Runaway Husbands

By Guest Blogger Vikki Stark


The fall of 2006 should have been one of the happiest times of my life. My first book, My Sister, My Self, had just been published and I’d just completed a book tour speaking at bookstores and community centers across the United States about sister relationships, the subject of my book. Planning the trip, I’d envisioned how great it would be out there driving the open road alone, listening to local radio stations and getting the chance to talk with dozens of women about a topic dear to their hearts. Although the reality of driving three thousand miles across America proved to be much more challenging than I’d expected, at least I had backup. During our nightly phone calls, my husband of twenty-one years was cheering me on, telling me how proud he was, always encouraging me.

After three sometimes very lonely weeks on the road, I took the red-eye back east from California, stumbled off the plane and fell into my husband’s arms in tears. I was so relieved to be home, so happy to see him. There was only one more event on the book tour later that week, and it was the one I was most eagerly anticipating—my official book launch in Montreal where I live. All my friends were coming (some flying in from New York), as were the press, my colleagues and many of the women who participated in The Sisters Project that formed the basis of my book.  We were expecting close to a hundred people. It was to be my triumphant return—the best day in my life!

Sisters Project

When we returned from the airport, my husband dropped me at home and rushed right off to work, which I found a bit odd; usually he loved to stop for coffee and reconnect whenever one of us returned from a trip. I took a shower and noticed a long dark hair in the bathtub but thought little of it. Later, however, when I was on the phone with my longhaired daughter, I asked, as an afterthought, if she’d been at the house recently. She said no, not while I was away. Then I forgot about it.

I spent the day unwinding from the trip and enjoying the anticipation of the upcoming book launch. That evening, when my husband arrived home from work, I threaded my arm through his, gave him a squeeze and said, “I bought fish.” He looked at me rather strangely and said, “It’s over.” I stared at him and asked, “What’s over?” vaguely thinking that that was a weird way to say that he didn’t want to eat fish anymore. He answered, “The marriage. It’s over. I’m leaving you. I’m moving in with my girlfriend.” Horrified, I watched the words take shape in slow motion as they left his mouth and hang in the air before they crumbled. Pow! Shock! I’d spent twenty-three days on the road only to be hit by a Mack truck in my own living room.

My husband had never mentioned that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving me. During the previous months, he’d signed greeting cards with endearments like, “I love you with all of my heart,” “Thank you for the myriad joys you bring me” and “You are the rock of my life – then, now, always!” Until the moment of his revelation, I was deeply in love and believed him to be, too. Had you tapped me on the shoulder five minutes earlier and asked me to describe my marriage, my eyes would have misted up as I rhapsodized about how my husband was the most loving, attentive, and trustworthy man any woman had ever married and how lucky I was to have found him. In other words, I’d had no idea!

runaway husband

Although at the time I felt as though this bizarre event was unique to me, unfortunately, as time went on, I learned that Wife Abandonment Syndrome is reaching epidemic proportions. I started a study of this phenomenon and defined it as a pattern of behavior on the part of a husband who leaves his wife out-of-the-blue without ever having told her that he was unhappy in the marriage. Following his sudden departure, he replaces the caring he’d typically shown her with anger and aggression. He often moves directly in with a girlfriend, leaving his bewildered wife totally devastated. This will undoubtedly be the defining event in her life, and although recovery is a struggle, many women find that it forces them to reinvent themselves in positive and exciting new ways.

The moment of rupture starts an exhausting, painful process and it will take a very long time until life feels normal again. It will, but it will be a “new normal” – unrecognizable from the life you were living till now. In the early stages, you will be desperate to understand what happened and how the man you loved and believed loved you could morph overnight into an angry stranger. Your mind will be spinning relentlessly as you try to make sense of it all. But you can empower yourself to try to fight the negative self-defeating thoughts.

wife abandoned

Harnessing your mind requires practice and a willingness to reach for happiness, even in the midst of your misery. Too often people wrap the victim label around themselves like a protective garment, reluctant to remove it. But if you can get in touch with the healthiest part inside of you, the one that knows you need to keep building a life for yourself, then you can boost your recovery from heartbreak. And this goes for any broken relationship.

No doubt, time is the best healer, but while we’re waiting, here are some tricks you can use to make it through the days if you or perhaps someone you know has been effected in this way:

Sweep, Sweep, Sweep

Imagine that your mind is a small, wooden-floored room that keeps getting all dusty and dirty with your negative thoughts. Now visualize a tiny, inch-high cleaning lady snoozing in the corner of the room, an old-fashioned twig broom leaning against her chair. When your thinking drifts back into dangerous territory, wake her up and urge her to “sweep, sweep, sweep” away those pesky thoughts! Imagine her working away furiously, tidying up the floor, sweeping all that unwanted muck out the door and making the place spic ‘n span.

