Essay, Personal

When your wife divorces you

I read a monthly e-mail newsletter called The Masculinist, written for Christian men living in the modern world. Its author, Aaron Renn, has some very well-reasoned positions on men in the church and in living the Christian life. He does a great job of explaining and building upon his positions in his newsletter. If you’re interested, you can sign up here.

In his most recent newsletter, he offers advice for men whose wives decide to divorce them. He points out that women file for 70% of all US divorces, and it is therefore wise as married men to think about how it will affect us should it happen to us. He then offers solid advice and perspective. Read it here.

His advice really resonated with me. My first wife divorced me. I won’t tell the story as I’m sure my ex wouldn’t like me telling stories on her, as I don’t appreciate her telling stories on me. But she was the one who decided the marriage was over, and filed.

At that time I got two pieces of excellent advice that line up well with Renn’s perspective. The first one came from an unlikely source: my attorney. He told me to find five trusted men who would take my call and who would pray with me. Many of us men don’t have five male friends, especially ones not married to our wives’ friends. If I couldn’t find five men, find as many as I could. My attorney warned me that they would probably not be able to offer me any real counsel or help, and I should let them know I understand that. Their purpose was simply to listen when I needed to talk, and to pray with me and for me.

My young sons on the suspension bridge at Turkey Run State Park. It was 2005, after the separation but before the divorce was final.

Second, do not date for three years. My mother gave me this advice. You are a mess, she said, and need time to recover and figure out who you are again. If you date now, you will choose a woman like the one who just rejected you, or a woman equally a mess for her own reasons. Either way, it won’t lead to a healthy relationship. That will be bad for you. But more importantly, you do not need to be that distracted from your sons, who are also hurting and need you.

I took both pieces of advice. The trusted male friends (and family members) I lined up really did take my call at any time, and really did pray for me and with me. True to my lawyer’s counsel, they seldom had any meaningful advice or material help to offer. But they did listen, and offered comforting words. Because of them I was never alone through any of what came. It was a long, dragged-out mess — after filing, my ex flatly refused to negotiate, our judge refused to order mediation, and we went to trial in a badly backlogged court. It was more than a year before we stood before the judge.

The second piece of advice was wicked hard at first. I was so starved for attention and affection! But not dating helped me keep my head in the right game: raising my two sons, with the time the court granted me to have with them. Three years became seven, with my sons in high school, before I dated at all. At ten years, I met the woman who would become my wife. Even then, we delayed until my youngest son was out of high school. We agreed that it made no sense to upend his life as he knew it with me, with a new house and stepsiblings, when he was so close to the finish line.

The stability I provided for my sons in my home became foundational for them — the oldest has acknowledged this openly without my prompting — as their mom went on to marry two more times, moving our sons with them each time.

The other thing that I did on my own was double down on my faith. I was furious with God for the failure of my marriage. I’d prayed daily, on my knees and in tears, that he intervene and save us. I felt that God had not kept his promises to me, the ones I felt he had made all through his Word. I could have easily walked away at that point.

But there was something in me that insisted on holding God to his promises, and I let him know it in no uncertain terms. I spent a lot of time searching the Scriptures like a lawyer poring over legal texts trying to find where God had made those promises. Instead, through this study I learned how my understanding of God’s nature was thin and inaccurate. I came to understand him far better — and built a feeling of closeness with him that I didn’t know was possible.

Even though the divorce has been final for 14 years, recalling it still brings up residual pain. That’s the other piece of advice I wish I had been given: this is a very serious loss, and you will find a new normal, a new peace, and hopefully a new happiness. You will eventually no longer think about your loss every day. But it will remain a sad, difficult memory for the rest of your life.

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Last updated on 22 May 2020 by Jim Grey

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17 thoughts on “When your wife divorces you

  1. I was going to say that I can’t imagine how that must feel, but as a child of a divorce I actually do. It occurs to me that divorce usually involves one who starts it and everyone else in the family who must deal with the wreckage. And there is a lot of wreckage.

    I represented people in divorce cases for about the first decade of my career, and was pretty successful with them. But each one I did (and they were strictly a sideline) was hard on me and I was happy to reach a point where I could decide that I just wasn’t going to do that anymore. I have come to hate no-fault divorce but there doesn’t seem to be any real constituency for going back to the old fault-based system that would make them harder to get.

