By Michele Weiner-Davis
People who are unhappy in their marriages often speak of feeling trapped. They yearn to be free from the tension, loneliness, constant arguments or deafening silence but worry that divorce may not be the right decision. After all, they took their marital vows seriously. They don’t want to hurt their spouses. They don’t want to hurt their children. They panic at the thought of being alone. They worry about finances. They fear the unknown.
Yet, the idea of living in a loveless marriage starts to feel like a death sentence. They feel caught between a rock and a hard place…trapped in a life of misery. Over time, many of these people slowly convince themselves that the benefits of leaving their marriages vastly outweigh the benefits of staying. They tell themselves, “Kids are resilient, they’ll bounce back,” or “In the long run, this will be better for everyone,” or “Sure, it will be hard for a while, but change is good for people, or “Anything has got to be better than this.” It’s not until they embark on the path to divorce and begin to piece their lives back together that they discover the real price they paid for their so-called “freedom”. Regretfully, this painful discovery comes too late. They have fallen into the divorce trap.
The following are two letters from people who stumbled into the divorce trap:
I have been searching the internet for the last two weeks looking for help or information about my problem. I was married for 18 years and we have three terrific children. I instigated a divorce. It was final six months ago. Now, I am having second thoughts. I miss my “family” so much. And, of all things, I really miss my husband, ex, that is. If I could just talk him into it, we might be able to work on our relationship and make our family whole again.
I never imagined that I would feel this way because, for years, I was so miserable in my marriage. I thought that once I got out, we all would be better off. My ex and I would stop fighting, and we would all be free from the stress and tension in our home. At first, it was a relief to get away from all the arguing. However, I could not anticipate how quickly the feelings of relief would turn to pain. The look on my children’s faces when they talk to their dad on the phone or when they come back from weekend visits has been more than I can bear. I knew they would be sad, but I had no idea how deeply this would affect them.
What surprises me the most tough, is the fact that I find myself thinking about my ex all the time. He is far from perfect, but I now realize I could have made more of an effort to learn how to deal with the things that irritated or hurt me. Instead, I just shut down and shut him out. Now I am haunted by the fact that my divorce destroyed not only a marriage, but a family. I am desperate to know whether there are others out there who regretted their decision to divorce and somehow managed to make their families whole again. I pray to God that the answer to this question is “Yes.” Can you help me?
I feel like a fool writing to you, but I don’t know where else to turn. After 24 years of marriage, I told my wife I wanted a divorce. I had been pretty unhappy in our marriage for a long time. Our sex drives were totally incompatible. Whenever I approached her, she never seemed to be in the mood. At first I thought I was doing something wrong, but after a while I got sick of all of her excuses. I felt angry all the time. Plus, she constantly nagged about everything. I’m a hard worker and a good provider for my family, but nothing I did pleased her. I dreaded coming home at night.
Then my life changed. I met a younger woman at work who respected me and seemed attracted to me. Although I never thought I would be the kind of guy who would have an affair, after spending hours together working on late night projects, the temptation just became too great. This really threw me because, for the first time in a very long time, I felt alive. She was really fun to be with and she couldn’t keep her hands off me! What a difference from my wife! Well, that really turned my world upside down. I started paying more attention to body- working out more, eating better and caring about my appearance. Although my wife suspected something, I kept my affair secret.
Eventually, I realized I couldn’t live this lie any longer, so I filed for divorce. My wife was devastated. She begged me to stay. She tried to explain away my feelings- insisting that I was in the midst of a midlife crisis or that I was depressed and not thinking clearly. I thought she was nuts and couldn’t wait to get out on my own. I knew the kids would survive and I believed our marriage had died long ago.
The divorce became final a year ago during which time I have made some painful discoveries. As trite as it sounds, the grass really isn’t greener on the other side. It didn’t take long before I lost my infatuation with the other woman. She was sexy but extremely immature. Besides sex, we had nothing in common. I started hating her messy habits and loud music. We had no history together. We didn’t bring children into the world. I started missing my wife.
