Defective Wife Syndrome

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Over the years, I have worked with many remarried couples. With the high divorce rate and the rise of the men's movement, therapists working with this population often see couples in which the husband/father has either sole or shared physical custody of his children from a previous marriage. Frequently, one encounters a phenomenon which I call the "defective wife syndrome" (referring to the ex-wife).

In these cases, the ex-wife is viewed as defective in some allegedly unquestionable way. The nature of the "defect" may range from not fitting cultural stereotypes for a woman or mother to engaging in criminal activities. She may be a drug or alcohol abuser, she may be viewed as having "loose morals" on account of real or imagined infidelity, or she may have a history of psychiatric hospitalization.

From a systemic perspective, the specific content as well as the objective accuracy of the account is irrelevant. The important feature is the role which this view of the ex-wife comes to play. In order to address this, a few words are necessary concerning the mourning process as it occurs in divorce and remarriage.

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