Book Review: Men After Separation
by Ian Macdonald
Review by Mark Stephenson
Many men experience separation from a female partner. Ian Macdonald’s book aims to help them along the troubled way of dealing with this life crisis.
It is divided into two parts: ‘Surviving’ and ‘Growing’. This follows neatly from a highlighted comment in his introduction:‘Grief can produce powerful energy that can be directed to an intense period of self-discovery’.
Powerful energy indeed. The first part is dedicated to the emotions men feel, how to deal with them, and how to survive. There are chapters titled ‘Grief’, ‘Loneliness’, ‘Anger’, and ‘Violence’. They are reasonably brief and stick to the point.
There are ‘Key points’ at the end of each one. The language is accessible and not burdened with psychobabble.
Some sections may be too brief. The chapter on ‘Divorce’ includes advice on custody and access, as well as property issues.
These will be huge areas of concern for some men. A couple of, albeit sensible, paragraphs will not even begin to help. However, there are nuggets of useful advice, such as avoiding the adversarial legal system.
The chapters on men’s emotions after separation are useful. To name the emotions helps to deal with them. The book includes the reader in its common themes. Strong feelings such as loneliness or anger are normal, and shared by all men going through a separation. These are good things to hear.
Macdonald follows this up with advice about looking after yourself and your home environment. ‘Even if you don’t plan on entertaining at home, at least make yourself feel welcome’.
There are various tips about eating and dressing well, diversions such as exercise, celibacy, and avoiding disastrous ‘band-aid’ relationships.
The tone of the book suggests an older man looking back from a position of comfort. He has wisdom to share, certainly, but he seems somewhat removed from the nitty-gritty of modern life. His maturity has advantages but might alienate young men.
To his credit, he has added a chapter on young men that takes their changing attitudes to life, and to women, into account. It was definitely needed.
Though a little old fashioned I did enjoy the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. For example, in chapter five, ‘Anger’ – To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves. – Alexander Pope. Or chapter 20, ‘Step-parenting’ – Anybody who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad. – W.C. Fields. They add a touch of wisdom or humour to go with the text.
Macdonald quotes research which shows that most men find friends/ family members, and ‘helping themselves’ more beneficial than ‘official’ agencies such as social services or counsellours.
Religious groups were bottom of the list. In spite of this he feels counselling can be helpful and he speaks from his own experience too. His idea is that we need to heal ourselves as individuals first before going out and repeating our mistakes within other relationships.
The second part of the book is about ‘Growing’. It is half the size of the first part and deals mainly with the business of finding a new relationship.
And Macdonald is quite business-like about it. He prefers a ‘reputable introduction agency’ for meeting women, and is negative about the internet versions. He strongly suggests a written contract in a new relationship. Get it in writing is his creed.
Fidelity is a must of course but he also mentions punctuality, drinking habits… Oh boy. It is very sensible, but what about spontaneity, and trust? Well, some people will find the idea reassuring but for others it will be inhibiting and formal.
The point he does make well, however, is that you should know what you want and negotiate for it. He has an apt quote for this chapter, from Sam Goldwyn – A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it is written on.
He deals with many issues in ‘Growing’: finding women, trust, parenting, step-parenting, and different relationship styles. There is brief wisdom in all of these.
This is a readable, succinct, book, if a little old fashioned. If you are in the post-separation stage of life it is easy to pick up and read, a useful first step to recovery.
Would I buy it at $37.95? No, probably not. Would I take it out of the library and benefit from its wisdom?