What you need to know:
Mboya Orinda: Nine long years was an emotional rollercoaster
Kelvin Sanare: You demanded a 50-50 relationship
Patrick Mwangi: I was voiceless in my own home
Mark Kigen: You gave me sleepless nights
You are married. As a couple, you have seen one another at your best and worst. Like any ordinary marriage, you have experienced your up and downs. You are not perfect. But which marriage is?
Then something happens suddenly and without any warning. One day, you're happily married to the man of your dreams—so affectionate and attentive, you're the envy of your friends. The next day, he's a cold stranger who announces he's found someone else or he walks out of the door. You are distraught and alone. You have many unanswered questions.
You reach out to him and ask, “Why did you leave?” . He is resentful and blames you for his actions.
Why do men walk out of their marriages without an explanation? According to psychotherapist and author Vikki Stark, the phenomenon is far from unusual and is termed 'wife abandonment syndrome'. Stark coined the term after she interviewed more than 400 women worldwide about their experiences for her book, Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal.
Stark says men may leave because of a variety of reasons ranging from upbringing to relationship issues, to mild-life crisis. As children, if they were discouraged from being close to their mothers, "they're stuck with an inherent paradox— that hunger makes them feel vulnerable".
As a man hits midlife and feels "his power is on the wane, he may subconsciously blame his wife for not protecting him from that blow to the ego. As his disillusionment with himself builds, so does the case against his wife. Then, to preserve his identity, the decision is made to escape from that person whom he perceives as causing his diminishment."
Four men who severed ties with their partners explain why it takes a brave man to walk out on his wife and children.
Mboya Orinda, 41, businessman and fisherman
“In August 2011, on a blissful day, our hearts bound by love, we were joined in Holy matrimony. At that moment, I was ready to walk with you in this daunting path marred by stormy moments since I believed we would calm any situations along the way.
Our companionship assumed normalcy just like any other couple. We fulfilled our duties that kept the family of two children running. I commend you for agreeing to have our responsibilities clearly spelt out to avoid financial issues. We pulled our resources together to ensure the household bills were sorted out. I acknowledge how we ensured that each had a fair share of roles such as attending school meetings and organising visits to grandparents.
In the course of everyday living, we grew apart. We were always disagreeing on how to manage things in the household. Conflicts arose as a result. Abusive words would be flung around and things would turn ugly.
Our communication issue slowly became a monster that began tormenting our union. You were condescending while I was defensive. Your approach to talking out stuff was aggressive. We never had our issues resolved and our marriage became unstable. You only wanted us to talk in order to ensure daily activities run smoothly but not to sort things up.
Since I was heavily invested in the church, we would seek advice from religious leaders in our attempts to bring calm amidst the turbulence. At times, we even sought the services of professional counselors who were in favour of our reconciling. These efforts were a temporary fix. We never worked to address the underlying issues bedeviling our union.
The relationship coaches and religious marriage advisers did not provide the psychological tools to help us navigate our differences, but rather they wanted us to embalm each other with pleasant words. This just perpetuated the cycle of make-ups and break-ups.
We had different emotional needs. I wanted to be respected and cared for. You were often abusive, ignoring the fact that I also needed attention. I find the society guilty on this for imposing the gender polarity structure in most relationships and framing a man as someone who genuinely does not have emotional needs.
You might wonder what hugely tore into the fabric of our marriage, this was the key factor.
Your eureka moment in our union was the arrival of our second child. Things changed. You were not the same woman who I courted before taking the big step of marriage. You were manipulative and super-critical and everything I did was met by resistance. This was torturous for me since I depended on you for emotional support. You hurled expletives at any slight provocation. This was something I never saw coming.
You were extremely uncomfortable about my freedom. You called it accountability. You had me inform you of my whereabouts, who was in my company and what was going on. You literally assumed a surveillance role.
It became the order of the day for you to serve slices of insults. You made it a habit of berating me with bickering. It reached a point it was breaking me. You can imagine waking up every day, emotionally mangled, a wreck who moves about like a zombie.
I could no longer digest the nagging. I however had no plans of quitting. I chose to snooze out the thought of leaving. I wanted to stay and prove myself as a husband. I wanted to make a point that I was doing my best in trying to keep things afloat. Sadly, you batted a blind eye to my efforts.
