I want to tell you a story about men and divorce, but it’s not a fairytale, not at all, it’s real.
I don’t usually write about men and divorce because I support ladies who leave.
Your husband may not be protagonist of this story, but for some of you, he may be – and you might not be expecting it, so I’m just going to come right out and say it…
I’m Emma, The Divorce Coach for Ladies who Leave and increasingly, I’m being approached by men who want to leave their wives, and want to do it with caring and compassion.
Phew! There, I said it.
Really, it’s true.
The men that I work with have awareness. They understand that they don’t really know how to support their wives emotionally through the end of their marriage. These are the men for whom fixing a ‘problem’ and ‘making things better’, is important.
Problems and solutions…
Is his wife a problem?, no – in his mind, it’s the situation that’s the problem. When a man can’t fix a problem, he takes it very personally, and will almost do anything to ‘put it right’.
Now, from a woman’s perspective, she might not see that; but the truth is, men really hate messing up, and they’ll give up, if they feel they ‘mess up’, too often. The men who contact me feel guilt and responsibility for their decision to leave. They reach out to make sense of their wife’s emotions because they just want to make it all better.
Men and women both get bad press when it comes to divorce. She’s a ‘gold digger’ or ‘he wants to leave her penniless now he’s run off with his secretary’.
Whilst this does happen, in reality you read these stories in the media because they make good copy. Who wants to read about the nice man who left his wife and was concerned with her emotional welfare and left her financially solvent?
But it’s important story to tell.
Let me tell you about Steve (not his real name). Steve doesn’t want to leave his wife – he loves her. However, Steve’s wife (let’s call her Julie) isn’t in a good place right now and hasn’t been for some time.
Julie is suffering from depression. This depression has been brought on by something Julie did in the past that cannot be undone. Julie is struggling with this, and lashing out at Steve. Steve has done all he can to encourage his wife to get some professional help but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears, not just this week, not just this month, but for several years.
The situation in the marital home has become untenable for Steve, who is also concerned about the impact of this on their young child. Steve felt he had no option but to leave. Steve still hopes that he and his wife will reconcile.
Then there’s Dave. Dave is married to Vanessa. Dave does want a divorce. Vanessa has mental health issues, and has been hospitalised several times. This has taken its toll on Dave and their children. Dave is a successful businessman; like Steve he’s a solution focused fixer, and by his own admission, emotions are not his area of expertise.
Finance – that’s his bag. Dave wants to support his wife emotionally and financially. He wants his wife to be able to move forward – without him. Dave feels suffocated in his marriage and yet he feels enormous guilt and sadness around wanting a divorce.
He can’t deal with Vanessa so he’s hired me, to help her in a way that he knows he can’t. Will she have financial security? Yes. Will they still have a connection? Yes of course, but will there be a marriage? No.
Did I mention that this story won’t make good copy?
Perhaps you’re a lady who is in an unhappy marriage. Perhaps you think your husband doesn’t care – you might be right. But is that an assumption you’ve made?
Have you asked?
Coming to terms with the end of a marriage is hard for both men and women, in different ways.
Steve has cried. Steve feels lonely and misses Julia. Does Steve share that with his mates? I don’t know, and I’d wager that it’s less likely he’d share, than it would be for Julie to chat with her girlfriends.
It’s perhaps ‘easier’ for the man who has less awareness. What we don’t know can’t hurt us right? In coaching, we call that ‘unconscious incompetence’ or we don’t know, what we don’t know.
It’s when we do get a sense of what we ‘don’t know’ that we struggle – this is where Steve and Dave are. Steve wants to learn- he’s got a shelf full of books on the subject of divorce.
Dave wants to ‘outsource’ the solution.
Neither is bad or good – they are just different approaches to a similar ‘problem’. Remember, you are not the ‘problem’ the situation is.
Will these stories have a happy ending? Well, it depends on their definitions of a happy ending. The point I’m making here is, just as not all women are not ‘gold diggers’, not all men want to run off with their secretary and leave their wife penniless. Divorce will never be a fairytale, but it doesn’t have to be the stuff of nightmares either.
If Steve and Vanessa do get divorced will the ending be ‘happy’? Well, perhaps for Steve not initially, but at least he will know he did what he could and had the best interests of his wife at the forefront of his mind – I’m sure he’ll sleep easier knowing that.
As for Dave, well I’m working with his wife to build her self-esteem and to support her to imagine a life beyond this marriage that is ending. Will Dave be there for her – yes, as a co-parent and a former husband, he will.
Thank God for men like Steve and Dave.
Emma Heptonstall is a Family Mediator and Divorce Coach for ladies who leave. A recovering lawyer, she lives in York, United Kingdom and works 1:1 via Skype and FaceTime supporting women to make smart emotional and financial decisions on divorce. Currently writing her first book How To Be A Lady Who Leaves.