    That 70% of the filers are women surprises me, but perhaps this just means that my personal and professional experiences are limited and out of date.

    • In my case, my first wife and I were locked in a death spiral that was both our faults.

      I can’t imagine how emotionally challenging family law must be. A childhood friend is a family attorney in Helena, MT. She says she could never stand the emotional strain of it in Indiana as it’s still a winner-takes-all state. In Montana the baseline is joint physical and legal custody and the property rules are apparently more cut and dried.

  2. Divorce is painful. Mine was final thirteen years ago and, even though I wouldn’t want to go back to him or those days, the thought still hurts at times.

    Another long term relationship ended a couple of years ago and I instinctively have no desire to date although I have been out a couple of times. Some friends say I’m becoming cynical so I did try for a while. Maybe someday but I feel like I’ve learned enough in the last decade to realize that not everyone gets to/needs to have that kind of presence on their life.

    I’m glad you had such good advice to and caring people to guide you through. One wouldn’t expect something so profoundly helpful in an emotional or spiritual realm to come from an attorney! More than anything, I’m glad you have built a new life and that you are happy now!

    • I’m a man who always tries to find a path forward. If I don’t I grow depressed, and depression sucks. So I turned my attention fully to raising my boys and it was the best choice I could have made.

  3. -N- says:

    My question is why do 70% of women start the divorce. I can tell you a number of reasons: neglect, affairs, violence, failure to be part of the family (neglect), poor communication, unrealistic demands, sexual insistence, toxic masculinity, chauvinism, selfishness. There are times when divorce is the only answer to untenable circumstances. Additionally, men are better off financially on a percentage basis after divorce than women. Usually women get the children, which limits ability to earn money, and more often than not, women will end up in poverty, and their children. I divorced my first because he became God’s right hand man, and let me tell you, that does not bode well in a marriage at all.

    Your mom gave you great advice, as did your attorney – and in many ways you benefited from the shift of focus onto your kids, from the support of your family and friends. Yes, divorce is painful, for both sides no matter who instigated it. A failure to reflect and grow is often the case after divorce, and the failure continues without introspection. It took me a long time to get over my divorce, but I am now quite happily married.

    • My first wife was abusive. In response, I became addicted. It was a terrible situation.

      I do not mean to suggest that there aren’t untenable marriage situations from which a woman — anyone — should exit. I should have filed for divorce four years before that marriage eventually ended because of the treatment I received. It took some good therapy for me to come to terms with why I stayed and to forgive myself.

      In contrast, my (current) wife’s husband abandoned the family. Just quit coming home one day. Nothing would bring him back. If ever there were grounds for divorce, those were it.

      My ex made 20% of what I did when we divorced and it put her into immediate financial dire straits. I paid very high child support for a long time, without complaint, to make sure my sons had a decent roof over their heads. My ex eventually became an RN and was able to support herself.

  4. 21 years ago for me now. And man, I wish I would have listened to your second point here. The one thing I’m grateful for is that I kept my two sons a priority for me, and that decision has carried me through to this day. Even though I was making some long trips to go get them and attend their concerts and sporting events, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Thanks for the post here.

  5. As the current wife of a marriage and family therapist and the ex-wife of, well, my ex-husband, I agree that these pieces of advice are super solid. Women typically don’t need the first piece of advice about friends, but I was fortunate enough to have a great therapist at the time who emphasized the advice about waiting to date. If you don’t, you just end up salving your wounds with the new person. That’s objectification and not true relationship, and so the new relationship either fails spectacularly, doubling the trauma, or it lasts in an unhealthy dynamic. Smart, smart advice, and so few are able to follow it. I didn’t wait three years, but I waited till I had learned to love being alone. That love stays with me still, and my current marriage relies on a lot of space for autonomous operation for both of us.

    • I had to recover from what I went through. My wife was awful in the last few years of our marriage, and it left me with PTSD. The divorce itself was traumatic, with a cowboy judge who decided just by looking at me that I was the problem. I needed time to process that and let it go. It took years, frankly.

      It helps a lot that I have zero problem being alone. I love it. While I ached for the affection and attention I did not get in my marriage, I was perfectly content in my quiet home, working on projects or writing or making photographs. The latter was stronger than the former in me and it carried me through.

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