What should you do if your spouse asks for a divorce and you never saw it coming?
Below, therapists and divorce attorneys share their best advice for men grappling with the news that their spouse wants out.
1. Stop living in denial.
Your spouse’s divorce announcement may have come as a shock, but if you’re honest with yourself, there were probably signs your marriage was in trouble that you simply missed, said author and counselor Mario P. Cloutier.
“There’s always ‘writing on the wall,'” he told us. “Bottom line is this: you lived in denial. Now it’s time to own and understand your behavior. Look back at the clues and ask yourself, ‘What could I have done to prevent this?'”
Addressing the situation “will always improve your outcome more than ignoring it,” Cloutier said. “Denial is only denying you.”
2. Don’t freak out and act on your emotions.
Acting out in a rash way will just set you back further, said Randall M. Kessler, an attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia.
“You need time to decompress: Take a very deep breath, and another, then another,” he said. “Then call your best friend, relative, clergy or therapist who you rely on in times of trouble, if you have one.”
3. If you want to save your marriage, courtship alone isn’t going to cut it.
Lip service, roses and date nights aren’t going to change your spouse’s mind. Proving to them that you’re willing to put in the work to fix the marriage might, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men.
“Definitely don’t default to using the typical romantic gestures because your partner is way past finding that appealing,” he said. “Instead of chasing your S.O., work on changing yourself. If you’re trying to convince him or her not to divorce, you might be able to do it with three little words, followed by action: ‘I will change’.”
4. Ask yourself: Why did she want to leave in the first place?
Don’t blame your wife or husband for leaving. The reality is, you’re both equally responsible for the marriage breakdown, said Manj Weerasekera, a London-based divorce coach for men.
“Too many men are quick to operate from effect and blame everyone else but themselves,” he told HuffPost. “Whether you do decide to win your spouse back or move on, you need to operate from cause and look to yourself first to see what changes you need to make.”
To start, he recommends asking one important question: “What kind of man do I need to become to create the kind of relationship and happiness I deserve?”
5. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable.
Going through a separation is one of the hardest, most stressful life experiences possible. Don’t brush aside your feelings during this difficult time or refuse support from people you love, said Aaron Anderson, a marriage and family therapist based in Denver, Colorado.
“As a guy, one of your natural instincts is to puff out your chest and tell everyone that you’re doing OK — but there’s nothing wrong with talking to others, especially those who’ve been through a divorce before,” he said. “It’s OK to tell people when you’re not doing OK and need to go out and shoot some pool. You may even make some closer friends, too.”
6. Remember: not all advice is worth taking.
Everyone and their mother has advice for you when you’re going through a divorce. Do yourself a favor and don’t take it all, said Smith.
“Although it’s well intended, most of it is bad,” he said. “This is the time to talk to the experts, not depend on free help from family and friends.”
7. Continue to spend quality time with your kids.
If you do proceed with a divorce, you’ll be divorcing your spouse, not your children. Make a point to spend time with them so that you’ll be perceived as the involved, loving father you are in court or mediation, said Fred Silberberg, an attorney based in Beverly Hills, California.
“Make sure you are documenting the time you are spending with your kids so you can demonstrate your involvement to the court if you have a custody dispute,” he said.
8. Resist the urge to hire the first attorney you meet.
Do your homework when looking for a family law attorney and keep in mind that the first lawyer you meet isn’t necessarily the right one for you, Kessler said.
“Don’t just hire the first one you hear of only because you are scared,” he said. “If you love the first one you meet, fine, but be sure it is someone who listens to you, advises and doesn’t simply tell you what you want to hear so that you’ll hire them.”
9. Once you hire a lawyer, don’t waste their time discussing your emotions.
Most attorneys charge on an hourly basis. Spending hours on the phone or in person working through your personal and emotional problems will cost you big time — and be a lot less effective than finding a good therapist, said Jason Levoy, an attorney and divorce coach in New York City.
“I need my clients to be emotionally stable,” he said. “You may think you have your emotions in check, but odds are you can benefit from talking with an objective third-party professional.”
Therapy is even more important if you have kids, said Levoy: “It’s an outlet that can provide you with balance and guidance on how to handle the changes and communicate to your children.”
10. Don’t try to rush the moving on process.
While you may want to get through this difficult time quickly, there’s no way to fast track processing grief, said Anderson. At the end of the day, you really do need to give yourself permission to feel everything: bitterness, sorrow, confusion, even some anger in moderation.
“This is an opportunity to get know yourself and how you do in difficult circumstances,” he said. “Knuckling down and doing what you need to do during this time will make you stronger, more capable and more tolerant to distress. The bonus is, these traits will be imperative as you go through divorce and help you in your next relationship as well.”
This post is part of HuffPost’s When Men Divorce series. For other posts written by men about the divorce experience, head here. If you want to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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