Are You in Danger of Divorce, and Have no Idea?

I regularly hear from men who “suddenly and without warning” receive either divorce papers, or a warning their wife is going to file. Often these men are honestly caught completely unaware – they had no idea their wife was unhappy in their marriage. Never mind anyone looking on would have seen it, they really were oblivious. 

Wife who has given up © Michal Marcol |

Usually the wife made noise about being unhappy in the past; sometimes a great deal of noise. Either her husband ignored her, or he made half-hearted efforts with no sustentative, long-term changes. Eventually she decided he was unwilling to change, so she either had to learn to live with things as they are or get out. Some start planning leaving then, while most make an effort to live with it. Given selfish people generally become more selfish with time, what she has to live with gets worse and worse, and eventually many of the “live with it” women also start to plan to leave. The thing is, once a woman decides her husband is not going to change, she stops complaining. All too often men take this as an indication everything is fine now, which is why they’re so shocked when their wife files for divorce months or years later.

In our recent poll on the chance of divorce in the next 18 months, women answered a question about how likely it was they would divorce, and then gave anything their husband could do to decrease the chances they would file for divorce. Of those who felt it possible they would file for a divorce in the next year and a half, the likelihood broke down as follows:

  • 15% It’s only a matter of time, it will happen.      
  • 23% Very likely
  • 23% Fifty- fifty
  • 23% Somewhat likely
  • 15% Unlikely but possible

I would bet most of those ladies husbands are clueless – which is scary. If your wife “used to be upset” about your marriage, and stopped being upset without much change, you may have a problem. Do not take her silence as evidence it’s all good, because it may not be.

As to what their husbands could do, if anything, to change their mind (less than half answered this section):

  • Work on himself personally and with others, work on his relationship with his wife, work on his relationship with his children, show that he’s stable, safe and dependable and willing to love through the pain. Divorce is always hiding, yet it’s because two people have decided NOT to work on it and be ALL in.
  • Nope
  • gGrow a heart and a conscience
  • Yes, stop with the Fox News 24/7 and turn off the computer and tweets and email! I love my husband but I can’t compete. He would rather spend time with Shannon Breen (Fox) and Facebook than with me.
  • Do a better job of making amends and regaining my trust.
  • Stop cheating on me and “show up” even though he is away for his job.
  • If he repents and changes in his behavior and enters intense therapy and accountability then there’s a chance of reconciliation.
  • Yes, spend more time with his family.
  • Yes, if he could open his eyes and listen to me, work with me and defeat the demon. Thus we can accomplish our marriage back
  • Do what he USED to do.
  • Stop lying to me. Stop porn usage completely. (He says he has stopped, but he’s lied so many times before.)
  • Continue with his relapse prevention (porn and drug addictions). Have sex with me more (I’m tired of begging and being told no). Stay faithful (recent infidelity with female co-worker while high). Be honest (even if he slipped in his relapse prevention…we could work past it if he didn’t lie to me about it). At this point, I only stay for the kids. And I am MISERABLE.
  • No
  • No. People don’t change. After the first 16 months of marriage being a complete communication breakdown and sexless, my feelings have completely changed for my husband, and I don’t think there’s any bouncing back.
  • Turn to God/
  • I don’t know. He’s never been passionate towards me and I’m growing weary. At this point, even when he tries, it seems like an act.

Notice the three there who said there was nothing he could do? They have given up; it is over as far as they are concerned. I suspect many who did not answer this section also felt it was hopeless.

If you have good reason to think she has given up, I suggest you read the ten part series starting here. I can also recommend, on the recommendation of friends I trust who did it, the Save My Marriage crisis intervention intense couples workshop. They have a  75% success rate, defined as a couple being together five years after participating. It is going to cost you $1,500 to $2,000 with travel and lodging, but if your marriage is hanging in the balance I’d call it money well spent – and it’s a whole lot cheaper than a divorce!

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19 Comments on “Are You in Danger of Divorce, and Have no Idea?

