There have been a number of studies published over the years purporting to show the benefits of marriage, particularly for men. However, if you’ve been through a divorce as a man, it definitely adds a new perspective: it might not necessarily be that marriage is good for your health, but rather that divorce is bad for it.
This is definitely something that’s come to mind for me recently, as I’ve started to feel the effects of a rather unhealthy lifestyle since separation. Ironically, there was one thing about divorce that may have been healthy for me: I lost about 30 pounds due to the stress, and still haven’t gained it all back. However, for the most part it’s been negative. Stress may have contributed to weight loss, but it causes plenty of other problems. The anxiety and depression kept me inside most of the time, I neglected my social life, I went for long periods without enough (if any) exercise, sleeping patterns were disrupted, I skipped a lot of meals, had a hard time maintaining a healthy diet, used beer or wine to calm down and sleep in the evening rather than simply as an enjoyable social lubricant, etc.
I’m sure this is a familiar story for divorced men, yet there’s almost no discussion about what can be done about it. In fact, the only advice we get is along the lines of “get married” or “stay married,” which is essentially worthless, because for divorced men getting married is what led to the problem in the first place, and we usually had no choice as to whether we stayed in the marriage or not. It’s another one of those “damned if you do” situations divorced men so often find themselves in, and that’s probably why divorce is so clearly hard on men’s health. It adds another element to the betrayal of the ex-wife, too, because it’s becoming increasingly clear that divorce not only takes away a man’s children, property and labor, but years of his life as well. It seems to be nearly as unhealthy as smoking a pack of cigarettes per day, or being in prison.
That said, divorce doesn’t need to be a death sentence for men. If we could only remove some of the more male-hostile provisions of family law, have a little compassion for fathers and their needs, and refrain from treating divorced men like criminals, I’m sure we could mitigate some of the worst stressors and give men the peace of mind needed to get back on track and pay attention to their health. However, this issue has been ignored for too long, and it’s going to take some work to bring it to the public’s attention. Although sympathy for divorced men may never be very high (people instinctively tend to feel little compassion for adult men), one way to frame the issue could be in terms of benefit to the children. For example, what good does it do a kid if his father dies of a heart attack in his 40s? Can a man who becomes chemically dependent due to self-medication for stress be as good of a father as one who remains healthy and sober? The answers to these questions should be pretty clear. Healthy fathers are better prepared to help their kids succeed, whether they are divorced or not, so perhaps judges ought to give that fact a little consideration before they issue an order that will all but guarantee a great decline in a man’s mental, and subsequently physical, health.
As for myself, I’ve been thinking about the issue recently. I went to see a doctor recently, and based on results decided to make a few changes. Although I’m relatively young and could get away with neglecting my health for the last few years, that won’t last, and as a divorced man it’s up to me to make sure I can continue to be there for my kids for some time to come. I think we all ought to encourage each other to do the same. It’s time to start focusing on these basics, because nobody else is going to do it for us.