Back in the bad old days when California lawmakers debated the wisdom of liberalizing the state’s divorce laws, many conservatives voiced concerns that relaxed laws would encourage a restless man to walk out on unwanted marriages, leaving indigent wives and impoverished children. Like so many questions argued abstractly, experience has proven the fears misplaced.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, and about 80 percent of the divorces are initiated by women. That 50 percent is often quoted and it is probably on the high side, but it is illuminating that 80 percent of the divorces are filed by the wife.
This statistic suggests that more women are unsatisfied with their marriages, at least to the point of ending them, than men. Some marriages end for very objective reasons, such as physical abuse or addictions, and there are certainly many reasons for the dissatisfaction that exists. However, the husband and his actions – or his lack of them – play a significant role in causing and sustaining the dissatisfaction.
Of course, the news of a divorce of a couple in a long-term marriage – 10 years or more – jolts family and friends who are shocked to hear of a marital failure when it concerns a couple who spent more than a decade together. People wonder how the partners could have invested so much time into their relationship, only to abandon it. Danielle Horwich, a licensed clinical social worker in Los Angeles, says while there are no easy answers, there may be some obvious reasons behind the demise of a long and (what appeared to be) happy marriage.
One reason for the collapse of a longtime marriage could be that couples lose connection with each other when the children are grown. Day-to-day lives are no longer about parenting and building a home for their kids. “After 20 or so years, when the children have gone, entered college, or begun families of their own, the couple must look towards each other and ask themselves: without our children what do we have?” says Horwich. “Some couples will see this transition as a vibrant opportunity to embark on new adventures. Others, will look towards one another and see they no longer recognize and understand the partner they married.”
Several years ago, a Pennsylvania college professor whose marriage has been sinking found himself on the way to divorce when his wife asked him if he wanted to divorce. “”I don’t care,” he replied. She filed shortly thereafter.
A life-threatening illness or injury sometimes collects the mind in the realization that life is short – too precious to live in a dead, lonely marriage. At 50 men and woman realize that there are now “more yesterdays than tomorrows,” as a freelance writer put it. According to Horwich, individuals may feel the need to take on a new path in mid-life. Many people face the inevitability of death between the ages of 40 and 65.
The so-called “golden years” seem bogus when confronted with the very predictable problems brought by time in anyone’s life. Declining health issues, caring for failing parents, and dealing with the death of loved ones — all become more common occurrences in midlife, and require great adaptation and coping skills for couples. When a couple doesn’t have the coping skills necessary to make it through a major traumatic event, it could lead to a breakdown between the two of them.
“Rigidity and inflexibility to new roles and new habits is often what leads a marriage to break in the midst of these changes,” explains Horwich. “Conflict is inevitable, yet how the couple manages this conflict will be essential to their success.”
One woman wanted to deal with the conflict in her marriage, but that wasn’t necessarily true of her husband. “I came from a place where I would never think of leaving him, I thought we would work things out,” she said. “However, he came from a place where you just leave. There was no talking, no fixing, it was just over.”
While all couples are bound to face major life changes and traumatic events throughout the evolution of their relationship, it doesn’t have to mean their love is doomed. Horwich says there are plenty of things couples can do now to ensure their marriage endures the long-haul by staying connected as a couple during child rearing and regular date nights when talking about the kids is off limits. Productive communication skills are important.
And husband can to a better job of keeping the wife happy. Here is how:
- He can tell his wife that he loves her.
- He can show his wife he loves her.
- He can talk and listen to his wife because she has important things to say and is an equal partner in their marriage.
- He can talk to his wife and share with her struggles, achievements, thoughts, and dreams.
- He can acknowledge her (in a non-sexual way – touching her arm, stroking her back, tucking her hair behind her ear.
- He can anticipate her needs by making her life a little bit easier — loading the dishwasher, wiping off the table, making her lunch the night before.
- He can remember that his wife is the most beautiful woman in the world (and make sure that she knows that he knows it).
- He can recharge her battery when she is tired and worn out.
- He can help her soar by encourage her in her dreams and through supporting her endeavors.
- He can recognize the small and simple things.