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It happened to Kris Humphries, it happened to Tom Cruise and it happens to people like you and me.

Being blindsided by divorce.

It seems odd — how can a spouse have absolutely no clue that his or her marriage is in trouble? Wouldn’t there be warning signs — a lack of interest in sex, emotional withdrawl, more fighting?

It’s hard not to marvel how Katie Holmes pulled it off. Just 11 days after she filed for divorce from Tom, the couple announced they’d reached a divorce settlement and a child custody plan. That’s pretty much unheard of, but it’s most likely because Katie had been divorcing Tom for a long time before she told him, “I want out.” She had an exit plan, he got blindsided.  divorce exit strategy

She isn’t the only one.

It doesn’t seem fair to drop a bomb like that on your partner, even if you’re no longer in love with him or her. Yet, that happens quite a bit, especially to men. While two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women, 26 percent of the husbands say they, like Tom had no idea, while just 14 percent of women were caught off-guard.

What’s going on? How can so many men be so unaware that their marriage is in trouble? Or are they aware, and are just ignoring it or tolerating it?

I can see how the majority of women wouldn’t be blindsided (although certainly enough are). Don’t take this the wrong way, but women tend to be more in tune with the danger signs of a problem marriage. We see trouble and we start blabbing about it with friends, maybe even professionals, and ask for help in a way that men don’t, for whatever their reason. Some researchers suggest women invest more energy and resources into maintaining our relationships (and thus might resort to finger-pointing when a relationship ends because we blame our partner for not investing as much into it as we did).

You probably have had friends who’ve talked nonstop about their marital woes; maybe you yourself have done that. Maybe those wives have hinted at their unhappiness with their hubby or a need to go to counseling or a desire to work on the relationship.

But not always.

Women are good at what “Divorce Court” judge Lynn Toler calls “The False OK”:

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.

Then, she reaches a point of no-return and she drops the bomb: “I want a divorce!”

Is Judge Toler right?

Susan Pease Gadoua, my writing partner in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, calls it a “hit and run.” She considers it “the most hurtful, hateful and heinous way’ for someone to announce he or she wants out.

Honestly, I don’t know of any good way to say you want a divorce. I certainly don’t think women have it figured out any better than men do; in fact, just thinking about divorce is a heck of a lot more stressful for women than it is for men.

Still, by the time many women ask for a divorce, they’ve been talking to divorce attorneys or divorce coaches, or attending divorce seminars. In other words, they were plotting an exit strategy. And once you have a strategy in place, the marriage is pretty much doomed.

A divorce doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a long process even if just one person is privy to that process.

As psychotherapist, author and collaborative divorce coach Micki McWade says:

The sad fact is that by the time a partner asks for a divorce, it’s often — but not always — too late to save the marriage. The initiating partner has turned an emotional corner. … She may have wanted change for a long time but was refused. He may have warned her that he wasn’t happy but she didn’t pay attention. Eventually, when requests have been ignored for too long, the person wanting the change shuts down emotionally. The relationship has gradually eroded away, abraded by disappointment. He or she becomes discouraged and eventually gives up.

When those difficult words came out of my mouth — after a year of attempts to salvage the marriage, therapy, self-awareness work and many, many walks in the wilderness — I hadn’t developed an exit strategy or talked to an attorney or divorce coach. Maybe that was foolish or maybe I was lucky; no one was blindsided. We didn’t have a drawn-out contentious mess, but we didn’t have things squared up in 11 days either.

  • How did your divorce get announced?
  • Did you/your former spouse have an exit plan?
  • Do you believe that by the time you/your former spouse asked for a divorce it was too late to save the marriage?

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19 Responses to “Why do so many men get blindsided by divorce?”

  1. Phil says:

    Hi Vicki,

    Just stopping by to say that your blog is a great resource. Many of the articles have been encouraging to me as I adapt to the reality of my divorce.

    In my case, neither my wife nor I was blindsided. There was mounting mutual disconent and many late night tearful conversations after the kids had gone to sleep before we both came to realize that divorce was our best option.

    Phil

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Thanks Phil,
      There’s no speedy way to get through it, nor should there be. It’s a process that offers us opportunities to understand our own bad behaviors and learn.
      Good luck to you, your former wife and your kids — if you can keep things kind and compassionate with her, your kids will see that divorce isn’t the end of the world and that they don’t have a “broken” home — just two loving homes.

