David found himself in a total state of denial after his and Sandra's divorce was final. Fortunately, things were generally amicable and they had developed a parenting plan that both of them felt good about for working with Emily and Samantha. But once the final divorce papers arrived and he was no longer married, David came face to face with a new reality. David was finding himself drifting emotionally.
Old friends that he and Sandra had enjoyed had kind of chosen sides, and he found a number of them no longer returned his calls or texts. He was crashing on some days, feeling way too alone and starting to think about just going out and getting drunk to numb the pain.
David's situation is pretty typical of men who find their way through a divorce but feel unprepared for their new life. It is a time in a man's life when he has some big decisions and transitions to make, he has some grieving to go through, and he needs to make sure he is at his personal best at a time when he feels perhaps worst of all. That sense of personal best and being on top of his game is critical for a man just coming through a divorce. Making some critical steps toward better self-care is the best way to stay focused and to make good decisions for both the short and the long term.
I checked with a number of the men I know who have successfully transitioned from marriage through divorce and into the single life and still keeping their commitment to fatherhood.
These ideas are theirs and seem to blend well together into an approach that will help men make it through the process of divorce and come out the other end whole.
- Eat in healthy ways. Maintaining a diet that is nutritional and low in fat, carbs, and sweets will help any man feel better mentally and physically. Following the general guidelines of the federal MyPlate system for healthy eating is a good place for men going through a divorce to start. Balancing fruits and vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy helps keep your body and mind stronger and more able to manage stress.
- Exercise. Good solid exercise not only makes the body more efficient but also releases endorphins which help maintain emotional stability and resilience. If you don't have a current exercise program, start with some walking and build up to other more strenuous exercise strategies. You may also want to consider finding other people to exercise with as it helps with your social network, and if you have a commitment to exercise with someone else, it is harder to stay the extra time in bed or at work. Also, if you are just starting an exercise program, make sure you visit first with your doctor to make sure that there are no health problems that will be exacerbated by vigorous exercise.
- Evaluate and redefine your friendships. David's experience with former friends also is common with men post-divorce. This transition time is a good opportunity to review your current friends and determine which ones to keep and which ones to jettison. Look critically at those who provide good solid support, support that is honest, forthright and reinforcing of good behaviors versus those who tend to pull you down or make you less than your best self. You need to be in friendships that are uplifting, that help you think straight and make you better than you otherwise would be, including opportunities for you to serve them. If your friends are not like that, it is time to cut off the relationship, or at least to begin the process of gravitating to newer friends that do provide the support you need.
- Watch for personal growth opportunities. It is pretty easy for a divorced man to wallow in self-pity and find himself spiraling downward. And yet with some of the newly found free time, such a man has some new opportunities as well. Consider a new hobby that you have wanted to experience but have not had the time. Think about taking some classes or working on a degree. Get yourself ready for a promotion or a new job or career. Having goals and purpose t your life will help ease the transition.
- Create or revise your life plan. Every man should have a personal mission, personal goals and a general direction for his life. Consider writing a personal life plan if you don't already have one. If you have a life plan, circumstances changed with the divorce and you should reassess it and make changes where needed.
- Get help if you need it. If after all your best efforts you just don't seem to be getting on top of your own self-care, you might want to look for additional help. A therapist might be a good option for continuing emotional pain. You might want to consider consulting with a life coach to help with personal planning, productivity, and growth. A personal trainer at your local gym may also be a good resource for proper eating, exercise and weight loss. Your employer may have an employee assistance program that would offer some resources as well. There is nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it. You will be a better man and a better father if you are healthy physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
- Stay close to the kids. One important element of staying well after divorce is to stay close to your children, to stay committed to your important fatherhood role in their lives. Go to their school and sports events, take them on dates, and make time for them. As you are there for them, there are big rewards associated with their love for you.
As any man moves through the process of divorce into a new chapter of life, there are pitfalls and challenges, but there are also opportunities for growth and improvement. Men who can follow these steps and avoid the negatives associated with this transition will be happier, healthier, more personally satisfied and a better and more together father for his children.