Separation and divorce are some of the most challenging life experiences that men can face. Losing a relationship, even it wasn’t right for us, can be a very painful experience. It is common to experience a range of emotions such as frustration, powerlessness, anger, denial, confusion, and even relief. These feelings can lead to other difficulties such as loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, difficulties at work, and social withdrawal. However, it’s important to remember that with time, their impact will lessen, and you will find a way to move forward.
The loss we experience when a relationship breaks down is not only about the loss of a partner and their company. There may also be losses of social networks, financial losses, and the loss of dreams and ideas. These ideas may include ideas about who you are, your place in the world, and how you thought your life was going to look in the future. This loss of ideas can be the hardest thing to cope with.
A breakup can also bring uncertainty about the future. What will life be like without your partner? Will you find someone else? Will you end up alone? These unknowns can often seem worse than being in an unhappy relationship, which is one of the many reasons why men sometimes hold on to something that is not working.
Common challenges and practical solutions
- Loss of Identity: Men may struggle with a loss of identity after a breakup, particularly if they were heavily invested in the relationship. You may feel like a significant part of your life is now missing and may not know who you are without your partner.
Solution: Focus your time on rediscovering who you are and what you enjoy doing. You can start this by trying new hobbies or reconnecting with old friends to help build a new sense of identity. If you want to dig deeper, you may also consider speaking with a professional counsellor or life coach to work through your feelings and gain clarity about who you are and what you want in life.
- Social Isolation: After a breakup, you may feel socially isolated, especially if you spent a lot of time with your partner. It’s common to feel unsure about how to spend your free time at first or feel like you have no one to talk to.
Solution: Start by reaching out to friends and family and letting them know how you feel. Organise a regular catch up and try to build a new social routine. To expand your social network and fill the gaps, consider joining local social groups or clubs, or volunteering. There are also online forums and support groups to connect with others who are going through similar experiences.
- Emotions: Many men feel like they need to suppress their emotions or appear tough in the aftermath of a breakup, particularly if they have been socialised to believe that expressing vulnerability is a sign of weakness. However, suppressing emotions can lead to long-term mental health issues.
Solution: Prioritise your emotional wellbeing and allow yourself to feel your emotions, even if it is uncomfortable. If this brings up difficult thoughts and feelings, it’s an opportunity to develop strategies to process them in a healthy way. Try mindfulness exercises, journaling, or seek out support from a professional counsellor to help you through it.
- Physical Health: Breakups can also have physical effects on men, such as loss of appetite, disrupted sleep, or increased alcohol or drug use.
Solution: It’s easy to let healthy habits slip when we are struggling, but it’s when we need it most. Try to maintain a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and seek professional advice if you are experiencing physical symptoms or need help to address substance use disorders or addiction.
Ways to cope with relationship separation
There are things you can do to get through this difficult adjustment. In times of emotional crisis like relationship separation and divorce, there are opportunities to grow and learn. Think of this period in your life as a time-out, a time for sowing the seeds for new growth and reinventing yourself.
Here are some tips on how to manage loss with separation:
- Establish boundaries: Establish healthy boundaries as early as possible to support your ability to heal and move on. These boundaries may include limiting the time, energy, and physical affection you give to your ex-partner. Although many people would like to ‘stay friends’, this is often a difficult task and may not be realistic or healthy, at least in the early stages. If you are co-parenting a child with an ex-partner, work together on how you will share important information and still have respect for either other’s space and feelings while you adjust.
- Go easy on yourself: Give yourself permission to take some time to reflect on things and re-evaluate your life. Balance is key – be careful not to spend too much time dwelling on the past. A good guide is to allow yourself at least one year of evaluation, growth, and recovery. Remember that moving on is the end goal – getting stuck in hurtful feelings can prevent you from healing and moving forward.
- Watch your thinking: Try to maintain a positive outlook on life choices, and it will help you with your recovery and allow you to build a strong, healthy life post-separation. For example, focus on your strengths and the things you enjoy doing.
- Look after yourself physically: Maintaining a healthy routine can give you a strong sense of comfort and normality. Eat healthily, exercise regularly, and avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking or drugs to numb the pain.
- Don’t let your lifestyle stagnate: Use this life change as an opportunity to take a new direction, perhaps in an area you have been interested in but never had the time to pursue. For example, take a new hobby, join a sports team, or take a trip.
- Grow your connections: Finding your tribe is crucial. Reach out to old friends and family or make new ones. Join a club, volunteer or attend social events to meet new people who share your interests.
- Reach out for support: It’s essential to seek help and support from professionals, friends, and family. Trying to ‘tough it out’ on your own can put you at great risk of depression and other mental and physical health problems. Talk to someone you trust or consider speaking with a therapist.
Remember, it’s essential to know the difference between a normal reaction to a breakup and depression. If you don’t feel any forward momentum after taking some time to heal, you may be suffering from depression. It’s important to speak to a health professional if you are struggling to maintain your normal routine.
If you need to talk to someone, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or access online chat.