Most men who go to marriage therapy are invested in saving their marriages. But when couples allow their problems to fester, there’s not much that can be done, said Antonio Borrello, a psychologist in Detroit, Michigan.
“Most marriages can recover from short periods of unhappiness, poor communication and conflict,” he said. “Yet for many couples, the periods of unhappiness grow longer, communication becomes weaker and disagreements and conflict lead to anger, resentment and apathy. It leads to partners checking out.”
Below, Borrello and other marriage therapists share the most common reasons men check out of their marriage and file for divorce.
1. They don’t feel appreciated.
Men want to feel and express the love they have for their spouses. But when a husband feels under-appreciated by the whole family, he’s more likely to show resentment than love, said Alexandra H. Solomon, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University.
“Besides connecting sexually and emotionally, one of the biggest requirements for marriage is recognizing that your connection is very much about the mundane: figuring out who is going to drive carpool and how the mortgage will be paid and which of you is heading out to get more toilet paper,” she said. “Men (and women) who aren’t appreciated and feel disillusioned by the realities of their marriage are at risk of divorce.”
2. They’re at odds with their spouse over spending.
Many men who come to couples therapy are often disgruntled about their partner’s poor financial decisions, said F. Diane Barth, a psychotherapist and the author of the Psychology Today blog Off The Couch. That’s especially true if the husband is the higher earner in the household.
“When I hear things like, ‘My spouse spends all the money we make,’ what’s often beneath that complaint is the feeling that his spouse takes him for granted,” she said. “The underlying feeling from most of these guys is that this would be OK, if only their spouse would acknowledge it and say ‘thank you’ once in a while.”
3. Someone cheated.
Infidelity is often brought up as the crisis that led to filing but the martial problems are usually much bigger than that, Borello said.
“When a man leaves his marriage because of infidelity, it’s almost impossible to know how much of the decision can be chalked up to the affair and how much should be attributed to other factors in the relationship,” he said. “It’s unlikely that the affair occurred in a very happy marriage.”
4. They don’t have anything in common with their spouse anymore.
People change. It’s troubling, then, when men expect the partner they married 10 years ago to be the same person she was on their wedding day, Barth said. The reality is, if you want to stay married, you have to grow together or you run the risk of growing apart.
“I often hear men say, ‘We don’t share any interests anymore’: He wants to go snorkeling in the Caribbean for a vacation, but his wife wants to go to a luxury hotel in Paris. He would like to go to the movies, but they can’t find one they can agree on,” she said. “These apparently mundane, insignificant differences contribute to a sense of no longer being respected, loved or on the same wave length as your spouse.”
5. They feel inadequate.
Most unhappy men who agree to go to couples therapy feel inadequate in their marriage, Solomon said.
“When men act out (cheat, yell or try to control their partners, for instance), what’s usually driving that behavior is a deep fear that they are not measuring up in their partner’s eyes,” she said. “Then, couples get caught up in a negative cycle: she feels alone so she criticizes. The more she criticizes, the more he feels inadequate. The more he feels inadequate, the more he turns away from the marriage and gets lost in self-destructive, and relationship-destructive, behaviors. It’s a painful cycle.”
6. Sex is lackluster ― or totally non-existent.
When a man complains about his lacking sex life, the underlying concern is usually that his spouse no longer finds him physically attractive, Barth said.
“The unspoken fear for a man is that he’s no longer attractive,” she said. “This feeling, which oftentimes goes unrecognized by the man himself, is usually lying beneath the surface of the couple’s sex problems, even when he’s the one doing the rejecting.”
7. They don’t feel their needs are being recognized or validated.
When a marriage hits a rough patch, what’s needed most (even more than problem-solving) is empathy, Solomon said. When a husband suspects his partner cares very little about his well-being and how he’s affected by their marriage problems, he’s likely to grow disillusioned.
“Unless the couple has the opportunity to reestablish an emotional connection, (usually through couples therapy), the husband will likely begin to feel hopeless that the marriage can change,” she said. “Hopelessness is very painful and it’s toxic for a marriage, increasing the risk of divorce. At the end of the day, each partner needs to feel like what they see and feel matters.”