But the sad ending to this story is that my wife has moved and wants nothing more to do with me. If I had approached her six or eight months ago, she might have been receptive to giving our marriage another try. But the damage was done. She has made a whole new life for herself and I am not part of it. And even though I never told the kids about my affair, they seem to be angry with me and busy themselves with plans whenever I try to spend time with them. This hurts more than they will ever know. So, I’m not even sure why I’m writing. I doubt you have anything to say that will help in my situation. But if you have any suggestions, I will be forever grateful.
Mark and Joan are not alone. The divorce trap seduces over one million people each year. It promises peace and tranquility. It offers a fresh start, a second chance at romance, contentment, and self-discovery. It lures people into its grip by offering assurances that walking out the door can eliminate life’s seemingly insurmountable problems. When you’re desperately unhappy, these so-called guarantees are hard to resist. But there are good reasons for doing so. If you or someone you love is contemplating divorce you will want to know what I have learned about the truth about divorce.
In my work, I’ve had a bird’s eye view of what happens in people’s lives after divorce. I have seen the intense pain and despair that lingers for years. I have seen times when every birthday, holiday, or other causes for celebration have been nothing more but painful reminders of a divorce. I have seen the triggering of unpredictable, hurtful events such the total rejection by the children of the parent seeking the divorce. I have known children who, even after many years following the divorce and after their parents’ subsequent marriages, still want to know if mom and dad will ever get back together.
Now, after three decades of our social experiment with rampant divorce and disposal marriages, I know it isn’t a matter of people keeping their marriages together because they can, it’s a matter of people making their marriages work because they should. Divorce stinks! Why? Recent findings about the long-term effects of divorce speak for themselves.
* Except in very extreme conflict-ridden families- and most families do not fit this criterion- children are better off when their parents stay married.
* Children are more likely to finish school and avoid problems such as teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and delinquent behavior. Plus, they are more likely to have good marriages themselves.
* Even if a parent is happier as a result of divorce, there is no “trickle down effect.” Children still struggle emotionally regardless of how the parent feels.
* Married men make better fathers. They are more likely to provide guidance, role modeling, and financial support.
* Marriage is good for most adults. As compared to single, widowed or divorced people, married people are healthier, have better sex lives, they engage in fewer high-risk activities such as substance abuse, they live longer and they are happier!
* Depression is almost three times as prevalent in women who divorce once, and four times as prevalent in women who divorce twice than in women who have never divorced.
* A random sample of over 8,600 adults revealed the percentages of those who felt lonely. The results are as follows. Marital status and % reporting loneliness:
Never Married- 14.5
Separated- 29.6 (Page and Cole)
* Those in healthy marriages tend to be better, more productive employees. Married men miss work less often.
* Divorce increases the cost of many public health and social service programs. Single-parent households often mean children are raised in poverty or on public aid.
* A single mother’s standard of living almost always decreases significantly after divorce.
* As compared to 50% of first marriages that end in divorce, 60% of second marriages end in divorce.
Many people considering divorce say they wish they could have a crystal ball that would allow them to see into the future. Actually, the crystal ball is here for the taking. Research has enabled us to be “clairvoyant.” But many people choose to ignore or discount the facts because they’ve been hoodwinked into believing that divorce provides answers to an unhappy marriage. But how are myths about divorce being perpetuated?
The divorce trap is a powerful conspiracy that is invisible to the naked eye. Like carbon monoxide, the odorless killer, the divorce trap is an insidious influence, invading your thoughts without your knowing it. What are the forces behind the divorce trap.
Well-meaning friends and family
Oddly enough, some of the people nearest and dearest to you are part of the problem. This is not to say that they don’t have your best interest at heart. They do. They love you. They can’t stand to see you in pain. More than anyone, they know you and know how much you deserve happiness in your life. Their caring is genuine. Why then, do I say that your loved ones can be misdirecting you?
