It’s a stereotype at this point: the uber-fit and attractive wife driving the Tesla to the grocery store in the middle of the afternoon and the overweight father coming home after a long day at work and joining the family universe mid-stream. Men tend to carry our stress in our bodies in different ways than women. I only know about myself, so I will refrain from imagining the woman’s side of this juggling act of being good and responsible parents.
Men Often Suffer in Silence
Most of us men have been taught from an early age that we don’t cry, we don’t pout, we don’t express our sadness. No matter what, we learn, that a strong man is stoic and heroic. And in many cases, the dad in a family system is the parent who is given the out-of-home breadwinner role, while the mom’s (if they are in a certain income bracket) are asked to stay at home with the kids and provide a stable and nurturing environment. As well as nutritious meals, well-disciplined kids, a tidy house, a sexy body, and the energy to get it all done while whistling Disney tunes and greeting her husband with joy and gratefulness.
Of course, we know that’s not the way it is in MOST households. Even the affluent ones that follow this imbalanced equation, are often not the pillars of health and happiness we might imagine. (Money helps a lot, but it does not make for happier or healthier homes, in general.) In most households within my purview, the moms and dads work equally hard (often with both parents working full-time jobs to pay for the house, the baby sitter, and if there is extra the house cleaner) to provide a happy home. And the happy home is a long-shot in our modern society.
And while all this juggling and stress management is going on, men tend to bottle it up, get quiet and resentful, and ultimately angry. But the good dad doesn’t express his anger or sadness within the family home. I mean, the mom and the kids are doing the best that they can. What can dad be so mad about? But the fundamental problem is men typically do not have anywhere to express this pain and sadness. If we tell our wives about our pain and struggles, who can we tell? What happens, in most cases, is men will suppress their anger, sadness, and depression is a very isolating way. We get quiet. We appear grumpy. And we go off into our separate worlds (man cave, over-work, strenuous workout activities, drinking, videogames, porn) and try and heal ourselves by ourselves.
We Must Break Isolation to Heal from Our Pain
This isolation response to stress, anger, and depression is what kills men’s bodies. In suppressing this emotional pain we often overeat, overindulge in desserts, drink, or check out in other various ways. We try to escape our emotional and physical pain by numbing it with sugar, alcohol, or drugs. But this is not an escape. This type of self-medication is always a trap. There is no actual relief from the pain and inner suffering. There is only a temporary numbing. When the anesthetic wears off we (men and women) are back in the painful place again. And frequently we’re feeling guilty for our binge. And this causes us to sink even further into our isolation and need to escape from ourselves.
The key to breaking this pattern is learning to connect with other people. One of the ways I have done this in my past is to attend Al-Anon meetings on a regular basis. While these are not open bitch-fests about our emotional pain, they are places where men and women are coming together in an attempt to take responsibility for their own lives and their own emotional pain. In joining with a group of people who are also on the path of healing from various emotional and physical dependencies, we begin to feel less alone. We break isolation when we are able to talk about “What is hard.”
Taking Responsibility for Our Own Health and Well-being
There was a point in my marriage when I felt I was the victim of this gender bias: women stay at home with the kids, men go to work. I felt my wife had the good deal and I was being given the quick ride towards high blood pressure and obesity. But, it was not her fault.
I am the only one who can take responsibility for my health and well-being. My wife was busy managing her own life and the lives of our kids. She did not have the bandwidth to worry about my weekend exhaustion. And what you must learn is this: you and only you can take charge of your mental, physical, and emotional health.
As men, we learned not to cry for help. We learned not to express our pain and sadness. We learned to keep quiet and do our part as good fathers. Like all the other good fathers just like us. We were all colluding with the myth of “family first” and our health second. It can’t work that way. When men head down this path they end up fat, unhappy, and stressed to the point of giving up. The emotional trap has one escape. You’ve got to break your own isolation (man or woman) and reach out to others who are dealing with similar struggles. Or elders who have been through what you’re going through right now.
This is why Al-Anon meetings are so powerful. People are gathering together to take responsibility for their own happiness and recovery. My addiction was
Moving Beyond Divorce and Trauma
Divorce in itself can cause a lot of trauma and stress as well. As I exited the family system into a life that was primarily alone (30% kid-time) I had to confront my own trauma and pain. I had to process the divorce of my parents and how it affected me as an elementary-school-aged boy. I had to deal with a depression and isolation habit that came on strong. I had to face my dark night of the soul several times before I believed I was strong enough to recover my happiness and contentment. Basically, my divorce caused me to fall apart in every aspect of my life, and in doing so, brought me face to face with my own healing process. I am the only one who can do anything about my sadness and hard times. I am the only one who can take action to get me out of my sad state and moving again towards a healthier life.
And as we heal from the trauma of divorce and the fallout of the breakup and loss of kid-time we begin to seek something more. Perhaps, we think, now we are ready to take on the challenge of a new relationship. Maybe we have enough information, we think, about what we don’t want, information about what went wrong in our marriage, that we can navigate a new relationship into a long-term partnership. As we heal and get healthy, we begin to seek companionship again. And this journey also requires healing and growth. Trust issues that may have blown up in our marriage, become fears and projections that we need to work out as we start letting another person get close to us, and perhaps, to our kids.
The skills I learned in resurrecting myself from the pit of despair, are skills that still serve me today. And in my primary relationship, I can use my own recovery path and my own self-reliance to open and trust again, with a new partner. It’s not easy. But, I believe we cannot heal from our divorce/relationship trauma without getting back into the ring and giving it another go. Only IN RELATIONSHIP can we learn how to be healthy in a relationship.
And the same truths still hold true.
- We are only responsible for our happiness and well-being
- We will always put our children’s priorities above ours or our partner’s
- We will love our partner’s kids with the same intention that we love our partner
- We will continue to put the WE-needs of the relationship ahead of the fear and selfish impulses of the past
- We will deal with our issues as they arise, and when necessary get outside help
- We will continuously turn TOWARDS our partners in times of doubt and stress
- We will learn how to be healed in the flames of love that can only come from a committed relationship
- We will believe in love again and we will celebrate our good fortune with our partners and their children
Seeking THE ONE
In the nine years since my divorce, I have been seeking a new long-term relationship. (SEE: Single Dad Seeks) I knew the journey would be long. I knew I would never settle for a near miss. And I had to begin and end a good number of relationships to keep looking for THE ONE. And, today, I’d tell you I’ve found that relationship. For now, which is all we know anyway, I have found my ONE. I have found the person who can see me as both wounded and triumphant. And I can support them in their journey as well. I have met a partner on the road to healing ourselves, and we’ve agreed to align our lives along a common thread. And we have agreed that our kids are our singular priorities AND that there is still enough room in both our lives for a partner.
I believe that I have found my lifetime partner. But, of course, only time (a lifetime) can tell. I do know that I am entering the arena every day to make both of our lives better and more joyous. And I believe that my partner has the same intention. The rest is to-be-written ONE DAY AT A TIME.
Get the complete single dad story with John’s new book: Single Dad Seeks (available in all formats)
And here are a few more posts about deep relationships:
- Single Dad Dating: A Few Things We’d Like You to Know
- Relationship Building Skills & Wisdom: BRAVING & The Four Agreements
- You’re Not the Only One Who Doesn’t Want to Be Alone Tonight
- Where Do You Seek Your Soulmate? Online Dating is Failing Us All
- Trying to Push the River: Forcing Your Dating Journey Won’t Work
- Planning For the Future In Your Relationship
- What A Single Dad Wants In the *Next* Relationship