Rip Van Winkle leaves his farm so often and for so long for two reasons: the first, we are told, is that he doesn't like to work, at least not for himself. Further, the farm hasn't responded well to his attempts at care. The second and more important reason, however, is that his wife nags him constantly. She is called a termagant and a shrew, both ways of saying she bullies and harasses him. We are told, as a consequence, that "he was fain to draw off his forces, and take to the outside of the house—the only side which, in truth, belongs to a hen-pecked husband."
He first goes and hangs out on a bench in front of the inn, until his wife starts finding him there and scolding him and the other men for being idle. Then he heads for the forest:
Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his only alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm and the clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods.
While the story's narrator, a neighbor of Rip's, puts the blame on the wife for driving Rip away, we might also imagine how frustrated a wife could become with such a husband.