Why Women Leave

By February 22, 20106 Comments

As a newlywed who has witnessed many marriages in my parents’ generation dissolve, I entered into marriage with a small degree of anxiety. Although my parents have been married for over 30 years and I thoroughly trust my husband, one never ceases to hear stories about pastors and other respectable men who one day reveal that their entire lives have been a lie. In an instant, everything their wives had known was shattered. That terrifies me.

However, I’ve noticed an equally startling as well as puzzling trend among married couples my age. At this stage in life, I already have a number of friends whose marriages have ended in divorce, but not because of the men. Within my own circle of acquaintances, every single instance has been a result of the wife’s decision to exit the marriage. Whether she was unfaithful or simply felt trapped, I have been shocked by the number of women who have chosen divorce relatively early in their marriages.

What has been even more startling is that their husbands were good men. This isn’t always the case, of course, but many of these women left husbands who were godly, faithful men. Any woman would consider herself lucky to have a husband like them. So what’s the deal? Whereas men seem more prone to have affairs in conjunction with a mid-life crisis, why are so many women leaving their husbands at such an early age?

I did a little research on this topic to find out if my experience is unique, but it’s not. Psychology Today estimates that while 50-70% of men have affairs, 30-60% of women do as well. A separate study published in the New York Times reported that this number is particularly on the rise amidst young women: In new marriages, about 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under 35 have admitted to cheating. So while infidelity is stereotypically attributed to men, statistics indicate otherwise. What is unclear is the reason behind these rising numbers.

The New York Times article offered several possibilities. Due to past cultural pressures, it’s possible that women have always been as equally unfaithful as men but were more likely to lie about it until now. Others speculate that as the number of women in the workforce increases, the late nights in the office provide opportunities for temptation that women never before had. Even women who do stay at home have the added temptation of internet, e-mail and text messaging.

While researchers have yet to establish a conclusive consensus about these “early exits,” I have my own theory. Based on my own experience in marriage thus far, I suspect it’s a result of several cultural influences. To begin, women grow up absorbing unrealistic stories about fairy tale romance from movies, t.v. shows and books. However, these romantic fantasies never provide us with a glimpse of the “happily ever after.” We see the pursuit and the climax, but then the movie ends.

As a result, we enter marriage subconsciously expecting that the same hot pursuit will define the rest of our lives…only to quickly realize that it doesn’t. Even six months into my own marriage I find myself sighing as I watch movies like the Notebook. There’s a part of me that’s sad I’ll no longer experience the newness of love and the hot passion of that initial stage. My husband is incredible and he pursues me every day, but it’s different now. There’s a small part of me that misses that.

Compound that disappointment with the very real challenges of marriage and every day life, along with a culture in which divorce is pretty normal. The result? Young women suspect they got married too quickly. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” they think. “I must have married the wrong guy!” Either that, or they suddenly feel they’re missing out on the passion and romance of their single friends. No more exciting first dates. No more thrill-of-the-chase.

And so they feel trapped. That word, “trapped,” has been the common denominator among the young women I’ve known to leave their husbands. She thought she knew what she was signing up for, but then she got married and felt she’d been duped. She felt stuck and she needed a way out. Then a handsome co-worker or family friend caught her eye…

Perhaps I’m totally wrong, but this “theory” is based off of my own battle with the culture’s influence on my expectations. I never realized how powerfully my understanding of romance had been shaped by media until I actually got married.

While psychologists and sociologists are still unclear about the cause for this growing trend, there are two ways in which we can go ahead and be on the defensive when it comes to fighting for our marriages:

1. Be discerning about the messages the culture is feeding you. Romantic movies may seem innocent enough, but be wise to the ways in which they are shaping your expectations of marriage. If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you know that I think about this stuff ALL the time and it has STILL affected me. It’s hard to resist getting swept up in fanciful dreams about what your life should be, all the while sabotaging the life you actually have. Marriage is a blessing and a gift, but we ruin it by imposing unnatural expectations upon it.

2. Don’t forget your Heavenly Lover. Even in the best marriages, it’s not all romance and steam. Some days you feel ordinary and plain, and your husband may not pursue you the way he did when you were courting. So on those days when you feel trapped, or at the very least forgotten about, remember that you have a Father in Heaven who never stops being enthralled by you. His extravagant loves puts the Notebook to shame. No one knows you as intimately, loves you as unconditionally, and will ever sacrifice more for you than Him. No man will ever pursue you as consistently or perfectly as God, so let Him be your satisfaction on the days when you might be tempted to look elsewhere.

