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When a Man Leaves a Woman

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D.

The emotional intensity is even greater in a Compounded Divorce pattern that entails the
involvement of a third party. ere the left partner does not only feel a!andoned" he or she
feels replaced. The pain here is a!out having lost a primary position in the mate#s life to
another individual. There are added painful emotions a!out immorality, !etrayal and
Within each one of these divorce patterns there are additional su!sets. One of them is the
one associated $ith the third party pattern.
% $ill use an e&ample of a man $ho leaves his $ife $hile the other $oman serves as a
catalyst for the divorce. This pattern can also occur for a $oman $ho gets involved $ith
another man and leaves her hus!and.
' man meets a $oman in the course of his life, he spends time $ith the ne$ adoring
female $ho ma(es him feel very valued and desired. 't first, he only lavishes in the
attention and feels invigorated. With time, he !egins to compare his feelings a!out the
ne$ admirer to those he has for his $ife. %f he decides to !rea()up his family and start a
ne$ life, he is li(ely to go through the follo$ing psychological stages.
*. D+MO,%-%,G T+ M'T+. The man is a decent person $ho is a$are that his
conduct is fro$ned upon !oth morally and socially. e !egins to feel great guilt) yet, he
continues his relationship $ith the other $oman. %n order to reconcile the conflict
!et$een his vie$ of himself as a moral !eing and his unaccepta!le conduct, he resorts to
demoni/ing his $ife as a 0ustification for his !ehavior. e ascri!es to his $ife many
negative and unforgiva!le traits and !ehaviors. 1he may !e seen as an inept person, $ife
and mother or even evil.
2. 3+W3%T%,G %1TO34. ,ot only is the partner found to !e irrevoca!ly faulted, she
has !een so for the $hole duration of the marriage. The hus!and re)creates a vie$ of
historical suffering and pain he has endured. e may say, 5% have !een unhappy in this
marriage for 26 years5 or, 51he has made every day of our married life a misera!le day.5
%t is clear that it is a re)created story !ecause of the e&aggerated nature of the comment,
its intensity and the lac( of !alance. The hus!and assumes no personal responsi!ility for
his role in the so)called 5long)term suffering.5 e see(s approval and support of others
for having !een a victim, $hich in his mind fully 0ustifies his a!andoning the family.
7. P8,%1%,G T+ M'T+. The man retells his ne$ly developed vie$ of his suffering
often enough to !elieve that his $ife deserves to !e punished. 1he is the 5offender5 and
his 5persecutor5 and thus needs to !e dealt $ith harshly. The punishment is dished out
through financial $ithholding, or $orse, through fighting over the children. e !elieves
that his $ife is not entitled to receive any future !enefits from him, sometimes not even
those allo$ed !y la$. 51he received enough advantages !y having !een married to me,
she is entitled to nothing else.5 %n many cases, he may attempt to deprive his $ife e9ual,
fair or appropriate access to the children. ,eedless to say, this divorce $ill !e very !itter,
lengthy, costly and detrimental to the children.
:. 1++;%,G 'PP3O<'L. Despite all his vengeance, the man still $ants the affirmation
and approval of family, friends and curiously enough even his $ife. e $ants her to
accept that she $as primarily responsi!le for the !rea()up of the family and reali/e that
he had no other choice !ut to act as he did. 1adly, he may impart this vie$ upon the
children $ho are traumati/ed enough !y the divorce. The deep)seated guilt the man
e&periences a!out having left his family for another $oman continues to plague him. =or
many, the strain $ithin the original family leaves permanent emotional scars.
>. 3+1TO3%,G ?'L',C+. The man e&pects the first $ife to accept his ne$ life and
even !e happy for him. e $ants his $ife to ta(e the full !lame for his need to escape the
intolera!le marriage. Therefore, she should also accept the 5ne$ reality5 and ma(e peace
$ith his ne$ girlfriend or $ife. 1ince the first $ife does not share any of his
reconstructed vie$s of their history, she is often un$illing to em!race his ne$ life. With
time, ho$ever, some couples learn to act civilly to$ard each other for the sa(e of their
children. =e$ former mates accept the e&panded family and may even !ecome friendly
The partner $ho gets involved $ith another person is !eleaguered !y guilt.
