For many men life after divorce can be a long climb up a steep hill under the best of circumstances, but men can make it easier for themselves, their children, and, yes, even their former wives, by sidestepping some of the common mistakes. According to experts, common pitfalls men fall into when their marriages end make the reconstruction of their lives more difficult.
> Dating Too Soon Makes for Trouble. According to psychologist Dr. Sam J. Buser of Houston, coauthor of The Guys-Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce, too many men seek out a new relationship before the debris of their failed marriage has settled. Many men rebound into new relationships — and sometimes new marriages — within the first year. “That’s no doubt the biggest mistake,” says Dr. Buser. Men often jump into dating because they’re lonely, vulnerable, and sad, and they’re looking for someone to help them feel better, says Dr. Buser. Some men become sexual athletes.
“I advise my patients to wait at least two years. I’ve never had a man take me up on that advice, but I do try to slow them down.” He also advises men to date casually at first. “Tell the woman you’ve just been through a tough divorce and that you’re not ready for a committed relationship,” he suggests. “Acknowledge that it is not the right time for that.”
Rebound relationships “do not often work out in the long run.”
> Self Imposed Isolation. Some men retreat into a shell after a breakup, especially if the former wife gets custody of the kids. Retreat and withdrawal worsen feelings of depression, guilt, and loneliness, and they become an amalgam of hopelessness and despair — a potentially dangerous mix.
Divorced men are also more prone to alcohol problems, so be careful of starting down that road. “You don’t have to drink every day to have a problem,” Buser says. “Drinking a six pack is a binge.” And divorced men are twice as likely to commit suicide as married men.
Dr. Buser advises reaching out to old friends and trying to make new ones. “Expand your social and professional network to avoid isolation.”
The aftermath of a divorce is great time to go back to school. Going to school keeps a person active, stimulates his mind, potentially advances his career, and gets him out of the house.
> Introducing A New Partner to Children Too Soon. This common misstep can be very hard on children.
A divorced man who has met someone special feels very good; however, his children may not share his enthusiasm.
“The last thing the kids want to see is parents getting involved with someone else,” says Dr. Gordon E. Finley, a psychologist who specializes in issues facing divorced men and an emeritus professor of psychology at Florida International University in Miami. “They are going to be unhappy. Date when you feel ready, but leave the kids out of it.” Dr. Buser concurs. “Focus on the other adult when starting a relationship,” he says. “She can meet the kids when you know you are serious.”
> Giving In to Hostility. Hard as it may be, a man should try to make peace with a former wife, particularly when children are involved.
“You don’t want to be seen as an enemy or an antagonist but as a co-parent,” says Arizona State University professor emeritus of psychology Dr. Sanford L. Braver. “I’m not saying that that will be easy, but everybody will be better off.” Braver, co-author of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, suggests that troubled men consider conflict and anger management classes. In his research, he’s found that when dads learn how to put compromises before conflict and competition, both the kids and the parents do better. “Learn to manage as well as you can from the middle ground,” says Braver. “Diplomacy and negotiating skills are key.”
Civility with a former wife encourages more flexibility in terms of custody and potentially more time with the children. “If divorced spouses have a working relationship, they can agree to informally bypass some stipulations,” Dr. Finley says. “Workloads go up and down, schedules can shift, and you want some way to take that into account.”
> Giving up on Parenting. Divorce ends the marriage, and a man is no longer a husband; however, he is still a father and always a parent.
A child still needs his father as a parent, not a visitor. “That should be the most important thing from the man’s point of view: His child wants him and his child needs him,” Dr. Finley says. “Maintaining the relationship is important for your child’s developmental outcome: social, emotional, and educational.”
> Being a “Disneyland Dad.” Dr. Finley warns against becoming what he calls a “Disneyland dad,” the guy who shows up and says, “Let’s have fun.”
“That’s not good for you or your kids,” Dr. Finley says. “Help them with their homework. Talk about what’s on their minds.”
Before divorce, some dads, Buser says, make the mistake of yielding much of their parenting role to their wives.
There’s a possible silver lining to divorce if they put in the work, however. “ Lots of guys have never had experience as the primary caregiver, and they don’t know what to do and have trouble adapting,” Dr. Buser says. “But divorce gives them an opportunity, when they are with their kids, to be a full-time parent for the first time. They often become better fathers after divorce.”