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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Sudden End to a Marriage

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 6th 2010

Sudden End to a MarriageA woman posted this comment on the "Ask the Therapist part of Mental Help Net:

"My partner of 6 years suddenly left with no explanation and has completely shut me and my kids out."


This is a common phenomenon that can happen with a husband or wife. The abandoned spouse always feels a sense of shock and bewilderment about why their partner suddenly decided to leave. They report believing the marriage was healthy and free of problems. Most often the spouse suddenly announces their unhappiness with the marriage and their intent of immediately leaving. What is behind this painful phenomenon?

In reality, the shocked reaction of a spouse to their partner separating is demonstrative of one of the problems that plagued the relationship from the beginning. That problem is the unwillingness or inability of the abandoned husband or wife to acknowledge the validity of complaints that constantly arise. In the same way, all marital issues are ignored.

What are some of the warning signs that are symptomatic of a troubled marriage and an unhappy marriage?

1. There is a marked decrease in physical and emotional affection. While this includes sexual relationships it also includes such things as hugging, kissing, joking, intimate conversations, and joint problem solving, among many others. In all, there is a serious diminishment of spontaneity.

2. When together, there are long and awkward silences. This includes feelings of sadness for no apparent reason.

3. Increasing instances of being away from home with the explanations of having more to do at work, etc.

4. A type of one way arguing in which one of the partners wants to discuss things while the other withdraws.

5. Convincing oneself that they are doing a good job of being a good wife or husband while the other feels just the opposite.

6. Dismissing sexual complaints as minor while the spouse fumes over the issue.

Over the years I have met with many separated couples who are willing to come to the office for marriage therapy. In almost all cases one of the partners reports complete shock that their is discontent while the other complains that they repeatedly tried to discuss things but to no avail.

In my experience there are often two major issues that plague a marriage: sex and money. Refusal to admit to one or both of these as being problematic or to argue about them without making any changes, always leads to disaster.

Overall, the spouse who leaves expresses frustrations and that their needs were rarely met despite repeated attempts to have discussions. They complain that they were never listened and feel  alienated and extremely angry. Even the anger may come as a surprise to the other spouse.

Finally, I have found that some marriages are slowly dying with only one of the partners being aware of what is happening.

Does this mean that such a marriage is doomed? It does not have to if both husband and wife are willing to put the effort needed to go to marriage therapy and put in the work necessary to maintain a functioning family relationship. This means that accusing the other for all of the problems must be given up so that each admits to sharing in creating and maintaining problems.

Have you found yourself in such a situation? Are you or were you in a relationship that suddenly ended with seemingly no explanation?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Vented frustration? - KW - Sep 17th 2012

I am the one who called an end to our 5 year marriage due to overwhelming frustration. My wife was shocked and completely baffled as she felt we had a great life together. For background, my wife had an emotional affair 3 years into our marriage when things were going fairly well for us. After the shock and upset, we went to counseling. She had recently recovered from a complication filled hysterectomy and I was her caregiver for 6 weeks straight, working from home to see to her needs. The end result of the counseling was for us to work on reconnecting and rekindling the passion to get out of the 'invalid and caregiver' mode the surgery had created. Since that time, she renewed her attendance in a local church, going to 3 services weekly (which I supported, but honestly considered to be over the top considering what had recently happened), but I had to show trust in her. In her absence, I devoted my time to a few hobbies which I used as an escape. We also recognized we were in a rut with work, household chores, etc and planned several romantic vacations to recharge our relationship. I would spontaneously do romantic things (pick her up from work with flowers and reservations for a nice dinner, etc) and in almost every situation after the evening ended, she would simply want to go to bed to sleep! Now, I am not so callous to believe that sex and lovemaking are required - but if these extra efforts were not sparking our relationship, what would?

I tried talking to her (no I am no saint, I can be overly intense and passionate when communicating which is not a good thing) and she would never explain why and what she felt. Her most common complaint about me was my venting about my high stress job and worry that I would divorce her because of the affair (which I did not reference as a lesson learned in the counseling) . When I made a suggestion about a career change, she let me know she did not support my choice, but routinely told me 'we have to find you a new job'. She would tell me she loved me repeatedly, but in the end, my frustration left me few options.  I still love her and miss her terribly, and cannot find the closure I need to understand what went wrong.

