, instead try asking a friend to teach you how to cook some new dishes or learn from a YouTube cooking channel.
  • If you know you struggle with substance use, now isn’t the time to try and manage it on your own. Get professional support from a mental health addiction specialist.

Set healthy boundaries

Everyone’s situation is a bit different and your future contact with your ex will depend on a host of factors, eg. whether you have shared friends or children. Here are some general tips to help navigate contact with your ex:

  • Set new boundaries with your ex to help define your new relationship and keep it as healthy and civil as possible. Make sure you communicate clearly and respectfully, and agree on boundaries together.
    • Eg. Set a time to talk once a week to go over any issues that you still need to resolve.
    • If you share a workspace or other common areas, same gym etc. try to time things to avoid frequently running into each other, at least while your wounds are both fresh.
  • If the situation is complicated and you don’t agree on much, get an outside perspective from a mutual friend, marriage and family therapist, or obtain legal counsel instead of getting into arguments.
  • If you share kids with your ex and plan to co-parent, it’s important to maintain a civil relationship and treat your ex with respect, especially when your kids are around.
  • If your previous relationship involved any level of emotional or physical abuse, you need to prioritize your mental health and safety. Seek out professional mental health and legal support if you need it.

If you have children, work towards a civil co-parenting relationship

Witnessing parents separate can be painful for children of any age, but there are things you can do to smooth over the process for everyone involved.

  • Although it may be difficult to be emotionally available when you’re feeling hurt and down, it’s important to be sensitive to your child’s emotional needs. Acknowledging their worries and concerns, talking to them about the divorce, and making sure they feel safe and loved by both parents is crucial.
  • Talk and act in a respectful way towards your ex, and make sure they treat you the same way. Parental conflict is more harmful for children than the actual separation.[3][4][5]
  • Put together a co-parenting plan with your ex that meets both of your needs and focuses on what is best for your children, and revise it when needed.

Stay connected with friends and family

Other people in your life may be sad or angry over your break-up.  Some friends may try to carry on as if nothing has changed, and a certain amount of that can be helpful. But other people may focus on telling you what you did wrong.

  • If someone is judging or reminding you about what they think you did wrong, let them know that you hear them and appreciate their advice, but you don’t need to discuss it further.

Though it may feel awkward or embarrassing not having your partner with you, keep getting out to see familiar faces and doing things you want to do. Over time, both you and others will adjust to spending time together without your ex.

Keep yourself surrounded by people who care about you, especially friends and family. The urge to isolate yourself will only make depression worse. The people who care about you will still want to see you, get tips on staying connected.

Reach out

Getting through difficult times like this requires a shoulder (or several) to lean on. Make sure you have people around who are supportive and care about you.

  • Talk to trusted friends and family members. Simply talking to a friend and sharing what you’re going through can lift a huge burden off your shoulders. 
  • Reach out to others who’ve been through divorce through things like support groups for divorced guys or single dads.
  • Talk therapy can do wonders, and is effective at helping you work through your emotions in a healthy way, process grief, and prevent and treat other mental health issues.
  • Consult a doctor or therapist. Be honest about how you are doing and tell them everything that’s going on.

With time, it gets better

Denial can be a powerful force that works against you every step of the way. It is a fear-based reaction to adversity that prevents you from feeling, seeing, and accepting the truth. But it ultimately prolongs your journey through pain. Time, and working towards accepting the end of your relationship, will accelerate you towards healing.

The ending of a relationship can take a heavy toll on a guy’s self esteem. Remember that you are more than just who you were with your partner. You still have lots to offer the world, and the people you care about. If/when you want to start looking for a new relationship, there will be other people who recognize this, and want to get to know you for who you are.

There’s no rush to get into a new relationship, so take your time to sort things out. You may be tempted to jump right back into dating to help fill the void. It’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes guys look for a quick fix or way to patch over their pain, instead of slowly building the new relationship they really want long term. Check in with yourself and be aware of your motivations before getting seriously involved with someone new.

  • Treat yourself with the respect and kindness you deserve, and invest in yourself and your personal growth. Try not to stay stuck in the past. Spend time exploring other interests, finding new hobbies, and making new connections.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to bounce back immediately. Know that you will feel better eventually, it just takes time.

There’s being down and disheartened after a break up, and then there’s depression

It’s important to be able to distinguish the difference between mental health struggles after a separation, and depression symptoms. 

Learn more about depression and take time to check in with yourself. Try our Self Check Tool to get a better idea if depression may be affecting you. 

There are lots of ways to reach out and lots of people who want to help. 

References:

  1. Marriage and Divorce | American Psychological Association
  2. Depression risk higher for divorced men: Statistics Canada | CBC News
  3. Conflict between divorced parents can lead to mental health problems in children, study finds: Arizona State University | Science Daily
  4. Is Divorce Bad for Children? | Scientific American
  5. Parental Conflict, Marital Disruption and Children’s Emotional Well-Being | Oxford University Press | JSTOR
Approved by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Medically reviewed by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk.
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