Barking Dog

This simple but effective trick helps you separate yourself from intrusive thoughts.

Imagine that you’re walking down the street and you see a dog chained up to a fence next to the sidewalk, barking wildly at you. Continue on your way down the street knowing that the racket he’s making, which represents the cacophony of thoughts in your head, can’t hurt you. It’s just noise. Hold your head up and keep on walking.

Shake It Off

While we’re on the topic of canines, here’s another very simple option for breaking out of a bad mind-set. You know how a wet dog shakes from head to tail in that goofy way to dry himself off? Well, when you need to lift yourself out of a funk, stand up and literally shake it off. “Shake, shake, shake” from head to toe, good and hard. Waggle your arms, bobble your head (but remember to remove your glasses first!), jiggle your derrière!  It’s guaranteed to break the spell at least a little bit. Try it now!

Paint the Wall

This technique enables you to manage those rotten bad feelings you walk around with. Picture yourself vigorously painting all those angry, hurt, pent-up feelings in strong colors on a great big wall. Use your whole body, jabbing and stroking until the wall is violent with color. Stand back and take a good look at the turmoil exteriorized. Then imagine grabbing a roller, dipping it in a tray of thick white paint and rolling it criss-cross and up and down until the wall is covered all over with a field of pure white. Stand back again and let yourself exhale. Then inhale and breathe in the clean paint smell!

Recovering relatively unscarred from the unwanted end of a relationship requires that you use all your positive energy to fight off those doom and gloom thoughts that hold you back. Happiness is a choice that we have to keep making for ourselves at every twist and turn in our lives – the choice to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to keep moving forward – even if it means shaking from head to toe like a wet cocker spaniel.

— Vikki

I would love your thoughts. Have you been the victim of a runaway husband? Have you been abandoned by a spouse? Has your relationship ended without you truly understanding what went wrong? How have you been coping? I encourage you to share your stories, even anonymously.


Vikki Stark, M.S.W., is a family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal. The book is based both on Stark’s own experience as well as the Sudden Wife Abandonment Project in which she interviewed over 400 women worldwide.

Stark has brought women together through her website,, which is an active resource center for those who have experienced Wife Abandonment Syndrome. It has become a life raft for many women seeking support and counsel. Runaway Husbands is available through the website or from online booksellers.

vikki book

  1. Wow! What a story. I wish you all the best Vikki. Guess I need to read the book to find out how you’re doing! Great tips and very timely this time of year. btw, link is not working.

    1. How am I doing??? Well, it will be four years this November and although I still feel the echoes of all I went through, I feel as though I’m clicked into the “new normal” and life is good. But recovery from Wife Abandonment Syndrome is a looooong process!

      1. The process is indeed much longer than I thought it to be. And it’s a constant up and down. As long as you are well occupied with work and friends and some family, it works better, but sooner or later one is alone with oneself again, and there it is again the unbearable pain, the dreams, the anger, the thinking, the immense loneliness that has nothing to do with being alone but with this abandonment, this aggression by the person who pretended to love you more than any other person. This withdrawal of care and attention. More and more I have the impression that such a behaviour is indeed an immense aggression or even attack and proves that the person who pretended to love you did not love you anymore for quite a while. I think this agression increased over the time – by seeing the spouse be successful, happy, feeling well, accomplished. Exactly as described in the book, it’s not the inconspicious who experience such a cruelty, but those who are happy and successful. Probably those who leave cannot bear this anymore because they themselves are deeply disturbed and do not succeed in resolving their problems and live a good life. My husband loved to read books about vampires. I think he liked it that much because he also sucked the whole energy of people just to go away and find another victim (he left his first wife with one little child and two baby twins!!!) I should have been warned – and I was – but ignored all the signs, because, like many women ;), I thought, with me, it would be different (arrogant way of thinking, I know 🙂 My first reaction when I knew him was to go away as quickly as I can. I did not listen to myself. That was the most important lesson I learned. Listen to myself again and live first and foremost my own life.

  2. Vikki, I experienced a very similar situation 5 years ago. I am commenting anonymously as it was a very shameful and embarassing thing for me. I found out after the fact that my whole community and friends pretty much knew but no one told me. I had been married 9 years. I am still single and healing every day but it literally turned my world upside down. its a long and hard process. One i feel I have come out on the other side but not unscarred. Thank you for sharing your story. Unfortunately there are too many women (and some men) like us.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      So sorry to hear that you feel some shame about having been left. Too often it is the woman who takes on the burden of guilt while men have mastered the trick of compartmentalizing. We don’t do it as well – we let things flood us. But glad to hear that you feel you are moving on. Remember – living well is the best revenge! Make a beautiful life for yourself!

