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Walk-Away Wives: Are Husbands Always at Fault?

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
  • Updated Jan 18, 2010
Walk-Away Wives: Are Husbands Always at Fault?

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I received many responses to my recent article titled Why Women Leave and What Men Can Do About It. This article seemed to strike a chord with many of you. With women leaving their marriages at phenomenal rates, I'm not surprised.

Many men responded, indicating they had sought professional help in time to completely turn their marriages around. They were glad their wives had sounded the warning, alerting them to changes they needed to make in their marriage. Other men indicated they had ignored the warning signs and were facing an unwanted divorce. In hindsight they wished they had done much more to be better husbands. Others, however, offered a perspective I hadn't fully considered, and I offer it now for your consideration. Here is a response from one man.

Dear Dr. David. While I agree with much of what you wrote about, and fully acknowledge that men need to completely love their wives, I don't think you have been entirely fair to men. Consider an additional scenario facing thousands of men.

After twenty-seven years my wife came home and abruptly indicated she wanted a divorce "to find herself." When I asked her what that meant, she wasn't able to tell me. She simply said she felt trapped in marriage and wanted to be free to discover who she really was. When I asked her why she couldn't do that within the marriage, she wasn't able to tell me.

She has since left and we are in the middle of a divorce. As I look at her actions I consider them selfish and I feel abandoned. She reassured me that I've been a good husband, and her actions have nothing to do with me. Yet, I'm the one who will suffer. Our grown children will never know the legacy of an intact family. I must try to face life alone, and learn how to pick up the pieces, all because she wants to "find herself." What are the men left behind supposed to learn from these situations?

--Lost and Alone

Dear Lost,

You were not the only one to write and tell me there is another side to these stories. Many men (and women) are abandoned with little of the reason for it pertaining to the marriage. There are many other dynamics at play. Let's reflect on a few of them.

One, our society has changed dramatically over the years, with women being more able to care for themselves without a husband. Women are less dependent upon their husbands and have greater choices. With greater earning power, and increased feelings of independence and autonomy, they feel free to consider staying or leaving their marriage.

Two, the "world" encourages independence, enticing women (and men) to "have it all."  This attitude teases us to look beyond our marriage for more. With much of the stigma for divorce removed, women experience greater options. Many women, noticing other women who have left their marriage, seek the freedom they perceive outside of marriage.

Three, while it may appear that women (and men) leaving has nothing to do with their mate, there is often a degree of dissatisfaction, resentment or other unexpressed emotions working on them. Many women have felt dissatisfied for years and have become "numb" in their marriage. They seek "life" outside marriage because they haven't been able to find it within the marriage.

Four, some women (and men) leave out of sheer selfishness. They no longer want the responsibility of caring for their husband and perhaps even children. Like a coiled up spring, some women snap and make seemingly rash decisions to leave. Again, this tension has often been building for some time but they haven't known how to deal effectively with it.

Finally, a failed marriage is unfortunate and tragic, whatever the cause. Working with men (and women) who have been abandoned often fails to yield insight as to what happened. There are so many variables at work, and some women who leave offer few clues as to what went wrong, leaving men to pick up the pieces.

I would love to hear from women on this issue. Why are you leaving your marriage? What issues have to do with your mate, what issues are unrelated, and what can be done to save marriages? Let's discuss this issue. Tell me what else women want men to know, and what men want women to know.

January 5, 2009

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.