Conflicts — 31 March 2013
Why some men leave their wives

Commonly cited and accepted explanations for why some men leave their wives include: The allure of restored youthfulness offered by a younger, adoring female, the appeal of feeling omnipotent and powerful; the seduction of forbidden sex; and the avoidance of monotonous or unhappy co-existence with his wife. Though these explanations seem logical, are they indeed the reasons for marital break-ups?

John Gottman’s research found that the two major reasons for divorce were Conflict and Loss of intimacy and connection. Paul Amato attributed personal problems and history of parental divorce as the major contributors to divorce.

Other researchers cited personal or sexual betrayal as a common reason for men’s termination of marriage. Israel Charney found that 67% of betrayed husbands and 53% of betrayed wives suffered significant damage to their self-image and confidence, and 18% and 21% respectively suffered feelings of abandonment and attacks on their sense of belonging that prompted the termination of their unions.

Frank Pittman and colleagues listed three kinds of affairs: “Accidental – unplanned, with the consequences given little thought; it’s more of a friendship that develops into more because of what’s missing in the main relationship. Philandering – entail steady changes in partners by one spouse who is likely angry about the marriage, sees the other spouse as controlling, and is likely hostile toward the spouse, and Romantic affair – where people “fall in love” to escape marital and life problems; it may signal more of a crisis in the couple’s life-cycle than in the marriage itself.” He summarizes, “90% of first-time divorces have involved infidelity, mostly during the last year of the marriage. These findings confirm that intimacy and support in the relationship are more the issue than sex with someone else.”

The above studies list conflict and lack of intimacy and personal or sexual betrayal as the main contributors to termination of marriage by men rather than the commonly presumed causes of youth, power and sexual temptations.

Clinically, men who come to therapy are disheartened about being unappreciated, controlled and manipulated by their wives rather than being driven by pursuits of sexual fulfillment, youthfulness or power.

The need to be appreciated, valued, respected and cherished is not gender specific. Both men and women wish to receive this from their mates. In the absence of evidence of these attitudes mates feel discredited, devalued and rejected. It is then that they become susceptible to the positive regard, kindness and validation from other individuals outside the marriage.

Men also value autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency and freedom as affirmations of their manhood. Feeling “controlled” by their wives is demeaning and disempowering. Regrettably, leaving is often propelled by the need to find an alternative way to be positively regarded, valued and esteemed.


  •  Create marriage stability by offering your man autonomy, respect and appreciations.
  • Ask – don’t tell your husband what to do.
  • Promote his positive self-image, appeal, value and confidence.
  • Avoid conflicts.
  • Be a loyal emotional and sexual partner.




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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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