Last year, Rob, a stock trader, stood in his office, pounding his telephone to bits with the receiver. He’d just been served papers from his wife’s lawyer demanding a list of every time he’d asked his wife for sex over the past two years and whether, on those occasions, he’d been able to perform. Although he was angry, Rob’s main emotion was shock: He and his wife, Becca, both 38 (their names have been changed), had shared a decade, three kids, and a move to the suburbs together. But when Becca, a homemaker, grew disenchanted and asked for a separation, Rob tried to call her bluff by filing for divorceciting the fact that she had stopped sleeping with him.
That’s when Becca’s lawyer served him with the papers asking about their love life. Rob had no idea how damn ugly things would get, or how damn fast. “I thought we were going through a tough patch,” Rob says. “Then, suddenly, the divorce was a reality.”
Think things are fine at home? Well, maybe they are, or maybe you just don’t see that your marriage is hurtling toward disaster. By now you’re familiar with the sad statistics: Almost 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, and the average marriage lasts eight yearsand since most guys marry in their late twenties, that makes the years from 35 to 40 the divorce sweet spot. What you might not know is that studies show two thirds of divorces are now initiated by wives, and increasingly, husbands are being caught unawares. “Women today are more calculating,” says Steve Mandel, a high-profile New York divorce lawyer. “While the men are hiding their heads in the sand, the women are many steps ahead.”
Divorces, according to the experts, are the culminations of serial bad choices, lingering unhappiness, and lack of mutual understanding. Even seemingly sudden events, like a night of cheating or a savage fight, are usually just final acts in a long drama.
But being blind to what’s going on in your marriage can cost you, emotionally and financially. The system might not be biased against men exactly, but most people in the divorce racket agree that the system is biased against breadwinners. If you’re male and earn the money in your family, chances are divorce will leave you living apart from your kids and financially screwed. “And you’ll pay your wife’s attorney as well,” says Laura Allison Wasser, an L.A. divorce lawyer whose clients include Stevie Wonder. “That’s one check you hate writing.”
This doesn’t mean all divorces play out like The War of the Roses. But, even at its best, divorce is a nasty business, and before you get into it you need to know what to expect. Take it from Rob. “I should have educated myself earlier about all of this,” he says. “And I should have taken charge of it sooner.”