  3. I’m so sorry for all women & men alike who’s spouses suffer this runaway syndrome. I was a victim of an extra marital affair in 2007. He was ready to up & leave, I was ready to let him even though I was pregnant, scared & worried about our Older daughter. Luckily we had the strength to move on together and fix the mess he made. The scars of hearing “I cheated” are still there and will always haunt but taking it day by day helps. I love my family too much, I told him I only want his happiness and he decided he wanted to stay if we’d let him. We did. And I’m glad.

  4. Thank you Vikki for your post. I know so many women have gone through this. I truly cannot imagine how I would handle it if this happened to me. With great difficulty. Thank you for shedding light on this issue, and for encouraging women to trudge forward, even in darkness.

  5. 8 months ago my husband picked me up from work, drove me home, asking about my day and anything new or exciting happened? we had chatted and texted throughout the day, making plans for the weekend and our trip to mexico we were planning. two days prior we had found out again, for the 7th month in a row that i wasn’t pregnant. one day prior when he dropped me off at work he grabbed my arm as i was leaving the car and said, i love you and gave me a kiss.

    when i walked in my house that friday night, something seemed wierd, as i was hanging up my coat, he looked at me and said “i’m leaving you, i don’t love you, I have been planning this for awhile”, he dropped his keys and walked out the door. I have not seen him in 8 months.

    once the shock wore off of finding out that he had spent the whole day in our home packing and moving his things out, i took a good hard look in the mirror and literally said to myself “what the [email protected]!#?” and made my decision then and there through the tears and the shivers that this was not going to define me as a person.

    In these 8 months i have looked deep into myself and worked on things that may or may not have caused this to happen, but things that i knew had to change about myself, to make me a better person. i stopped worrying about how i could make him realize that he was 50% of the problem, i stopped worrying about him completly.

    when a spouse does this, it is not a normal or healthy reaction, there is nothing you could have done to prevent it. when they do this, it is something in their make up, something that has gone wrong with them. no one is innocent when it comes to the reasons a marriage falls apart, everyone plays their part, but when someone walks out this way it is entirely their fault.

    i am so lucky and had the best support system, and i am strong, stronger than most, but what i can say to any man or woman that this has happened to, work on you, worry about you, focus on you, you’ll never get the answers you want from your spouse and you’ll never be able to change them. as hard as it is to imagine, you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and become the best version of you possible. The best revenge is success and happiness!

  6. I have friends, both man and women ran away from their spouses without any warning at all. Therefore, I think it would be more appropriate to be called “Runaway Spouses”, “Spouse Abandonment Syndrome” instead of “Runaway Husbands”, “Wife Abandonment Syndrome”.

  7. The kids and were on a holiday over Thanksgiving weekend. My husband, who had to work, joined us for dinner. We returned the next day, in a hurry since my husband scheduled a fun filled day with my eleven year old son. When we got home, he completely cleaned out his belongings. He also took all the money in the checking account. I also learned that he borrowed $250,000 off of our house. He had been funneling money from our household, and hoarding it, for years. He was having affairs throughout our marriage. He felt no remorse about what he has done. He wonders why his children don’t want anything to do with him. Puleeze. What a creep.

  8. Mine pulled this just 3 wks after our granddaughter died in my arms. Why do men have such sh_tty timing? I couldn’t take the loss of both and within days attempted suicide. Luckily my daughters called 911 and I lived but the whole 3 wks I was in the hospital, the only time my ex came to see me was within the first few hrs I was admitted and was in a 4 day coma. He didn’t call, come to see me or any husband like thing. But he did send a bag of Twizzlers with the kids…I think he wanted me to braid them up together and try to kill myself again…

    I’m past that point in my life by 2 years now. Looking back, he’s the one who lost the most. He lost the respect of our kids, he lost a great wife, and he doesn’t seem a whole lot happier in the relationship with the woman (barely a woman, she was 21 to his 39) and her kids than he was with me. In fact, I hear from our kids that he compares me to his current girlfriend all the time and it drives her nuts. Glad to hear that…very glad.

    Thanks for a great article! I feel better knowing I am not alone.

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  10. Surely someone can tell me why they leave this way. People in my circles don’t do this. It’s Completely bizarre and abnormal. Up until this happened to me 7 months ago, I had never ever heard of anything like this. And I know plenty of divorced couples. Are they bipolar, borderline personality, drugs? What is it? There must be some reason….my husband didn’t just stop being on my side and then haul ass for no reason. It defies anything I’ve ever known.

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