  2. lynette says:

    I don’t think Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are a good example. He was controlling and emotionally abusive (with his whole religion thing), and I think she had no choice for her own sanity and safety.

    In fact, a lot of times this is the case. It was with me. Even after five years of marriage counseling, I had to suddenly remove my ex from our home. He was “blindsided”, i.e. he never thought I would take action because I hadn’t yet.

    I know plenty of women who were blindsided. I know plenty of men who say they were blindsided in order to paint themselves in a more positive light, but chances are their wives were giving them signals all the time, but, as in my case, since I didn’t leave, they figured it didn’t mean anything and ignored it.

    • TheForgottenOne says:

      @lynette — So a woman can be ‘blindsided’ but a man can’t because he just didn’t pick up on the vague, obscure or contradictory ‘signals’ their wives were sending? Why is it a husbands job to try and interpret the obscure language a wife speaks when they make no effort to communicate in a honest and straight forward manner? This ain’t F* High School!

  3. Kristin says:

    Six months ago, I blindsided my husband with a protection order, and I escaped with my kids out of state (with law enforcement knowledge so I wouldn’t be accused of kidnapping). After a case that had been going on for many months against my father-in-law for heinously abusing my daughters (which resulted in his imprisonment last month), my girls gathered up the courage to tell me their own father had been committing the same abuse against them. Until I found out the extent of my husband’s sickness, I’d been trying to support him and repair our marriage, which was getting increasingly miserable as he withdrew into depression (and frequent outbursts of anger) from the lack of contact with his parents.

    It wasn’t until we finally became free that I started seeing success in my own personal life – a solid position as a freelance writer to help support my family was only a small part of the positive changes we’ve been through. Some of the articles I write are about divorce, and I’ve run across many of yours in the course of my research. You said in a recent debate on divorce laws, “I’ve stopped saying, ‘I’m sorry’ when someone tells me he or she is divorcing because too often the response has been, ‘No, it’s a good thing.'” It’s funny because I’ve had that EXACT conversation many times! It helps to put my friends at ease: my heart isn’t broken for myself. It is for my kids, who went through many years of silent hell before telling me their secret.

    I often tell people that divorce can hurt children, but in some cases it’s far more harmful to remain in the marriage. The past six months, with the help of counseling, a healthy and loving household, and supportive family and friends, I’ve seen my children blossom and grow out of their pain. They’re happier than they’ve ever been, and they don’t want to see their father again. My divorce isn’t finalized – I actually haven’t filed yet, because we needed to live in our new state for six months to establish their residency.

    Maybe blindsiding a spouse isn’t always the best way to file for a divorce, but in some cases it can be a lifesaver. I don’t want to know what would have happened if my husband had any suspicions of my plans the week leading up to my filing of the protection order. (Yeah, I had to act for an entire week that nothing was wrong while we secretly made our plans to get out, because it took several days to get the court to approve the order. It was torture!)

    Thank you for providing a resource for other parents going through painful divorces. Whether abuse is or isn’t an issue, it’s always a painful time that’s even harder when you want the best for your kids.

    • Betty says:

      I’m in a situation now where I feel like this is going to happen but the manipulation and control is overwhelming. The threats that he will commit suicide, harm me, etc. I feel like I’ve been painted into a corner and the only option is to develop the escape plan. When I suggested marriage counseling, he said he didn’t need someone to tell him to treat me better.
      But I do find that I have just kept my mouth shut too often in order to avoid the conflict. He has dragged our child into this stuff. I have given him many years to deal with his personal issues but during that time I’ve sacrificed having any of my own needs met. I’ve kept silent too often to protect my child, to keep the tension low and to try and get through the day. I’m at a point where I don’t want to just get through the day anymore. I want to live and I want my child to feel that we’re living and not just existing.
      I’m not sure why I should feel bad about ‘blindsiding’ him. Sometimes I feel bad and other times I don’t. I’m constantly screaming inside. When I try to express my feelings he turns it around and makes it about him. I’ve learned that my thoughts, ideas, opinion and feelings really don’t matter. I find myself second guessing everything and I’m a well educated woman who lived quite well before getting married.

  4. Laura O. says:

    After 13 years of marriage and no kids, I was blindsided 2.5 mos ago. My husband said he has been unhappy for year and unwilling to try counseling because, “I don’t see how I can be happy long term.” I had no chance and no idea.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, Laura. Is he able to express to you why he isn’t “happy” — and what, if anything, can change? Good luck!

