How to Spot a Runaway Husband
By Vikki Stark, PsychotherapistAuthor of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal
Imagine that you're happily settled in a long-term marriage. You trust your husband implicitly. The two of you are busy with normal stuff--organizing a holiday celebration, renovating a bathroom, planning a barbecue for the family and thinking longer term about a vacation far away.
Now imagine that one ordinary day, he comes home from work and says, "It's over. I'm leaving right now and moving in with my girlfriend."
How would you feel?
This is the reality for women across the world who have experienced Wife Abandonment Syndrome (WAS)--when a husband leaves a happy marriage without having alerted his wife that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving. WAS is a term I coined in my book based on a study of more than 400 women worldwide who believed they were in happy marriages until their husbands bolted out of the blue.
This life-shattering, traumatic end to a marriage forces abandoned wives to use every ounce of emotional strength to recover and rebuild. And then some.
Can you recognize that your husband may be thinking of leaving if he doesn't show any obvious clues in words, actions or body language?
To determine if your marriage might be headed toward WAS, here are some warning signs I learned in researching my book:
* Has your husband had affairs in the past or left previous relationships in a similar way? That's the strongest predictor that he has what it takes to do it again.
* Does he seem suddenly unhappy with his life, even if the complaints he is raising are not related to your marriage? It's a sign that he may be thinking about making changes.
* Do you notice a personality change? Is he withdrawn or suddenly irritable? Is he snapping at the children or not wanting to participate in family activities?
* Are his habits changing-suddenly going to the gym, buying new clothes, dying his hair and having it styled in a more youthful way, getting a tattoo, buying an expensive car?
* Do his values seem to be in flux? Is he adopting ideas that he used to belittle or belittling things he used to value? Is he espousing new beliefs that surprise you?
* Is he taking mysterious business trips or disappearing for periods of time and the reasons given just don't seem to add up?
* Has he started to mention a woman at work or at the gym, telling you about her in an innocent way?
* Does he work in a career in which he's in a position of power or authority, such as a professor, pastor, or business executive where younger women may look up to him?
Of course, you may pinpoint several of these indicators in your husband's behavior but that doesn't necessarily mean that your marriage is in jeopardy. But these are common shifts that women whose husbands left recognized in retrospect.
My suggestion for women in marriages, whether you see any telltale signs, is never to take things for granted and to suggest a marriage check-in with your spouse once a year or so. A sort of "How're we doing?" chat. Expect that your husband will respond with "fine" and want to leave it at that but maybe you can gently encourage him to tell you more by saying something like, "How about we both say a couple things we would like to see different in our relationship?"
The quality of a relationship changes over time--that's normal. Sometimes men have voiced dissatisfaction, maybe, around sex, and wives respond with "what do you expect? We've been married for 25 years!" He feels discouraged and drops it but to keep a marriage healthy, it's important for both parties to listen carefully to those sometimes rarely stated complaints or problems.
Men who become runaway husbands are often very devoted to their wives and families until they get to a point in their lives where they ask themselves, "Is this all there is?"
Many women living in the Runaway Husbands Community believed it would never happen to them. Hopefully, this blog will serve as a wake-up call for you to put some thought into your marriage and check its pulse from time to time.
Consider inviting your husband to have a chat about how things are going and imagine that he says, "I'm so glad you asked. I'd love to talk with you about something I have on my mind". Imagine how important that would be and how good and brave you would feel!
But what if your husband does leave out-of-the-blue? What if, one day, in the midst of a perfectly ordinary Sunday morning, he says, "I can't do this anymore" and then throws some stuff into a duffle bag and is out the door?
It's a long road to integrating your new reality and healing. Here are the Seven Steps for Moving Forward I've come up with that you need to travel towards your new life:
- Recognize that the chaos won't last forever.
- Accept that the marriage really is over.
- Integrate the fact that your husband has changed irrevocably and is beyond caring for your welfare.
- Understand why he needs to justify his actions any way possible including rewriting history, lying or verbally attacking you.
- Give up trying to get the acknowledgment and apology that you deserve and trying harder.
- Turn your focus from the past to the future.
- Celebrate your new life as a single person.
When your husband first leaves, your whole world is turned upside down. You are struggling to understand what happened and how someone who you viewed as a loving husband morphed overnight into an angry stranger. It's hard to recover but you will and our community of women helping women through wife abandonment will help.
Author Vikki Stark's Bio
Vikki Stark, MSW, is an internationally known psychotherapist, family therapist, speaker, author and divorce recovery expert and the director of the Sedona Counselling Centre of Montreal. She is particularly known for her groundbreaking work on Wife Abandonment Syndrome as well as her work on gender and couples.
Vikki is a familiar face on television and radio and has been a guest on NBC's The Today Show, CBC, CTV, Global, Oprah radio and written about in USA Today, the New York Daily News and Maclean's Magazine, among many others. She has had more than 3 million views of her blog on Psychology Today Magazine called "Schlepping Through Heartbreak," which deals with all aspects of relationships.