Why Women Leave Men
by Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D.
Reprinted and edited with the permission of New Man Magazine.
"I hurt all the time because I feel alone and abandoned."
"My husband is no longer my friend."
"The only time he pays attention to me is when he wants sex."
"He is never there for me when I need him the most."
"When he hurts my feelings he doesn't apologize."
"He lives his life as if we weren't married; he rarely considers me."
"We're like ships passing in the night, he goes his way and I go mine."
"My husband has become a stranger to me, I don't even know who he is anymore."
"He doesn't show any interest in me or what I do."
Women tend to be more concerned about their marriages than men. They buy
most of the books on marriage to try to improve them and initiate most marriage
counseling. They often complain about their marriages to their closest
friends and sometimes to anyone who will listen. And they also file for divorce twice
as often as men.
Why do women seem so dissatisfied with marriage? What do they want from
their husbands? What bothers them so much about marriage that most are willing to
risk their families' future to escape it?
Why do women leave men?
Each day I am confronted by women who are extremely frustrated with their
marriages. They usually express no hope that their husbands will ever understand
what it is that frustrates them, let alone change enough to solve the problem. From
their perspective, marital problems are created by their husbands who do little or
nothing to solve them. Wives tend to see themselves as the major force for resolving
conflicts, and when they give up their effort, the marriage is usually over.
When I talk to their husbands, they usually have a very different explanation
as to why their wives feel the way they do. They often feel that the expectations of
women in general, and their wives in particular, have grown completely out of reach.
These men, who feel that they've made a gigantic effort to be caring and sensitive to
their wives, get no credit whatsoever for their sizeable contribution to the family. They
feel under enormous pressure to improve their financial support, improve the way they
raise their children, and improve the way they treat their wives. Many men I see are
emotionally exhausted and feel that for all their effort, they get nothing but criticism.
The simpler role of husbands in decades past has now been replaced by a much
more complex and confusing role, especially in their relationship with their wives.
Some conclude that women are born to complain and men must ignore it to survive.
Others feel that women have come to expect so much of men that they are impossible
to please, so there's no point in even trying. Very few men, these days, feel that they
have learned to become the husbands that their wives have wanted, and the job seems
to be getting more and more difficult.
Grounds for Divorce
Men's perceived failure to satisfy their wives is punctuated by the fact that
women file for divorce twice as often as men. In other words, their unhappiness with
marriage often results in divorce.
The most common reason women give for leaving their husbands is "mental
cruelty." When legal grounds for divorce are stated, about half report they have been
emotionally abused. But the mental cruelty they describe is rarely the result of their
husband's efforts to drive them crazy. It is usually husbands being indifferent, failing
to communicate and demonstrating other forms of neglect.
Another reason for divorce reported almost as much as mental cruelty is
"neglect" itself. These include both emotional abandonment and physical
abandonment. Husbands that work away from the home, sometimes leaving their
wives alone for weeks at a time, fall into this category.
When all forms of spousal neglect are grouped together, we find that it is far
ahead of all the other reasons combined that women leave men. Surprisingly few
women divorce because of physical abuse, infidelity, alcoholism, criminal behavior,
fraud, or other serious grounds. In fact, I find myself bewildered by women in serious
physical danger refusing to leave men that threaten their safety.
Simply stated, women leave men when they are neglected. Neglect accounts for
almost all of the reasons women leave and divorce men.
I have little trouble convincing most men that verbal and physical abuse are
legitimate reasons for their wives to leave. And there has been increasing social
pressure on men lately to avoid hurting their wives physically and verbally, which
makes my job even easier.
But neglect is a much tougher sell, and it is also much more difficult to overcome
than abuse. While it is the most important reason women leave men, it is hard to
convince men that it is a legitimate reason, something they should avoid at all costs.
Some of the common complaints I hear from women is, "He ignores me except
when he wants sex, he sits and watches television when he could be talking to me, he
rarely calls me to see how I'm doing, he hurts my feelings and then never apologizes:
Instead, he tells me I'm too sensitive."
Most husbands are mystified by these complaints. They feel that their wives
demand too much, and that most other women would be ecstatic if married to them.
Their wives have become spoiled, take their efforts for granted and have unrealistic
Do women expect too much of their husbands or are men doing less for their
wives than they should? I've proven to husbands over and over again that their wives
usually do not expect too much of them, and when they understand and respond to
their wives' frustration, the complaining ends and a terrific marriage begins.
What's more, their wives are not expecting more effort from them. Instead, they
expect efforts in a different direction. It isn't more difficult to please women these
days, it simply requires a change in the priority of effort.