      • R.K. says:

        I absolutely can relate to Laura O. I was blindsided last Friday night. My husband sent a text message to me at the office asking what time I would be home. I wrote back that I was just finishing up. He said “good” I am making pizza. I thought to myself as I was driving home how lucky I was to have such a wonderful husband – that loves to cook – and was looking forward to a quiet night of homemade pizza and his company. When I arrived at home, he was busy in the kitchen, and I quickly stepped in and started cleaning up while we talked about our day at work. A typical evening, nothing out of the norm. We settled in with our pizza and were deciding which movie we were going to watch and then his cell phone buzzed. I didn’t think anything of it, and casually brushed it off. He paused the movie and started toward the kitchen. I assumed it was to turn off the oven, or grab a drink. He came into the room and says, “Honey, I have some bad news. You’re not going to like it too much, and there isn’t anything you can do about it now. But, I filed for divorce and the process server is waiting outside with the papers for you. You just have to go out and accept them.” Really? I am not kidding. It was as matter-of-fact as that. There wasn’t any sign of this beforehand. We don’t have fights, yelling matches, and to my knowledge he has never been unfaithful. I am shattered.

        • Shaun Gibbs says:

          That really sucks and really hard to believe it could happen like that! :(

        • OMGchronicles
          Twitter: OMGchronicles
          says:

          R.K., I am so sorry. It seems incredibly cruel to end a marriage that way. I don’t think most of us are able to end things kindly. Please let me know how you’re doing — there are a lot of great people and resources to help and support you.

  5. Richard says:

    We were on a family to Disney from April 12-20 with our 4 and 6 yo. I had major OR scheduled for April 24. My wife added “unavailable for work” to her calendar as of April 23. Surgery delayed to May 8. She visited post op day 1, but was flat, made small talk, nervous on leaving, no kiss. Couldn’t track her on phone to say goodnight to kids, but said she’d be home on my discharge. Got home and all of her clothes, personal items, all current kids clothes, current toys (even from my family in Disney) were gone. All files from cabinet taken re:financials, and much family property removed in cube van witnessed by neighbours. Could not lift for 6 weeks post op so could not drive, or see what in house was gone. Cowardly, cunning, and evil way to dramatically leave that has inflicted maximal pain on me, and shaken the kuds, who love their dad. The person you entrust your life to, and whom you have tried to support for 10 years just pulled the most mean and devastating act at the peak of my vulnerability.

    • Dave says:

      Why is there so little supprt for dads who are screwed out of their kids’ lives forever? Women have everyone on their side because they are the “weaker and fairer sex”….and the most evil when they do not give a second thought to the effects on the kids and the dads. Shame on this culture that encourages divorce and the suicides of so many wonderful fathers. 50% divorce rate, 2/3 of divorces initiated by women, over 90% of custody is awarded to women. over 10,000 fathers commit suicide every year in the US. Where is justice? It is up the women’s skirts and in the razor blades that men use to make a statement to the world that life is not worth living if we are excluded from our children’s lives by this heartless society. Enjoy the future society where more and more children are raised without fathers.

  6. Nikki Charles says:

    OMG .. I am totally guilty here. I am the queen if “everything is fine”. I have never been married but I have ended tons of relationships and Friendship in this manner. The other person has no idea what happened and I feel frustrated because I store all this frustration and never say anything. I am not a fighter … People in relationships with me always comment on how we never fight. I grew up in fighting so I avoid conflict like the plague. Ill have a conversation but once it turns into a “fight” Ill say I am sorry just to end it and move on.
    I am dating a man now who I think is really awesome and really could be the one … How the heck can I work on this? I know its a HUGE problem for me.

  7. Lissa says:

    Nikki,
    Good for you! You are half way there. You are what is known as a ” conflict avoidance ” individual. Now, what to do? Read everything you can on this. Ask yourself what do you fear in sharing your true feelings? Do you know how to share how you feel without blaming or insinuating that another is at fault? Do you know the difference in how men and women communicate?

    You may wish to read : ” The Five Love Languages ” and ” Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus “. Two very good places to start. Then perhaps onto some counseling for yourself to address some issues about this. Conflict avoidance is a slow and simmering death for a marriage. I wish you the best.

