Ask the Divorce Doctor: Why Did he Leave me After 30 Years?

heshistory1-194x300Editor’s Note: Erica Manfred, author of He’s History, You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After 40, writes a weekly column at

She answers reader questions about divorce, everything from how to deal with betrayal, to surviving the first year, to dating again, to finding a new career. If you have a question for the “Divorce Doctor,” e-mail For more advice from Erica, visit

Jane W. asks:

NotinLoveWhy did he leave? My husband just told me he wanted a divorce after 30 years of marriage. He said he didn’t love me anymore, he hadn’t loved me for years, he’d just stuck around until the kids were grown. I was stunned. I had no idea he didn’t love me. We never fought, we agreed about everything, we enjoyed raising our kids, we had fun together. I was looking forward to a wonderful retirement together. OK … so we weren’t exactly passionate, but after 30 years, isn’t that normal? I am mystified and devastated. How could this happen out of the clear-blue sky with no warning?

Erica Answers: Actually there was a warning — you never fought. I just interviewed Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, which is based on her study of 373 couples over 23 years. Predictably, 46% got divorced. According to Dr. Orbuch your question is very common. She says it’s a myth that good marriages don’t have conflict. A lack of conflict means you’re not dealing with things that matter. The key is how the couple deals with conflict. “In general you don’t want destructive conflict with yelling and interrupting and withdrawing, both destructive,” she says. “Happy couples learn how to fight fair.”

Of course that answer is no help now that it’s too late. Or is it? Will he go to counseling with you? A friend of mine is in your situation and her husband has agreed to counseling, where all the anger he’s been storing up for 25 years is coming out. It’s extremely painful for her but she’s hanging in there. Maybe they’ll get back together, but even if they don’t at least she’ll know why her marriage broke up. She won’t make the same mistakes again.

Linda S. asks:

Is there sex after divorce? I’m 58 and my husband of 25 years left me six months ago for a younger woman. I’ve been crying nonstop since he left, but recently stopped crying long enough to surf Internet dating sites. There are some attractive men out there. After years of disinterest in sex (with him), suddenly I’m on fire. Every time a man comes into my office, I start thinking about what he’d be like as a sex partner. Is this normal? Should I start dating so soon, even though I’m still angry and hurting? If I do, should I have sex? I’m afraid I won’t be able to resist

Erica Answers: I went through the same thing after my husband left, although it took a little longer. I was stunned at how those sexual feelings started flooding back after so many years of death below the waist. The danger of sexual experimentation before you’re really over your ex is getting hurt yet again. I fell madly in love nine months after my husband left, and when it didn’t work out, I was devastated. Yes, sex is an escape from the relentless pain of grieving — and it’s a real ego booster to find that men are attracted to you, that you’re still a sexual being. But you’re exquisitely vulnerable at this stage.

Don’t set yourself up for more suffering. We women aren’t great at sleeping around without emotional connection. I’d say go ahead and start dating, have sex if you can’t resist, but protect your heart — take it very slowly. And protect your body — practice safe sex.


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    Seriously? Don’t misunderstand what I mean, I’m in agreement with you partially, but when you make a statement like this you actually have to be ready to back it up.

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    On Jane: Conflict? Fight? of course we can have a disagreement, but to fight? wrong, really good marriages don’t fight, they disagree, work on and resolve the issues. And conflict? Really? That feels like a long term fight. It’s a really, really strong word. Marriage should not have conflict in it. No marriage should. What should be done, is to have healthy and honest discussions (and even debates) about problems, concerns and issues.

    I just don’t agree that the lack of “fighting” is a issue. What I would look more for, is if they are discussing, hashing through problems, disagreeing and bringing concerns to the surface. None of these says that there should be “fighting”

    When I heard, “we don’t fight.” I started thinking… okay. He’s a passive guy. He’s bottling up. He’s okay, even happy. But, when someone or something comes along that makes him feel happier.. He’s going to jump. Because now? Now he thinks he really is happier without his wife and thinks he’s got his mojo back. He should of figured out how to get that back with his wife… I have a word for him… but I’m going to withhold.

    This story is interesting. Guy lives a normal happy life, all is well. But, years later. Something changes in his mind. He thinks back and wonders if he had a happy life (Even though he portrayed one) Something, or someone came into his life, and he felt a spark. Is this happiness he thought? “Did I not have it? We weren’t passionate.. Did I miss out on a happiness I could of had?” And then the regrets kicked in, and kaboom. (Yet, he didn’t have to make it go kaboom… he choose too.)

