[Disclaimer: You don’t need to tell me that this blog is sexist and stereotypical. I know that! I know that it doesn’t represent everyone. But in my 30 years’ experience as a marriage counselor, I also know that it tells the story of a lot of couples out there.]
Do you remember what it was like when you were 12?
If you’re female and were like many girls, your friends were everything to you. You talked on the phone for hours, chatting passionately about who sat next to whom in the lunchroom, whether you liked Joanne’s new haircut, or making detailed plans about who to invite to your birthday party. You likely also spent a bunch of time planning your life—what your wedding would be like, what kind of dress you would wear, what kind of house you wanted, how many kids you were going to have (two boys and two girls) and what their names would be. Your future life as a mother and a wife was the stuff of dreams.
But how about if you were a boy? At 12, were you spending your evenings with your ear glued to the phone chatting with your friend about the goings-on of everyone in class? Were you profoundly interested in what Matt wore to school that day? Did you really want to dissect in detail what Bob meant when he didn’t sit next to you at lunch? Did you really care? And were you dreaming about your future life as a husband and father, exploring ad nauseum with your buddy whether Charlotte is a nicer name for your future daughter than Emma?
I’m guessing not. I’m guessing that, if you were a boy, you were far more interested at 12 to be playing a game, preferably one that didn’t involve too much talking. Like basketball. Baseball. Bike riding. Chess. The focus was on the game, not on what your friend felt about the game.
Then you grew up and, like many people, did what’s expected. Maybe got some schooling, a job and eventually coupled up with someone and got married. And although the boys have been on a different path than the girls all along, we somehow expect those paths to converge at the altar. It doesn’t, but the guys don’t want the girls to know that.
Women go into marriage for the marriage. Men go into marriage for the woman. For the woman, it’s a combo, a package deal. You get the house, the stuff, the kids and the guy. I can’t tell you how many men in my office complain that they feel they are last on the list, after the kids, her job, her mother, her sister, her friends and Zumba. She can get her needs met in a variety of ways and can have close, intimate relationships with any one of those people on that list, not only with him.
For many men, however, the woman is central. He may love his house and his kids, but men often tell me that their primary want is pretty simple: they just want their wife to be happy. They desperately need to feel connected to her and often the quickest route to satisfy that need is through sex. They also need for their wife to admire and respect them. Women belittle that need, but it exists and it’s true.
What am I getting at? Typically, when a man either has an affair or leaves a long-term marriage, the wife is often incredulous. She can’t understand how he could put everything they’d built together at risk. To the wife, the marriage itself has such an intrinsic value—how could he walk away from that? But many men felt that, yes, they were part of it and they went along with it because she seemed to want it so much, but the institution of marriage was not what was keeping him there. It’s his wife that he wants. When his feelings for her waver, it’s not that hard to walk away from the rest.
Women who are being left don’t get this, particularly because the husband could never reveal the truth for fear of her turning away from him, leaving him untethered when she was the primary person to whom he was connected. So integrating the fact that he was not playing the same game all along is the first step in the process of healing for the abandoned wife. His interests have migrated and he’s not the man she thought he was. He wasn’t lying—he was just doing what made sense for him to do at the time to stay.
I’m a psychotherapist, family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal and My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life. I can be found online at www.vikkistark.com and www.runawayhusbands.com.