To 0ustify his or her socially and morally unaccepta!le conduct she@he may develop a
five)tiered process. 1he@he first demoni/es the spouse, re$rites 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 unforgiva!le acts. 1he@he
then see(s approval from others and even his partner for !eing 5forced5 to e&it the
marriage. The last phase of restoring !alance, $here!y a normali/ed or a civil
relationship is created, may or may not !e achieved in every case.
%f you have !een a participant in this divorce pattern, or (no$ someone $ho did, you are
fully a$are of the emotional turmoil involved.
Whether the leaving spouse is a man or a $oman, the left mate e&periences a hellish
nightmare. %#ll depict the emotional stages of a left $ife, $hich are similar to those of an
a!andoned hus!and. These reactions are often reported to me in the form of se9uential
)The demoni/ing process produces feelings of shoc( and dismay. 5o$ could my partner
!etray me in the $orse possi!le $ayA ,ot only did he have an affair that violated the
marriage vo$s, !ut he compounded the !etrayal !y accusing me of causing it.5
5,ot only did he !lame me for the failure of the marriage, !ut he also resorted to
defaming my character. o$ could he !elieve that % am such an evil !eing after having
loved me for yearsA5
5o$ could he !e so callous and insensitive to$ard the children !y depicting their
mother in the $orse possi!le light to 0ustify his o$n immoral conductA5
)The re$riting history is a ma0or violation of the mate#s reality. 5o$ could he have !een
so misera!le for 26 years $ithout my a$arenessA Or $orse, could all the 0oy % recall !e a
figment of my imaginationA5
5%f things $ere truly that offensive to him, $hy did he not complain, and not re9uest
change or see( helpA5
?eing punished for creating a partner#s misery is a mind)!oggling state.
5e started an affair, lied, deceived, violated trust and his commitment, started fights to
escape from home and ultimately decided to leave the family, and % need to !e punishedA
o$ un0ust is thisA ,ot only do % lose my $hole life structure, !ut % am also seen as a
greedy enemyA Please, some!ody help me understand ho$ my $hole reality !ecame so
5To ma(e things even more !e$ildering, he e&pects me to admit my $rongdoings, ta(e
full responsi!ility for the marriage failure and give him empathy for #his sufferingA# 5
5% am also left $ith the tas( of preserving his dignity in the children# eyes $hile helping
them $ith their anger, confusion and pain. %n doing so, % am further accused of turning
the children against him. WhatA5
5%f all this isn#t enough emotional torture, he no$ demands that % accept his other $oman
and re0oice in his $ell)deserved happiness. %t is my tas( to help the children em!race her
and $elcome her into the fold.5
51ince $hen did % select her entry into our livesA Does she deserve (udos for
participating in the !rea()up of our marriageA o$ did % get assigned the 0o! of
$elcoming a $oman $ho stole my hus!andA5
Bust reading this scenario is sufficiently painful, imagine living itA Those $ho have gone
through this trauma descri!e it as 5cra/y)ma(ing.5 1uch severe and emphatic distortion of
their reality causes left mates to dou!t their sanity. 3ecovery from this profound trauma
is slo$.
What can a left partner do under these circumstancesA
C =irst reali/e that all these five phases serve the leaving partner and have little to do $ith
C 8nderstand that this process is your partner#s tragic $ay of dealing $ith guilt. is or her
perceptions are the reconstructed ones.
C Marriages are not unions !et$een 5angels5 and 5devils.5 4our partner#s lac( of any
culpa!ility is a clear sign of misdirected adaptation.
C Tal( $ith people $ho can affirm your vie$ of the marriage history, interactions and
your $orthy personality.
C 3eassure yourself that you are sane and that the reality you are fed is created for your
partner#s self)e&oneration.
C 1urround yourself $ith people $ho love and affirm you.
C 3emem!er that every parent earns his or her separate relationship $ith the children.
4our youngsters $ill ultimately process these events appropriately.
C This nightmare $ill endD With time, the healing $ill come, you $ill laugh and love
again.and the sun $ill soon shine !rightly upon you.
' man or $oman, $ho leaves a partner due to an affair, may e&perience the five
emotional and !ehavioral stages of the compounded divorce. Demoni/ing the spouse to
0ustify a!andoning the family, re$riting history in negative terms to create a theme of
long)term oppression, punishing the mate for !eing an 5a!user,5 see(ing approval for
self)vindication and perhaps some time later, restoring a cordial relationship.
