By Renée Gebhart, Life Coach and Therapist
Are you a victim of a “hit & run” divorce? Not sure? It’s what happens when your wife (or partner) brings you to “couples therapy” and soon thereafter you hear the words, “I want a divorce.” Then they abruptly leave – seemingly with little emotion – or move on with someone else.
Divorce is in the top 10 list of life stressors for a reason: it rocks every area of life. The legal process often adds stress to the other changes divorce brings, too. If you’re struggling, please borrow some hope from someone who has “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.”
Father’s Day Can be Hard for a Divorced Dad – Whether They Initiated the Divorce or Not
Divorce is hard, whether you are the “leaver” or the “left” partner. Every divorced dad’s story is different, but there are some common patterns that parallel (traditional) gender differences. Hopefully, understanding these (generalized) patterns may help you feel less lost and point you in a workable direction:
- Women like to make things (and people) “better” and often pursue relationships for the potential they see in their partners. They then attempt to “fix” their partners – but if their attempts are repeatedly unsuccessful, they then become burned out and will leave. It may take years for them to get to this point.
- Conversely, men do not marry for potential: they tend to like what they see, who they know, and prefer that to stay the same. Unfortunately, if a wife expresses discontent, many men (due to socialization in our Western culture) “withdraw” (deny, dismiss, or minimize their partner’s concerns) in the hope that not giving energy to “the problem” will lessen the conflict. If this pattern repeats without resolution, burnout occurs, and then withdrawal. Unfortunately, many men misattribute this energetic shift to mean that “things are better” when in reality, their partner is redirecting energy to a different solution: divorce.
- When women are ambivalent about their marriage, they engage in a lot of “pre-divorce work” (thinking, feeling, talking, researching) prior to the decision or the announcement. When the “hit and run” occurs, they have already moved on from the relationship emotionally, perhaps physically, and now want the change, legally.
I have empathy for both partner positions. In my marriage, I was the “leaver” and struggled with the decision for years. As a divorced woman in the dating world, I have been “left” too. Both positions hurt. I have seen firsthand, personally and professionally, the carnage of the “hit and run” divorce announcement and the aftereffects for all.
Many divorced dads then go the route of numbing their inner vulnerabilities and feelings of grief, fear, and loneliness and put their focus on new relationships, overusing substances, or other imbalanced coping mechanisms that tend to create even more problems in the long run.
If you are challenged with thoughts and feelings that you don’t know what to do with, know that you are not alone if you feel angry, depressed, lost, overwhelmed, or numb. When divorce is an ending that you didn’t ask for, it makes it even harder to deal with. Other factors that may contribute to this difficult life change may also be:
- The person you are used to turning to for support is no longer “there” for you, your married friends don’t get it or are busy, and you probably can’t or don’t want to bring your personal problems to work.
- You may or may not feel good about your behaviors and reactions and you may very well struggle to deal with the changes that divorce brings: financial, social, single parenting, and others. Know it would be inhuman not to struggle!
- Many men focus on work and family time – sometimes to the detriment of their friendships. Even if they have good friends, a divorced dad may not know how to ask for the support he needs – and their friends may not know what to offer or how to offer it. Men are socialized to connect via activities, so conversation is typically less intimate; it stays at a “surface level,” and discussing vulnerabilities is foreign and uncomfortable.
- Men are also socialized to be strong, competitive, independent, and to keep feelings under control. Anger is the only emotion men typically release. Unfortunately, when anyone taps down their internal world, external distractions are the only choice for coping.
- Many divorced dads then go the route of numbing their inner vulnerabilities and feelings of grief, fear, and loneliness and put their focus on new relationships, overusing substances, or other imbalanced coping mechanisms that tend to create even more problems in the long run.
The Best Father’s Day Gift: Support and Healing
Men truly face a fork in the road with their divorce. One path involves distraction, stuffing feelings down, and ignoring wounds. The other path invites you to courageously face your inner landscape and develop new skills for your new outer reality.
The cliché is true: we need to feel to heal. Allowing discomfort versus resisting or numbing out, paradoxically accelerates the healing process. With healing, you can move from the “hit and run” victimization of the end of your marriage into a space of new possibilities, clear values, new goals, more conscious connections, and more vitality. It can be very helpful to have someone who “gets it” and has moved on successfully to support you in your process.
Allow divorce recovery to be a game-changer for your life. Take time to pause, regroup, get support, and reset.
I hope you will allow divorce recovery to be a game-changer for your life. Take time to pause, regroup, get support, and reset. In doing so, you will move forward with greater self-knowledge and insight, more skills, and healthy support, not only surviving the “hit and run,” and the divorce process, but also leveling up in life. Instead of “rinse and repeat” I truly hope you will “recover and reset”.
For Father’s Day, I invite you to gift yourself the kind of support that will allow you to tend to your wounds, address your needs, and set the foundation for a positive future. Showing up for yourself and resetting in life truly takes a different kind of strength and courage. Know that you’re worth it, your future is worth it, and the investment will benefit every relationship moving forward.
Renée Gebhart (LCSW) is a Life Coach, Therapist, and divorced Mom. She believes everyone has their own unique perspective and experience and that we all have basic needs and wounds that need to be addressed for a healthy life and relationships. Renee helps people reset from the hurt of the “hit and run” to post-divorce triumph. www.resetwithrenee.com