The Key To the Men’s Room: “I’m Dating a guy who’s an Emotion Train Wreck!”

By Ken Solin

  The man I love is in a lot of pain. He tries to laugh it off, or pretend things don’t matter, but I know that thick callus around his heart comes from the hurt he felt in his former marriage. What’s the best way for me to reach him? —Kathy L., Tacoma, WA

While no woman would date a man who exhibited blatant signs of mental instability, few seem to be aware of the potential dangers of dating a divorced man. Many men who have been hurt by divorce are incredibly gifted at hiding their pain and not presenting themselves as who they really are. These men may have spent a lifetime developing the ability to stuff their pain because they were never encouraged to express it. A woman armed with the right information can easily remove their masks, though.

To understand why dating divorced men can be so problematic, women first have to understand what motivates wounded men to get right back on the horse that threw them to the ground and stomped on them. It isn’t about courage—in fact, it’s actually about a lack of courage—the fear of facing their buried pain. Few men are connected with their feelings, so when personal tragedy strikes, most simply tough it out by burying their unresolved feelings in the place in their psyches where they store their pain. But that buried pain becomes an unrelenting demon that feeds greedily on a man’s soul until it is dealt with. A man who hasn’t taken on his divorce demon isn’t able to be vulnerable, because that would mean facing and sharing his inner self. He can’t let a woman get close enough to either see the pain he’s already experienced or possibly inflict more on him.

When I was divorced at 30, I acted like a bull in a china shop, knocking down women like bowling pins while embracing the erroneous belief that a new relationship would somehow magically cure my pain. After learning that I was recently divorced, several women I met told me “Thanks, but call me in a year or two.” They surely had been burned by divorced men already and weren’t seeking more of the same. It took a while before I realized that dealing with my pain was solely my responsibility.

A woman who is seriously considering dating a divorced man should be proactive. Learn as much as you can about him before taking the plunge. Ask him the following questions:

• What emotional work have you done since your divorce?
This work might have been done in individual counseling, a men’s group, a divorce group, or in some other form of therapy. No matter how long ago his divorce took place, a man who refuses to feel his own pain is a man who will never feel yours, either. A closed heart isn’t going to be open to working through the emotional problems that frequently arise in relationships.

• Do you have any intimate male friendships in which you can discuss your issues and get caring and honest feedback?
A man who has no male friends is looking for a woman to be his entire world; and no woman deserves that crippling burden. Loners, who often have trust issues with men, usually also have trust issues with women. A man who embraces the friendship of other men doesn’t live in a vacuum. He is accustomed to discussing his issues and is far less likely to shy away from an honest dialogue with you.

• What lessons did you learn about yourself from your failed marriage?
An unsuccessful marriage is rarely one person’s fault, and if a man insists that there were no lessons to be learned, he is in denial about his role in the relationship. Being glib and throwing away his divorce like a bad fitting suit is a sure sign he has learned little about himself and has little interest in becoming a better man.

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