This article is re-posted with permission, and originally appeared here at the website of Family Law Matters, authored by Psychologist Joel Curtis.
It’s no secret that men tend to put on a brave face and keep their emotions hidden when they’re going through a tough time.
A relationship breakdown is about as tough as it gets – most people describe their divorce as the most difficult thing they have had to deal with, almost as bad as dealing with the death of a loved one.
During a break-up, it’s normal to feel down – at a recent Family Law presentation, Professor Bruce Smyth from ANU indicated that his research shows women instigate 73% of separations. When you’re on the receiving end of that news, you may head through a cycle of grief where you will feel a whole wave of different emotions including shock, denial, pain, guilt and anger. These feelings are perfectly normal.
However, when these feelings start to consume you more and more for weeks on end, there’s a risk you might be experiencing depression. If depression goes untreated, especially in the midst of a family separation, it may have an impact on the children, your ability to make decisions and your ability to hold down work or perform well in your job.
Separation is a time when you need to be stronger than ever – being a positive role model for your children, being able to make logical and sensible decisions and continuing to provide the financial security you and your children will need in future. If your knees were giving up and were in pain every day from the minute you got out of bed, barely able to walk, you’d go and see a doctor, right? So why is it that men are less likely to seek out help for depression, especially during times of separation?
We asked our friend Joel Curtis, the Principal Psychologist at Endeavour Wellness at Miranda. Joel is especially concerned about the wellbeing of men going through separation and he understands that “Divorce can have a tremendous effect psychologically on men. Men don’t reach out for help because they are worried about appearing to be weak. As a bloke we would rather struggle through a problem than admit we can’t solve it for ourselves”.”
Antonella and Joel have come up with these six tips to help you men out there survive separation:
1. Keep your emotions in check: Dealing with your separation can be stressful, and emotions can run high. You could say things or behave in ways you might regret.
Joel says, “Divorced couples tend to feel angry and resentful toward each other. These emotions can get in the way of making co-parenting successful. No matter how difficult it may seem, you need to do your best to set these feelings aside.”
Antonella adds, “Children will pick up on the emotional tension, no matter how much you think you are shielding them. Their brains aren’t equipped to deal with processing those complex feelings, and they can suffer with regressing in their milestones or becoming clingy.”
Counselling can help you learn some strategies to keep your emotions in check, and tools to be able to deal with any highly emotional behaviour that bubbles over from your ex. You can also learn how to help your children build skills to deal with the heightened emotions.
2. Put your kids first: As adults, we are responsible for the impact we make on our children. You may not be able to control your ex-partner’s responses, but you can control yours – by thinking about the best interests of the children first, you’ll make good decisions when faced with a difficult situation.
Joel offers, “Separation is not about you or your ex. It’s about keeping your children safe. The goal here is to give your kids a chance of having a good relationship with both their parents”.
Antonella agrees with Joel, adding “Your lawyer can help advise about arrangements that reduce the chances your children have for exposure to this type of face to face conflict – remember, your children are watching and learning how you and your ex deal with emotions and conflict until you and your ex are ready to put the children’s needs first.”
Counselling can help you learn how to manage the difficult situations that arise, and help build a set of tools to shift the way respond to triggers. When you shift, your ex will have no choice but to shift as well.
3. Contact and co-operation:-Your ex is probably the last person you want to speak to after separation, however there are still important decisions that need to be made about the children, and they need you both to co-operate so they feel secure.
“Communication is vital. It may seem impossible at first, but you must do it for the well-being of yourself and your children,” suggests Joel. “You can communicate through text, phone calls, or emails instead of meeting in person. But know that having regular meetings with your ex is inevitable, especially when it comes to making important decisions concerning your children.”
Antonella warns, “Be careful with the contents of your text messages – if you wouldn’t want your grandma reading your message, don’t send it! There’s a fine line between sensible communication, and harassing messages that end up in an apprehended violence order. If you are reacting to a message, sleep on it, or have a friend check it before you send.” You should apply the same rules to social media.
4. Set the temperature with your kids: One of the most difficult aspects of separation is having to be apart from your children.
Joel acknowledges, “Having to separate with your children even for just a brief moment can make you feel lonely and worried. Be brave enough to talk to them and to assure them that although you and your ex are no longer together, they can still rely on you both.”
Antonella adds, “The children will reflect your mood – if you set the temperature with a happy and positive mood, they will absorb that from you. Whereas, if you’re distant, they will withdraw and become anxious about you.”
The children will be watching how you cope with being apart from them – they also need to learn skills on how to be apart from you.
5. Respect the Ex: This one can be difficult, especially when you feel like your ex is disrespecting you.
Joel says, “showing your children that you can maintain a sense of respect to your ex can shield them from more traumas and prevent them from hating either of you. It also teaches them the value of respect even in times of conflict.”
Antonella adds, from a court standpoint, “The Judges don’t tolerate disrespectful behaviour from either party. If you can’t be civil with one another, then sometimes that means having to keep you well and truly apart – this might pose difficulties for how contact arrangements can work and limits the options.”
Counselling can help you find ways to express a respectful demeanour even when you feel like the opposite.
6. Reach out for help: There are a multitude of services out there all ready to support you during this difficult time. Here are some of our suggestions:
- Your GP can issue a Mental Health Plan for you to receive Medicare bulk-billed or reduced fee counselling;
- Most local counselling services will have a therapist who has some specialisation in separated families, or family therapy;
- There are plenty of books that offer advice on how to co-parent successfully;
- The local Family Relationships Centre offer courses that teach you about the challenges of parenting after separation;
- Seeing a solicitor early on gives you advice on your rights and responsibilities, so you know where you stand and what’s fair.
A question we are often asked is “Won’t it look bad for me in my divorce if I’m having counselling? Won’t that mean I’m not well enough to see my kids?” Our Principal Solicitor, Antonella Sanderson, has a reassuring answer:
“Totally the opposite – in fact, if you recognise when need help that demonstrates an important insight into your wellbeing, which is positive for you! Being consistent and compliant with treatment is a huge benefit in showing you have the ability to look after yourself – so that you are in the best state to look after your kids.”
Antonella warns, “Bear in mind doctor’s records and counselling records could be presented to court under a subpoena – but if they’re showing you are taking positive steps to treat your depression and you’re getting better, that should help – not harm – your case.”
Remember, the way you deal with the separation will impact your children forever – and they’re learning from you about how to deal with conflict and emotions. By seeking the right support and help, you will have the greatest chance of success at navigating through these challenging times.
For more information about how to take care of your wellbeing, or to book a session with Joel, please call 1300 863 971.
For more information about how mental health and family law relate, or to book a consultation with a solicitor to discuss the options available for you and your family, please call (02) 9523 3007.