The Biased Shoulder
When you share your unhappiness with loved ones, what they hear is your side of the story, and your side only. Even though your feelings about your spouse and marriage are valid, they are, nonetheless, biased. Needless to say, if your spouse were in on the conversation, the story about your marriage would take a not-so-slight different turn. But the people who love you don’t care about objectivity; they want you to feel better. Although this makes perfect sense, the end result is that the people in whom you are confiding, offer potentially life-changing advice without a complete set of facts. If you follow that advice, you may create an even bigger rift in your marriage. Let me give you an example of how this works.
Sue was miserable in her marriage. She felt that she and her husband, Jeff, had completely grown apart. Sue decided to talk to her sister, Ann, about her situation. Sue told Ann that she was really upset about how things had changed in her marriage. When she and Jeff got married, she explained, they were crazy about each other. They did everything together, spent hours talking, weekends doing fun things, and sex was great. They were best friends. As Sue recalled these memories, she cried. Ann’s heart went out to Sue to see her in such pain. Ann asked Sue to tell her more about what had been troubling her. Through her tears, Sue filled in the blanks.
She said that Jeff had turned into a completely different man from the one she married. He worked a great deal and when he was home, he showed little interest in talking or being with her. On weekends, he occupied himself with projects or watching sports on television. When Sue approached Jeff about her feelings, Jeff responded coldly, “Why are you always hassling me?” Sue tried to get through to Jeff and tell him how much his distance was hurting her, but Jeff seemed to withdraw even more.
Jeff’s insensitivity to her feelings made Sue angry and hurt. She stopped cooking for him, doing his laundry, trying to engage him in conversation and even refused his advances to be intimate. In short, things went from bad to worse. Now, instead of just being distant, Jeff had become critical and unpleasant, never passing up an opportunity to say or do something to hurt Sue’s feelings. Sue couldn’t understand why Jeff had become such a “jerk,” especially since all she wanted was a closer relationship.
Upon hearing Sue’s rendition of their marital interactions, Ann immediately came to her defense. “I can’t believe he’s acting this way! This isn’t the same Jeff I used to know. What do you think is going on with him?” For the next half-hour, they hypothesized the possible causes of Jeff’s ugly behavior- an affair, depression, a mid-life crisis or perhaps just bad genes from his father. Although they were uncertain as to the real reason Jeff had transformed into the unlikable man Sue had portrayed him to be, there was a consensus that Jeff was to blame for Sue’s unhappiness. Ann consoled Sue. She hugged her and told her that she “would be there for her anytime she was needed”. Ann also offered a few suggestions- counseling, giving Jeff an ultimatum, a trial separation- and Sue said she would consider her ideas. Sue thanked Ann for her support and understanding. She felt so much better.
Sue did follow through with Ann’s suggestion to give Jeff an ultimatum. “Either you change, or I’m leaving,” she warned him. But Jeff did not change. Her threat angered him and he became even colder. In the weeks that followed, Sue regularly sought comfort in Ann’s friendship. Sue complained, Ann commiserated. Although Sue felt validated by Ann’s feedback, it did little in the way of helping her find solutions to her marital problems. As time passed and nothing improved, Sue’s despair grew, as did Ann’s determination to encourage her sister to leave her marriage. “You’ve tried everything,” Ann told her, “It’s time to throw in the towel.”
From Sue’s one-sided story, it’s easy to see how Ann arrived at this conclusion. Sue appears to be the spouse who is working on the marriage while Jeff is the inconsiderate, unloving spouse. From Sue’s story, one could easily get the impression that she has been wronged for years by Jeff’s selfishness. But before you jump to conclusions, let me allow you to eavesdrop on Jeff’s conversations with his lifelong buddy, John. Jeff is a very private person and, though he rarely opens up with friends and family, his unhappiness with Sue prompted him to discuss his marriage with John.
He told John that he was frustrated and angry at Sue. All she ever did was nag and nag and nag. Nothing he did ever seemed good enough. She asked for help in the kitchen and when he cleaned it, the only comment he heard was, “I can’t believe the way you loaded the dishwasher, it’s so sloppy,” or “You forgot to wipe off the counters.” All Jeff heard was criticism, never appreciation. So, after a while he just stopped trying.