Your scornful nature was a coping mechanism to your insecurities. You did not trust your own presence, thus wanting everything to work according to your imagination.
Do you recall finding out about the extra marital affair, I had in December 2019? That was my moment of reckoning. I was candid and not remorseful for it. I gave you the option of accepting polygamy or allowing me to walk out. I was not keen on saving our nine years of marriage. I had already lost the excitement of wanting our marriage to work.
The last couple therapy we did enabled me come to terms with personal truth. I had grown far apart from you. I realised I was not cut out for marriage. That intervention helped me get away from it. Salvaged me. It became clear to me that marriage was a dysfunctional space for me. I was wired to naturally operate as a man optimally out of the institution.
The kind of freedom and autonomy, I wanted to enjoy was not in that union. I had to snap out and find what would work for me as a man.
When I walked out in January 2020, I struggled with depression. I underwent a series of mental episodes. I had relied more on the church, a system that was not empowered to detect and help out my case. The family support systems which focused more on teachings and compromises than on personal focus. They never helped men in getting in touch with my emotional needs or how I wanted to feel as a person.
Afterwards, I was clinically diagnosed with (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) ADHD, which helped me understand myself.
I felt an inexplicable sense of loss after leaving what was my closest support system: my kids and you; my spouse. I was very close to my children and this has had to be the biggest barrier I have had to overcome. I don’t get to see them as much as I would have wanted. I have made peace that I will not see them as much. We however have really meaningful moments whenever I meet them. That sort of gives me stability.
I am now rediscovering myself, healing from emotional wounds while trying to rebuild my relationship with my children. I am utmost relieved I left the marriage. I am in the best shape in terms of mental health and I absolutely have no regrets making that move. Divorce is valid and survivable. It has paid off.”
Kelvin Sanare, 24, accountant
To my ex-wife,
“I was ready to grow old with you right from our youthful days when we met towards the end of 2021. I had no doubts about you being the right person for me. In my early 20s, I decided to hop onto the speed bike that is marriage by being engaged to you. I informed both our parents of this step as this was in adherence to the stringent rules that govern the Maasai culture.
Plans were underway to escort herds of cattle to get the elder’s approval in no time. Then, I had no clue you would make things turn upside down through your sudden actions.
I had a simplistic approach to marriage just like it was back in the hey days. I thought we were supposed to understand each other and coexist peacefully while looking to make a home for our children. I would blame myself for not foreseeing the huge task ahead heralded by a truckload of responsibilities and your constant shows of disrespect.
I ensured I provided while you assumed the role of a housewife in our come-we-stay setup. You took care of our child and managed affairs of our little house while I shouldered the needs.
Allow me to ask, ‘Did motherhood issues and running our young family make you look down on me? Were you happy with the silly misunderstandings you spearheaded?’
Dear, I believe your cousins who lived nearby ill-advised you and you blindly took to their counsel. You became rebellious to any of my suggestions. You demanded a 50-50 relationship, something that didn’t sit well with me. You began acting like a single woman. You were no longer the woman I had professed love to and opted to live with. As time went by, I would not be able to keep up with your erratic conduct.
It started being stressful. I dreaded coming back home to you from my daily hustles and college. I briefly had to drop out of college as a way of healing what was ailing our young love. I wanted to progress.
You were pulling me back. We would not even appreciate or realise the roles in each other’s life. After a month of weighing whether to stay or leave, I decided to unburden the emotional loads and left you. I have no regrets about leaving you. I endeavor to continue supporting my child. I don’t think I’ll get back to marriage any time soon.”
Patrick Mwangi, 57, retired accountant
“It is about nine years since I left to go buy materials to complete the rental houses we were building. I didn’t look back since your draining energy had turned me into a block of ice like Lot’s wife. My blood pressure was on the roof and my peace of mind in the pits.
The decision to go missing in action from our 20-year-marriage had been bugging me. It was inevitable as you made my life a living hell. I remember us beginning the journey back in the 90s and dear spouse, didn’t I adore you? I decided to empower you by paying fees for your college when studying to be a primary school teacher until you progressed to a high school principal. I wanted us to complement each other in developing our home.
You abandoned me at my most needful when I was rendered redundant and got retrenched back in 2015. Losing my job meant you would ridicule me, labelling me as useless as my efforts at getting a job were fruitless. As I was still out of work, I strived to ensure I provided in whatever small way.
