Walkaway Wife vs Haggard Husband
Often in emotionally-disconnected marriages, a lot of energy is spent determining who started it. It’s a chicken and the egg broken marriage dilemma that may never be resolved. What’s key for the Walkaway Wife and the Haggard Husband who have reached the brink of divorce, is to determine not who-wronged-who in the past but what each party needs going forward to try to recover an emotionally-satisfying partnership. We share these two typical patterns of marriage breakdown because it can be comforting to know that A) It’s a common problem and B) Divorce may not be the only solution.
Read on to see if either label fits your broken marriage
“In my many years as a divorce attorney, several relationship patterns play out repeatedly including the path of the Walkaway Wife,” says South Lyon Divorce Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler. The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates see the typical marriage-ending patterns of infidelity, drug abuse, and financial struggles that wreak havoc on marriages. But a less obvious pattern – labeled as Walkaway Wife Syndrome – is also quite common.
The term Walkaway Wife Syndrome was made popular by marriage counselor, Michele Weiner-Davis MSW. She explains the process of emotional-dysfunction that some broken marriages follow toward eventual dissolution.
Making of a Walkaway Wife
It begins as a couple discovers disparate priorities. One wants to have children right away, the other wants to concentrate on a career. One likes a clean house/annual vacation/fill-in-the-blank, the other does not. They focus on resolving these differences and may overlook disparate emotional needs.
“During the early years of marriage, a woman tends to be the emotional caretaker of her relationship. She makes certain her marriage remains a priority, insisting on quality time together, meaningful conversation and shared activities,” suggests Weiner-Davis.
It may be cliché but sometimes “Happy Wife – Happy Life” makes sense. If the wife is getting the emotional satisfaction she needs from the marriage, quite often the relationship flourishes. Sometimes though, women may go without the emotional support they crave. The wife understandably rationalizes her sacrifice because of the joint responsibilities of childrearing, taking care of aging parents, career-building and other natural priorities. Eventually though, some women resent the sacrifice. The wife may begin to attribute her resentment to an inattentive husband. He may be comfortable with their established independent routines. If he is not emotionally-motivated, the husband may imagine that his wife is as satisfied with the marriage as he is. Or he may be simply unaware of how to please her.
If she’s not getting what she needs, she probably begins first by asking for more – then nagging, bribing, begging, harassing, threatening, playing games, giving the silent treatment, withholding intimacy, whatever it takes to get the emotional attention she feels she deserves. Quite often, a wife’s emotional pleas may be couched as requests for help around the house or demands for money or gifts. While she means, “Pay attention to me” or “validate me” he may be hearing “you’re lazy.”
Most people can imagine what comes next. All the negativity accomplishes the opposite of what the Walkaway Wife had hoped for. The now Haggard Husband pushes back, avoids, ignores and disdains. All of which makes the wife redouble her efforts.
This dance continues until the Walkaway Wife finally determines that she is not going to get what she needs from her husband. For some women, this process may take a year. Others may reach this point after decades of perseverance.
The Next Step
No matter the time-frame, the next step is preparing for separation. Some wives begin looking for emotional stimulation elsewhere and end up cheating. Others become obsessed with friendships, shopping, food, exercise or work to give them emotional satisfaction. And some determine they need a split so they start saving money and meeting with an attorney.
During this period in the broken marriage, the Walkaway Wife concentrates on herself and stops nagging. She is resigned. The husband may have never recognized her pleadings as a desire for emotional fulfillment. If he took her requests at face value, he may have blithely fixed the fireplace without catching the symbolic cry for “warmth.” Finally free of what he perceives is harassment, the husband may feel relief that whatever was broken in their relationship has been magically fixed.
He is contented. She is determined.
When she finally announces her intention to divorce, he is blown away. After all, he was just starting to feel like they were getting along. He liked his non-nagging wife. So, if he is interested in repairing the marriage, he goes through all the typical efforts. He offers to go to counseling. He buys gifts, watches her shows, takes her on dates. He listens to her stories and helps with the kids.
Some wives, placated by the sudden attention, give their husbands a second (or 400th) chance. Others, however, may wonder why he couldn’t have put in the effort all along. Or speculate how long will the artificially-inflated level of attention may last. They are suspicious. They may demand marriage counseling to regain trust. Some may say it’s “too little and too late” and go ahead with the divorce.
“Do you know that two-thirds of all the divorces that are filed in our country are filed by women?” wrote Weiner-Davis in her article, “The Walkaway Wife Syndrome.”
“I see the Walkaway Wives in all stages of their divorce decision-making process. I can advise them as they seek relief from years of emotional neglect,” says Wayne-Spindler.
The Haggard Husband is the much-maligned, often underappreciated and misunderstood partner to the Walkaway Wife who may be dissatisfied with the broken marriage and considering divorce. He is worn down by the Walkaway Wife’s frequent demands for emotional attention. He is haggard because of the incessant nagging and relationship game-playing. He feels he is doing his best but not receiving the appreciation he deserves. From his perspective, he may not be getting what he bargained for when he married his sweet, generous bride. And so it is no surprise that the Haggard Husband may be considering divorce.
Based on the Walkaway Wife’s valid complaints it would be easy to imagine that this manly creature is distant, emotionally unavailable, distracted and reticent. Because really, just how hard is it to give a woman the one thing she craves – emotional support. A simple request, right? And one only a barbaric brute would withhold from his adorning wife. But what happens when the broken marriage dynamic is deconstructed?