The previous columns discussed these phases in detail and the trauma the mate $ho is
left is faced to cope $ith. This segment $ill address the party $ho developed the outside
Divorce is a result of lost hope in relationships. 1ometimes, ho$ever, it is not necessarily
a!out a failed marriage as it is a!out a poor response to ungratified needs !y one partner.
Most people are enamored !y attention. %t is normal to !as( in the $armth of affirming
people. %t is also normal to en0oy !eing amorously sought !y a third party. Many people
flirt !ut do not lose perspective of their love and commitment to their families.
People, $ho allo$ outside relationships to divert their attention from the family, must
loo( inside themselves for the reasons for their !ehavior. =or some, the affair $as an
a$a(ening that their needs $ere unmet !y their spouses. =or others, it serves as a catalyst
for leaving a stale marriage.
=or some, it is an attempt to improve a temporary feeling of lo$ self)esteem. Others use
another relationship to rea$a(en the partner to greater responsiveness. 'nother group of
people may !e reacting to the unhappiness they feel a!out themselves due to a temporary
midlife crisis.
There are many other reasons for !eing vulnera!le to attention outside the home, and it is
very important to understand the nature of this pull. Once understood, healthy measures
could !e ta(en to rectify the pro!lem.
Though not an easy admission, the partner $ho is tempted else$here may need to present
it to his or her mate as a personal and@or a couple#s crisis. %t is advisa!le for !oth partners
to e&plore the unhappiness one mate is e&periencing in an attempt to reach a solution.
What straying people descri!e is that they felt so !adly a!out themselves and their
marriage prior to meeting the third party, that their affair $as inevita!le.
,eedless to say, $hen anyone is unhappy, it is incum!ent upon that individual to analy/e
the source of the pain and handle it. Mentioning to the spouse some vague or even
specific dissatisfaction is ,OT a sufficient impetus for change. Change re9uires
e&ploration, re)decisions and action.
When couples refrain from pro!lem solving together to enhance the $ell !eing of !oth,
they put their relationship at ris(. Partners $ho unsuccessfully tried to reha!ilitate their
marriage may agree to separate for the personal happiness of one or !oth mates. %f this is
done 0ointly, the chances of moving to the five)stage pattern of the compounded divorce
are less li(ely.
When the tempted partner $ithholds the information in order to spare himself or herself
and the mate#s agony, he or she may only em!ar( upon a much more devastating course.
1ee(ing solutions to guilt, the straying spouse resorts to !laming the other. To 0ustify
actions that one (no$s are morally and socially unsupported, he or she uses e&aggeration
of hurt and its duration. To gain social support, one resorts to soliciting empathy for
having !een a victim. Punishment is used to repay oneself for all the perceived in0ustices.
To regain esteem of others and the partner, the mate is faulted as not accommodating
enough. 'll these protective mechanism are avoida!le. This pattern of divorce is a(in to a
tragic drama in $hich one misconception !y one person starts a se9uence of devastating
1elf)understanding, inclusion of the mate, honest e&ploration of the real causes of one#s
unhappiness and see(ing help, are all $ays of preventing this agoni/ing process. %f you
are a spouse $ho got involved $ith a third party,
C 8se this !ehavior as a $arning sign that you are in a personal crisis and in need of help.
C 4our unhappiness does not lie solely $ith your mate#s !eing or !ehavior. %f you thin( it
does, tal( to your partner or see( professional help.
C ?e a$are that an unhappy marriage is often composed of t$o dissatisfied people. ave
you considered your partner#s sideA
C %f you decide to $or( on the marriage, the other relationship must !e terminated. One
can not !e fully emotionally invested in t$o intimate relationships at the same time.
C %f you choose divorce, !e regretful, hum!le, contrite, (ind and empathic $ith your
family for the pain you have caused them.
C 3eali/e that your children are the innocent victims here. 1ho$ them love and
consideration !y !eing respectful of their other parent. Give them time to ad0ust.
C %t is your responsi!ility to ma(e every effort to accommodate your family. elp them
live as $ell as possi!le to reduce the impact of their many losses.