How Divorce Impacts Men’s Mental Health

sad wedding cake toppers

Men are statistically less likely than women to seek help for mental health and to celebrate Men’s Health Week we’re highlighting issues specifically related to men and their mental health.  

When Zak married his ex-wife, he wasn’t sure they were compatible. At the time it didn’t deter him, however. He was in love, and that seemed like enough.

“I think that’s normal,” Zak said.

Rather than spending time as a married couple without children, Zak and his wife started a family immediately after the honeymoon. After their first child was born, and somewhere between multiple moves, career shifts, and learning to be parents, their relationship became strained.

The changes were stressful, Zak said, and they exposed a preexisting lack of communication.

“We didn’t proactively do any work on the marriage,” Zak admitted. “Nobody said, ‘Hey, we need to go to therapy’ or ‘We need to work on this.’”

As time dragged on, Zak and his wife became less willing to put in that work. Raising children dredged up their own childhood issues. This made it even more difficult to focus on their marriage.

When they had their second child, it “kind of” saved their marriage. Nonetheless, once again Zak thought about how his relationship with his wife — independent of their children — had been neglected. He also worried about his own mental health.

“I hadn’t had a second to breathe since I was married, he said. “We never came up to breathe as a couple.”

Then an unexpected tragedy fractured their marriage beyond repair. Zak’s wife developed cancer.

The emotional and financial toll crushed them. Fortunately she recovered and began to live a normal life again, but the damage was irreversible.

Both Zak and his wife had wanted to divorce for many months. She was the first one to ask. He accepted, relieved she had raised the issue.

“It was a huge weight off,” he said.

Since then Zak and his ex-wife have worked through a cordial and amicable divorce without using lawyers. But it has still been a painful and depressing experience where Zak has struggled with existential issues.

Zac willingly gave the house to his ex-wife and has enjoyed the freedom of living alone and being single. It has been difficult, however, to accept aspects of his new life.

“I’ve created a space for my kids, but I’m a dude living in an apartment now,” said Zak. He laughed a bit as he ruminated on the strange situation. “Packing up all your shit is a lot of [emotional] weight.”

Every year millions of men carry this weight. Each story is different, but there are some common factors. Divorce tends to increase the risk of men developing anxiety, depression, and drug abuse. When men feel like their ex monopolized their children or mutual friends, the lack of social activity and resulting loneliness can exacerbate mental health issues. On the other side of the issue, men with mental illness and drug abuse problems are more likely to experience a divorce.

Zak has had a general sense of anxiety about the future since his divorce began. Nonetheless, he has learned from his mistakes and is living a happy life with his family.

The other day he asked his ex-wife if he could visit the house, despite it not being one of his days with the kids. His daughter had failed to qualify for a team, and she was down about it. Zak wanted to be there for her as soon as possible. His ex-wife granted him permission, so he rushed over.

As he comforted his daughter, watched over his son, and sat with the mother of his children, he reminded himself they would forever be a family. Divorce had hurt him, thrown him into existential limbo, and caused anxiety, but it couldn’t rob him of the joy his children provided.

Published by

Joseph Rauch

Staff Writer at Talkspace