This latest blog is brought to you by Dr Kassi Klein:
As though the aftermath of 2020 hasn’t created enough relational chaos - once again, the looming COVID19 lockdowns are threatening further isolation. It’s placing unwarranted strain on relationships as couples are forced into lockdown together, financial stresses are amplified and relationship breakups are hitting harder than ever.
We know that men suffer from mental health issues and higher suicide rates in Australia - and the current isolation means further uncertainty and a lack of support when it is most needed. You can be sure that many men are struggling to stay afloat. Especially after relationship breakups, men are generally more isolated than women and yet it is something that just doesn’t get talked about much.
Breakups are so normalised in our modern society, we seem to set them aside as an isolated ‘occasion’ rather than a significant event with an aftermath of emotional turmoil. The accepted timeframe of ‘moving on’ is extremely short despite individually acknowledging that healing takes time. Men simply don’t get handed the kind of warm unconditional regard that a women might receive in respect to ‘getting over it.’ They are instead encouraged to ‘man up,’ hit the booze or ‘get under someone to get over someone’ - a somewhat unhelpful piece of advice that appears to be reserved just for men.
So knowing how to help your mates deal with a breakup during these critical times can really make a difference. It could literally save a life.
With something as fracturing as a relationship breakup, many men are left to keep their struggles hidden beneath the surface of a ‘straight face’. NOW is the time to be kind, to reach out whenever we can and support our mates as best we can.
6 Ways to Support your Mates through a Relationship Breakup:
Firstly, whether you are a guy or a girl - REACH OUT to your male friends who have experiences a recent (or not so recent) breakup. Many men don’t receive as much emotional support as their feminine counterparts and often a man’s intimate partner was their only point of contact to share their hopes, fears, dreams and deeper selves.
For men, this transition from relationship to separation generally leaves a greater void for connection and can bring a different kind of loneliness that isn’t often acknowledged. People want to feel cared for and thought about by others in hard times. Reaffirming the importance of their existence in your life is a powerful first step to supporting your mates. So simply reaching out and offering your presence to a mate in need can really help.
Talk about the tough stuff - the pain, the loss, the anger, the guilt, hurt. We often tiptoe around these difficult topics, as though if we actually talk about the pain that we will somehow make it worse. Trust me, the pain is there regardless.
Often when people are in pain, they feel like they can’t talk about it because they don’t want to burden you with their sadness or ‘negativity’. But if they can be given a voice to those feelings it can be a huge relief for them. Like taking a weight off their shoulders.
One of the heaviest burdens one can experience in mental health is this feeling of isolation - and if you can’t share your pain then you can feel really alone in this world. Be that person that they can share a broken word with, if they need it. It doesn’t always have to be ‘look at the bright side’ to help.
Let them vent about what went wrong. Research shows that attentively focusing on the reasons that they themselves were wronged in the relationship can help with the more difficult emotions and the time to recovery. This is not about demonising anybody - this is about processing emotions and balancing their perspective of how the relationship panned out.
Often after a breakup, we tend to turn on ourselves and turn to self-denigration rather than taking a more balanced perspective as to what went wrong. So being able to stand firmly in your mate’s court may help him gain a more realistic perspective and reduce the self-blame that so often comes with loss and rejection. So providing a safe space for them and encouraging them to have a cathartic vent over all the reasons it did not go well - can be extremely therapeutic.
Your job is NOT to "make" them happy, to fix their pain or solve their problem. They may seek a distraction, but they don’t necessarily seek a solution.
Regardless of how much we want to solve a mate’s pain and problems - we often jump too quickly into providing advice, which can create a feeling of not being truly heard.
The most powerful thing you can do right now is to sit with them, shoulder-to-shoulder and be with them through this pain. Rather than jumping straight into problem-solving and giving advice on how to ‘move on’ - actively listen. Let them tell the story in their own words, and reflect back to them what you’ve heard. That will make them feel genuinely understood and help them feel more connected during this difficult time.
Offer yourself up as an EXERCISE BUDDY. Breakups can really mess with your sense of self-worth. So looking after our mental and physical health during this time can help build self-confidence and provide that support. After a breakup, it can be hard work getting back on the exercise train, the premise of self-care can feel far out of reach as motivation wavers. We know that having a mate to work out with can really help boost motivation and feel-good chemicals in the brain, so it’s a great way of helping your mate feel connected and support his physical health during these emotionally stressful times.
If you are not in lockdown - hit the weights together, go for a run or engage in a team sports you both enjoy. Even if you are in lockdown - challenge each other to completing indoor workout challenges or do zoom classes or a novel app together. Having that physical support on a regular without the aim of just ‘chatting’ can be a huge relief and a great way to stay connected, without needing an excuse. It can help them rebuild their sense of self and this kind of empowerment is even more enduring if it can be done with a mate by their side.
CHECK IN ON THEM AGAIN next week, next month, and a few months down the track! We often think that men just ‘get on with it’ especially after a few weeks. We often don’t give them the same kind of understanding as we do for women in terms of how quickly they are expected to move on. Because men often lack the intimate support that women have after the breakup, they may sometimes take a longer time to move on from the relationship.
Furthermore, given the stigma around expressing emotional vulnerability, many men feel that they ‘should’ move on more quickly and therefore have to hide their emotions down the track. Checking in with your mates again a few weeks and months later can really show them that you’re there for them in the long-term and that you’re somebody they can rely on to reach out when they need it most. It again reinforce their worth in this seemingly anonymous and fast-paced world - and that you really have their back, now and in the long-term.
As a clinician working in Mental Health, I have heard men express this many times - that a supportive male or female friend can mean the world to them. Showing them that you care is a simple yet beautiful thing, that could quite literally save a life.
To all the men who are feeling the ‘heaviness’ right now, this storm will pass. Importantly, you do not need to carry that weight alone. Getting support where you need it takes immense strength and bravery, and there is no shame in reaching out - to friends, to family, to support groups (Mr Perfect!) or to a professional.
Dr Kassi Klein is a Medical Doctor working in Mental Health, and a Lifestyle Medicine Physician based in Australia. She is also a Relationship Coach for Men offering 1-on-1 Coaching.
Dr Klein advocates for men’s mental health - addressing the male stigma around mental health issues and helps males attain optimal mental wellbeing using her knowledge, ongoing learning and clinical expertise.