  1. Really? And the wife has never once asked her husband to go to counselling with her? She has never once said, “Hey, we’re in trouble, we need to talk some things out.” I think I would say that unless the man is a complete moron, the wife has some responsibility here. You can’t just serve divorce papers without making an attempt to let your husband know you aren’t happy and make things better. I would venture to say that if he honestly has no idea, then his wife checked out a long time ago and has no speck of desire to make the marriage work. But if that is the case, then he has been just as apathetic about the marriage as she. A happy wife doesn’t wake up one day and decide to divorce her husband. I’m baffled at how this would come about, really.

      • Ah, well then he really can’t claim that he had no idea. Your statement “Often these men are honestly caught completely unaware.” gave the impression that she has never once indicated that she was unhappy. Of course she gave up….. she did all she knew to do, and his unresponsiveness indicated that he didn’t care.
        You didn’t say much more in your post than “He was oblivious” Did the whole post not get published? It seemed to have cut off abruptly.

  2. I tend to think what Paul means by “caught completely unaware” is that many men have heard the pleas of their wives but have taken no action on those please and have, as a result, let things simmer just the way they are. It’s kinda like setting a pot to simmer on the stove then walking away from it for days on end. You come back to it and it is splashed over and you’re wondering what happened. What happened was you chose to look the other way while things got out of control then one day, you look back and BAM, things just got real.

    Please know in this example, the “you” is not you personally but many men, myself included, that have been caught “unaware” simply because we didn’t honor what our wives had been trying to tell us over many, many years.

    • ha! I thought that was an awfully short post by you.
      Reading through the wives comments is very eye opening. They aren’t divorcing over dirty socks on the floor, or how to squeeze the toothpaste tube. It seems to me by these women’s comments that the men really aren’t wanting to change, and by refusing to look at their own issues and find healing, they have essentially told their wives that they aren’t invested in the marriage. Can’t really blame her for wanting to leave.
      But, there are always two sides to every story…

      • I never have time to do a short post!

        Yes, the reasons are big and real. Of course there are women who divorce out of boredom or selfishness, but I suspect such women are under represented in the sample.

  3. I can attest to the wonderful work Family Dynamics does. Although we did not take ‘Save My Marriage,’ but the 8 week course, it changed our lives! Great recommendation, Paul!

  4. The good news is that my marriage was probably in the “very likely to divorce” category at one point, but we are quite happily married now. We did change–both of us. We each let go of unrealistic expectations and then learned to meet the others’ reasonable needs and desires. We let God change us.

    For those who feel it is helpless, if you are both in it (even if one of you less so than the other) you may indeed to be able to go from unhappy to happy marriage.

    Great post, Paul!

  5. It’s important to note that fewer than 1/2 answered the question about what husbands could do to avoid divorce.

    It could be for a number of reasons, so I don’t think it’s totally fair to say that it’s because men were clueless.

    One could make the argument that the lack of specifics by over 1/2 the wives indicates they may be as clueless as we are suggesting husbands are.

    I only have my case. I was a husband who was blindsided by an unfaithful wife who ultimately filed for divorce.

    She flat out told me, when I asked, that “everything is fine.” How many husbands are getting THAT message when they ask, or check in?

    Then we suggest they are clueless?

    I’m not saying that men are without blame in this tragedy. I am saying that it is just as likely that their bride is either clueless, misleading and/or unwilling to change as well.

    After all, if over 50% have already made up their mind and are unwilling or unable to suggest what needs to change, then that points to a large number of wives as resistant to change as we are suggesting husbands are.

    I simply don’t buy the men are clueless, women are better at relationships mantra.

    I don’t think that’s Paul’s thesis. Yet sometimes these articles come close to saying that and it gets tiresome to read over and over again.

    • Tony – What you say is possible, but given the skew imparted to the poll by the audience, it is unlikely it would be significant for this group. The poll was promoted in places that are for those who want to make their marriage better. Women and men who are selfish, or having an affair, don’t usually frequent sites aimed at telling THEM how to be better spouses.

      Yes, there are women who file for divorce because they are selfish, having an affair, or are just clueless. I think that is far less common than you do, and we have argued that more than enough. But here is the more important issue: If you wife is going to divorce you for any of these reasons there is little beyond prayer that you can do. If she is going to divorce you for something you should do or stop doing, then you have the power to save your marriage.

