Divorce — 23 October 2003
When a man leaves a woman (Part 2)

Part 1 of this column described the three types of divorces: The Mutual
Agreement, The Unilateral (decided by one mate), and the Compounded
divorce patterns.

The five emotional stages within the Compounded style, (which involves a
third party), were detailed. The partner who gets involved with another
person is beleaguered by guilt. To justify his or her socially and
morally unacceptable conduct s/ he may develop a five tiered process.

S/he first demonizes the spouse, rewrites the history of their union in
negative terms, and depicts him/herself as a victim and the mate as a
persecutor. This partner then moves to punishing the spouse for the
alleged unforgivable acts. S/he then seeks approval from others and even
his partner for being “forced” to exit the marriage. The last phase of
restoring balance, whereby a normalized or a civil relationship is
created, may or may not be achieved in every case.

If you have been a participant in this divorce pattern, or know someone
who did, you are fully aware of the emotional turmoil involved. Whether the leaving spouse is a man or a woman, the left mate
experiences a hellish nightmare. I’ll depict the emotional stages of a
left wife, which are similar to those of an abandoned husband. These
reactions are often reported to me in the form of sequential questions.

The demonizing process produces feelings of shock and dismay. “How could
my partner betray me in the worse possible way? Not only did he have an
affair that violated the marriage vows, but he compounded the betrayal
by accusing me of causing it. Not only did he blame me for the failure
of the marriage, but he also resorted to defaming my character. How
could he believe that I am such an evil being after having loved me for
years? How could he be so callous and insensitive toward the children by
depicting their mother in the worse possible light to justify his own
immoral conduct?”

The rewriting history is a major violation of the mate’s reality. “How
could he have been so miserable for twenty years without my awareness?
Or worse, could all the joy I recall be a figment of my imagination? If
things were truly that offensive to him, why did he not complain, and
not request change or seek help?”

“Being punished for creating his misery is a mind-boggling state. He
started an affair, lied, deceived, violated trust and his commitment,
started fights to escape from home and ultimately decided to leave the
family and – I need to be punished? How unjust is this? Not only do I
lose my whole life structure, but I am also seen as a greedy enemy?
Please, somebody help me understand how my whole reality became so skewed?”

“To make things even more bewildering, he expects me to admit my
wrongdoings, take full responsibility for the marriage failure and give
him empathy for “his suffering”? I am also left with the task of
preserving his dignity in the children’s eyes while helping them with
their anger, confusion and pain. In doing so, I am further accused of
turning the children against him. What?”

“If all this isn’t enough emotional torture, he now demands that I
accept his other woman and rejoice in his well-deserved happiness. It is
my task to help the children embrace her and welcome her into the fold.
Since when did I select her entry into our lives? Does she deserve kudos
for participating in the break-up of our marriage? How did I get
assigned the job of welcoming a woman who stole my husband?”

Just reading this scenario is sufficiently painful, imagine living it?
Those who have gone through this trauma describe it as “crazy making”.
Such severe and emphatic distortion of their reality causes left mates
to doubt their sanity. Recovery from this profound trauma is slow.

What can a left partner do under these circumstances?

  • First realize that all these five phases serve the leaving partner-
    and have little to do with you.
  • Understand that this process is your partner’s tragic way of dealing
    with guilt. His or her perceptions are the reconstructed ones.
  • Marriages are not unions between “angels” and “devils”. Your partner’s
    lack of any culpability is a clear sign of misdirected adaptation.
  • Talk with people who can affirm your view of the marriage history,
    interactions and your worthy personality.
  • Reassure yourself that you are sane and that the reality you are fed
    is created for your partner’s self- exoneration.
  • Surround yourself with people who love and affirm you.
  • Remember that every parent earns his or her separate relationship with
    the children. Your youngsters will ultimately process these events
    appropriately.
  • This nightmare will end! With time, the healing will come, you will
    laugh and love again and the sun will soon shine brightly upon you.

Part 3 of “when a man leaves a woman” will outline recommendations for
the spouse who became involved with a third party.

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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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