Regardless of whether you are single or married, it’s time that we start talking about the fact that more and more women are sabotaging their marriages through infidelity. Women are just as likely to be tempted as men, so we must be on our guard against it. None of us is any safer than the woman next to us. Let’s be realistic about that fact, and pray for grace and wisdom all the while.


  • Valerie Neal says:

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post! In my persuit of a lasting marriage I have given the things you talk about much thought. I’m glad to know there is someone else out there that feels the same way I do.

  • Meghan says:

    Great post! My husband and I just celebrated three years of marriage, and I’m 26. I agree with all of the reasons you cited for why women make “early exits.” We’d be kidding ourselves if we said we never second-guessed what we got ourselves into…I mean, it’s a HUGE commitment. But the moment we take our focus of the Lord, the ways of the world become a lot more clear and seem to make more and more sense. I’d like to add that social networking (totally talking about Facebook) DEFINITELY has something to do with it. I mean, I’ve often gotten sucked into FB-stalking the profiles and pictures of other young, married girls, eyeing up what is really just a snapshot of what their life really is, believing they’re giving the full story. But who do you know that is 100% honest with all of their posts, including showing the junk, struggles and uglies?! No one! And I don’t do it either! I would never put as my status: “I’m feeling really depressed and lonely today and wish my marriage were more ______.” Anyway…just thought I’d throw that out there for consideration! I’ve enjoyed your blog! It was recommended by a friend. 🙂

  • Meghan says:

    Oh! And by the way…I was totally watching The Notebook on TV the other night feeling very similarly to you, I’m sure! We’ve got to be so careful about what we put in our minds, as what goes in usually seems to somehow make the journey to our hearts!

  • Sharon says:

    Haha Meghan what a great point about facebook! You’re right–I never put my fb status as “Sharon just had a big fight with her husband” or something like that. Facebook is so deceptive about what our friends’ lives are really like.

  • Ted Slater says:

    Thanks, Sharon, for this interesting and well-written post. I was pointed to your blog from comment #46 on this one:

  • David says:

    I’m late to the party on this one, but then again in February 2010 I was still married and about 4 months from my 28th anniversary. Your post mentions that the women leaving trend is occurring in both young marriages and older marriages. Here’s a testimony of the latter. If you or your readers have any additional thoughts on this issue, I’d be interested to hear them.

    Very short version: My wife and I were both dedicated Christians who met at a conservative (actually, fundamentalist) Christian university. We were faithful church members throughout our marriage, until the last 5-6 years (after a relocation, we kept attending regularly, but we weren’t members anywhere). We had significant difficulties and were in Christian counseling for most of the last 14 years of the marriage. Without getting into any details, it’s fair to say that we were each equally responsible for the problems; neither of us was innocent, and we each sinned against and hurt the other badly. Bottom line, though, as confirmed by our last marriage counselor: she did not have biblical grounds for divorce. Nevertheless, shortly after our 28th anniversary, she filed for divorce. She had not been unfaithful to me during the marriage, but she rushed into a new relationship immediately after the divorce was final — she signed up with an online dating service a week later, met the new guy online 3 weeks later, met him in person 3 months later, saw him every other weekend thereafter, and got engaged to him 3.5 months after meeting him in person for the first time. This will be his third marriage after two previous divorces. He is a professing Christian and is a lay pastor in his (very different) denomination. He lives 400 miles away, meaning that when they marry she will take our special needs daughter that far away from me and will leave her 15-year old son that far away from her, and she will be that much further away from our two older children who are adults.

    I do not understand at all how a lifelong, conservative/fundamentalist Christian woman can divorce a Christian (albeit flawed) husband without biblical grounds, rush into a new relationship against all accumulated wisdom about rebound relationships, choose as her new man someone who would have been disqualified as a prospect at the time of her first marriage (both because of his two divorces and his particular denomination), and willingly move away from 3 of her 4 children.

    Can anyone shed any light on the why’s of any of this? Or offer any encouragement that it can be reversed before it’s too late?

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