When Men Quickly “Replace” After Separation or Divorce

Posted by Delaine - January 25, 2011 - Dealing with the ex, Fears & Challenges, Grief/ Anger, Loving & Trusting, Relationships, Surviving, Understanding Men/Women - 9 Comments

When Barb contacted me via email last week, she was clearly very upset.  Only six months into her divorce, she’d discovered that her separated husband had a new serious girlfriend; they were even making plans to move in together.  “It’s not that I want him back,” she wrote.  “But it’s such a slap in the face – how could he move on so quickly?  It’s as if the 15 years we were together meant nothing to him.”

Barb is certainly not alone in this situation: MANY divorcing women report that their husbands ’get right back out there’ and quickly find a new partner.  Does this mean that men are better able to move on than women?  Does it mean they didn’t really care for or love their former wives?

The answer to both of these question is NO.  Men’s tendency to ‘replace’ is a dangerous choice they usually make to avoid the pain of the loss of their marriage. And I want to explain this further here today so that stunned and upset wives can understand what’s probably going on.

The first stage of healing after divorce requires that both men and women take the time to grieve and get help.  But grieving and healing a broken heart is not a process that is instinctively understood by most men. They don’t naturally recognize that allowing painful feelings to surface over and over and over again, is an essential part of moving on.

Instead, their instincts are to “solve the problem,” get rid of the pain – and their priority becomes doing whatever they can to get rid of it.  And what is the quickest and easiest way for them to do that?  Throw themselves into work, or, find a new relationship. THAT’s why we see this common thread time and time again.

So to those of you like Barb who are newly separated and grimacing at how your husband has seemingly moved on, know that his new relationship does not mean he never loved you; nor does it reflect the depth of his care.  All he wants to do is get out of pain.  Sometimes, the greater a man’s pain is, the quicker he replaces with a new partner.

The truth of the matter is that his efforts to move on in this new relationship will probably be counterproductive; for until he takes the time to properly work through his grief and get help, it will haunt him and he’ll never fully let go of his pain.  Once he’s three to six months into this relationship, his feelings for his new partner will probably change.

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9 comments

  • Adored says:

    This is not necessarily true at all. Some men spend years prior to their separation/divorce, out-of-love with their spouse. So when they meet the right woman, they know it, mostly because they now know what they don’t want (or rather, what doesn’t work for them). The amount of time spent with a person in a marriage doesn’t mean a lot in most cases. Usually it just means it was more convenient to stay…until the marriage became unbearable.

  • Delainem says:

    Of course it can’t be said for “all” men, Adored, just as sweeping statements won’t apply to all women. But how a marriage ends, how we deal/if we deal with that grief, will have bearing on our future relationships. And men commonly replace without realizing they have important healing to do. Some women do too – again, there’re always variations, but it is more prevalent in men as a whole.

  • Cathy says:

    Adored, divorce is a time of transition. It doesn’t matter how long anyone has been in an unhappy marriage. Going from married to single takes some adjusting unless you jump out of the fire and into the frying pan.

    Anyone, man or woman who moves quickly into a new relationship is doing so to keep from having to be alone. I myself don’t want a man who can’t handle a little alone time to heal whatever issues caused his marriage to fall apart.

    I’ve known quite a few women who thought they were the “right woman” only to learn down the road that they had put faith in the wrong man.

  • Healing Internally says:

    I’m sorry, but this is pure nonsense: Allowing painful feelings to surface over and over and over again, is an essential part of moving on”. Who says it is essential?

    The point is that men and women do not tend to grieve in the same way. Here is a recent New York Times article on that very subject.

    And the grieving process you describe above may be (or may not be) normative for some women, but it certainly is not necessarily the only way, or even the best way, to grieve, heal, and move on.

    Indeed, pioneering research by Professor George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia, has shown that within 6 months of becoming widowed, approximately 50% of men and women showed little or no signs of acute grief.

    Think about that for a moment: Within 6 months of the death of a spouse, acute grief had faded for approximately half of the affected persons.

    Another ~15% still had moderately high symptoms at 6 months, but by 18 months their acute grief had almost entirely faded.

