De Facto Divorce

I talked to a fellow going through a divorce who said his wife told him she emotionally left the marriage two decades earlier. But she never told him this! It was a De Facto divorce and he was never informed.

De Facto Divorce

As best as I can piece it together, the husband got serious about the marriage within a year of his wife’s heart walking away. He did a good many things to try to improve the marriage, including counselling for both of them together and separately. All the while the wife said nothing and just went through the motions without any apparent intention of having a better marriage.

I have no idea how horrible the marriage was for this woman before she dropped out. Maybe it seemed hopeless, or maybe she was unwilling to deal with her stuff. Regardless of this, what she did seems wrong to me. The husband thinks she lacked the courage and will to speak up. I get that, but why didn’t she make some effort when her husband started working overtime on fixing the marriage?

Aside from the pain this has caused and will continue to cause this couple and their family, it has not ended well for the woman. Her world has become very small, and her soon to be ex is concerned for her future.

I see a few lessons in this.

  • If you’re done, have the decency to speak up.
  • If you don’t speak up and he starts to change, don’t just ignore it.
  • Men do this too. If your husband suddenly stops seeking some change in your marriage that might be a sign he is about to perform a De Facto Divorce. Do something ASAP because time might be very short.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and I’d go down making a whole lot of noise!

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11 Comments on “De Facto Divorce

  1. I noticed in Christian circles it is very common for the abusive spouse to de facto divorce and insist he/she will never divorce because:

    1. It creates more anguish and control over the victim spouse because of the strong anti-divorce sentiments and theologies in many christian churches.

    2. The victim spouse has to be the one to initiate the legal divorce and it makes the victim spouse look like the bad guy.

    • Yep. I’ve seen that.

      I’ve also seen it the other way, where one person feels so alienated that they just check out. In this woman’s case, it’s possible she’s horrible. It’s also possible that the things that her husband was doing were not in the areas where she was most hurt or he stopped making any progress in too short a time and she didn’t trust the changes.

      As for “she never told him this” … yeah, she did. Not in those words — “I’m not leaving you, but I am over you and this marriage” — but she was checked out emotionally for 20 years and he didn’t notice, didn’t care, or didn’t pursue it. To someone who feels isolated from their spouse, that would “confirm” that their spouse just didn’t care back.

      • @sunny-dee – I’m sure he missed some signs, but he did figure it out and then he worked hard at having a good marriage. She just went through the motions, pretending she was working on it when she had not desire for it to work. This went on for more than a decade!

        As I said, “If you’re done, have the decency to speak up.”

    • @libl – Yeah, I’ve seen guys do #2, and be as horrible as possible so they drive their wife to leave. Then they claim the victim/saint spot.

      And I’ve seen women encourage their husband to get a “girlfriend” and then scream adultery and divorce for that.

  2. As with all things, I’d guess the problems were on both sides here. No one is that good at going through the motions that they could do it for 20 years, and the other spouse never remotely pick up on it. Yes, she should have spoken up, but why did he not pick it up and speak up himself? Seems they were both inattentive to their own marriage and each other. Even on the days when I’m going through the motions in other areas outside our marriage, my husband sees the difference in me and asks about it, even when I think I’m acting no differently.

    • @Alicia – As I said, he did. And he did all he could to fix it once he saw it. He’s hardly a saint, but he has done more than most men will ever do to try and make his marriage right. But she had unplugged by the time he started to work on it, and apparently she was never willing to risk hoping.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…When Our Pasts ClashMy Profile

      • Did her ever try talking to her about it? Did he apologize for whatever behavior turned her off to the marriage? He obviously needed to change something, because he changed it. But did he ever try talking to her?

        Maybe she figured the best marriage she could ever hope for was 2 separate lives under the same roof, and she gave up hope for real intimacy.

        Maybe the thing she was really hoping he would change was conversation. It seems like it was good enough for him if he didn’t notice for 20 years.

        Who initiated the divorce? Are their kids just now leaving the house?

        • @Molly – Yes, and yes. I agree she gave up. That’s the problem, once she did that there was nothing he could ever do to change her mind. She filed. The kids are long since grown and on their own. The last kid leaving the house is a common trigger for this kind of thing, but not in this case.

