I first heard it from attorneys who typically represent men in a divorce. I then began to see it in the cases that came before me. I remember the attorney who first mentioned it to me some ten years ago, he leaned back in his chair at a conference on divorce and said, "It never ceases to amaze me how many men come to me with their jaws on the floor saying they never saw it coming."
Now, I am witnessing it in my own social circles. All around me long-term marriages are coming to an end. And as the studies show many of those jumping ship are women.
Not only am I seeing a rash of fleeing women all around me, I also see what I first ascertained years ago: That a fairly significant number of men--especially in longer term marriages--never saw their divorces coming. There was, they say, no warning, no build up, no escalating tensions, just an unexpected, non-negotiable and seemingly unprovoked decision to leave.
Of course, this is not the norm. Most marriages careen into a ditch after traversing a noticeably bumpy road. Likewise, there are women who are surprised when their husbands decide to leave, but what I am talking about here is that not-so-small group of guys who are caught flat footed by their wives sudden and seemingly unexplained departure.
As with everything involved with the human condition, there is no one reason for any trend. But after having witnessed it from the bench and in my own backyard and from reading what I can, I do see one common mistake both men and women are making that seems to rear its head in a number of these unexpected abandonment cases. I mention it here because I think it ends some very salvageable marriages.
I call it "The False Okay." I think a lot of women tell the very same lie for years on end. They say "okay" when they don't mean it. They tell their husbands, "everything's fine," even when it's not. "Keeping the peace" is what they call it. They are, they tell me, getting through the day. It is all about the argument they simply do not want to have.
I think there is a whole group of women out there who don't do well with conflict. They are the ones with a happy husband because he always gets what he wants and she doesn't seem to mind. But what he doesn't see are all of the collected hurts stored up in her emotional closet. Not because she doesn't ever get what she wants but because that lopsided equation makes her feel unloved.
The next thing you know, the kids are gone, as is her best reason to put up with it. The sad thing is he doesn't know there is a problem and she doesn't know how to change the script. "This is who he is," she thinks, "a guy who doesn't care at all about my needs and wishes."
I hear it all of the time. She's sick of being the giver. Sick of being unappreciated. It is not a sexy cause, because both parties bear some blame. It is not the only cause. But it is the one I hear most often when there is an unexpected departure by a woman later in the marriage. She thinks getting her needs heard, not to mention met, is a hopeless thing.
So she goes.
Lynn Toler presides over the syndicated court program, "Divorce Court" and the author of My Mother's Rules.