    For an additional ~10%, i.e. those still being affected at 18 months and also at 48 months, grief unfortunately had become chronic.

    Still another group of ~10% appeared to have chronic depression both before and after the loss of their spouse.

    And for a remaining group of ~10% of individuals, their symptoms of depression appeared to improve after their spouse died.

    The point is, as described by Professor Bonanno in a 2004 article in American Psychologist (pdf):

    Resilience to the unsettling effects of interpersonal loss is not rare but relatively common, does not appear to indicate pathology but rather healthy adjustment, and does not lead to delayed grief reactions.”

    Bottom line: Not only is it fundamentally sexist to describe men’s grieving process as “a dangerous choice they usually make to avoid the pain of the loss of their marriage”, it is scientifically inaccurate as well.

    And the fact remains that approximately 50% of individuals have moved on within 6 months of experiencing a traumatic loss, and within 18 months 65% have done so.

    If you think about it, that is a wonderful thing. To be resilient in the face of traumatic loss — that is something to be celebrated as a testament to the human spirit.

    We are all human beings, and we are in this together.

    Footnotes:
    For a fascinating and scientifically accurate book about grieving, please see The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss, by Ruth Davis Konigsberg.

    For those interested in the neuroscience perspective on this subject, please see this article from the February 2011 issue of Scientific American.

  • Don says:

    I started dating a little bit about 4 months after. I met my current girlfriend 1.5 years after.

    The reason I dated was to alleviate pain. I had caught my wife of 18 years cheating, and then she admitted to a previous 3-year affair when we were only 3 years into the marriage. She wanted to end the marriage, and the affair and confession about the earlier affair were designed to get me to file for divorce.

    The way she handle this was traumatic and very damaging to me. I did some dating because I needed to feel like women were interested in me, because my ex-wife had made me feel worthless, disposable, and unlovable.

    After dating and realizing that there were actually women interested in me, I took a break from dating and focused on myself and my family for about a year.

  • Kristi says:

    My husband just left me after 10 yrs of marrieage and I found out he has a girlfriend already, stays with her sometimes, says he loves her, and is happier than he has ever been. I however am devistated….. I still love him …. he packed up and moved out in a fight and was violent, we agreed to put the divorce on hold for 6 months, during that time he met a girl they talked and as he put it they hit it off. He refuses to work on or save what we had of 10 yrs and im dumb founded , he just told me tonight he hasnt loved me for a long time……. Im sick with grief and see a counslor 2 times a week im on meds as well,,,,,, and prior to this 5 yrd before my daughter (not his) was killed in an auot accident at the age of 14, at the time she died he was not living with me , we were seperated and he came back home and moved into our home during the funeral time and stayd up until Feb 1 st…… I ve lost the 2 people I ever loved and im am so hurt…… gow can he move on like this with no regard to me or our marriage……

  • Kristi says:

    ps we stayd married for 5 more yrs after my duaghters death, he moved out Feb 1st 2012 he was verbaly abusive to me in any sort of argument, and I must tell you, when we met we were both going thru a divorce and when they were both finalized we married that fall in Nov on the 24th of 2001…… we live in a small northern indiana town and im fearful of seeing them together…….. why do I hurt so much why cant I just let him go…..

  • Kyle Morrison says:

    I tend to agree with your analysis. Men move on quickly after a divorce usually out of wrong headed thinking.
    Sometimes it is a sense of ego. Thinking they can get right back into it – ploughing through to a new life without really considering their old one which will come back to bite.
    Sometimes it is to boost their self esteem. They feel very low being without a partner (usually if the woman initiated the divorce) and if they can find someone who likes them their ego which is languishing is stroked enough and they take a leap way too soon.

  • Lawanda Mason says:

    I understand what everyone is talking about here. My husband of 7 years abandoned me and my two son’s (whom are not his). I recently found out that he has been seeing another woman who lives down where his parents reside. He has been back and forth from me to her telling me that he wants a divorce then he wants to work on his marriage. He then tells his family that he wants to work on his marriage, but has been lying ever since.

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