What Is Walkaway Wife Syndrome?

Sometimes, one spouse leaves the other in a seemingly abrupt manner. It leaves the other spouse reeling, and it may shock family and friends. There’s a term for this: walkaway wife syndrome. This term is sometimes used to describe instances where a spouse – often the wife – has felt alone, neglected, and resentful in a deteriorating marriage and decides it’s time to end it. 

What is walkaway wife syndrome?

Although the term “walkaway wife syndrome” might make it sound like a spur-of-the-moment decision, the “walkaway” usually comes after a long period of unresolved conflict. The divorce that results is sometimes years in the making. 

After unsuccessfully trying to get her spouse to deal with their relationship issues, the wife in this situation finally decides it’s futile. She has taken time to consider all her options and prepared herself mentally, emotionally, and financially to leave the marriage. 

This leaving may seem abrupt to the people around her and even to her husband. However, it can take a walkaway wife up to two years to finally decide to divorce.

What are the warning signs of walkaway wife syndrome?

After a long time of feeling alone and unsupported, a wife may begin to quietly question her marriage. Is this relationship worth the time and trouble she’s devoted to it? Is she willing to spend the rest of her life doing this? What would happen if she asked for a divorce? How would her life change? What would she need to make that happen? 

After some deliberation, the wife finally concludes that she’s done. She develops an exit strategy. In her mind, the marriage is over. 

In the meantime, her husband thinks all is well. His wife has stopped putting pressure on him to change. She has stopped trying to get him to notice her or do things he’s been putting off. Things are quiet on the surface, and he thinks any past troubles may have blown over. But he may be missing some important warning signs:

  • She’s no longer triggered by the things he does that used to drive her crazy. The garbage is overflowing. His tools are all over the garage floor. He flips through the remote before she can voice an opinion on what she wants to watch. Instead, she just ignores it and moves into another room. 
  • She’s stopped complaining about his behaviors even though he hasn’t changed them. In the past, she wanted more time together instead of just going their own ways. She wanted to travel, to do something besides sitting in front of the game every Sunday. She suggested revisiting things they used to do when they were dating. But time went by, and now he’s just happy she stopped complaining.  
  • She doesn’t have much to say to him in general. She’s up and gone in the morning before he’s even downstairs. She gets home late and scrolls through her emails and social media. When he asks about her day, she shrugs and says, “Same old, same old.” There is less and less that occupies their conversations, and she doesn’t show much interest in what he has to say. 
  • She used to be light and fun, but now she seems distant and even cold. She used to think he was funny. Now, when he tries to joke around to lighten up the atmosphere, she just rolls her eyes. 
  • She’s no longer interested in a sexual relationship. Forget sex. She isn’t even interested in the most rudimentary hug or even kiss goodnight. She goes to bed before him, and the lights are out by the time he gets there. Or she’s engrossed in a book or her laptop and barely notices he’s come to bed. 
  • She is no longer interested in their relationship at all. She’s caught up in her work, or with the kids’ activities, or with her friends. She declines invitations as a couple, doesn’t hang out with mutual friends anymore, finds excuses not to be home when his family drops by. 
  • She is going about her own life without him. It’s not like she’s leading a covert life, just a separate one. He doesn’t think she’s having an affair, and yet…. There’s no effort, no communication, no interest. Bottom line, he might as well not be there at all. But when he asks if anything is wrong, she claims there’s not. 

While he hopes their relationship is just going through a phase, her behavior shows she has shut down. She’s ready to move on. 

Specific thoughts a walkaway wife might be having

A walkaway wife isn’t made overnight. She’s usually a long-suffering spouse who has experienced years of emotional neglect. She’s been ignored and taken for granted. In the interest of her marriage, she’s given and given and has grown tired of all that giving with little reciprocation from her husband. She’s “suggested,” she’s complained, she’s yelled and screamed, and she’s gotten little more than crickets in response. 

He may have taken some of her comments to heart – temporarily, at least. He may have stopped going out for happy hour with the guys every week. He may have helped with the dishes or the laundry or with the kids’ bathtime for a while. He may have even arranged a babysitter so they could go out for an adult-type dinner without dragging the whole entourage of toys and coloring books to keep the kids occupied for an hour at the pizza place. But that soon wore off. 

Old habits die hard, and she’s tired of the constant complaining and being the shrew. She’s tired of feeling this way, feeling taken advantage of. Her bitterness and resentment just makes things worse. So she starts to fantasize. 

“When the kids get older, I’m gone.”

“When I get enough money together, I’m out of here.”

“That new guy at work is pretty cute. I wonder what it would be like with someone new.”

And before you know it, the fantasies move into real exit strategies. She saves money so she can leave. She emotionally moves on. He’s just a shadow presence in the house now. She’s looking at the future, and that future doesn’t include him. 

Read: How to Move On after a Divorce You Didn’t Want

What to do if you suspect your spouse is a potential walkaway

Walkaway wife syndrome is more than just a phase. It’s a complete breakdown of a relationship. 

She may not have said anything about divorce yet, but your wife has already checked out. What can you do when your wife no longer has the same feelings? Is there a way to resolve your issues, or is it too late?

Engage in some self-reflection

Why do you want to save your marriage? After all, you may have checked out yourself. Is there still love? Respect? Commitment? Or has it been a mere convenience? Maybe you’ve been afraid to let it go. Understand your motives. If the love and commitment is still there, you’ll need to put in the time and effort it takes to make it better. If not, it may be time to let it go. Don’t waste your – or her – time any further. 

