To The Man Feeling Too Guilty To Leave

5) They fear they will be seen as “the bad guy” by their family, friends and children. Given Aniston’s famous quote and most pop culture headlines, can you really blame them?

In the real world of divorce, men are far more often the one left than they are the leaver.

A recent study by Michael Rosenfeld at Stanford University confirmed that women initiate 69% of all divorces. Women asking for a divorce more often than men was no earth-shattering discovery. What was of particular note in this study, was the contrasting finding that in non-marital breakups men are equally like to initiate the end of a relationships as women.

Rosenfeld shared the following conclusion about this distinction with The Huffington Post:

“Women’s tendency to initiate divorce was well known but the gender neutrality I found for non-marital breakups was not. That’s an important consideration, Rosenfeld said, because social scientists previously argued that women were more likely to initiate divorce simply because they were more sensitive to relationship difficulties.

“It supports the theory that sociologists refer to as ‘the stalled gender revolution,’ meaning that as much as women’s roles in society have changed, women’s roles within the families have changed very slowly,” he said, citing husband’s expectation for wives to do the bulk of the housework and childcare, even when both spouses work.

While Rosenfeld makes valid arguments that surely factor somewhat into the statistical findings, my concern is that he is misinterpreting a good chunk of the data to the detriment of far too many men by ignoring the the very real issues at play for men as mentioned above.

Just as his findings can be interpreted to support the stalled gender revolution theory, they can easily support my theory that men ask for a divorce less often than women because as much as we don’t want to admit it, men are still by and large the primary breadwinners of the family and their concerns about the financial stability of their children, their wives and themselves weighs on them heavily, and not without reason.

As for the fact that married women reported lower levels of relationship quality than married men, it would be both narrow-sighted and wrong to assume that either:

a) the women are unhappy because of the men, or

b) the men aren’t defining quality differently than the women, or even internally feeling guilty if they rate their satisfaction as too low.

There two problems, then, that must be overcome.

  • Assuming blame correlates to gender. We need to stop holding men any more to blame for leaving when a marriage is in desperate need of an end than we do women.
  • Assuming that asking for a divorce is the worst thing a man can do to a woman. Men who stay in their marriages out of guilt are unlikely to actively engage in the kind of relationship behaviors that would increase a woman’s feelings of marital satisfaction.

Many women finally pull the plug after their husbands have engaged in passive-aggressive or even reckless behavior, consciously or unconsciously acting out on their desperation to be free. If we want men to understand that leaving is healthier for everyone than cheating, checking out emotionally, or burying himself in work, we can’t publicly castrate the men who do have the allegorical balls to say enough was enough.

No matter who asked for the divorce first — male or female — and no matter how the one who was asked for the divorce felt about it initially — shocked, angry, sad, devastated — I have yet to receive a phone call or note from anyone, the leaver or the left, once their divorce was final to say anything other than how much better off they are now and how happy they are to be out of their unhappy marriage.


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Originally appeared in The Good Men Project 

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