The Walkaway Wife Syndrome

A few signs that it may be time to work on your marriage.

It is estimated that about half of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce, and of those divorces, two thirds to three quarters will be filed by women. Some experts refer to this as the "Walkaway Wife Syndrome."

What is the "Walkaway Wife Syndrome?"

In the early years of some marriages, women tend to be the relationship caretakers. They may be more likely to strive for closeness and connection in the partnership. If their husbands aren't responsive, wives may begin to voice their concerns or needs. Their husbands may view this as "complaining" and disregard what their wives are asking for. Instead of responding to these requests for closeness and connection, men may choose to disconnect and retreat, which causes the marriage to deteriorate even more.

After years of trying unsuccessfully to improve things, a wife may eventually surrender and convince herself that change isn't possible. She may end up believing there's absolutely nothing she can do because nothing's worked so far; and she begins to carefully map out the logistics of what she considers to be the inevitable - a divorce.

While she's planning her escape, she no longer tries to improve her relationship or modify her partner's behavior in any way. She resigns herself to living in silent desperation until "D Day." Unfortunately, her husband may view his wife's silence as an indication that "everything is fine." After all, the "complaining" has ceased. That's why, when she finally breaks the news of the impending divorce, her shell-shocked partner replies, "I had no idea you were unhappy."

Then, even if her husband attempts to implement real and lasting changes, it's often too late. The same impenetrable wall that for years shielded her from pain now prevents her from truly recognizing his genuine willingness to change. The relationship is in the danger zone.

How to Get Help Before it's too Late

If you are a woman who fits this description – don't give up – it may not be too late. Sometimes, husbands take a while to catch on or they may be resistant to the idea of getting help, but when they do agree to work on the marriage, their determination to turn things around can be astounding. With hard work and/or professional help, such as marriage counseling, many couples are able to strengthen their marriages successfully.

And, if you have children, it may be worth the effort to keep your family together. Divorce is not a simple answer. It can cause great pain and suffering for the entire family, and it takes an enormous amount of energy to face each day. Why not take this energy and learn some new skills and make your marriage what you've wanted it to be for so long?

If, in the end, your marriage simply cannot work, and divorce is the best option for the entire family, at least you can say that you tried. And, through your efforts, you and your spouse may be able to create a stronger friendship and learn better communication tools, all of which will serve you well during the divorce and as you co-parent your children together in the future.

If you're a man reading this and your wife has been "complaining" or asking you to reconnect, thank her. It means she still cares about you and your marriage. Spend time with her. Talk to her. Compliment her. Pay attention. Take her seriously. Show her that she's the most important thing in the world to you.

Perhaps your wife is no longer open to your advances because she's a soon-to-be walkaway wife, but it might not be too late. If you demonstrate you can change, you might just convince her to give your marriage another try.

© 2004 Michele Weiner-Davis. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Michele Weiner-Davis.


See The Walkaway Wife Syndrome, by Michelle Weiner-Davis, MSW.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has a therapist locator to help you find a qualified professional in your area.

For more information about marriage counseling and to find a therapist in your area, see the National Directory of Marriage and Family Counseling.

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