Big Boys Don’t Cry

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Usually, all we read about in the press with regards to divorce is the effect that it has on women. Men get short shrift. They are castigated for moving on too quickly and for not showing enough emotion around relationship break down.

Psychotherapist, and founder of, Charlotte Friedman looks at the issue in more detail.

If they do move on too quickly and fail to show the required degree of emotion, perhaps it is because there is an expectation in our society that big boys just don’t cry.

So how have men got this reputation? Many men who have first- hand experience of divorce know that lack of emotion is far from the truth. The consequences of divorce and separation on men are as devastating for them as they are for women.

Alongside dealing with the relationship breakup itself, men are likely to face issues around loss of their home and loss of contact with their children. Men who were considered good enough fathers the day before a separation are apparently (according to many women) not worthy of having an on-going relationship with their children the day after separation. Men may be told that their own children don’t want to spend any significant time with them post separation.

Men may feel that their side of the story is not being given a fair hearing, and they feel they have no control over how they are being described to their children, who may even be told that ‘your father has left us’ rather than ‘your father and I have separated but we will always be your parents.’

Then there are the men who have been the main breadwinner in the family and who have to give a sizeable proportion of their income for years to come to an ex-wife who is with someone else. What about the men who have to manage work, living away from their family and starting again and the men who are simply dealing with the heartache of separating from someone they once loved or still love?

Men and women have the same losses, the same guilt, fear and anger. The bottom line is they simply deal with it differently.

Whilst women discuss their issues and anger with friends, professionals, family, neighbours, colleagues and passengers on the train, men feel a pressure to maintain a strong silence, which can make it appear that it hasn’t really affected them.

Men are also more likely to throw themselves into their jobs, the pub, football and women as a distraction. They start dating more quickly and sometimes get absorbed into another relationship before they know it. Somehow it seems less painful that way.

The fact that men do it differently does not mean that they are not hurting. It just means that is their way of dealing with it. To women, it can look like callousness.

The challenges that men face are tough. It is hard to put on a brave face at work and with the children, whilst having to deal with an ex partner’s anger and disappointment and at the same time, effectively trying to start again.

It is not easy to deal with the accusation that men evidently didn’t care about the marriage because they seem to have no regard for its end. Throwing themselves into work and into new friendships can appear unfeeling but it is simply a way of facing loss.

Women cry and avail themselves of support and men get on with life. Perhaps if society enabled men to seek help without the stigma attached, then we would find some similarities in the way that both sexes deal with heartache. Until then we need to realise that big boys do cry, but only behind closed doors.

Some Facts and Tips

If you have done the leaving, your wife will feel she had no voice and will exercise her voice through the children.

If you worked long hours during the marriage and your wife did most of the childcare, you may now be accused of being a ‘divorce activated dad’ only interested in the children now you are separated.

Your wife will feel lonely and the loss will be more keenly felt by her when you have the children for weekends and for holidays. That is why it may be difficult to arrange contact.

Collect the children and deliver them back exactly on time. Even a minute here or there can look like provocation and can be taken advantage of to deny contact in the future.

Try your best to maintain a good communication with your wife for the sake of the children and that means checking that doing something different with the children is okay.

Don’t ‘flaunt’ your new girlfriend in front of your ex, either by her being around during contact with the children in the first few months, or by visiting mutual friends with her.

Don’t collect your children with your girlfriend waiting outside in the car.

Check with your ex if there is anything that she wants you to know about the children so that it seems to her that you are still in partnership with her for their benefit.

Ask her if she would like if you both went to discuss future issues and communication with a counsellor or mediator.