There is a statisical fact that men aged 35-50 are most at risk of self harm or suicidal thoughts or actions. Socio-economic changes in the workplace and industry and a change across the Western economies where automation is replacing manual roles. The regular breakdown of marriages and longterm relationships, the far too oft isolation from the role of fatherhood, and the loss of a partner are all causal factors in leaving some men feeling bereft and on the outer rim of society.
Divorce is one of the major factors leading to many men perceiving a major gulf in an ability to grapple with finding the rungs of the ladder needed to climb out of a position of vulnerability. Support services are available but overstretched. Very often the burden of an inability to manage or rationalise the feelings of isolation become too much for the individual and a release from a position of personal torment leads to the ultimate decision.
Why am I writing this article ?
Too many men in my age group (I am 46) are in a position of extreme distress and anxiety that can’t happily wear a label. Whether that is caused by debt, by relationship or marriage breakdown, loss of employment or a personal incapacity to understand how to broach topics that are too painful or emotionally distressing to describe or to rationalise.
I got to the age of 45 and was happily married (or so I thought) to someone who I idolised and put on a pedestal. A father of two amazing children when my wife left me for another woman. Stupid decisions we took, or that I went along with to keep my wife happy destroyed my life. My wife then isolated me from my children (and continues to do so) for no valid reason other than divorce positioning, isolating me from the only family I have.
Six months on I found myself sat in my tiny cottage in the West Country beyond what you can describe the depths of despair. I was in an intimate purgatory, a lot of it self inflicted by personal incapacity to rationalise feelings of loss. Add on to that living with higher functioning autism and being separated by force from my children I was lost.
Disorientated and entirely astray from the world that I had worked so hard to build, with a loss of financial security paying huge legal bills to attempt to see the children we had agreed shared care of before my wife decided to all but kidnap them legally. To see a way out was an option that I did not have. No manual, self help book or forum could provide me structured rational assistance.
I had nobody to call, the only call I wanted to make, to the woman I was still madly in love who was now infatuated with someone else, was a door that I had helped slam shut by rushing into serving her divorce papers and alienating her, making her so angry that she had isolated me entirely from her life and thoughts. The compassionate and loving woman I had woken up with thousands of times and created life with was long gone, replaced with someone I no longer recognised who had not only fallen out of love with me but had chosen to hate me. Being Aspie hate isn’t something that is an objective emotion that I can harness, I was still smitten with her as much as the day I met her, regardless of her infidelity or the fact she was waking up with another woman who had taken my place in her heart. Court action throughout the summer between us had built a rift so huge that no rational conversation could bridge it.
For me, all the family I had was her at the helm and two fantastic little boys we had made who were the epicentre of my cosmos. Here, months on having moved out I was a hermit in a very tidy little cottage. My wife already spending days on end in our marital home days after I had left with the woman who had been the cancer at the heart of our breakdown. Lost in an infatuation whilst I looked after our children in my cottage down the road the entire summer. I’d lost dramatic amounts of weight and my health was affected. I had read every book in the house, I had listened to almost every audiobook and podcast consumed. I couldn’t watch any Netflix or Amazon Prime series that we had started watching together, and I didn’t have the spare funds to have any form of life or external relaxation that would afford me a distraction. Meeting someone else or dating wasn’t on my radar and I didn’t see anyone other than the people who lived on the farm where I live. I started feeling a burden to them, and I certainly couldn’t tell anyone that I hated myself and I was scared.
To be 45 and a dad is amazing. To be 45 and scared and without anyone to bounce feelings of personal loss was terrifying. I would regularly go four to five days without leaving the house, throwing myself into working remotely but putting in too many hours to fill the void. Not seeing my children properly for 100+ days was starting to shatter my will to live and the hit at the very core of my ability to cope with daily stuff. I lived in a very tidy clean cottage, never had any dirty washing. Found myself shopping late at night to deliberately avoid the remote possibility of seeing my wife and my children in a supermarket. I found that avoiding supermarkets when tills were open meant I did not have to make conversation. After 10pm only the self scan tills were open and they don’t talk to you or ask you how your day was.
I didn’t feel bitter or angry. When you are Aspie, you want answers, you want to ask questions and the only person I could get those from I was alienated from and was divorcing, and she held the handcuffs that were preventing me seeing the children I needed.
