A man with his eyes closed praying

We hear a lot about women and divorce: the woman ends up alone – generally with the children. She has little money. She loses social status. She finds it hard to socialise (she has the kids). She suffers from a loss of confidence, loss of economic security, finds it hard to get work (she has the kids). On and on it goes… I went through a separation and found that these stories all resonated with me.

However, I have also found myself listening to men’s stories of divorce as well as women’s. I used to think that men came out better from it than women; that they pick themselves up more quickly; they cope with the loss of their children in a way that most women find almost shocking; they move on to new lives, new wives, new children.

Certainly that seemed to me, aged 11, to be the case when my own parents separated. The next time I saw my father a few weeksa later, he’d swapped the family estate car for a brand-new, two-seater, sporty number. I will never forget seeing the shock and hurt on my mother’s face as he drove up to the front door.

I did have many moments sunk down in a chair, wondering what on earth I had done. I’d stand in the kitchen and feel absolutely terrible

But talking to the men for this article has revealed that the differences between the sexes are not as straightforward as I’d imagined. One only needs to look at Brad Pitt to realise that. The actor has given an interview in which he discusses the “emotional trauma” of his impending divorce from Angelina Jolie, revealing that he slept on a friend’s floor for six weeks after his split from Angelina Jolie because it was “too sad” to return home.

From a woman’s point of view, I know how tough separation is, but what about men? How do they handle divorce? What is their story?

I meet Tom Evans at a restaurant in London. He doesn’t live in the capital. He moved out years ago to a large house in Lewes – large enough for him, his American wife, Liz, and his two young children, Peter and Amanda.

But the idyll didn’t last long. Just after Amanda was born, he and his wife split up, at Evans’ insistence. “I was miserable,” he recalls. “I didn’t feel loved or supported. I just worked all the time. I was a good provider. Isn’t that what a husband does? But there was no warmth in my life. I felt I had no choice but to end my marriage.”

He says his wife was shocked by his decision. “I think she didn’t want the marriage to end, but it worked better for her than it did for me.” He tells me that, since then, despite the lure of London and the pull of a social life, dinners out, opera and the theatre, he still chooses to stay in Sussex. “I’m a homebody, really,” he admits.

After the divorce, his wife moved back to America with the children. “I didn’t expect that,” he says. “I didn’t mind her going back for long visits but I didn’t know she was going to stay there and not bring the kids back. It’s awful. I have very little access to my children. Every time I hear about Peter being in a football match and I’m not there to support him, it really hurts. I’m his father. I should be there.”

He describes his lifestyle before his marriage. “I was a bit of a playboy. I had all the toys, a lovely flat, great life, cars, women, expensive clothes, holidays. In my job as an international lawyer, I travelled the world. But I always felt like a Dickens character, one who had his nose pressed up against the glass, looking in on other people’s happy family lives.”

When he met Liz, there was a spark. He invited her to Italy. He proposed. They married in 2004. Two children soon followed. “I thought we’d have it all,” he observes. “But we were totally incompatible. We did go to counselling. We did try a reconciliation. It didn’t work.”

However, separating wasn’t that simple when it came to his emotions. “After Liz left, I did have many moments sunk down in a chair, wondering what on earth I had done. I’d stand in the kitchen and feel absolutely terrible.”

He is obviously very hurt. I want to point out that his anguish about his marriage has gone on longer than his actual union with his wife. I am not sure what this is about. He seems disproportionately angry with her, as if his anger has become his identity and he perhaps clings on to it rather than face what he has become: a single man with an estranged wife and children who live on the other side of the Atlantic.

Evans has, by his own admission, steered clear of any other major involvements – and yet he is a tall, dark-haired, attractive, well-educated, solvent man, not yet 50, with his own teeth and hair. Why not just get on with it, find a new identity?

He sighs. “I hope to, it’s just that I feel lost. I don’t believe I have anything. Even the law seems against me. If you are a woman and you have a man’s children, you get anything you want.”

This isn’t, of course, strictly true. Many women feel as financially hard done by as men do, post-divorce. It seems, however, that money is an issue on which men become particularly hung up. Jim Parton, a former chairman of Families Need Fathers, who himself went through a divorce 20 years ago, agrees.

“It seems to be what focuses and divides everyone. It becomes the battleground. It’s easier for men to battle over hard cash than on an emotional level. Men don’t do emotions. It’s too psychobabble for us, so money becomes the catch-all for everything men feel and all the anger they have at how badly they feel they have been treated by their ex-wives, the courts etc.”

My friend Andrew, who has been divorced for many years, tells me, “It’s the closest thing to rape for a man.” I goggle at him, shocked. I cannot equate a divorce case with rape. It seems a totally inappropriate comparison, far too extreme. How can separation possibly feel like such a violation?

“Because it can be so harsh,” he states, “and it never goes away – and in the same way that women feel powerless and often shunned and unacknowledged by the courts, so do men when it comes to divorce.”

More than two years after a divorce, 41 per cent of men were still sad about the failure of their marriage

In his case, he was fortunate. “My ex-wife and I are both sentient grown-ups,” he says. “We didn’t go to lawyers. We didn’t argue about money. We agreed to split childcare of our son. We just refused to fight each other.” However, he does know male friends who feel ripped apart by their divorces.

“They seemingly have very little rights overseeing their children. They are financially ruined. The lives they so carefully built up are ripped apart, especially in the courts. It can take years to get over it. Sometimes, they never actually get over it at all.”

