Divorce — 23 October 2003
When a man leaves a woman (Part 1)

It may seem that most divorces are similar in natures. Actually, there
are different types of divorces, each of them with its own unique
psychological characteristics and emotional intensity.

We have the Mutual Agreement pattern of divorce whereby both mates are
unhappy and conclude that they will be happier being apart. This couple often settles their affairs amicably and quickly, and may
stay friends.

The Unilateral Divorce patternentails one person deciding to leave at the dismay of the other. There are greater emotional implications in
this type of split, where the person who chooses to leave has had time to consider, reflect, weigh the options, and emotionally detach while
the left mate is caught unprepared, treated unfairly, surprised and abandoned. Requests for more time, counseling or opportunity to reform
are denied. The process of this divorce is harder and more emotional due to the imbalance of power.

The emotional intensity is even greater in a Compounded Divorce pattern that entails the involvement of a third party. Here the left partner
does not only feel abandoned; he or she feels replaced. The pain here is about having lost a primary position in the mate’s life to another
individual. There are added painful emotions about immorality, betrayal and failure.

Within each one of these divorce patterns there are additional sub-sets. One of them is the one associated with the third party pattern. I will use an example of a man who leaves his wife while the other woman serves as a catalyst for the divorce. This pattern can also occur for a
woman who gets involved with another man and leaves her husband.

A man meets a woman in the course of his life, he spends time with the new adoring female who makes him feel very valued and desired. At first,
he only lavishes in the attention and feels invigorated. With time, he begins to compare his feelings about the new admirer to those he has for
his wife. If he decides to break-up his family and start a new life he is likely to go through the following psychological stages.

  •  DEMONIZING THE MATE: The man is a decent person who is aware that his
    conduct is frowned upon both morally and socially. He begins to feel
    great guilt- yet, he continues his relationship with the other woman. In
    order to reconcile the conflict between his view of himself as a moral
    being and his unacceptable conduct, he resorts demonizing his wife as a
    justification for his behavior. He ascribed to his wife many negative
    and unforgivable traits and behaviors. She may be seen as an inept
    person, wife and mother or even evil.
  • REWRITING HISTORY: Not only is the partner found to be irrevocably
    faulted, she has been so for the whole duration of the marriage. The
    husband recreates a view of historical suffering and pain he has
    endured. He may say, “I have been unhappy in this marriage for twenty
    years” or, “She has made every day of our married life a miserable day”.
    It is clear that it is a recreated story because of the exaggerated
    nature of the comment, its intensity and the lack of balance. The
    husband assumes no personal responsibility for his role in the so-called
    “long term suffering”. He seeks approval and support of others for
    having been a victim, which in his mind fully justifies his abandoning
    the family.
  • PUNISHING THE MATE: The man retells his newly developed view of his
    suffering often enough to believe that his wife deserves to be punished.
    She is the “offender” and his “persecutor” and thus needs to be dealt
    with harshly. The punishment is dished out through financial
    withholding, or worse, through fighting over the children. He believes
    that his wife is not entitled to receive any future benefits from him,
    sometimes not even those allowed by law. “She received enough advantages
    by having been married to me, she is entitled to nothing else”. In many
    cases he may attempt to deprive his wife equal, fair or appropriate
    access to the children. Needless to say, this divorce will be very
    bitter, lengthy, costly, and detrimental to the children.
  • SEEKING APPROVAL: Despite all his vengeance, the man still wants the
    affirmation and approval of family, friends, and curiously enough even
    his wife. He wants her to accept that she was primarily responsible for
    the break up of the family and realize that he had no other choice but
    to act as he did. Sadly, he may impart this view upon the children who
    are traumatized enough by the divorce. The deep seeded guilt the man
    experiences about having left his family for another woman continues to
    plague him. For many, the strain within the original family leaves
    permanent emotional scars.
  • RESTORING BALANCE: The man expects the first wife to accept his new
    life and even be happy for him. He wants his wife to take the full blame
    for his need to escape the intolerable marriage. Therefore, she should
    also accept the “new reality” and make peace with his new girlfriend or
    wife. Since the first wife does not share any of his reconstructed views
    of their history, she is often unwilling to embrace his new life. With
    time, however, some couples learn to act civilly toward each other for
    the sake of their children. Few former mates accept the expanded family
    and may even become friendly again.

To learn how to handle this divorce pattern- please read next week’s
column. When a man leaves a woman Part 2.

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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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