Children I deliberately did not want to use as a crutch or as an escape. But children I craved holding, playing with, feeding and just watching them grow. My home had been built during the summer of 2018 with every item of clothing, beds, books, toys and Lego my kids could need. School books, bookbags, shoes, school uniform all still currently sat untouched in plastic six months on. I couldn’t even open their wardrobe or walk into their bedroom without feeling such a sense of loss that left me crippled in a puddle of tears.
A middle aged man who had lost not just the love of his life but his best friend who had lied consistently to him for months, laid on a sofa feeling lost and unable to explain to anyone how damaged he was. A culpable sense of shame without feeling sorry for yourself is a very strange place to find yourself. Shame, remorse, humiliation. I had been cuckolded by my wife in front of my own eyes as she fell in love with a woman in our own home, isolating me from my home and the two children that were core to my existence.
I am not alone. Many divorcing women withhold children. It is an ever-growing tactic of ex wives who behave in a manner to be controlling using the children of the relationship or marriage as a pawn to secure equity stakes in marital property or maintenance. Without seeing the bigger picture of long-term damage to the children by instituting parental alienation. High conflict parenting where one parent behaves in a way that is massively destructive to remove the other father or mother out of the children’s daily lives is on the increase. There are tens of thousands of ex-husbands and partners who are alienated out of their progenies lives.
I failed to cope. I would sit up at night trying to lose myself in long novels or cleaning away my home until it shone. Two bunk beds made up in my sons bedroom that hadn’t seen their occupants for months. My wife refusing to allow me to even speak to my kids reinforced a feeling of bereavement that surpassed the feelings of grief I experienced when I lost my father suddenly more than two decades previously.
I had weekends where I didn’t get out of bed. Didn’t open my curtains, ate sparingly, but knew that if I let her tactics win that I wouldn’t be any good to my children and I could be painted as weak or mentally ill, something that I genuinely wasn’t. When you’re trapped in a war with someone you loved, who has your personal destruction at her core, to allow her to destroy you would be giving in.
I found help. Realising what she did was an extension of the coercive controlling behaviour that had started in the February when she started a sexual relationship with the other woman behind my back, and started falling in love within our marriage, with someone else. Blinded by the damage she was doing to our marriage, infatuated with the other partner, our hard won stability and financial security was about to be smashed to bits. To allow myself to give in to feelings of huge self doubt and loss now, was not something I was going to allow to happen.
I took dumb decisions to rely on poor legal help. I had not then discovered Direct Access Barristers, the sole light in my life the last twelve months and without whom I genuinely feel that I could not have continued the battle.
I was guided by people in the legal profession, folk who want to part you with huge invoices and I was separated from the only person who I thought could help me, who had one agenda. Me, out of my children’s lives for good, but me supporting her financial needs and supporting her and a new partner. I stupidly, and in blind terror, assumed she would stop hurting me and come to her senses and be the calm rational woman I made children with. In my case I was blinded by the love I had for her and the fact whatever she did she still had my love and respect as the mother of my amazing children.
In my case, she had forgotten that for me, money and support and fiduciary issues were never an issue. She just needed to win at all costs. She didn’t get the memo that nobody wins in a divorce. Everybody loses and the only people who matter are the children. And when you are deliberately hurting the children by preventing them having access to the absent parent so soon after separation then you’re actually being really quite manipulative and deceptive and you are not acting in the best interests of two children who have a right to see the other parent.
I had nowhere to turn. I couldn’t talk to her, she wouldn’t have helped or been interested, even though I had made sure a decade earlier she had got the help she needed when she had been depressed. I hadn’t realised that feelings of loss and grief come in cycles post-divorce or separation. What I was experiencing was normal. I didn’t have an affair, I didn’t want a divorce, I didn’t want to leave our home. I was isolated and locked out.
I spoke to men in the same situation as me and struggled to realise that this is a long game and applying to the courts as I did in September would take time. The courts, correctly, want to find the best possible outcome for the children of the marriage. They don’t care about you or your ex, just what is best for the children. We had agreed shared care twice in writing only for my ex to revoke it to secure a preferential financial outcome in her favour. But also reinforcing potential future spousal maintenance.