Have an honest conversation

Don’t beg. You’ve already missed that opportunity. Just listen and absorb. Put away the rebuttals and justifications. Consider everything she says from her perspective, even if you disagree. You’re at a crossroads now. You may feel betrayed, but she has felt emotionally abandoned by you for a long time. The last thing you want to do if you want to save your marriage is to continue to diminish her feelings. Just. Listen. 

Ask for time

You may be willing to turn things around, but the ball is now in her court. She feels she’s given you more than enough time already. Granting you more of her precious time needs to be her decision. 

Stop focusing on the problems and start talking about solutions

Stop focusing on what is wrong and who is to blame. At this tipping point, it’s beyond that. Ask what you can do to make it better. What actionable steps can you take to make her feel loved again? Is there even a chance of making it better? 

Grant her some patience and space

Remember, she has already given up. It’s taken a long time to get to this place, and it won’t get turned around quickly. Be patient, but also be vigilant. Work at making things better every moment of every day without resorting to manipulation. When you fall into old patterns, understand where they’re coming from and how they’ve been interpreted in the past. 

Consider getting some help

Therapy may have been a loaded word in your vocabulary, but here you are without many options. If she’s checked out, you may not get very far on your own. A therapist isn’t there to pass judgment but to be a neutral party for your mutual gain. The right therapist can offer important insight into the dynamics of your relationship and guidelines and strategies for more successful methods of communication given who you are as individuals. 

Could therapy save your marriage?

Could therapy help you resolve your issues and, if so, what type is most likely to help?

Couples therapy

Sometimes, a walkaway wife is willing to give her partner another chance. Her spouse now understands the magnitude of the problem and is desperate to do whatever it takes to make the marriage work. 

Couples therapy can be a viable option for couples dedicated to working through their issues together. A couples therapist can help the pair develop an understanding of each other’s needs through compromise and open communication. They can offer suggestions for how to work together to turn the marriage around. 

Couples therapy is typically done with both parties present, with the therapist periodically meeting with one partner at a time to get some individual perspective. The therapist will ask questions of both partners to understand the issues but will remain neutral, only addressing individual behavior when it contributes to the problems in the marriage. 

While therapy’s goals are to bring spouses closer together and rekindle their relationship, it can be challenging when one partner has already checked out of the process. Consequently, the success of traditional couples therapy can be limited in a walkaway wife scenario. 

Discernment counseling

Discernment counseling is a newer type of short-term therapy designed for couples where one partner is no longer sure they want to stay and invest more time in the relationship. In this type of counseling, a couple is given three options, and then the therapy moves forward based on their decision:

  1.  The couple can choose to end their relationship,
  2.  The couple can simply postpone any decision, leaving the relationship in its current holding pattern,
  3.  Or, the couple can commit to making an effort to save their relationship by attending counseling over the course of 6 months. If things haven’t improved at the end of that time, they can continue working on the relationship or agree to end it. 

In a walkaway wife situation, discernment counseling can help determine whether the issues are even fixable and clarify the intentions of both parties. It can reduce conflict when one partner is ready to leave, and both partners come away with a greater understanding of what went wrong. But if there is any possibility of reconciliation, both partners can agree to put their maximum effort into saving their marriage for a definite period of time and then revisit whether they want to take it further. 

FAQ about discernment counseling

How does discernment counseling differ from couples therapy?

While these are similar, discernment counseling and couples therapy have different end goals. Marriage counseling is a way to try and save a marriage. Usually, both spouses want to try and make the relationship work and are there to work on problem areas.

The goal of discernment counseling is to help a couple decide what to do (work on the relationship or break up). If they decide to try and save their marriage, they usually transfer into the above form of counseling.

Will the counselor talk with us about possible divorce?

Probably, if it’s a possibility for you. Other topics that may be covered in discernment counseling, including:

  • Your communication styles
  • Difficult feelings such as anger and resentment
  • In a betrayal situation, if forgiveness is possible
  • Relationship stressors
  • Interpersonal issues 

Read: The Top 3 Reasons Couples Seek Counseling

Legal implications of a walkaway spouse situation 

Below are some frequently asked questions that can help you understand the possible consequences of walking away from a marriage.

If I walk away, could it hurt my chance of getting a good divorce settlement?

In some courts, it can. But many states have no-fault divorce laws, where the reasons for the divorce and the behaviors within the marriage won’t have an impact on property division, spousal support, or child custody.

However, there are situations where leaving the marital home without a clear plan in place could potentially have consequences. For example, if a spouse leaves without taking steps to protect their financial interests or who doesn’t investigate their rights, it might impact the division of assets (the walkaway spouse may get less than they’re actually entitled to).

Is a walkaway wife less likely to get custody of her children?

Possibly, if abandonment is a concern. If one spouse leaves without communicating their intentions or without proper legal arrangements in place, it may be viewed as abandonment. This could affect issues like spousal support or child custody. 

Leaving without establishing a clear parenting plan can also affect child custody and visitation arrangements. Courts prioritize the best interests of the child, and if a parent has acted in ways that could harm the child, courts may question their parental rights.

Is the legal system biased toward abandoned spouses (or against walkaway spouses)?

Usually not, especially in no-fault states. However, if the abandoned spouse provides ample evidence or the walkaway spouse does not fully participate in the divorce proceedings, the court may look more favorably on the spouse who is present and fully engaged in the legal process.

Is divorce in your future?

Couples rarely come to a divorce decision on a linear course. For most, the decision to divorce is filled with hopes and pitfalls, stops and starts. 

At Hello Divorce, we’re dedicated to helping you live your best life possible, whether that’s staying in your marriage and working through your differences or moving apart and going your separate ways. We offer a range of resources so you can understand your options. If you decide to divorce, we also offer affordable divorce plans that simplify the process.

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.