It's tempting to believe that a marriage only fails when something goes spectacularly wrong. Drug abuse. Alcohol abuse. Verbal abuse. Physical abuse. Cheating. That it requires one or both partners to be significantly defective in some way. Even if a marriage could be blown towards the rocks by less cataclysmic events, we reassure ourselves that we would have sufficient warning to correct course before it foundered.
It's sobering to learn that neither of these things is true. We may see ourselves as a good person, we may try our hardest, we may think that our marriage is healthy. Yet one day, without warning, our partner may leave us anyway.
When this happens, understanding what went wrong may be extremely difficult. Even if we ask our partner why she is leaving, the reasons she gives us may be little more than post hoc justifications of a decision she has already made, not the fundamental reasons that caused her to make it. If she feels guilt or doubt over her decision to walk out, if she dare not admit the true reasons to herself, or herself does not fully understand them, those rationalisations may be essential to allow her to preserve her self-respect. But in an attempt to learn the truth, they may be largely useless.
For the one who has been left, the realisation that they may never understand what went wrong can be as devastating as the loss of the relationship itself. In the absence of a plausible explanation, the tidal forces of cognitive dissonance may threaten to pull them apart. They may feel as if they did nothing to warrant such a betrayal, that they are a fundamentally a good person, yet find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that, having been abandoned, they must be in some way defective. They may instinctively judge the one who left as having acted callously, unforgivably, yet struggle to reconcile this with the kind, thoughtful woman walking out the door, still loved by her friends.
However, while the specifics may remain elusive, there are general templates that may fit such an apparently inexplicable ending.
"I have a friend who is going through a divorce right now and “we fell out of love” is her explanation... In this particular relationship, nothing really bad happened. My guess is just that the two of them got on a bad path of non-communication and instead of talking things through, one or both harbored resentment for years. When one of them started talking divorce, they probably went to marriage counseling, but at that point it was just too late. There could have been years when one or both felt lonely and sad and that their marital situation was hopeless."
Perhaps it was a lack of presence:
"Women leave because their man is not present. He’s working, golfing, gaming, watching TV, fishing… the list is long. These aren’t bad men. They’re good men. They’re good fathers. They support their family. They’re nice, likeable. But they take their wife for granted. They’re not present."
Or perhaps it was a lack of passion:
"She wants to feel your passion. Can you feel your passion? Can you show her? Not just your passion for her or for sex; your passion for being alive. Do you have it? It’s the most attractive thing you possess. If you’ve lost it, why? Where did it go? Find out. Find it. If you never discovered it you are living on borrowed time."
However unfathomable it may be, a reason still exists. No-one walks out on a whim.
Our desire for understanding may be driven by a need for closure, or a fear that, without it, our next relationship may founder on the same rocks. But closure is elusive and the circumstances that doomed one relationship are unlikely to play out in exactly the same way in another. Perhaps the best we can do is accept that people change, and two good people, who once fit together well, may not always remain well-matched.
Marriage guarantees nothing.