Would you take action if you learned you might lose the use of your legs within seven years? Well, the odds on your being divorced are much, much higher; and it can cripple you almost as badly.
When you have a child, if your wife/partner decides you don't meet her expectations and she wants to move on, she will usually take away your home, your life savings, a third or more of your income, and will often interfere with your ability to see your kids all without a trial.
If you don't cooperate, she can say that she's afraid of you and have the police eject you from your house. The legal system encourages her to do these things, and millions of women have. (See Prof. Sanford Braver's research in Divorced Dads.)
It's no coincidence that divorced men's suicide rate is ten times the rate of divorced women.
Almost three-quarters of divorces are initiated by women, and it usually comes as a surprise to the husbands and fathers involved. Very few of us are prepared for this disaster. Here are some indicators that it could be on the horizon:
When a woman starts becoming dissatisfied with her marriage, she goes through several stages (not necessarily in this order):
- First she tries to change her husband in various ways, or in one big way.
- If that doesn't work, she starts putting her commitment into other things: her job, her friends, the children, getting more education, etc. She builds a separate life for herself in that area, keeping her husband out. There is no intimate conversation with her husband about it.
- She decreases interaction with her husband by spending more time watching TV, phoning, reading, working, jogging, or going to bed early. Intimate conversation declines even more.
- There will be changes in lovemaking: who initiates it, frequency, duration, intensity, tenderness.
- If she suggests going to a counselor and her husband doesn't go, or drops out because he thinks it's her problem, the marriage will be defined as the problem…or he will.
- She starts avoiding entanglements beyond the short term, things like having a child, redoing a room, buying season tickets, or taking out a loan together.
- As she gets more committed and comfortable with her life outside the marriage, she starts making critical remarks about her husband in public, or showing him up publicly.
This process may go quickly, or it may take many, many years. In fact she may never decide to make the final break.
But when she does become ready to tell her husband, the process has advanced so far that it's usually impossible to reverse it. She has changed her entire way of thinking, her commitment, her friends, and her lifestyle. If she agrees to try to fix the marriage at this point, it's usually just to convince her husband that it won't work.
Her husband is likely to be unprepared for the crisis, and he tries to court her again to fix the problem. But the chances are slim, and he needs to prepare for a break even as he hopes to avoid it. Otherwise his legal position will deteriorate fast. Many husbands have found the very things they give of themselves during this period of trying are used against them in the final confrontation. One of the best ways to start preparing for a coming legal contest is to get a copy of The Father's Emergency Guide to Divorce-Custody, by Robert Seidenberg.
For you, if your marriage has not deteriorated all the way, and you want to prevent future trouble, the best bet is to learn to manage your marriage better. It's just a matter of establishing a few simple habits, and it will make your life much more enjoyable. Even if it doesn't work, and your wife files for divorce, you'll be much better off if she feels goodwill toward you. Get a copy of Conscious Loving by Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks. It's the best book I've seen on managing relationships.
Meanwhile you can start right away. One crucial step is easy: stop giving your wife advice unless she explicitly asks for it. When she talks about a problem, just show you understand. Remember how you feel about being told what to do all the time.
Finally, don't put this off. You can never know how close you might be to the edge!
August 14, 2001