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Boys do cry
Most support mechanisms that kick in when a marriage falls apart - legal help, distress helplines or counseling - are skewed towards women. It is somehow always assumed that the villain of the piece is the man, that the woman is the victim and that the aftershocks of the break-up only hit the wife.
There is no denying that post divorce it is usually the woman who ends up with a raw deal - the laws regarding marital property favour men, there is the stigma to deal with, especially in small towns and villages, and she is far less likely than him to find another partner. But mental health professionals point out that when it comes to the emotional aftermath of a separation, men suffer equally from a sense of loneliness, vulnerability to stress issues as women, post divorces.
The divorce rate has doubled in recent years (though there is no official record, experts say it has doubled to 2 per cent of marriages). And it is now becoming apparent that both men and women need counselling and compassion to deal with post-divorce stress.
Take the example of 40-year-old Aman Garg whose marriage came under tremendous strain when his wife started showing symptoms of borderline personality disorder. When the couple divorced, Garg did not anticipate the long bouts of loneliness and depression caused by social isolation. "Being the more successful and financially solvent partner, most people around him blamed him for the divorce, " says Anjali Chhabria, a Mumbai-based consultant psychiatrist who counselled Garg.
Delhi therapist Reena Nath says the male partner is presumed "guilty" in a divorce and this can be quite damaging. "Among divorced men, suffering is more private. They get defensive instead of seeking help. And thanks to the many stories and accusations circulated by relatives, most of them are anxious about their parents being maligned. Even in straightforward divorces, men feel that their own grudges are not heard. They have a story to tell too but few want to listen. On the other hand, most women have a sisterhood (to lean on), " says Nath.
Mental health professionals agree that women tend to open up among close friends and family, tell their stories and share their grief but men tend to bottle up their emotions. They would think many times before confiding in a friend or relative. Some of the male divorcees who land up for therapy also have to deal with complications regarding property sharing, wrongful accusations of various kinds and seemingly unending court cases.
"They believe they are supposed to fight by themselves. They clam up whereas women reach out. So loneliness strikes them more than women. In fact, suicide figures of men pushed to the edge by loneliness outnumber similar cases for women, " says Chhabria.
Garg's case had all the ingredients of a breakdown. Though he wasn't against the idea of finding a second partner, he felt that in social situations, most women thought of him as the divorced philanderer. "He has a daughter and since he needed to provide stable parenting he decided not to complicate matters for his daughter. So he would go through periods of isolation and depression, " says Chhabria.
The trauma is doubled if there are children. In most cases, women get the custody of the children, especially the very young ones. Though men agree to this willingly - most fear that they will not be able juggle work and parenting - the guilt is still severe. Chhabria adds that divorce lawyers do little to help the situation.
Garg has started mingling again and is now part of a Mumbai-based support group called Single Again. But even in the group of like-minded individuals looking for a second chance, women outnumber men.
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