Divorce — 23 October 2003
When a man leaves a woman (Part 3)

A man or woman, who leaves a partner due to an affair, may experience
the five emotional and behavioral stages of the compounded divorce.
Demonizing the spouse to justify abandoning the family, rewriting
history in negative terms to create a theme of long term oppression,
punishing the mate for being an “abuser”, seeking approval for
self-vindication and perhaps some time later, restoring cordial

The previous columns discussed these phases in detail and the trauma the left mate is faced to cope with. This segment will address the party who
developed the outside involvement.

Divorce is a result of lost hope in relationships. Sometimes, however,
it is not necessarily about a failed marriage as it is about a poor
response to ungratified needs by one partner.

Most people are enamored by attention. It is normal to lavish in the
warmth of affirming people. It is also normal to enjoy being amorously
sought by a third party. Many people flirt but do not lose perspective
of their love and commitment to their families.

People, who allow outside relationships to divert their attention from
the family, must look inside themselves for the reasons for their
behavior. For some, the affair was an awakening that their needs were
unmet by their spouses. For others, it serves as a catalyst for leaving
a stale marriage. For some, it is an attempt to improve a temporary
feeling of low self-esteem. Others use another relationship to reawaken
the partner to greater responsiveness. Another group of people may be
reacting to the unhappiness they feel about themselves due to a
temporary midlife crisis. There are many other reasons for being
vulnerable to attention outside the home and it is very important to
understand the nature of this pull. Once understood, healthy measures
could be taken to rectify the problem.

Though not an easy admission, the partner who is tempted elsewhere may
need to present it to his or her mate as a personal and or a couple’s
crisis. It is advisable for both partners to explore the unhappiness one
mate is experiencing in an attempt to reach a solution. What straying
people describe is that they felt so badly about themselves and their
marriage prior to meeting the third party, that their affair was inevitable.

Needless to say, when anyone is unhappy, it is incumbent upon that
individual to analyze the source of the pain and handle it. Mentioning
to the spouse some vague or even specific dissatisfaction is NOT a
sufficient impetus for change. Change requires exploration, re-decisions
and action.

When couples refrain from problem solving together to enhance the well
being of both, they put their relationship at risk.
Partners who unsuccessfully tried to rehabilitate their marriage may
agree to separate for the personal happiness of one or both mates. If
this is done jointly, the chances of moving to the five – stage pattern
of the compounded divorce are less likely.

When the tempted partner withholds the information in order to spare
himself or herself and the mate’s agony, he or she may only embark upon
a much more devastating course. Seeking solutions to guilt, the straying
spouse resorts to blaming the other. To justify actions that one knows
are morally and socially unsupported, he or she uses exaggeration to of
hurt and it’s duration. To gain social support, one resorts to
soliciting empathy for having been a victim. Punishment is used to repay
oneself for all the perceived injustices. To regain esteem of others and
the partner, the mate is faulted as not accommodating enough. All these
protective mechanism are avoidable. This pattern of divorce is akin to a
tragic drama in which one misconception by one person starts a sequence
of devastating consequences.

Self understanding, inclusion of the mate, honest exploration of the
real causes of one’s unhappiness and seeking help, are all ways of
preventing this agonizing process.
If you are a spouse who got involved with a third party,

  • Use this behavior as a warning sign that you are in a personal crisis
    and in need of help.
  • Your unhappiness does not lie solely with your mate’s being or
    behavior. If you think it does, talk to your partner or seek
    professional help.
  • Be aware that an unhappy marriage is often composed of two
    dissatisfied people. Have you considered your partner’s side?
  • If you decide to work on the marriage, the other relationship must be
    terminated. One can not be fully emotionally invested in two intimate
    relationships at the same time.
  • If you choose divorce, be regretful, humble, contrite, kind and
    empathic with your family for the pain you have caused them.
  • Realize that your children are the innocent victims here. Show them
    love and consideration by being respectful of their other parent. Give
    them time to adjust.
  • It is your responsibility to make every effort to accommodate your
    family. Help them live as well as possible to reduce the impact of their
    many losses.

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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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