BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO -- ESPECIALLY FOR MEN
By Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.
Divorce is harder on men than on women. Surprised?
After all, it's the woman who suffers financially . . .who has to juggle work and kids on her own . . . who is more apt to end up in a therapist's office.
Meanwhile, the man seems to go on with life, hanging out with his buddies, barely skipping a beat.
True to all the above. But those points only describe external circumstances and behavior, not what's going on inside.
Here are the facts:
• Divorced men are more than twice as likely to feel severely depressed for a longer time, and are twice as likely to commit suicide.
• Divorced men are at greater risk for premature death from cardiovascular disease and pneumonia.
• Divorced men are more apt to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs -- which can lead to other problems such as DUIs, malnutrition, and excessive sick days off work.
Why is divorce harder on men? (These are statistical generalities; there are exceptions)
• Two thirds of divorces are filed by women. By the time women file, they've already started preparing themselves for the future. Men, more often on the receiving end of breakups, must deal with the surprise factor, which throws them off balance.
• Men are more apt to lose their connection with kids, friends, family and social life -- all of which were typically coordinated by the woman.
• Men's friendships are more casual, focusing on sports and other light topics. After a breakup, when a guy needs emotional support and a sympathetic ear, his buddies will try to distract him rather than listen to how he feels.
• Research shows that men's brains are biologically different from women's. They don't process feelings and intuition as easily. They feel grief and depression as acutely as women do, but tend to label it as something else, such as anger or disgust. It's easier to talk about "what she did to me" than about feeling lonely or rejected.
• Culturally, men are raised to be tough and invulnerable. To show or admit that they are hurting is the last thing they want to do. Thus, their suffering is not readily apparent to others.
Tips for surviving a breakup
• Take care of yourself physically. Don't skip meals. Get adequate (but not too much) sleep. Make sure you exercise regularly. Nutrition, sleep and exercise provide a solid foundation for dealing with stress.
• Avoid isolating yourself. Even though it feels like too much of an effort, force yourself to get out among people (aside from work) at least once or twice a week. Talk to someone on the phone every day.
• When thoughts of your ex pop into your mind, turn them off. Distract yourself with an activity that requires your full attention. The worst thing you can do is to mentally replay old memories over and over again.
• Expect to feel intense emotions -- anger, rage, fear, depression, and more. However, give yourself a cooling off period before acting on your feelings. That way you won't do something you'll later regret, like smashing your ex's car window.
• Don't try to be friends with your ex. It rarely works. More often it prolongs the agony of the breakup.
• Do something kind for someone else. It's one of the best ways to get your mind off your own troubles, and it also helps build connections with other people.
• Treat yourself with respect. Avoid self-destructive activities like drinking, using illegal drugs, overeating or buying things you don't need. Cut down on self-critical thoughts as well. Speak to yourself encouragingly, as you would a young child who is unsure of himself.
FINALLY: There is hope. Studies show that most people do eventually recover from breakups. If you were basically a happy person in the past, you have a good chance of being happy again.
If you have a history of depression, it is especially important that you follow some of the tips above. If you can't shake your despair, not even for a few hours, it's time to consult a psychologist.
Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. is a psychologist, coach, trainer, and author of "Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-defeating Behavior."
Find out how she can help you: www.drwallin.com