Adapting to life after divorce is hard for guys under the best of circumstances. But you can make it easier on yourself, your ex, and your children if you avoid some of the most common mistakes.
1. Dating Too Soon
Too many men seek out a new relationship before the dust has settled on their divorce, says psychologist Sam J. Buser, PhD, coauthor of The Guys-Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce. They rush into new relationships -- and often into new marriages -- within the first year.
"That's no doubt the biggest mistake," says Buser, who is based in Houston.
Buser says that men often jump into dating because they're lonely, vulnerable, and sad, and they're looking for someone to help them feel better.
"The relationships they start do not often work out in the long run," he says. "I advise my patients to wait at least two years. I've never had a man take me up on that advice, but I do try to slow them down."
He also advises men to date casually at first.
"Tell the woman you've just been through a tough divorce and that you're not ready for a committed relationship," he suggests. "Acknowledge that it is not the right time for that."
2. Isolating Yourself
After a divorce, it's easy for guys to let themselves become isolated, especially if the ex gets custody of the kids. That's another big mistake. It can worsen feelings of depression, guilt, and loneliness, a potentially dangerous mix. Divorced men are twice as likely to commit suicide as married men.
Divorced men are also more prone to alcohol problems, so be careful of starting down that road.
"You don't have to drink every day to have a problem," Buser says. "Drinking a six pack is a binge."
Buser's advice: Connect with other guys. Call up old friends, join a softball team, a club, or a professional association.
"Expand your social and professional network to avoid isolation."
He also says that the aftermath of a divorce is great time to go back to school. It keeps you active, stimulates your mind, potentially advances your career, and gets you out of the house.
3. Introducing Your New Partner to Your Kids Too Soon
You've met someone new. You're excited and happy. Good for you. Just don't make the mistake of expecting your kids to be upbeat about it.
"The last thing the kids want to see is parents getting involved with someone else," says Gordon E. Finley, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in issues facing divorced men and an emeritus professor of psychology at Florida International University in Miami. "They are going to be unhappy. Date when you feel ready, but leave the kids out of it."
Buser agrees. "Focus on the other adult when starting a relationship," he says. "She can meet the kids when you know you are serious."
4. Giving In to Hostility
Don't make the mistake of continuing to fight with your ex, especially if children are involved.
"You don't want to be seen as an enemy or an antagonist but as a co-parent," says Arizona State University professor emeritus of psychology Sanford L. Braver, PhD. "I'm not saying that that will be easy, but everybody will be better off."
Braver, co-author of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, recommends that men consider conflict and anger management classes. In his research, he's found that when dads learn how to put compromises before conflict and competition, both the kids and the parents do better.
"Learn to manage as well as you can from the middle ground," says Braver. "Diplomacy and negotiating skills are key."
Being civil with your ex may encourage more flexibility in terms of custody, and potentially more time with your kids.
"If divorced spouses have a working relationship, they can agree to informally bypass some stipulations," Finley says. "Workloads go up and down, schedules can shift, and you want some way to take that into account."
5. Backing Off From Parenting
If you're a dad, divorce doesn't change that. Your child still needs you as a father, not as a visitor.
"That should be the most important thing from the man's point of view: His child wants him and his child needs him," Finley says. "Maintaining the relationship is important for your child's developmental outcome: social, emotional, and educational."
Finley warns against becoming what he calls a "Disneyland dad," who acts as if his role is to show up on weekends and show the kids a good time.
"That's not good for you or your kids," Finley says. "Help them with their homework. Talk about what's on their minds."
Before divorce, some dads, Buser says, make the mistake of yielding much of their parenting role to their partners. There's a possible silver lining to divorce if they put in the work, however.
"Lots of guys have never had experience as the primary caregiver, and they don't know what to do and have trouble adapting," Buser says. "But divorce gives them an opportunity, when they are with their kids, to be a full-time parent for the first time. They often become better fathers after divorce."