A recent study by the American Sociological Association found that women initiate two thirds of all divorces, a staggering 69% to be exact. An even higher rate of 90% of all divorces are initiated by college-educated women. This begs the following question: Why do women initiate divorce more than men?
In my experience as a Women’s Empowerment Coach, I help women navigate the emotional turmoil of divorce. This would make me a pretty “pro-divorce person.” I myself divorced once. Usually when a woman comes to me, they have already decided to divorce. But there are times that I wonder if that divorce was necessary, or was it just easier?
Last week, during my field research, I met a woman... (OK it was my makeup lady at Ulta). She immediately described her marital woes to me upon my telling her of my vocation. When she told her husband she wanted a divorce, he suddenly started to do all the things she wanted him to do all along. But in her words, “It was too little too late.” I then posed a question to her to try to get her to think harder about it: “What would happen if, instead of it being too late, you went all in? A last ditch effort maybe, but without any strings, expectations -- just pure love for your husband and your child." There were no words… she was quiet and even seemed a little annoyed.
I said, “I bet when he walks into the room he doesn’t have to do anything and you are already annoyed, just by him breathing.” This stirred a laugh, and she told me I nailed it. Resentment seeped into their marriage like a black plague, impossible to cure but much easier to escape. In a marriage, resentment can grow with every annoyed comment, every roll of the eyes, and with every failure to connect. Resentment is a marriage killer.
Women seek closeness and vulnerability in marriage where, under the veil of marriage, it is safe to be real and raw with our chosen one, or soul mate. When she reaches out for that connected feeling and is met with the “wrong” response, she lays a brick down. Then one day, the wall is too high to penetrate it.
In its simplest form, women want connection but don’t know that's what they want, so the men need to read their minds. This is where the communication breakdown often occurs. Women not saying what it is they want, and men completely not “getting it.” So the wall goes up.
The internal process for a woman usually starts with her wondering why she is so unhappy. She works on herself by reading self-help books. Maybe she seeks counseling, starts exercising, or does some form of self-development. At some point, she feels a little better, but something is still off. She may feel lonely, so she looks closer at the marriage.
Looking at the marriage under a microscope reveals a multitude of infractions. He doesn’t help around the house. He doesn’t do his share to take care of the kids. He doesn’t buy her gifts. He doesn’t spend time with her. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t connect with her at all. As a matter of fact, the marriage just feels empty to her as she investigates all of its faults.
Women have affairs too. Even though a husbands infidelity is women’s #1 reason for divorcing, she, too, is very capable. But while infidelity is listed as the reason for divorce, what exactly was the reason for the infidelity? When I dig into that question with my female clients, they all have a similar version of “I felt so lonely.” Many times, the office romance is what made them realize this fact.
Whether or not there is infidelity, there is usually a point the woman reaches out to her husband to help “fix” things. Usually the husband hears this and turns the blame back on the wife, or he somehow resists the criticism. After all, he thinks everything is just fine. Rarely does he hear it as the cry for help that it really is.
When fixing the marriage is met with resistance or even denial, the wife starts to think that a divorce is the only way to go. If he is not willing to work on it, then what else is she to do? This is the pivotal point where the word “divorce” is initiated into conversations.
Making the decision to divorce is never easy. By the time someone says the words “I want a divorce,” they have most likely mourned the marriage and moved on, making it too late for reconciliation. This may leave the husband pretty side-blinded.
Even though the husband may feel a lot of grief, he still inflicts shame and blame, adding fuel to her fire. They both only see the faults that their spouse brings to the table, and refuse to look in the mirror.
If only he held her and asked her what she needed. If only he helped her a little more around the house and with the kids. If only he heard her complaints and took them seriously and made some changes. If only he did something nice for her to show his love for her. If only he held her without initiating sex. And if only then… he pleased her first.
Unfortunately, the last ditch effort made by the husband is a little schizophrenic. One moment he is buying her a meaningful gift, and the next moment he is furious and blaming. The couple may even go to counseling, only the madness continues because he is unable to look within for the changes needed. The marriage is unraveling fast now. Then and only then, she can no longer handle the anger, and the separation begins.
But what about the makeup lady whose husband really made the real effort? If only she could set aside the blackness in her heart that resentment built, scale that brick wall between them. If he could find a way to connect with her.