A married man himself, John knew that their relationship problems didn’t happen overnight, so he asked about the circumstances leading up to their current situation. Jeff was unclear as to the causes of their problems, but he felt that Sue had bailed out on him as a partner long ago. “When we met, she was fun to be with. We went to sporting events, out to dinner, we socialized with friends, and had common interests. We golfed, played tennis, and biked all the time. We both loved the outdoors.” But Sue stopped showing interest in their activities together. She seemed more interested in her job, church activities, friends, talking on the phone and going shopping. Sometimes she would stay on the phone with her girlfriends or her mother the entire evening! “But the biggest change in Sue,” Jeff said, “is that she never wants to have sex, and it’s been that way for a very long time. That definitely bothers me the most.”
Jeff went on to explain how hurt and angry he felt because of Sue’s constant rejection. “I don’t know what’s with her. She used to love sex. We had a great sexual relationship. I always prided myself about how connected we were physically. But now she’s never in the mood. She’s got a headache, she’s mad at me, she’s too busy, it’s the wrong time of month… It got to the point where there never seemed to be the right time.” He told John that Sue’s cold shoulder had taken its toll; he felt a low-grade anger whenever he was in her presence. He admitted to being irritable lately and snapping at Sue fairly often. He was hoping that at some point Sue, the woman who used to be his best friend and lover, would, just once, reach out to him and be affectionate. Instead, all he ever got was criticism.
After hearing Jeff’s dilemma, John said, “Sounds really tough. Sue used to be so good to you. I wonder what’s up with her. Maybe her hormones are running amuck. I heard about some women with hormone imbalances losing interest in sex. You ought to check it out. Sorry to hear you’re having problems.” Then he suggested that Jeff do something to spice his sex life up a bit. “Get a bottle of wine, buy a sexy nightgown and make her a candlelight dinner. Stay at a nice hotel next weekend. Tell her you want to be closer physically.”
A few days later, Jeff approached Sue with the idea of a little romantic weekend getaway. Sue didn’t seem too interested. Jeff made a comment about not being intimate anymore and Sue bit his head off. “Of course we’re not intimate! You don’t expect me to want to have sex with you when our relationship stinks, do you?” Jeff replied, “Have you ever thought about the fact that our relationship stinks because you don’t want to have sex anymore?” This chicken-or-egg argument played like a broken record for weeks before the couple decided to split.
Imagine how Ann or John might have reacted differently had they heard “the whole story”. Instead of thinking Jeff was a jerk, Ann might have had more compassion. She might have realized that Jeff wasn’t the villain Sue made him out to be; that he was feeling rejected and hurt. With this in mind, Ann might have suggested that Sue do things that would help Jeff feel more connected to her such as go biking or hiking together, or being more playful and affectionate. There’s no question that Jeff wasn’t handling his hurt feelings in the best way, but unfortunately, that often happens in relationships. Instead of sharing openly about feelings of vulnerability, some people lash out. When relationships are working properly, partners are often able to see beyond the anger and address the hurt beneath it. Since Ann was totally in the dark about Jeff’s feelings about the marriage, her suggestion- give him an ultimatum- was bound to fail.
Had John heard Sue’s side of things, he might have understood that for Sue, the prerequisite for being close physically is emotional closeness and that Sue and Jeff had not been close for some time. He might have suggested that Jeff spend more time talking and paying attention to her, and being her friend. It’s easy to see how John’s well-meaning advice- spice up your sex life- fell flat on its face.
Protectors and rescuers
Another reason friends and family can increase the odds you will be divorce-bound is that, because they can’t bear to see you in pain, they will steer you to what they think is the quickest escape from the emotional torture. They convince themselves and then you that, since your spouse is the problem, get rid of him or her. “Just leave. You don’t deserve this. Just get out.”
But you need to be aware of a couple of things when you listen to this advice. First of all, although your friends and family care about you, their advice is also self-serving. It will make them feel better if you aren’t so sad. It will be a relief for them when you stop crying or feeling so torn. They want an end to this unhappiness. Problem is, if you follow their advice and make them feel better, you’ll be divorced and supporting yourself (and your kids), changing your lifestyle, making adjustments, and starting all over, they won’t. Even if your loved ones are already divorced and believe that their divorce has improved lives dramatically, it doesn’t mean that you will feel this way too. No two people are alike.
