There is no doubt that going through a divorce can be a tough experience, and the feelings of loss and separation can be almost as harsh as losing a family member.
Leaving your partner and the memories you have built together can be tough on both men and women. In fact, claiming that men are less affected by divorce than women is a myth. Divorce affects both men and women and also has serious effects on children.
Psychologist and founder of Inside Out Counselling Naglaa Nagib said that divorce can leave behind real suffering and often feelings of guilt and regret. For those who have passed through a traumatic divorce, the result can be depression.
After divorce, many people will experience a feeling of sadness like a deep feeling of loss, she said, and this is true both for men and women. It is important for both that they try to process their feelings properly and seek therapy or go to a support group if needed, always bearing in mind that it takes time to heal.
In fact, Nagib said, there are five stages of grief following a divorce. The first stage is denial, where a man or woman may not accept the fact that the divorce has taken place. The second stage is anger, with angry feelings often coming to the surface and finding their way out after being suppressed.
The third stage is bargaining, where a man or woman may try to “bargain” the divorce away, trying to put their lives on a new basis. The fourth stage can be depression, where the reality becomes clearer. This is often the longest stage. The fifth stage is acceptance, where both partners accept that the divorce has taken place and start to think about their new lives apart.
Commenting on this process, Nagib said that “we usually try to help our patients to have a positive mindset towards their separation through a process called ‘conscious uncoupling,’ where they try to take away the feelings of antagonism, blame, and drama they may feel and re-establish a good level of self-awareness and mutual respect – not only for themselves, but also for their children as well.”
Some stereotypes claim that men are less affected psychologically and emotionally by separation, but Nagib explains that this is a wrong idea. Men, in fact, are more affected psychologically than women, she said. As it is very difficult for them to pass through the separation process, it is also much more difficult for them to process their emotions, meaning that they often cannot express them.
Women, on the other hand, usually speak about their emotions and might seek professional help. Sometimes this tough emotional process can lead to severe depression among men and even to suicide attempts, according to studies.
Divorced men may also get married again soon after their divorce, Nagib said, often because they are incapable of dealing with the grieving stage. They skip it because it is too harsh on them to process, which is why they sometimes remarry after a short time, she said. This, however, is not advisable as the grieving emotions need to be well processed.
Studies also indicate that married men are psychologically healthier than single or divorced men. Other studies indicate that early death rates among men who have never been married are 70 per cent higher compared to married men.
For many men, a feeling that they have not succeeded in their marriage may cause them to neglect their health and experience isolation. But bottling up their emotions will lead to anxiety and insomnia, and they may start drinking alcohol or getting into unsafe sexual relations. They may experience weight fluctuations and wrongly self-medicate instead of seeking professional help.
In a nutshell, their quality of life may decline, and they can start to experience a loss of identity away from their former wife and children.
EFFECTS ON CHILDREN: Divorce can also affect children psychologically, academically, and behaviourally, Nagib said, and they will need to talk, as suppressing their feelings is not healthy.
Due to the tensions that can exist between parents during a separation, children can experience anxiety, sadness, or depression. They can manifest behavioural disorders in school, like having fights with peers or poor academic performance. Adolescents can get into abusive behaviours, like drinking alcohol or taking drugs or early sexual activity, Nagib said.
Studies indicate that adolescents whose parent were separated when they were five years old or younger may tend to get into sexual activity before the age of 16.
To help children adjust to the separation process, the parents can try co-parenting. This means that problematic discussions need to take place away from the children, and the parents must not comment on each other before them. The mother must not tell the children that the break-up was the father’s fault, for example, and the same thing is true for the father when commenting on the mother. Doing so will only put the children at risk of anxiety.
Warm parenting and a low level of conflict will help children to adjust more and have a better academic performance. Consistency of discipline is also crucial. Professional help can help children too, Nagib added.
There may be some social stigma and decrease of social status attached to divorced women, and married female friends might start to deal differently with them. Some men might even consider a divorced woman to be an “easy catch,” Nagib said.
Her family might act aggressively towards her and invent unfair restrictions. They might refuse to let her live on her own in a separate house. In Middle Eastern societies, there is a tendency to blame women for divorce, Nagib said, putting divorced women at risk of anxiety and depression.
Some women may choose to continue in a bad marriage in order to avoid social discrimination, she added.
The social context of a divorce can be harder on women than the divorce itself as a result, Nagib said. She might lose some friends in common between her and her former husband. She may suffer from financial distress, especially if she was not working before getting married.
Nagib advises that men and women try other solutions before seeking a divorce, including marriage counselling and family mediation. If a divorce nevertheless takes place, each of the former partners must take time to process his or her emotions and seek professional help if needed.
Above all, there is no need to feel that one has failed because a divorce has taken place, Nagib said. It is not the end of the world to get a divorce, she added.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.