The Haggard Husband may have the best of intentions. He may want to give his wife what she needs and keep the marriage strong. In his defense, there are three common situations that derail that plan. And to appreciate them, one has to have some familiarity with the concept of Love Languages.
According to the famous book “Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, there are five basic means of showing and receiving love.
Words of Affirmation – These verbal validations include: appreciation; poems and love letters; bragging about her in front of friends and relatives; and compliments.
Receiving Gifts – This can include either purchased or homemade, sentimental gifts. The spouse who appreciates gifts may appreciate the items themselves or may feel loved because of the unspoken thoughtfulness, effort and sacrifice that goes into buying or making them.
Quality Time – These people may appreciate the social connection of date nights, a cup of soup on a cold night, or hand-holding under the stars. These people have a fondness for happy, romantic times spent together.
Acts of Service – These people appreciate when others take burdens off their plate. They notice when their partner does chores without being asked. Much like the Gift lover, the acts of service may be symbolic of the giver’s intention to improve the partner’s life and show an understanding of what’s important to him or her.
Physical Touch – They’re the huggers. These people appreciate snuggling and backrubs.
The three situations that plague the Haggard Husband’s relationship may have to do with misinterpreted Love Languages. Before considering divorce, investigate how the Love Languages might give insight into the relationship.
- The Haggard Husband doesn’t know what Love Language his wife appreciates.
This may be because he doesn’t know about love languages. If he is aware of the five languages, he may either be unable to figure out which one his wife responds to, or may be uncomfortable trying to “speak her language” if it doesn’t come naturally to him. Many men may, consciously or sub-consciously, know which language they like. When they express adoration to their wives using the language they are familiar with, it’s not always well-received. He may become frustrated at trying to please her and not getting a positive reaction. As an example, a husband who likes Words of Affirmation, may want to hear what a great breadwinner he is or how strong his arms are looking. But when he tells his wife that he thinks she’s a great cook, it doesn’t hit the mark.
The key to fixing this disconnect is to experiment. Try to “speak” each of the love languages and see what the spouse responds to. If the relationship is still functional, try sharing the Love Languages book. It may be enlightening. Even if it’s not a relationship cure-all, putting in the effort should be a demonstration to a Walkaway Wife that the Haggard Husband hasn’t given up.
- The Walkaway Wife doesn’t know which Language she wants.
“All of the Above” is not a viable answer. Some people appreciate more than one Love Language. Usually though, there is at least one primary category that each person can relate to. For some husbands, their loving gestures may be seen as ineffectual because the wife has confusing expectations. She may not know herself. One day she might want a love letter because that’s what her friend’s husband does for his wife. The next, a pretty ring because the neighbor got one for her anniversary. Her priorities might change based on life stage. Some people who don’t have experience with the five languages may be copying their parents’ relationship, mirroring their partner’s language or even trying to imitate pop culture or social media examples. If possible, take the Five Languages Quiz together.
It may be eye-opening. Even if she doesn’t acknowledge it, the Walkaway Wife may realize that expecting her husband to be proficient in all of the languages is not realistic. If she hasn’t already walked away, she may be willing to refine her priorities, spell out her specific needs and give her Haggard Husband a chance to please her.
- The Haggard Husband may also be feeling deprived.
The third stumbling block to a mutually-supportive marriage is a touchy topic (literally). Let’s imagine that some people (for ease of conversation we’ll call them “men”) may be highly motivated to want physical intimacy – sex. He may even equate it to love. If his physical needs are neglected, the Haggard Husband may be feeling unloved himself and begin to wonder why he should bother working hard to please his wife. If he withdraws from the relationship it reinforces the vicious cycle. The negotiation could be tied to power struggles, sexual politics and gender-equality issues. So it’s not a lightweight discussion. But it’s one that cannot be avoided if the couple truly wants mutual satisfaction. According to the Love Languages, sex is not always purely related to the Physical Touch category. The Haggard Husband needs to first nail down which Love Language is satisfied by physical interaction. Some see sex as a gift. For others it satisfies the need for Quality Time. If discussed in emotional terms, it makes for a more equivalent trade-off with his wife’s requests.
Sometimes when a wife steps back she might see that her Haggard Husband was not intentionally trying to alienate her. He may have been trying, in his own ineffectual and uninformed way, to please her. Often arguments erupt based on the premise of “who started it” but if both spouses are motivated to recover, couples therapy might be a realistic alternative to divorce.
Considering Divorce for a broken marriage? Talk to Kathryn Wayne-Spindler
Kathryn Wayne-Spindler is a compassionate divorce attorney that won’t sell divorce for the sake of gaining a new client. She gives honest counsel to Haggard Husbands and Walkaway Wives. She’s heard enough broken marriage tales to know when a marriage is irretrievably unhappy. If there’s a chance of saving an otherwise working partnership, she may suggest couples therapy or trial separation. If you are considering divorce for an emotionally-dysfunctional marriage, contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spinder & Associates at 248-676-1000 for a free consultation.
Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates have many satisfied clients throughout the five counties of Southeastern Michigan – Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, Genesee and Livingston. The Michigan Family Law Attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates have one simple objective: to handle our clients’ legal worries so they can concentrate on life and family. Contact Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates today to learn more about our experience and success at 248-676-1000. We are conveniently located in Milford, Michigan. We help clients throughout Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Commerce; Waterford; West Bloomfield; Walled Lake; South Lyon; New Hudson; Wixom; Linden; Holly; Fenton; Grand Blanc; Flint and many more local communities.