Second, this whole idea – get rid of your partner and leave your troubles behind- is about the most absurd notion I’ve ever heard. To begin with, if you have children, unless your partner is the kind of person who will leave the planet, never to be heard of again, don’t count on getting rid of your spouse. When children are involved, there is no such thing as divorce. Your spouse will be in your life forever. And I mean forever. You’ll be in constant communication about visitation, decisions about your children’s welfare, holidays, money, vacations, issues pertaining to the relationship between the children and new male or female friends/marital partners. The list is endless.
One woman wrote me,
I’ve been divorced for twenty-three years. When I decided to get a divorce I never thought about the fact that my ex would be in my life forever. I realized that we would be in touch weekly because of our kids, but I guess I thought that when the kids got older, he would just disappear from my life. And here it is, my grown daughter is about to give birth next week and for the first time, I realized that my ex and I are going to be “the grandparents” together. What was I thinking?” Spouses don’t disappear.
Spouses don’t disappear with a divorce and neither do your problems. Although it may be true that a person is hard to get along with, the truth is, when you’re experiencing marital problems it’s almost always the result of how two people interact. In other words, in a marriage, two people develop relationship habits, and if you leave, you take your habits with you when you go. Ever hear they expression, “Everywhere you go, there you are.”? Well, it’s true. Let me give you an example.
Deb and Ron had a great marriage in the early years. She admired and respected his decisiveness and take-charge personality. She felt her father was a weak man who rarely stood up to her mother’s incessant ranting and raving. That’s why Ron’s strength really appealed to her. Now she thought that he was overbearing and dominating.
At first, she tried to tell him to stop being so controlling, but he defended his actions and brushed her feelings aside. From that day forward, she kept her resentments and bitterness inside. She figured, “What’s the use?” The end result is that she walked around most days being furious at him, without his even knowing it. Over time, she could no longer stand the bottled up anger and filed for divorce. After all, she thought, if I get rid of this controlling man, I will be able find myself again and make my own decisions. After a long, drawn out battle, they finally divorced.
The problem is, by thinking that Ron was the sole cause of their marital breakdown, Deb was blind to the ways in which her own behavior contributed to their problems. Let’s assume that Deb’s perception of Ron is accurate; that he had become overly controlling in their marriage. However, this didn’t happen overnight. Although Deb initially tried to get Ron to back off, when her requests fell on deaf ears, instead of trying a new and more dynamic approach, she backed down and did nothing. For years, she did nothing. The more she did nothing, the more he took over. In a sense, Deb created her monster.
And the sad part about all this is, when Deb divorces Ron, she will feel relieved momentarily to be free of his presence, but if and when she remarries, she will enter her new relationship unenlightened about how to deal with the differences that naturally occur between any two people. That’s because she ran away from her relationship problems rather than solved or learned from them. And since she failed to see her role in the demise of their relationship, she is destined to make one of two mistakes.
The first is to marry someone similar to Ron and recreate the exact same problems. The second is to fool herself thinking marriage will be infinitely easier if she marries someone who is totally different from Ron- and that’s what Deb did. Deb purposely sought out a man who is gentle and laid back. At first, it felt like her life’s dream. She doesn’t have to walk on eggshells because no one is looking over her shoulder. She didn’t have to be afraid to voice her feelings because he will listen rather than criticize. She felt she could be herself for the first time in years.
Time passed and now Deb felt that her laid-back, gentle man was wimpy and unmotivated. He made less money than her first husband. He wasn’t overly ambitious. She disliked that she now had to help him support the children financially. When she asked him what he wanted to do on weekends, he always said, “I don’t care, it’s up to you.” Although she always used to appreciate his easy-going attitude, now she was frustrated by his indecisiveness. When she talked to him about her feelings, he got emotional and cried. Deb wanted to avoid feeling controlled in her life, but this was more than she bargained for. Rather than find productive ways to get through to her husband and get more of her needs met, Deb found herself thinking about divorce once again. And as before, she reassured herself that the problems in her marriage had nothing to do with her.
