Many married people have affairs and one in every three marriages, in Australia, end in divorce. However, what sets wife abandonment syndrome apart is that up until the husband’s sudden departure, the wife has no idea that her husband is unhappy within the marriage. I had no reason to suspect that my marriage was a sham – I believed I was in a loving, long-term secure relationship with a man who was loving and caring. I know now that while he was telling me how much he loved me, he was also talking to women on the Internet. One of these women progressed to being his affair partner and is the woman that he went to, when he left me.
You should be able to believe what the man you exchanged vows with tells you, when he said he was spending the weekend with friends from work on a fishing trip, I was happy for him. It turns out he took her away for a romantic weekend. This is why wife abandonment syndrome is so traumatic, after he leaves and you start putting the jigsaw together, you realise that you have been living a lie of his making. It is incredibly cruel and these men should have the guts to say that they have decided that they are in love with another woman and just move out. But instead they string their wives along, who live in blissful ignorance of how their husbands really feel.
The closest I ever got to an explanation for his behaviour was that he was bored. How about working on the marriage – if you can still live with me and lie to me, while planning your escape, why not say I’m not happy because…. I think the reason is because it’s easier to get another woman from the Internet (there are lots to choose from) and start a new romance, than work on the old marriage. As the abandonee, you feel totally powerless because there is no negotiation, no how can we fix this - you just discover one day that you are no longer required.
The term ‘Wife Abandonment Syndrome’ was coined by a Canadian therapist, Vikki Stark, after her husband of 21 years announced suddenly that he was moving out. Like my husband, Vikki’s husband never said that he was unhappy, and like me she felt secure in the marriage. My husband added an extra twist of the knife, he said that he was moving out so that we could work on our marriage, when in fact nothing could have been further from the truth. I know now from my extensive reading about the subject that men rarely leave their wives without having another woman to go to. He had to string me along that little bit further because he needed me to pay for his new house and furnish it. Usually the abandoning husband leaves and doesn't look back.
After surveying 400 abandoned wives, Vikki found some patterns of behaviour that seemed to be hallmarks of runaway husbands. The husbands were perceived to be engaged, attentive, honest and trustworthy by their wives, and up to the point of them leaving, seemed happy. The wives all believed that they were in a secure marriage but in most cases the husband is having an affair and he leaves the marriage to be with the girlfriend. The husband’s tend to blurt out that they are leaving and suddenly depart, and the reasons that they give for leaving don’t make sense to the wife. Once the husband has left, his behaviour changes dramatically towards his wife, going from loving and caring to angry and cruel, he starts rewriting the marital history, in order to justify his reasons for leaving his wife and he makes no attempt to help his wife in any way at all. I remember crying hysterically on the phone, trying desperately to understand how he could have left, and his monosyllabic responses were cold and unemotional. I obviously no longer mattered to him and he no longer felt the need to offer me any words of comfort.
Vikki Stark has a website, Runaway Husbands, it is interesting to read all the stories from other abandoned spouses, if nothing else it makes you realise that you are not alone. I also recommend Vikki's book ‘Runaway Husbands’ to anyone trying to make sense of the sudden departure of their husband and the ending of their marriage.
Thank you for your article. My husband of 20 years has just walked out. I have no family in this country and was wondering if support groups exist for women in my situation. I feel very alone. I have two children.
I'm sorry to hear of your situation, I was there and it does get better and you are not alone. The fact that I wrote this article two years ago and in that time it has had over 2600 views shows that there are a lot of women just like us. It still makes me so angry that these men can suddenly, without warning, just decide that we have passed our use by dates, and trade us in for a younger or richer model, without any sort of explanation.
Firstly, you need to talk it out - all the anger, all the hurt, the betrayal, everything. You need to go through the grief stages and deal with the loss of the man you thought he was and the future you thought you had. And then you have to launch into the unknown and build a new life. To do all this you need a good counsellor. The first stop is your doctor who can refer you to a counsellor. In Australia, you can access the services of a counsellor, free of charge, if your doctor refers you, through a mental health plan. You might have to try a few counsellors before you find the best fit for you.
Your question is about support groups. I joined some meetup groups to get me out and about and meet new people. You can see what groups are available at meetup.com. Just a word of warning though, you have to be careful that you don't end up with a group of women who all have their marriage break up story on a continual replay. You need to talk it out but you have to move past it and out of that story. For the first few months, I was almost introducing myself as 'Amanda, my husband left me for another woman.' I had to make a conscious decision to not define myself by what he had done because by doing that he was still controlling my destiny. I couldn't move on while I was in a group with women who were stuck in their stories. You also have to be careful, while you are feeling fragile, that you don't get into a group where there are big egos that make you feel even more vulnerable and hopeless. That happened to me too! I did eventually find a group called Adventurous Women, who do things like paddle boarding and dragon boat racing and hiking, they were all very positive people, some married, some not, but they were all focused on getting out of their comfort zones which was what I needed.
My experience was that I needed to find myself, try out different things, make mistakes, work out who I was and what made me happy.