by Christina Fisanick, Ph.D.

“I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away,
But baby, I just need one good one to stay.”

It won’t be because you had a torrid affair with her best friend or because you gambled away your life savings. It won’t be because you are balding and growing a paunch like your father. And it won’t be because you didn’t get that much needed promotion at work. Those things never happened and probably will not.

No, she will leave you for the day-to-day slights and put downs and humiliations. The way one after another builds and builds to a crescendo of hurts that crush her spirit and destroy her love for you permanently. Rather than from a crushing blow, she will leave you for every small chip you take from her trust and compassion.

She will leave you because of that time on a molten hot Saturday when your little family found refuge from a street fair in the icy air of a downtown restaurant. She and her son, your son laughing at funny jokes in between her stories about work that she has waited all week to share with you. And you, too impatient to listen or too callous to care, narrowed your eyes and growled, “Are you still talking? I mean, are you really still talking?” And then her face falls and she goes immediately silent. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom as you are in mid-sentence about something she cannot even hear. She returns to the table, her face streaked with tears, and refuses to sit back down. She is ready to go. Ready to walk out into the busy street rather than be in the same space with you. She hugs her son, your son to her side as a barrier, afraid that if you accidentally touch her that she would combust into a rage that she will not be able to silence.
She will leave you for when you told your mutual friend while she stood in humiliated silence that the reason you will not be having any more children is because “she cannot take care of the one she’s got.” You broke her then. Only for a minute, but she broke nonetheless. Her energy and love and joy and sorrow and pride and heart lives with her son. To think that you, of all people, could believe that she is not a good mother broke her. Your mutual friend, shocked by your words, hung his head, speechless. She tried to rally to her own defense, but she only sputtered. She couldn’t wait for you to leave for work so that she could feel happy again. Be herself again.
She will leave because she remembers the Christmas party filled with laughing friends and friends of friends singing and playing cards. And one of them, a stranger to you both, asked, “Which one is your wife?” And you pointed to her and said, “The big one over there.” The big one, she thought, who had been battling an eating disorder since years before you met her. The big one, who struggled with PTSD, anxiety, and depression for all the years you had known her. The big one, who, in order to at least rescue some of her dignity, walked into the other room, pretending like she didn’t hear you.

She will leave you for telling a mutual male friend that she was a nice girl “until I fucked her. Once I fucked her, she became a bitch.” She will wonder in awe how a husband, even you, could say such a thing about his own wife. She will wonder in anger why you would degrade her in front of a friend. She will wonder in sadness how long it will take her to get up the nerve to find a lawyer and dissolve this marriage. The marriage you said that she expects too much from.

She will leave you for all the times you physically pushed her away when she asked for a hug. For the times when you shook her arm off your side when she tried to hug you in bed. For the times over and over again when you rejected her sexual overtures. She seeks extra-long hugs from her son and her friends just to be touched by someone who cares. She has grown to loathe you, to avoid you when you are home. To dash quickly down the stairs in the morning so that you don’t have a chance to say something cruel to her before she leaves for work.

She will leave you for the time she invited you to an awards banquet being given in her honor and answered, “Fuck no!” And after your mother and sister made you feel guilty for saying no, you showed up late and left early without even saying goodbye. She drove home alone after her friends had gone. No one to tell her how beautiful she looked or how moving her speech. She got home to find you asleep on the couch, and she climbed the stairs to sleep alone.

She will leave you for the time you told her you wanted a joint bank account to share the bills, and she paused before saying, “No. Not unless I can trust you. Not unless you can treat me with kindness and respect.” And you screamed at her, telling her that you will not “kiss anyone’s ass.” That you will not “lick anyone’s boot.” When she tries to explain that all she wants is to be treated like a partner, you go silent. And she goes to the tax office the next day and files separately.

She will leave you for the time she got bold enough to tell you she wanted you out. That she wanted a divorce. Instead of talking to her, you went to her son, your son, and said, “Buddy, Mommy wants Daddy to move out. Is that what you want? Me not living here?” Her cried and cried and cried. “No, Mommy. Don’t make Daddy move out.” She watched his four year old body shake with sobs as the rage rolled through her body like acid. She hated you in that moment. Hated you for hurting her son, your son for your own gains. Hated you for using him in a tug-of-war that she had no intention of playing. She hugged her son, your son and read him his favorite book, biting back her tears and blinding anger between pages.

She will leave you for the time she was sick with pneumonia for more than six weeks, and you cussed at her and called her lazy for being unable to do much more than go to work and take her son, your son to school each day. She couldn’t sleep for 46 hours during that time because of her cough, but when she asked you to please pick up something for her from the store, you refused. You screamed at her when she said she couldn’t help you repair a hole in the closet ceiling because she didn’t want to breathe in dry wall dust while she had pneumonia. She knew at that moment that she had to leave you because if she ever became terminally ill you would make her last days on Earth miserable. Her son, your son would witness his mother struggling to draw breath while his father told her she was lazy and worthless.

She will leave you for all the date nights you cancelled at the last minute. For every time she asked you to just have dinner with her alone and you refused. For all the times she ached to have you hold her hand while walking down the street. For each and every time you chose to stare at other women in a way that you never looked at her.

She will leave you because you refused marriage counseling and late night talks. For all the times she asked you to please stop hurting her when you went on verbal rampages in front of her son, your son. For all the times you brushed away her sadness as tired complaints of an unhappy wife. And for the time you admitted that you should be kinder to her but “that is just not my way.”

But, mostly, she will leave you for the time your son, her beloved son—the son it took twenty years to conceive—came running into the living room one afternoon after you had gone to work, hands clapped over his ears, crying, “Mama! All I can hear in my head is Daddy saying mean things about you. Make it stop.”

THIS is why she will leave you.