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Many of my divorcing women clients have expressed a sense of unfairness as it seems that men have an easier time with divorce than women. While it is not possible to quantify the degree of sadness and grief each partner experiences with the demise of a marriage, it is fair to say each gender has different challenges as their marriages deteriorates and they rebuild their lives.

1.       Emotionally

Women are still seen as the “keeper of relationships”. Despite many changes in the last fifty years, a woman’s role within the family is not that much evolved. Yes, many women work outside of the home, but they are still seen as primarily responsible for the running of the home and raising the children. Many women view their success in life based on these attributes, while men often define success based on their work life. So, it follows- when a marriage falls apart, it will hit women harder. She is more likely to blame herself and worries that society, the family and kids will blame her as well.

2.       Economically

Women still make less money than men. http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/censusstatistic/a/womenspay.htm While it may have been a sound financial decision for the woman to put her career on hold to stay home to raise the children-fast forward a few years to a divorce- when the woman finds she must re-enter the job market. Now she finds her professional prospects limited as she stepped off the career ladder years before, while he was still on it working his way up. 

“Over the years many sobering published statistics have shown a woman’s income typically drops considerably after a divorce. According to a study cited in an article on the OppenheimerFunds website, a woman’s standard of living drops by about 27% after a divorce from her husband, while the man’s standard of living actually tends to improve. A U.S. Census Bureau report paints a similarly grim picture, showing the average woman’s family income drops by as much as 37%.” http://www.dickinsonlaw.com/2012/01/are-the-economic-consequences-of-divorce-improving-for-women/

Furthermore, many women do not have access to their own financial records either because the men are unwilling to share that information or the women, feeling overwhelmed with their own responsibilities of child rearing and running a home are simply content to let him “manage the finances.” When divorce occurs, they find themselves in the dark about the couples assets and financial life. This is especially problematic when the husband is self-employed.

3.       Domestic Violence

Overwhelmingly, it is women who are victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately these incidences of domestic violence continue to grow, making women more fearful of leaving or even discussing issues that may be conflictual in the relationship. Threats are not to be taken likely. More women are killed each year at the hands of a partner than a stranger, so their concerns and fears are real. The fear of violence makes it very difficult for women to navigate the journey of divorce.

“Women are much more likely than men to be victimized by a current or former intimate partner.5 Women are 84 percent of spouse abuse victims and 86 percent of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend and about three-fourths of the persons who commit family violence are male.” http://www.dickinsonlaw.com/2012/01/are-the-economic-consequences-of-divorce-improving-for-women/

4.       Legally

In negotiations men often have the upper hand. Boys are generally more competitive-being raised to compete and win through sports and later, business.  Girls are more comfortable with compromise and collaboration.  Since, women are more likely to recoil from the “fight” than men, they are often at a disadvantage in the legal haggling that typifies most divorces.  A woman may make concessions simply to end the wrangling and anguish. Again, if domestic violence is an issue or even a mild threat, even with the most competent of legal representation, a woman may simply feel too intimidated to pursue her legal and financial rights.

 So realistically, what can you do to protect your rights and level the playing field?

  •  Knowledge is power but be aware of the source. Well meaning family and friends and (most definitely your husband!) cannot be relied upon for accurate information. Divorcesource.com is an excellent resource. Remember the laws vary from state to state.
  • Take time researching and interviewing family attorneys before hiring one. Women often spend more time picking out a winter coat than hiring an attorney. Just because your cousin Jackie looked great in that purple coat, doesn’t mean you will. Same goes for her pick of an attorney. Listen to other people’s opinions, than hire the person that is best for you.
  • Work closely with your attorney to make sure you understand exactly what is possible and what is not.
  • Make sure you tell your attorney everything about your marriage/finances, etc. This includes the embarrassing stuff. Don’t worry- your attorney won’t judge you. They have heard it all. The more they know, the better they can represent you. Your attorney works best when s/he has all the info and there are no surprises.
  • Find a therapist that understands the unique issues of dealing with the demise of a marriage and domestic violence. By working on the grief /anger/loss with a therapist, you are much less likely to make bad legal/financial decisions based on emotion and better able to utilize your lawyer more effectively.
  • If you have fear about being hurt, speak up! Better to be safe than sorry.
  • Do not use your kids as emotional hostages. This only messes up the kids and can damage your relationship with them. This is true even if THEY ARE ADULTS.
  • Do not call his family and friends ranting and raging. It is a waste of time and energy.
  • Accept the legal system will not punish him for your emotional pain.
  • Create a post-divorce plan for yourself. Think about what you want your life to be like after this divorce is final and discuss these ideas with your attorney and therapist. Live in the present but plan (and dream) of the future.
  • Do not panic about being single, instead try to use this time of solitude to look within. Learn the difference between being with yourself instead of by yourself.
  • Divorce is something you deal with, but make sure to get on with your life. During the process spend time with friends, get plenty of sleep, exercise and make time for fun.
  • Don’t turn to alcohol or drugs (unless prescribed) to deaden your pain. No one makes good decisions while under the influence.
  • Don’t ruminate on the past. Learn from it and then move forward.

Finally, keep this in mind- Divorce is something that happens to you, but don’t let it define you. One year from now, you will be amazed at how far you have come but it is a process of baby steps. When you doubt you won’t get through it, consider all of those you know who have. Most women will tell you they are happier now and their only regret it that they wished it had happened sooner. Let them be your inspiration.  If they can get through it, so can you!

© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

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4 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 06. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    Life is something that happens to you – any transition or challenge cannot define you. Only your responses to these challenges are what define you; how you overcome and thrive in spite of, and because of, these challenges. This is what defines your inner strength and character.

  2. Diane on the 06. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    This is great. Professional, factual, but hits on the dumb stuff we feel/might do. Really excellent.

  3. Sharon on the 07. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    So true….Divorce is not easy, and there are many unforeseen challenges but every year you will be amazed at how far you have come. While you are taking those baby steps that feel like forever, one day you will realize those challenges have lessened or disappeared, and you will discover a new, stronger, healthier you.
    I find after 6 years that I can handle more that I ever thought was bearable. Great read.

  4. Nancy on the 02. Dec, 2017 remarked #

    I have been in both circumstances. Let me assure you that losing a lifetime partner is much harder than losing parent. By the time we are adults, we have our own seperate lives from our parents… but by that time, the surviving parent has put their whole life into this partnership…and now that partner is gone. If the children were young and still at home… totally dependent on that lifestyle, I’d say they need more consideration than the surviving spouse. But while they are adults and have their own lives, they should be the ones supporting and consider the needs of their parent. Like I said… I have had both experiences and neither one is easy. But I can tell you for sure that adult children who lose a parent are not in as much pain and emotional turmoil as a lifetime surviving spouse. The adult children need to step up and help their parent and support them and their choices.

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