Walkaway Wife Syndrome: What Is It & How Couples Can Avoid It

You may have heard of “walkaway wife syndrome”. But what is it?

Here’s a surprising statistic—data from the CDC shows that 80% of divorces are filed by the wife. That means in four out of five marriages, women are the ones to hit the eject button.

What conclusions can we draw from these numbers? I don’t think women are less invested in making marriages work. Quite often I see the opposite—the women I speak with feel they’ve done everything in their power to fix their relationship. But they’re ready to quit, and they aren’t alone.

What’s the reason for this mass exodus? Marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis has named this problem “Walkaway Wife Syndrome.”

“Walkaway Wife” Defined

Walkaway Wife Syndrome describes a common marital crisis, where the stories unfold in remarkably similar ways.

In the beginning of a marriage, a new wife often takes on the role of caretaker of the relationship. These women shoulder the burden of facilitating meaningful conversations, scheduling “date nights,” and generally doing the legwork of maintaining a romantic relationship.

But once the honeymoon is over, the romantic elements of marriage can get shoved into the background. Career problems, money problems, family issues all begin to steal the focus of the couple’s love.

During this period, many wives begin to push their husbands more aggressively to connect, trying to resist the death of romance. The wife’s criticisms can start getting very personal, and the husband—often unaware of the peril the marriage is in—instinctively begins to avoid spending time with her.

The wife, on her part, isn’t trying to nag. She’s just becoming weary of being the only one invested in the relationship. So weary that she begins to plan her exit strategy. She plans to walk away.

Often a marriage goes on for years after the moment a wife decides to walk. Many things must be in order before she leaves. Sometimes she’ll say something like, “Well, after the kids leave for college…” or “After I have some money saved…”

All her efforts to maintain the romance cease.  The husband often assumes that his wife’s silence means things are going better. Years might pass, but the day inevitably arrives when the wife tells her husband the truth: “I think I want a divorce.”

When I speak to couples who are considering divorce, the husband often expresses that he had no idea his wife felt this way. It’s not that he doesn’t care. In fact, the thought of divorce often sends husbands on a frenzy of marriage repairing. They buy self-help books, attend marriage counseling, and go to classes and seminars. In many cases, however, the wife feels it’s far too late.

How to Avoid the Walk

The husband in this scenario genuinely wishes to change to save his marriage. Often the real threat of divorce is something he hasn’t considered. Faced with an impending breakup, he’s suddenly ready to give his relationship the care and attention it deserves.

When faced with a wife who is ready to walk, I try to show her how willing and able her husband is to change. Often, though, these women are ready to give up even though their husbands have turned into the men they always needed them to be. They’ve simply gone too far in their planning to believe they can go back.

The best way to avoid Walkaway Wife Syndrome is to prevent the marriage from reaching that point in the first place. Fostering healthy communication in the beginning and preserving a special focus on the health of the relationship is critical in the early stages of a marriage.

Whether you’re facing a marriage on the rocks or trying to prevent your marriage from ever reaching that point, any couple can benefit from Portland marriage counseling.