The Dependent Resistant Wife

The Dependent Resistant Wife

© 2020. Beverly Hays


Submitted by Beverly Hays, LCSW, LMFT, APM

My husband, George, and I have been mediating divorces for more than 35 years. My background is that of a family therapist and his experience in finance, engineering, and corporate management, has made us a good team. We work together co-mediating divorces. During our many years of practice, we have worked with a wide variety of couples, each of whom have their own special uniqueness. However, while each couple is unique, they fall into patterns, one of which is the dependent resistant wife.

Let me explain. The dependent resistant wife does not want the divorce, no way, no how! She is holding on for dear life. The dependence is usually based on fear, fear of what will happen to her and the children, fear for her own survival.

In most cases while she sees the signs, she has been in denial. So, when her husband approaches her with his desire for a divorce, she is blind-sided and unprepared emotionally. In these cases, there is an imbalance of power, with the husband being more independent and powerful. The wife, of course, is more dependent. Her way of responding is through anger, sadness, vindictiveness, hurt, self-doubt, recrimination, powerlessness and of course fear.

The husband’s reaction is usually a feeling of guilt, remorse, and justification for the decision he made. If the children are young, he fears losing his relationships with them. The wife, I might add, sometimes uses the children as weapons against her husband.  We have also seen situations where the wife acts like the victim, which is one of the few tools she feels she has left.

Here is a case study which might illustrate some of the dynamics I am referring to.

The Case of Tom and Carol

The facts: Tom is 41, Carol is 39, they have been married 17 years. They have 2 children, a daughter age 14 and a son age 11. Tom has a B.S. in business & finance. Carol has an A.A. in liberal arts. Tom is an I.T. specialist with management responsibilities. Carol has not been employed for the past 15 years since she became pregnant with their first child. Prior to that, for 4 years she was an office manager in a small boutique gym owned by a relative.

Tom and Carol met when Carol was 21 and Tom was 23. He was a client at the gym where she worked. He was impressed with her sweet encouraging personality and her physical beauty. She found him to be mature for his age and respected the determination with which he did his workouts.

They began dating soon after they met. She looked up to him and he enjoyed showing her off to his friends. They married 2 years later. Carol continued with her job for the first 2 years of their marriage, until she became pregnant. They both agreed that she would stay home with the children as had her mother. Tom grew in his career and was promoted to management positions, while Carol loved being a fulltime mother.

As time progressed Tom worked longer hours and his work required some travel. Carol complained that he was away too much and that the children missed him. Carol asked to accompany him at some business dinners, but that rarely happened. She became depressed and started gaining weight. Their sex life, which had been one of the strengths of their marriage, suffered. Tom found her less interesting and less attractive.  He started having affairs until he met someone, he thought he was madly in love with and that is when he asked Carol for a divorce. Carol was blind-sided and devastated.

So, what is the role of the mediator? How can we help Carol?

First, we must determine if this marriage is over. Is Tom certain that he wants to be out of the marriage? The answer is usually, yes.

Second, encourage counseling to help Carol heal and deal with the grief, anger, betrayal, etc. Suggest that Carol call her insurance plan to request a referral. Encourage her to review additional resources that may be available in her area.

Third, help Carol and Tom recognize their new parental roles. This means developing a feasible parenting plan that is appropriate for their needs.

Fourth, through mediation and counseling, help Carol towards her future. We do this by helping her to discover her strengths and interests. This will help her improve her self-esteem, which is essential to her recovery from the divorce.

As mediators we cannot always be neutral. Sometimes we must act as advocates to secure a fair financial future for both parties. This is especially true when one party has little or no knowledge of their finances. Fortunately, in this case the parties had sufficient financial resources.

Tom and Carol were divorced a year after the mediation was completed. They did live by their financial agreement. However, the parenting plan fell apart because of Tom’s travel schedule. He broke up with the woman he thought he was in love with and is now dating someone else. Carol is back in school working on her B.A. in education, which will take another year to complete.

Author: Beverly Hays, LCSW, LMFT, APM 

Morristown, NJ