      (I do not mean to negate prayer, but while prayer is powerful, it won’t change another person’s will.)

      • Well, maybe not selfish, but if they are from a population that wants to make their marriages better and over half couldn’t/wouldn’t cite one thing their husbands could do better, the equally clueless argument still stands.

        Which also begs the question, is the reason her husband is clueless because he’s not paying attention, or that she is not giving clear, unambiguous messages to him?

    • As I’ve said before, it depends on when in the marriage the divorce happens. I believe a study was done in Virginia called “These Boots Were Made for Walking” It basically argued that the one choosing the divorce did so when they have a percieved advantage. Divorces early in marriages were by and large filed by women and seldom due to marital misconduct on the part of her husband. She simply thought (right or wrong) that she had a better chance to get what she wanted both in the divorce and in choosing a new after divorce partner. Women with children tend to do better in divorce. Likewise, the dating market gives an advantage to young women relative to their more mature counterparts.

      This reverses for late in life marriages, where it’s more likely the man choosing to divorce. Largely for the same reasons. If his children are grown, he is unlikely to pay child support. (And I would argue in two income homes, unlikely to pay spousal support either.) Also, older men hold a relative advantage in the dating market as their careers are established and may appeal more to potential partners compared to their younger counterparts.

      The point is people choose divorce not based on their partner, but based on the advantages they perceive in getting a divorce.

      I do believe this also explains why 66 to 75 percent of divorces are filed by women. Since they are more likely to file early in the marriage, that leaves fewer marriages to survive until any children are fully grown.

      I believe this also bolsters my long time point that neither men nor women are more of an expert in relationships nor is one gender more sinful than the other.

      They both are sinful and both demonstrate that when they perceive the advantage to be theirs, they will, if so inclined, pull the handle and eject from their marriage.

      • Tony – That was a paper, not a study. It looks to have been done by a law professor and an economics professor. The problem they were looking at was that filings by women are much higher than they should be given the economics of divorce. The “perceived advantage” is being married versus being single, and getting out of an abusive situation (be it physical or emotional) is included in this.

        At the bottom of page 133 they discuss how a woman may file is her husband has exhausted her good will, and how “In some cases, by the time he realizes there’s a problem, it is likely too late.” Sound a lot like what I said!

        The 3 reasons they give for filing for divorce are “escaping an exploitive partner, leaving the marriage with the bulk of all of its enhanced human capital, or attempting to establish custody over children”. I’d not put it that way, and I’d add selfishness (including wanting to be with someone else), but I do agree.

        As to age, I saw they talk about the fact that a woman who marries young is at a disadvantage to her husband, and that this just gets worse as she ages. They said of these women “If the wife were to file, she would clearly be leaving a bad marriage.” Women who married later, and especially those who had education and a good job, were far less at a disadvantage, and thus the odds they filed to get out of a bad marriage are lower.

        Again, perceived advantage is not as you have made it (at least not according to the authors). If the current situation is horrible, and divorce looks only bad, then there is a perceived advantage to divorcing. It’s not always about gold digging or sticking it to someone, it can be about getting out of a horrible situation.

        I have my issues with the paper, but it does not seem to say what you have said it says. Rather, it seems to be very much in line with what I have said.

  6. Clueless. I know I was told a million times what I needed to do. But I thought as long as the sex was great, everything was great. Great sex does not make a great marriage. Divorce papers from proved that. A great relationship is what makes a great marriage. I wish now that I had not just listened to her with my ears, but listened with my heart as well.

  7. Paul,

    Page 33 states in the conclusion that who gets custody is most likely to file. It also mentions that only 6% of the case in VA cited cruelty, but acknowledged that may be under reported. It also explained on page 20 that men were more likely than women to file for divorce in long duration marriages.

    The bottom line iis in general, the one who thinks they can appropriate a better deal is the one more likely to file. The paper indicates that relatively few filings are due to the exploitation scenario where one perceives being exploited by the other.

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