The obvious lesson here is that when a marriage fails, no matter how tempting it might be to put all the blame on one spouse’s shoulders, both spouses have contributed to its downfall.
Look, we all need people on our side, people who will stand by us no matter what. But before you are too quick to heed the advice of your personal fans, you must remember this. Their opinions are biased. They can’t always see the forest for the trees. If you leave conversations feeling supported but solutionless, be wary. You might be in the midst of being initiated into the divorce trap’s steering committee.
The Media Myth-Makers
I once worked with a man who told me that he needed to divorce his wife because he didn’t think he loved her anymore. I asked him, “What makes you think so?” He replied, “It’s just not the way I see it in the movies.” I had been a therapist for approximately fifteen years at the time and I thought I had heard everything. I was wrong.
Hollywood can not be faulted for offering unrealistic portrayals of what really goes on behind closed doors. After all, it’s their job to entertain, not educate us. Yet, in a media-saturated society, it’s hard not to be influenced by the images with which we are bombarded- perfect hard bodies, impassioned, breathless sex, and heart-stopping romance. If our relationships don’t quite measure up, we start to think we’re being short-changed, and want to upgrade to the new and improved model.
But the truth is, good marriages can be incredibly boring. There’s nothing sexy about making dinner, paying bills, caring for elderly parents, changing diapers, and chauffeuring kids to soccer games. There’s nothing titillating about sitting together in silence while one person watches television and the other reads. No major box-office hit here! The really good things about marriage- the comfort spouses feel in each other’s presence, the unspoken glances that speak volumes, the little things people do for each other, the certainty that they will wake up next to each other in bed every morning- are about as compelling to watch as watching paint dry. That’s why realism is in short supply on the silver screen. It wouldn’t sell.
Nowadays, if Hollywood isn’t busy glamorizing marriage, it’s busy taking the sting out of divorce, another realism-zapper. Sitcoms, movies and cartoons depicting non-traditional families are the norm. And everyone seems to be doing just fine. The message is clear- the nuclear family is a thing of the past and we’re no worse for the wear. Viewers aren’t exposed to the real trials and tribulations of blending families or of raising children as a single parent. We don’t see the War-of-Roses-type arguments that often occur between spouses as they pit their biological children against their step-children. We’re not told how these arguments often account for the fact that 60% of second marriages end in divorce. We don’t hear about the poverty and other challenges that often accompany single parenthood, especially for women. Television makes life after divorce seem easy.
Beyond making marriage look more glamorous than life, and divorce less noxious than in reality, the media biases people’s perspective about marriage by being obsessed with bad news. The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University released a report that received more than its fair share of attention. It reported the depressing news that the U.S. marriage rate has never been lower, births to unmarried women have skyrocketed, the divorce rate remains high and Americans’ marriages are less happy than in the past. Wire services, widely read newspapers and magazines had a field day. At last, something about marriage that they could sink their teeth into. Radio talk shows were buzzing with guests hypothesizing why the institution of marriage is headed for disaster.
Although few could debate the data offered by this now famous report, it is equally undebatable this news such reflects just one side of the coin. We rarely read or hear about the good news about marriage. For instance, did you know that The Wall Street Journal reported that a long-term marriage is a new status symbol? Or, were you aware that surveys tell us that Americans continue to say that a happy marriage is their number one goal and that approximately 85-90% of us are still getting married? Did you know that in a recent survey of this nation’s most wealthy people- those in the 99th percentile of taxpayers- it was noted that 71 percent were married to their first spouse? (Barrons) Unless you have been living on another planet, I know you know that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but have you ever wondered why 50% of marriages last? Have you ever considered what makes these long-term marriages different? Do you know about the most popular and longest running column in magazine history- “Can this Marriage Be Saved?”- in Ladies Home Journal? It is an upbeat, positive column describing the steps different couples take to solve their marital problems. People can’t get enough of it. Why, if despite the odds, people are still yearning to get married and live happily ever after, do we constantly hear about the demise of marriage? Why is the media’s glass half-empty? And more importantly, what are the pitfalls of such a pessimistic focus?