To unravel this takes time and takes professionals like CAFCASS and the Family Courts. Expect dirty tricks, expect false accusations, expect to be accused of everything under the sun. If you read the forums a lot of divorce solicitors almost brief their female clients to invent accusations of abuse or domestic violence, or to goad a divorcing husband into a reaction to get a non molestation order or occupation order. They’re paid to place their clients into the best possible situation and to ringfence the mother into being primary care giver.
In my sense I was about to become a turkey baster to a an all female couple needing an absent father with a cheque book – and it wasn’t going to happen on my watch, nor is it ethical, moral or acceptable behaviour. In my case my ex chose someone freshly bankrupt that had even borrowed the money off me to go bankrupt. Any father should have no issues supporting their children but to be brutally removed from your children’s lives out of malice to gain financially was unacceptable.
I’ve seen every possible trick, every possible falsehood attempted, to be described and painted as someone you are not capable of being. Going one minute from a loving husband to being Satan, overnight. Someone I loved and adored resorting to every knee jerk reaction to attempt personal gain and to try to avoid court action or to paint herself as the perfect mother. Perfect mother’s do not have affairs or behave in such an underhand or genuinely despicable manner.
Without ethics, morals and in their eyes beyond scrutiny or recourse. For me, it hit me at my very core, that someone I’d made love to ten thousand times, someone I’d been so proud to call my wife and put on a pedestal now had forgotten everything I had done to provide for her and the kids. When I had my stroke in 2015 she had nursed me, when she had c-sections I looked after her. The moment of our children’s births and our marriage the proudest times of my adult life. I was bereft.
Holidays and breaks, feeling like a million dollars waiting for her on railway platforms for her to turn up looking amazing. I cannot tell you in words how in love I was with her – listen to all 26 episodes of our podcast if you don’t believe me. Eating in restaurants, so proud to be her man, waking up with her in hotels all over the UK and on the Eastern Seaboard of the US. Working hard to find concert tickets for bands that she loved, I worked my ass off to make her feel that she was never far from the centre of my world. I wasn’t easy to live with but I didn’t deserve being treated with contempt, like a criminal.
I needed help. I needed someone to turn to who could listen and who could separate the noise from the reality of needing help. As an independent man living alone in isolation I struggled. Like many men, I wasn’t alone in that suffering so please don’t think this is me feeling sorry for myself as it really wasn’t.
I sat and read the Fathers for Justice forums and Familes Need Fathers online members sections and didn’t find any consolation. Speaking to three dads in similar positions as myself. I discovered that looking after my personal mental health and my diet were things I was not putting anywhere near a high enough priority.
All I could see was the fact I was alone unable to speak to my children or to hold them. If she had been in the same position I think, in fact I know, she would have broken down too. She had a breakdown in 2007/8 and it hurt me hugely to watch her at such a position of loss and I remember feeling if there was anything I could do to help her I would. Now she was the active cause of my despair.
I turned to two bodies to help me, I had been seeing therapists throughout August – October who didn’t really help much. I took to writing her letters almost every day. Putting them in a box as she will never read them. Never understand, or care. She had cut me out her life the minute she fell in love with someone else months before we split up and I filed divorce at haste.
The two bodies who I turned to provided me context help and care to rationalise and align feelings of loss and to start eating properly, to start sleeping properly. My HR team at my employer were fantastic and supported me. Work is central to my life ethic. I have to be working and I have to be productive. My health suffered hugely and I lost 60 kg plus in weight. Not having family nearby and not having neighbours it was like being under house arrest.
I slowly found my feet and I found friends who were at the end of the phone in the UK, the US and Australia so that I had 24/7 coverage. Unlike many in my position I didn’t seek solace in alcohol, never been a drinker and never understood those who drank. Hiding in a bottle isn’t an aid to recovery.
Sadly many men don’t have that ability to not self medicate. I didn’t want a lovelife and if I had had one I wouldn’t have been good to anyone. My libido wasn’t even on my top 100 things to consider, after all I was still madly in love with the very root cause of my pain. Regardless of what she had done to our marriage and our family.
Slowly and surely I started working my way out of negative feelings and feelings of self doubt. There were times when I felt like ending it all, but knowing the damage that would do to my children and also that behaving like that would both provide a victory to my ex partner who I think would have popped champagne corks to my demise. It wasn’t ever an option but if you can’t admit that you’ve thought about it seriously you can’t rebuild.
