As a divorced man, it’s my experience that the stigma around divorce lies with those who try to work things out. People are taught now that they deserve better. So they divorce without much introspection about their accountability for their role in the current state of their relationship. We don’t mend socks or relationships, anymore. People wear shirts that say, “Recycle boys.” Beyonce sings: “I could have another you in a minute.” This phenomenon mostly affects men because wives file most divorces. It’s called the “Walkaway Wife Syndrome,” as demonstrated in the film, Eat, Pray, Love. I respect your perspectives on a person’s independence and agency, but it doesn’t take into account social factors. Thoughts?
Your divorce wounds have yet to heal. Would it help to stop conflating human beings with things? A woman might leave you, but she does not have the power to toss you in the waste bin. You might feel as if you’ve been abandoned or “dumped” after she exits, but it did not literally occur as it does with a ripped sock. So it’s necessary to sort through the painful feelings and repetitive thoughts that convince you that you’ve been abandoned. Once you do, the stigma you fear will be erased from one more person: you.
Social factors are like Jenga: We can stack blocks of information to make any point, but pull one out and everything crashes down. Like this: “Walkaway Wife Syndrome” was coined by a reporter writing about a 1988-89 survey of 350 men in Texas whose wives had filed for divorce. Later, a therapist popularized the phrase to represent women who had tried everything to reconnect intimately with their husbands, including begging their men to try couples therapy. When nothing worked, the women gave up, filed for divorce and walked away. Not the “Walkaway Wife Syndrome” you were expecting? This might surprise you, too: A 2005-2019 Stanford University study of 2,262 adults ages 19 to 94 with opposite sex partners discovered that breakups were gender-neutral. Men were just as likely to initiate a breakup as women were. But women, especially women with children, initiated divorce more often than men due to dissatisfaction in marriage. Consider the recent open letter from a Nevada mom to her husband that went viral and was shared more than 5,000 times (and garnered 6,000-plus likes) in which she asked for help with the kids. As the Stanford study concludes, women’s roles in society have changed, but women’s roles in marriage are changing slowly. Women are expecting emotional intimacy in their marriages, plus help with the labor of running a household and caring for children. The real social factor is this: How can we assist and support men in developing these skills?
Of course, emotionally intimate men get divorced, too. The reality is that marriages and other valued relationships end. Sometimes it’s because we do deserve better. Sometimes even introspection about one’s accountability and contribution to the problem isn’t enough. People we trust leave us. People we love let go. The work is to love others as we wish to be loved. Yes, even in the midst of a breakup or divorce.