I strongly believe that the constant barrage of negative data about marriage takes its toll on society. We start to believe that divorce is one of life’s normal rites of passage; we fall in love, we get married, we have children and we divorce. This acceptance of divorce as the norm makes it more likely that, instead of doing what it takes to make marriages work, when the going gets rough, we just leave.
Imagine for a moment, that instead of all the doom-and-gloom predictions about marriage, we were inundated with love’s success stories. We’d read in-depth interviews about couples who have been married fifty years or more, we’d learn of data about those who have risen above difficult marital problems such as infidelity and about the hundreds of thousands of couples whose lives have been changed by taking a simple marriage education course. We’d receive updated information about the ways in which long-term marriage benefits men, women, children and society as a whole. Just think about how our collective unconsciousness might be altered if the media spent a fraction of the time investigating why marriage works instead of informing and warning us about the death of marriage.
The Walkaway Wife Syndrome
Although divorce offers the illusion of happiness to people of all ages, races, and personality types, there is one group that is particularly susceptible to the sound of the divorce siren. It’s women. Approximately two thirds of the divorces in our country are filed for by women. What’s going on here? Why are so many women throwing in the towel?
In the early years of marriage, women are usually the primary caretakers of the relationship. They’re the ones who are doing a daily temperature check; “Have we had enough closeness today,?” “Are we spending enough time together,?” “Do we feel connected emotionally?” If the answer to these questions is,”Yes,” life goes on. If not, women pursue for more closeness. They tell their husbands, “You don’t value our relationship anymore,” “We never do anything together,” “Why do you always put work ahead of me?” Often, instead of recognizing their wives need for more closeness, men simply feel nagged and withdraw, emotionally and sometimes physically.
Because of this unresponsiveness, even hostility, women become frustrated. They soon try another approach- complaining about their partners’ lack of involvement about everything else in their lives. “I feel like a single parent,” “You are such a couch potato,” “Why don’t you ever lift a finger around the house? I do everything myself.” Although they are still only trying to get their spouses’ attention, men recoil big time. (I’ve never met a man who comes closer to his wife as a result of being “nagged,” no matter what his wife’s intentions!) After months or years of this negative interaction, women finally give up. They tell themselves, “I’ve tried everything. Divorce has got to be better than this. I’ll find somebody who cares about me. Even if I don’t, I’m so alone in this marriage, I can’t take it anymore. I know I’ll be happier without him.” And, with that, they plan their escape.
Now, the interesting thing about this escape plan is that leaving usually hinges on a particular event which may take years to materialize. For example, “I’ll leave my husband when the kids leave home,” or “I’ll get a divorce when I go back to school and learn new skills so I can support myself,” or “I’m going to meet another man and as soon as I do, I will be out of here.” And now comes the tricky part.
In the months, years that follow her decision, the wife is no longer trying to fix the marriage. She stops complaining. To her, this surrender to the inevitable is definitely a bad thing. To him, well, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the husband thinks. He’s thrilled! She’s off his back. She must be happy again, or so he thinks and he proceeds with business as usual. Business as usual, that is, until “D Day”. That’s the day she turns to him and says, “I want a divorce,” to which her absolutely devastated husband replies, ” I had no idea you were unhappy! Why didn’t you tell me?” With that response, the marital coffin is nailed shut.
The tragedy of this situation is that this is the point at which most men finally understand the depth of their wives’ unhappiness and want to make genuine changes in themselves. They are willing to do back flips to keep their marriages/families together. They are finally ready to do the kind of soul-searching that would make having a great marriage possible. But by that point, most women have built an impenetrable wall around them, one that is impervious to men’s efforts to change. And it’s divorce, full speed ahead.
I’m convinced if more women knew the truth about divorce, they might not be so quick to dismiss their husband’s offers to become better people and partners. They might actually stick around long enough to find out if their husbands really mean what they say about changing.