    On Linda : I would also say to be very, very careful. Guys are going to take advantage of this situation. And she is going to get hurt, and become less of who she really wants to be. She does sound really confused, and she may want to start feeling all those physical sensations again. But yeah, she’s going to get involved emotionally along with that, and the guy is probably going to mess with her mind. Unless she is ready for the change back into relationships. She needs to start finding out who she is, and what she really wants out of life, and love. First.

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    Jane, he appeared to agree. In my opinion if you are in a marriage where there are no disagreements, there is a problem.

    I agree with Travis on the passivity issue. He may have spent years agreeing to things he didn’t really agree to…in his head. Why do passive people submit, give the appearance of satisfaction when they are anything but?

    Fear of rejection, fear of making waves, an inability to express their desires, the belief their needs should be put last. There are many reasons but as far as I’m concerned when someone is playing happy when they aren’t they are also playing with the emotions of other people. Not acceptable!

    I’d be willing to bet that it didn’t happen out of the clear-blue sky for him…only for you. He was to cowardly to engage in the sort of work it takes to make a marriage work. Now his family will pay the consequences and so will anyone who becomes invloved with him in the future.

    Like Travis, I have a word for him also. And, like Travis will keep it to myself.

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    To Travis, Cathy….your words were an eye opener for me. My ex-husband was the same as this guy who walked out. He never said anything, for him there was no problem…it was all me and all my issues and all in my head.

    I carried that guilt for a long time. Thinking that I had all the faults in the marriage. But afterwards, I realized that yes, he was also ruled by his fear. He, himself, admitted to me that he didn’t say anything to me after all these years because he didn’t want to fight for days about things, so he kept things bottled in himself and let it fester….but of course, this kind of behavior is not sustainable and will eventually ruin the relationship if not addressed properly. Acting like this deprives the other person of knowing who you really are and therefore, s/he continues to live with an image of the other person that do not necessarily reflect who the other person really is.

    I do believe though that conflict is essential in any relationship, for only through it can we grow together. But it has to be a healthy conflict and not a destructive one where the two parties lay out their real selves and genuinely want to find a way to resolve the differences between the two of them. Any relationship follows a life cycle…romance, struggle and commitment. Romance is the easy part, everything is rosy and perfect. When you hit the struggle button, that’s where the differences show and you then have two choices: either you stop the relationship or go through it together and reveal the real person within. And then you pave the way to a healthy commitment where you both accept each other’s good and bad and still decide that you want to be with this person.

    It is just very sad that a lot of couples now in our society choose to stop at the struggle because they don’t want to feel the pain of growing through it and just take the easy way out, thinking that going into a new relationship will make everything better.

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    ken says

    I’m wondering why is was a bolt out of the blue. The relationship has not been passionate – doesn’t one need to sit down and ponder the consequences of such non-activity? Wasn’t this a signal? Was this signal ignored because “isn’t this what happens after 30 years of marriage?” Dunno. Is it? Does it have to be? A bolt out of the blue? Does this mean you might have been happy with your life and better to just cruise and accept than to risk rocking the boat and having non-spoken about issues come rushing to the surface? If really was a bolt out of the blue then this might be a signal as to why it was a bolt out of the blue – better to play pretend, not see, not question, not feel, not be observant, not be marriage-aware than face the thought that signals might have been ignored, times when he did attempt to talk (in his way) were ignored or dismissed, that having a non-passionate relationship might be an early indicator or that non-intmacy meant not sharing simple things, the heart and the body, the chance to just chat afterwards or to fall to sleep in each other’s arms…you end up living like brother and sister…you can love each other very much but you are no longer ‘in love’. One party ‘bolts’. For the other, it’s like a bolt out of the blue. There is no blame here. And others might want to call him a name so bad they don’t want to write it. Pretty judgemental for only one side of the story. A bolt out of the blue? I’m sure it was. But should it have been. And does this say something about why is became so?

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    debbie ortiz says

    my husband of 28 years did same thing. He is nonconfrontational , doesnt like to fight, so
    keeps his mouth shut and built up years of resentment towards me. He now blames me
    for all the wrongs in our marriage. He had an emotional affair with a woman much younger
    than him and he claims he fell in love!! After a year of him saying he wanted a divorce and
    didn’t love me, he all of a sudden wants to make our mariage work. What gives with him?
    Midlife crisis? I am very confused and resentful towards him.

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    Sonia says

    @ken. A responsible adult does not make “signals” in the direction of his/her spouse and hope the spouse picks up subtle clues. A grown-up person communicates using words, not passive-aggressive “signals” that are not audible to human ears. I’m wondering why a wife has to get out her secret decoder ring to interpret “signals” (thought waves? hand signs? ESP waves?) emitted by a husband too immature to come right out and say that something is bothering him…especially after 30 years!


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