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Finding it difficult to deal with separation or divorce? Read our other blog posts: How men can move on after divorce? and Relationship advice for men.

Needing help? We can help you and your partner and children in your relationship, marriage, separation, divorce, coping with difficult times. Get in touch.

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According to a 2013 survey, divorce makes men feel devastated, betrayed, confused and even suicidal, while, it claims, women are more likely to feel relieved, liberated and happy following a split.

  • 34% of marriages end by their 20th anniversary.
  • 114,720 divorces: Number of divorces in England and Wales in 2013. The number of divorces is falling, along with the marriage rate
  • 13 per hour: Average rate of divorce in 2013
  • 40-44 years old: the age group when divorce is at its highest
  • 17 months 26 days: average length of time it takes to finalise a divorce
  • 64% of children whose families divorced in 2013 were under 11
  • £337m: the UK’s biggest divorce settlement

The most striking aspect of the research, commissioned by Yorkshire Building Society, was that men were shown to suffer more emotional trauma than women, following a marital break-up. More than two years after a divorce, 41 per cent of men were still sad about the failure of their marriage; for women the figure was 33 per cent.

For Tim Scott, the hardest part of his decision to end his marriage to his wife Jane, a doctor, was what would happen to his relationship with his son Robert, then three. “I knew I’d miss him. I didn’t realise how much.”

There does seem to be an unspoken rule that the children stay with the mother at whatever cost to the man – or to the children. I know very few women who would leave their marriage, however horrible it was, if it meant leaving the children behind. Why then, if the man chooses to leave, does he then feel surprised and shocked at how much he misses his children?

“It’s a difficult one,” says Scott. “I just knew our relationship was at an end and that sort of took precedence.” He tells the story of how he and Jane took Robert to San Francisco. “We were on a boat coming in to the harbour and I’d arranged to go out that night. I’d got babysitting for Robert, a table booked at a top restaurant. But, just an hour before we were due to go out, Jane said she was too tired to go and wanted to stay on the boat.”

He went out, cadged a cigarette from a man on deck. “I knew it was over then,” he recollects. But maybe Jane was tired? Maybe life with a small child was taking its toll?

“No,” he says, “we were fundamentally incompatible.” But of course this begs the question; were they always incompatible or did life push them apart?

Scott’s comments would certainly ring true to most married couples with young children: no time, exhausted, little intimacy, done in by the end of the day, anger over who was doing more childcare versus who was having a better time. “We’d ceased to be a team,” he says.

Cut forward a decade, though, and things between Scott and his former wife are more amicable. They share the childcare for Robert. But how does he feel? Has life turned out as he expected?

He says the grief he felt about the loss of family life was unexpected. “I don’t think I realised quite how strongly I identified with myself as being a husband and father until it wasn’t there anymore. I was absolutely poleaxed by losing Robert, by not having the day-to-day relationship with him.”

Scott says he didn’t leave his marriage in order to find someone else. “That wasn’t part of it,” he says. He lives in a small house with his dog. Robert is around a lot. They do many things together: sailing, canoeing, just hanging out together.

So, the all-important question: is Scott happy? Does he believe he made the right decision? “I have nothing but positive feelings for Jane. I could not live with her, but I love and admire her. Divorce is a horrible thing and has scarred me, but it is no more unnatural than death and should not be stigmatised as such.”

None of the men I spoke to for the article had left for another woman. This is statistically rare – unless they are being economical with the truth – and, of course, shapes profoundly the nature of their experience of divorce.

Sian Blore, a divorce lawyer, tells me that of the people she sees in her work, 90 per cent of the men have someone else waiting in the wings. “There’s always someone else around somewhere. I know we don’t believe it but it’s true. Very few men leave a marriage without someone else being there for them.”

For women, she says, it’s different. “They have the ‘grass is greener’ syndrome. They leave because they are unhappy and they can’t bear it any longer, not because they’ve lined up a rosy new future.”

But for all the men I have talked to the same issues come up: a sense of loss, feeling somehow undermined, absolute sadness at the way they have lost touch with their children, anger, fury even, at the way they feel treated by the courts, a conviction that somehow, they have “lost out”.

Yet there is another world out there. I have also met men who, although scarred and sad, have found a new life that works for them. For most men, there is hope.

This is how one male friend of mine whose wife left him puts it: “In many ways I admire my ex-wife. Our relationship was dead. We were living hollow lives but I would never have called it off. I really didn’t want us to separate. I couldn’t imagine how it would be not to be with the children, yet, as painful as it has been, we are both happier now… or least, we have the potential to be happier.”

Names have been changed. This article first appeared in November 2013, it has been updated to reflect recent events

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By Lucy Cavendish

4 May 2017

 Thinking about divorce?

Lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt runs through the things to consider

Be realistic about money. Do you know the full financial circumstances of your marriage? Will there be any nasty surprises, like a house mortgaged to the hilt? Are there sufficient funds for your new chapter?

Think about where you’ll live. Look ahead to the day-to-day details of your new life. Will you feel lonely? If you can’t visualise life alone, take it slowly.

Is it a case of the grass being greener? If you’re certain about leaving and have support from friends and family then don’t hold back. But don’t be unduly influenced by friends also going through a divorce.

For advice and support, see citizensadvice.org.uk or relatewestsurrey.org.uk for Family Mediaation advice

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