It turns out that in the age-old battle of the sexes, men seem to be having a more difficult time coping with the dissolution of a marriage. According to a recent study from the Journal of Men's Health, divorced men are more susceptible to heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes than married men are — in addition to being 39 percent more likely to commit suicide and engage in risky behavior.
We spoke with relationship coach and YourTango expert Lewis Denbaum to get to the bottom of these statistics. "The last time I got divorced, which was in 2003, my blood pressure went through the roof," said Denbaum. "I had to start taking blood pressure medicine for the first time in my life."
As someone who had been practicing transcendental meditation for over 30 years, Denbaum was surprised to find that while going through his second divorce, his meditation techniques had no effect whatsoever. "I realized then that I had to step outside of the box of my life, and examine my thoughts and beliefs," he said.
First, he took charge of his physiological state by going on blood pressure medication. The next steps, however, weren't quite as simple. Denbaum shares his experiences, both personal and professional, to break down the specific reasons that men stress harder after separating from their partners.
They Lose Their Sense Of Identity
"My key breakthrough was realizing that I was defining myself with respect to my marriage," said Denbaum. Even with multiple degrees and a successful career, he found himself lost in the process of his divorce. "I made the marriage the be all and end all, and when I saw that crumbling, I felt like my identity was crumbling."
So what do you do? In order to rebuild confidence post-divorce, Denbaum suggests getting involved in a new activity or organization. "One really powerful thing for me was joining a non-profit group called the Mankind Project," he said. There, he found his way to the New Warriors Men's Organization, where he would meet weekly with groups of men going through hard times, coming together to listen and help each other in "a non-judgmental way."
Their Paternal Instinct Is Challenged
"For me, family has always been important," says Denbaum. "I grew up in a happy family, and I never doubted for a minute that I would get married and raise one of my own. I think just as there are maternal instincts in women, there is a paternal instinct in men." He describes part of this paternal instinct as a longing to belong with the status quo, and to be a provider.
"If a man is feeling distraught or shameful [because of the impact his family is feeling from divorce], he might disappear from the picture," said Denbaum. "Which is why most post-divorce men need to remain connected to their children, if they have them."
When men maintain relationship with their kids, it eases those feelings of shame, and can re-instill that lost sense of belonging. "The love that can flow back and forth between you and your children is very healing in itself," he said.
They Don't Allow Themselves To Grieve Properly
"Bottling up feelings with no outlet leads men to experience feelings of depression," said Denbaum. "As someone with no biological predisposition, I definitely think that the breakup of my marriage brought me to experience physiological problems like high blood pressure and mental ones like my battle with depression at the time."
Rather than following this level of stress into a no-way-out mentality, Denbaum suggests that men see marriage counselors, regardless of the current state of their marriage. "I started seeing a marriage counselor on my own, before my divorce. My then-wife joined in for a while, but I continued on my own, even after the divorce was finalized, he said.
"Men have to break though the 'I've got to do it myself and go it alone' attitude," he said. "Women are so much better about relying on one another, and this whole 'big boys don't cry' mentality has had an entirely negative impact on men's well-being."
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