Keep in mind that your partner, the Walk Away Wife, has found that it has been a safer strategy with you to build a wall around herself. At some point, she most likely did want you to know that she felt unsafe or resentful, and probably wanted you to understand her situation. For some reason, that opportunity for connection was mishandled. She may have been a bit heavy handed in her criticism, and you might have been defensive and argumentative. Women get angry when they feel powerless.
Walk Away Wives typically pursued their partners for more time and closeness. Unfortunately, due to a complicated and unfortunate mix of biology, neurology, and socialization, husbands mostly hear requests for closeness (or to start couples therapy) as critical complaints. Then they defend, cross complain, or stonewall.
As I mentioned previously, some wives can get heavy handed with criticism.
It’s not the outcome she wants, but the more a wife pursues her husband for emotional connection, the more she may unintentionally succeed in driving him away by the words she uses when she asks for it.
Ask yourselves.. what is your “the more you do this… the more I do that” couple communication pattern?”
This is why skills such as “softened start-up” and learning to make a complaint and not a personal attack are such essential elements of Gottman Couples Therapy. This “dance” of pursuer/distancer is a highly corrosive, but very treatable issue in couples retreats.
Now that she wants out, you might be feeling a bit desperate. But if you attempt to tear down her walls instead of allowing her to take them down, you’ll remove any aspirations she may have for a hopeful outcome. Now that she has told you, she may feel a bit like a drowning person would feel if — as soon as he or she came to the surface — you would plunge that person back under the water. Don’t keep texting her or leaving her messages. Let her nervous system calm down.
Curiosity and concern about the feelings your Walk Away Wife has behind that wall should be your top priority. The well-being of your husband or wife should be the most important thing to you; therefore, the wall can stay as long as it is needed.
So instead of acting desperate. Calm down. Relax. Don’t self-medicate. Give her space. See that your spaces and your person well groomed and cared for. Dress well. Be respectful when you communicate, but be brief and be gone.
If there are little things in the environment that annoy her, attend to them quietly. Pick up after yourself.
Look, at the end of the day, you are not responsible for your Walk Away Wife’s emotions. But if you can fess up and admit your role in the deterioration of the marriage… well that would be a helpful and healing admission.
You can maybe go into couples therapy together and do what it takes to understand each other and work together to clear out old hurts and resentments. Intelligent men learn to accept influence from their Walk Away Wives and eliminate their need to erect tall emotional walls.
The most important thing is to let the Walk Away Wife calm down. Clear out any sources of irritation in your shared environment. When she has shown evidence of being open to dialogue, ask to discuss science-based couples counseling as a way forward.
Great Second Husbands Don’t Want Anther Walk Away Wife
Michelle Weiner Davis reminds us that men often learn through a crisis. The social science on this is clear. When men take their Walk Away Wife seriously, they often come out the other end as remarkably changed men. Michelle asks Walk Away Wives,
“Why should his next wife get all the benefit of his changed heart… when you did all the work?”
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.