I am fortunate. I am good at what I do for a living and am surrounded by technology folk and I always am working my ass off to find new avenues in security that effect positive change. Researching that and working hard for my employer who gave a crap really was the backbone of recovery. Add to that the fact that I knew that if I didn’t concentrate then I would have let them down. I wasn’t about to do that for a nanosecond.
I read a lot. An awful lot. My age group are the most likely to attempt self harm or suicidal thoughts and that this isn’t a feeling of personal weakness but more a release. There were weekends where I lay in a clean bed listening in the dark to audiobooks. I didn’t spend a penny on luxuries. I didn’t buy anything for myself, I just kept myself isolated. I still do now. I’ve been out my house twice in eight days out of choice.
Throwing myself into my work, harnessing what I am capable of for positive change, ensuring I am always planning what to do with my children. Making sure they have activities planned and that when they arrive here they see a happy dad who is entirely focused on their needs is core to my existence. They don’t need to know how badly behaved their mother has been – they didn’t ask to be born, they didn’t ask to be party to a divorce or separation. Making sure that you isolate them entirely from the maelstrom and the swirling winds of change is key.
Remember kids who are caught in a divorce are in a bubble of trauma and confusion. They’re growing and listening and confused, they don’t need your confusion on top of their own adaptation to a new world order. Crucially they still have a mummy and daddy who love them. They now have two homes and their growth and personal happiness is your only job. They don’t need to hear about your worries, they aren’t your crutch. You certainly should not ever contemplate being anything other than positive about the other parent in front of them, they’re only children once.
I have an older son now approaching 29 who saw his own biological parents separate before I came into his life and I watched what that did to him longterm. My wife was a product of a divorced home and I saw how that affected our marriage and her attitude to marriage. Even now I am unable to speak to my children on the phone. I’ve spoken to them three times in sixty-five days by telephone.
Alienation and isolation are the Swiss Army goto tool of the embittered and empowered ex-wife.
Remember in many separations your ex partner has decided you are entirely surplus to requirements and are not needed any more and you aren’t valued and you certainly have no voice. In my situation the children have been used as a weapon. I genuinely have no idea what my children do daily. I haven’t been allowed in their daily existence unless a District Judge orders it. It’s a long long game and I’ve learnt you have to just cope. It will get better.
Children have rights and children need both engaged communicating partners. I’ve not spoken to my partner since the 14th September. Six months ago. I am hoping she starts to learn to communicate, starts to realise the impact her behaviour has had and understands that high conflict does not make for good parenting. The ONLY thing that matters are the children in any breakup and your sole focus should be on their needs as they adjust.
Making sure my children grow up balanced happy and capable is my only goal in life now. They are my every waking dream and if I had given into feelings of loss, despair and reacted to what was narcisstic and very cruel behaviour by an ex then they would have been without a dad.
But I am happier in my own skin now and I am productive, I am eating better and I am able to think laterally about a positive future. I am aware and cognitive of the very real battle ahead in courtrooms proving I am still the good father that I always was prior to my wifes affair. Just because you are bullied and ostracised doesn’t mean you are a failure. Letting someone behave like that in a controlling and very cruel manner isn’t unique to me, it’s more and more commonplace. The Family Courts sadly see it day in and day out.
If you are in a position like I was I want you to reach out and seek help from your GP, from support bodies locally to you, from agencies. The support is available, I use it and will continue to do so. Do not think this is a personal sign of weakness. It’s a wave of grief and loss that is normal. In many cases like mine sadly, amplified by the controlling behaviour of an ex-partner who once loved me. Do not dwell. Pick up a phone now and call someone.
Remember. Being in love with someone who hurts you isn’t wrong. Even if they turn overnight into someone you no longer recognise. My wife carried our children and made me a dad and no matter what she did to me and continues to do to me, out of sheer spite, I will always always be grateful. Learn to forgive. Hate is a negative emotion. She gave me a decade of love. A decade of happiness. I didn’t help myself and for that I will always kick myself. Oh for a time machine :). The writers and producers of You Me Her need shooting. If that program had not existed my wife would never have embarked on her affair and I wouldn’t be writing this article.
If that someone doesn’t answer or provide you the help you need, you call me 24/7 and I will come running to help you. I will not let you down. Ever.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.