Depressed Husband - Atypical? - Jun 21st 2011

This isn't short, but I will try to be succinct at least... Although my husband and I are not divorced, he did fairly suddenly move into the spare bedroom three months ago and only speaks to me and our two children when he absolutely has to despite working from home. He's told me he doesn't want to be a father and husband anymore, but he also doesn't want to divorce because I'm a stay-at-home mom to our two elementary-aged kids.

This causes expressed in this article have not been the case in my 14-year marriage. I, the 'shocked one,' have always been the one to bring up issues, not frequently as I admit I don't like conflict, but I was always the one willing to talk. He would clam up, leave the room, have nothing to say, etc. Most of his complaints in our marriage were nit-picking rules about how he wanted something done around the house but nothing too over-the-top. Our biggest point of contention was how to discipline our kids. I'm more lenient, he's very strict and critical. He grew up with a hyper-critical, unreasonable mother, so I guess it stuck.

The biggest problem we had leading up to this, besides child discipline, was his work schedule. He was working during the day and a couple of nights a week from home via computer. Over the course of a couple of years it turned into every night. Sometimes he would be up over 24 hours straight. Once he stayed up two entire days and nights with no sleep. While I understood he didn't need me nagging him, I did talk to him about it on several occassions. He didn't seem to think it was abnormal or extreme. And although it is stressful, he enjoys his work. In the mean time, he was pretty non-existent in our family due to 85-hour work weeks and sleeping during the day.

He has seen a psychologist who says he is clinically depressed. He says he can't feel anymore--pleasure, happiness, sorrow that he's emotionally abandoned his family. He has no close friends, plays computer games and reads fantasy novels. That's about it. The psychologist has suggested that he go on medication and start one-on-one therapy before we go into marriage therapy.

So to sum up, I knew something was 'wrong,' but I always thought I was the one who had the problem with him. It never occurred to me that he would do the leaving, not that I had entertained thoughts of leaving him. I'm only guessing, but maybe he feels that what he would have to do to change or get better is so overwhelming to him that he's running away, shutting down. I'm really confused and in typical fashion, he doesn't want to/'can't' discuss it.

a 6 year long distance marriage - Annie - Mar 15th 2011

I was in a 6 year long distance marriage.  We are both almost 60 years old. He didn't want to move to my state because he liked his business and his state and didn't want to start over anywhere else even though he had me applying for numerous jobs for him in my state.  I own a house, have elderly parents who moved to my state to be nearby, and was still raising 2 children at home as a single working mom who had serious issues and during the time I was unable to visit him much, or really put him 1st.  I thought we both understood that.  Finally, the last of the 4 children left the house for college and I was ready to start our promised future, and I was ready to start visiting him or even move there, he suddenly stated it was too late, the he had gotten used to  being alone and didn't want to be in a relationship with a bunch of expectations.  That was 6 months ago, I've not heard from him since and he's not even filed for divorce.  It's like he's in a second childhood wanting no responsibility.  He rents, has no savings (I have plenty and will inherit a fortune), he just likes to go to the beach and surf and play in a rock band in bars.  Again, he's 59 years old.  Before me he had been married and responsible for 30 years.  Since he announced this I was initially shocked, but then just accepted that he must be burned out and maybe he'll regret his decision once he gets tired of being alone.  Meanwhile I'm working on myself and finding peace within, but I am a believer in marriage and feel we are both accountable for the sacred vows we made. To me it's like chopping off the head of a teenager once they get hard to manage.  You've already made the decision to have the kid, you don't give up just because it's too "hard" or boring or have a rough couple of years where you've disconnected... try re-connecting!  I don't want to file for divorce especially without all the information, especially when he is in la la land and wont' even meet with me face to face to see in person whether there could be any attraction and be able to wipe the slate clean and start anew, without any of the obligations and distractions that prevented us from being able to see each other more. He was so infatuated with me the first couple of years and overly did for me and my family.  We married quickly because of the strong chemistry and compatibility.  He is a conflict avoider though, and refuses to argue or really discuss anything difficult.  Any suggestions?  And I'm fine... I'm following a spiritual path for myself and keeping busy and socializing with friends and hopefully he will tire of the path he is on right now, one where he doesn't care about anyone or anything, and doesn't want to be accountable or responsible for anything. 

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