          It didn’t take him 20 years to notice, as he has spent more than a decade working on it. But she was done. I’ve written to the men over on TGH about this a number of times. I’ve seen a number of men do the right things “too late”. He becomes the man she said she wanted, but she won’t have anything to do with it. Often I think she is afraid to take the risk it’s not real. Sometimes I think she is also punishing him for everything she suffered.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Sex, It Could Be WorseMy Profile

  3. Honestly, you could have been talking to my ex. We were married for 20 years and by the last few I was a shell of a person and only going through the motions because I felt as a Christian I had to stay. I was told by many Christians that staying in an abusive marriage was my lot in life and how much God hates divorce. I was told to submit harder, respect in all things and he would change.
    Twenty years into that marriage my ex walked out on me and our two boys after devising a most elaborate plan to try and destroy me.

    I’m not saying this man is or was abusive, I don’t know this couple from Adam and Eve. And not sure you know them very well either from the way you write about it. It sounds like you’ve talked with the husband only and heard his his version of it. Sorry, but it seems really fishy.

    Perhaps the wife did over the years try to talk to him and was shut down. Perhaps there was more going on behind closed doors than you will ever know and you would never hear from the husband.
    Perhaps the husband did finally try to change or maybe not. Do you really know if the change was genuinely repentant? Perhaps it was, but by that point she was just done for whatever reason and didn’t care.

    My ex and I went to counseling too after I more or less dragged him there, and that was 3 years before he left. I finally called it quits after a few sessions because the counselor ended up buddying up to my then-husband and it became more of a time of them than anything else. Turns out I recently learned my ex shared with my boys that I never gave counseling a chance and made us stop going. Three years later when he walked out and I started seeing my Christian counselor again and shared what had happened in the counseling sessions with the counselor she had recommended we see. She told me that her colleague we had seen confided in her later that he realized too late how he had dropped the ball on us and didn’t realize how bad the situation was.

    Look, all I’m getting at is this: unless you know this couple really well, be careful making assumptions that the wife is the only one at fault and just simply checked out of the marriage with no indications of why. I would highly suspect there is more going on here than what it seems.

    My ex was and still is a master deceiver, and over the years told people a lot of the same things about me this man has said to you about his wife. In the beginning my ex feigned remorse and supposed concern for me and what would happen to me, while all the time behind the scenes sending me nasty emails telling me how I had never contributed to our family and how little I was worth. He was all sweet and nice, telling people how much he loved me and only wanted to change and make the marriage better, UNTIL I called him out on things, then his true colors showed. But he was always very careful not to show that side to anyone else so in our former church he walked out looking like the poor fellow whose wife just up and kicked him out of his own home even though he was such a good Christian guy.

    Me? I was told how ungodly I was and that I needed to forgive and forget and reconcile, because God hates divorce and one elder even went further to say God doesn’t care what is going on in the marriage but that the marriage stays intact. Never spoke to the fellow again and left the church soon afterwards.

    I really debated whether to even waste my breathe leaving a comment about this, but just felt led to.
    Amy recently posted…What a joyous day!My Profile

  4. @Amy – I’ve seen your situation, mostly after the fact, and it angers me a good deal. Telling someone to put up with abuse is so wrong, as it not getting involved to stop the abuse. When I was young there were a couple of times I got deep enough into a family to see how the father/husband really treated his family. It was shocking to see how different he was, and how well he played his image for the rest of the world. All too often the church buys it and then comes down on the “rebellious wife”. More than once I’ve seen a church turn on an abused or deeply wronged woman who dared to file for a separation or a divorce. We need to do better!!

    As to the couple, I was discussing, Lori and I have known them for more than a decade. Don’t see them often, but I have talked with him off and on. There were certainly wrongs on both sides, but abuse was never part of it in any way.
    Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Sex, It Could Be WorseMy Profile

    • Thank you, Paul, for the kind reply.

      It is very disturbing to me how the church often handles, or rather doesn’t handle, cases of abuse in marriage. I think part of it is simply ignorance and the other is wanting to turn a blind eye to it because the message of “Christian marriages should never fail” overrides any other thinking in many cases.

      I never meant to imply abuse was involved in the marriage you mentioned, but I guess I tend to read things like this with a discerning (or possibly cynical) eye. ;)
      It’s wonderful that this man chose to actually do the hard work of changing what he needed to, but unfortunately that is not usually the case. I’m sorry though the wife checked out and never chose to give him a chance.
      Amy recently posted…What a joyous day!My Profile

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