  8. Chris says:

    I just blind sided my husband tonight. I’m not mad at him, but we aren’t living like a married couple. More like roommates. He’s all about him and maybe I’m just all about me. We are both depressed and when he calls me at work he tells me all about his day (he’s disabled and stays home all day). Even when I tell him about things I don’t think he’s interested. SO I am partially to blame for not speaking up earlier, but he also chose to be blinded by his own issues. I’m the one left feeling like an abuser because I’m divorcing a disabled man…isn’t marriage suppose to be forever? We don’t even agree on what is “fun” anymore. He is adamant that he doesn’t want a divorce, but I don’t understand why. Is it just because he will think he failed at the marriage? I’m willing to take the blame. Once again I feel it’s all about how him. sigh.

  9. Jason says:

    I’ve been married for 19 years and have been thinking and planning my divorce and exit strategy for a year now. I have been unhappy about my marriage for the past 3 to 5 years, mainly because my wife is often grumpy, in a bad mood and spends so much time on her own in the evenings when she comes from work. We have nothing in common anymore and we don’t do much together as we used to do, except when we go shopping for groceries or attend events at our kids’ schools. We used to call each other at work to talk about family stuff but we don’t do that anymore – we only call if there’s something about the kids or something that needs to be repaired in the house. Other than that, we really live like two room mates – even the sex is sporadic and lacks passion and love. I’ve been agonising about the best time to tell her and how to tell her – should I do a sudden announcement and then leave or should I sit down with her and “talk”, and how is she going to react to this? Is it a good idea to have some place to go, then tell her and leave immediately? Im also agonising about how this is going to affect the kids (I have three girls – 8, 11 and 14). I just want out, and want to start a new life, hopefully with someone who shares the same interests or someone I can do stuff together with most of the time. I would appreciate any ideas on the best way to handle this without too anger or tears and drama on her part.

    • Skeezix says:

      Jason –

      Considering that you have three young children, I recommend that you do everything you can first to attempt to save your marriage. The demise of a marriage is almost never one-sided, although many place all the blame on their partner. If there once was a spark, there is a chance it can be rekindled. I can’t say from reading your comment, but I’m guessing that you haven’t yet done everything you can do to keep your marriage intact.

      This is coming from someone who is going through a divorce and spent almost three years withdrawn from his wife (I started avoiding her after we lost a child, when the arguments immediately reached the explosion point). She ultimately filed, but I had long before pushed her away. Both of us contributed to the demise of our relationship.

      I don’t want the mal-transformed wife who appeared after we lost a child back, but I would like the chance to rebuild our relationship to where it once was (even though my wife is showing signs of significant mental illness now). I won’t get that chance, and that means loneliness, a major blow to our kids, and financial difficulties.

      Your daughters will have a very tough time with your divorce, and may wind up blaming you – for many years – for divorcing their mother, especially if you do a hit and run as described in
      Susan Pease Gadoua’s article referenced above (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-pease-gadoua/how-not-to-tell-your-spou_b_820042.html).

      Also, consider Dr. Phil’s advice about divorce:

      http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/23

  10. Skeezix says:

    Although, as the article says, there is no good way to ask for a divorce, there are numerous bad ways. Unless you fear for your life, doing a vanishing act, leaving a note, or doing it in an explosion or in a mean way not only is the wrong way, but it will likely make the divorce process even more miserable for you (your spouse will still have a numerous chances to get even during the legal process, and during any interactions thereafter – few can go through the rest of their lives without having some necessary contact with a former spouse).

    It can also be devastating to your children, if you have them.

    My wife handed me divorce papers with no prior discussion of the possibility of divorce (although we were in counseling), and 3 hours later left in a huff to live with her family half a state away. She spent 15 minutes telling our children, ages 18 and 21, what she was doing, and that she would never return to the area where they grew up. Both kids (and despite the legal distinction that they are of majority age, they are still kids at that age, especially considering that both have been traumatized by the loss of their sister a few years ago) felt abandoned, and have had barely any contact with their mother in the five months that she’s been gone (their mother has initiated no contact with our children, one of whom still lives with me and commutes to college, while the other is a college freshman, but who comes here during vacations). My son has spoken to his mother only once, a month ago, and my daughter has spoken to her only three times.

    If you are going to tell your spouse you want a divorce, say so politely and directly (and only after attempting to repair the marriage with counseling and other techniques). Resist all temptation to get revenge. If you have children, you and your spouse need to present them with a united front. This will be a big and unwelcome shock in almost all cases to your children, and you need to make it clear they are in no way at fault. They will also be angry at the person who files for divorce, especially if it is done in any of the ways I’ve described.

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