What are women looking for in men? They want a soul mate, someone they
trust who is there for them when they have a problem, who takes their feelings into
account when decisions are being made. Someone to whom they feel emotionally
A Man's House
I use a house as an illustration to help husbands understand how their wives
feel. Each room in the house represents one of the husband's roles in life. There is a
room for his job as a production manager, there is another for golf, another for his new
sports car, one for his garden, one for his children, one for church, and, yes, one for his
As he makes his way through an average day, he visits various rooms when he
is faced with the role the room defines. And when he's in a certain room, the others are
blocked out of his mind so that he can focus his undivided attention on the role he
plays at the time. He does his best when he's not faced with distractions, and prefers
to deal with each problem with all his energy and creativity so that he does the best
he can in each role he plays.
The wives of most men are only one of many rooms in this imaginary house. It
represents the "husband" role. When they are in that room, they usually try to give
their wives undivided attention and make a special effort to meet their needs. They
also go to that room to have their own needs met, particularly the need for sex.
What frustrates wives most is that they are relegated to only one room in their
husbands' imaginary house instead of every room. In other words, they want to be
integrated into a man's entire life, not relegated to one corner. Without such
integration, there can be no emotional bonding, no uniting of the spirit, no feeling of
intimacy and, in many cases, no sex.
To help husbands learn to avoid this unpleasant outcome, I have tried to show
them how to become and stay emotionally connected to their wives by inviting them
into each room of their house. They learn to become more than the role of "husband"
to their wives. They learn to integrate their wives into every aspect of their lives.
When I counsel a husband, I explain that he is to invite his wife into each room
of his house. Regardless of his role or responsibility, his wife should be considered in
each decision he makes. Once the invitation is made, the results are startling!
When a husband invites his wife into each room of his house, she helps change
his priorities. She reminds him that her feelings are very different from his. As a
result, he begins to live his life in a way that is compatible to her needs and values.
He learns how to avoid habits that cause his wife to be unhappy, and he learns
how to meet her most important emotional needs. He also learn how to give his
undivided attention to her and schedule time to be alone with her.
The Policy of Joint Agreement
To help men integrate their wives into each room, I have encouraged husbands
to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic
agreement between you and your spouse.
This policy helps men take their wives' feelings into account whenever they
make a decision. They avoid thoughtless habits, learn to meet emotional needs with
mutual enjoyment and resolve their conflicts. All of this creates marital compatibility
and emotional bonding.
The word "anything" in the policy applies to all the activities of a husband that
go on in each of his rooms. So whenever he follows it, he learns to think about his
wife's reaction to everything he does, not just what goes on in the "husband" room.
Some argue that just an agreement would be a big help, why insist on
enthusiastic agreement? It's because I want couples to avoid agreements that are
coerced or self-sacrificing. I want couples to learn how to come to agreements that take
both of their interests into account at once. I have encouraged couples to continue to
negotiate until they arrive at an enthusiastic agreement because they're the ones that
stand up to the test of time.
Most men complain that if they invite their wives into every room of their
imaginary houses, their wives will take over completely and they will lose all their
peace and freedom. They imagine their identities shriveling away and finding
themselves a shadow of their former selves.
But the Policy of Joint Agreement prevents that unfortunate outcome. Joint
agreement means that both husband and wife must be enthusiastic together, and no
one risks losing their identity or subjecting themselves to slavery when they
themselves must be enthusiastic about each decision. The goal is to become united in
purpose and spirit, not to overpower or control each other.
How Easy Is It?
Couples that are already emotionally bonded have little or no trouble following
this policy because they have already learned how to behave in sensitive and caring
ways in each of their life's roles. But emotionally distant couples have great difficulty
with the policy at first. They are accustomed to doing what they please regardless of
it's effect on each other, especially when they play certain roles. But if they follow the
policy for even one day, they begin to see how their thoughtlessness has created
As couples apply the policy to each of their daily plans and activities, they begin
to feel cared for by each other and are encouraged by each other's thoughtfulness.
Over time, their emotional bonding becomes more and more firm, and the policy
becomes easier and easier to follow as they become soul mates.
Men who follow the Policy of Joint Agreement think about their wives
throughout the day, because as they make decisions they ask themselves how their
wives would feel. Phone calls are made whenever there is any doubt. As time passes,
these men become increasingly sensitive to their wives' feelings.
If men consider their wives feelings in each decision they make, asking their
wives when there is any uncertainty, they create a compatible lifestyle. The
Policy of Joint Agreement helps create understanding, emotional bonding, intimacy
and romantic love in marriage. Men that learn to take their wives feelings into
account meet their most important emotional needs. They also learn to overcome the
selfish habits that make their wives so unhappy, because these habits do not meet the
standard of mutual agreement. Over time, they experience what every couple hopes
to create in marriage: A loving and compatible relationship.
A woman doesn't leave the man who has invited her into every room of his
house. That's because she doesn't stand outside the rooms of his house feeling like a
stranger. She is welcomed into his entire home as his cherished life partner.