What made matters worse was how you would gang up with our children to despise my stance as the head. You quarreled me on daily basis about everything. You made the children turn against me by alleging I squandered all my money on women and pleasures. It is true I had no money because I used it all on stabilising the family by paying loans and contributing to your fees.
I was voiceless in my own home, a house I built. I would be shouted at and even have my position challenged. I briefly moved from the main house to the farmhand’s small place for a period of time to cool off before you started saying I was absconding from my role as a father.
You objected any attempts to convene meetings with elders to talk out issues. You wanted to lead the family as you did as a principal. I was a pariah and no one cared about any of my needs as you went on with your activities overlooking me as if I were a shadow.
I never expected you to turn this way. I hope its justifiable why I have never made contact for the past seven years. I am in my happy place.”
Mark Kigen, 33, real estate developer
To my ex-partner,
“I was a Junior bachelor at 26 with an undeniable affection for eggs when I fell in love with you. It was against company policy to have any relationships with colleagues but I was willing to risk. It didn’t take long before we both saw it convenient to live together in order to save on rent. We had a great connection that brought stability in my life.
I was keen on building a future with you. However, our foundation would start being shaky during your last trimester of pregnancy. You completely transformed from the beautiful lady whose personality had taken me captive to a tantrum-throwing alien.
Jane, your daily complains punctured our once cheerful union. You whined about everything. It became routine for you to throw tantrums about past events just to be a menace.
It baffled me how during the day, you would be tight lipped but at night when I’m about to sleep, the ramblings would begin till the wee hours of the morning. These constant night time pep talks were really overbearing. You gave me sleepless nights.
Our preferences were a big issue. We had different tendencies of doing things. We never saw life through the same lenses. The incompatibility question begged for an answer. I thought in a marriage, one had to accept their partner with their flaws. I didn’t want to become overly dominant. I allowed you to share your mind. I turned a blind eye to some of your unsettling manners like questioning my decisions or having things your way. I used to think this was an opportunity for me to show I was present and attentive to your needs.
I never read a manual on how to be a family man. I had my own weaknesses but I believe I did my level best as a man, husband and father. During the painful cycle of our never-ending conflicts, if you were keen enough, you would notice how I became a totally different person. I avoided friends. I felt like my sufferings at home were so evident that someone would easily notice. I resorted to staying indoors.
I tried convincing myself that struggles are part of marriages but I just wouldn’t. I might have been labelled a coward for leaving you and the child but for my sanity. I left. I called it quits after two years and eight months of our squabbles.
I felt no guilt about leaving. You eroded all my feelings. A few months later after finding the exit door, you shamelessly decided to use the child as bait to blackmail me. I would not be swayed. I however provide education and medical care for our child.
Thank you for scarring my affections. Now, I am afraid of committing to any lady. I fear things would take the same trajectory as they did with you. I am trying to regain my belief in the marriage system. Still, I would rather have my head on a pike, dead than go back to living with you. Yes, it was that bad. It has been therapeutic being on my own.”
ERNEST WAMBOYE is a marriage counselor, author and founder of the relationship center limited
What are some of the expectations that married men often have that lead to them being disappointed?
Every man enters marriage with an innate desire to be respected. Respect is core to the healthy functioning of men in relationships.
Why are many men regretting or developing a deep-seated hatred for marriage?
Many men are entering marriage ill-prepared. There is an assumption that premarital counselling has no value.
There is also the wrong assumption that the women of today are similar to the generation of our mothers. Many men get lost in the new dynamics such as a wife earning more than the man, sharing responsibilities, and raising children. Also, some men marry terrible women. Period. The reason for this is often an exaltation of vanity, e.g. physical beauty, at the expense of virtue e.g. fidelity.
How can a couple deal with communication, a pertinent issue damaging many marriages?
Expectations must be communicated clearly and early. Unmet expectations ruin healthy communication. We are social beings. No marriage can survive without healthy communication and accountability.
Do men stay in ‘toxic’ marriages because of children?
For some, yes.
How do you handle a wife broken by her childhood or has any other underlying personal issues?
This should be sorted out before she becomes your wife. Don’t marry anyone who is not willing to be part of an accountable community. It is dangerous to date and marry a lone ranger who believes in keeping matters to themselves. It is okay to admit that you do need help. Pride kills more marriages than we like to admit.