Runaway Husband? You’re Not Alone
Wives Say that Sudden Spouse Abandonment Left Them Shocked
She was preparing dinner for her husband of 21 years, a man she believed was “the kindest, most generous, most loving companion any woman ever had.” Out of the blue, without warning, he told her, “It’s over and I’m moving out….” By the next day, he was gone.
“I was plunged into a state of unreality as soon as the words ‘It’s over’ left his mouth,” says Vikki Stark, a family therapist and author from Montreal, Quebec, who was 56 at the time. “It was as though the words took form in the air like little marble blocks and then crumbled to dust on the ground; like in a cartoon.”
The experience has motivated Stark write her second book, Runaway Husbands: Making Sense and Bouncing Back From a Divorce You Didn’t See Coming, chronicling the experiences of herself and other women who were suddenly abandoned by a spouse. Stark’s book, which has not yet been published, offers a number of stories that sound hauntingly similar. Some of those stories can be seen at her website.
Dwight Edwards, an educator from Tustin, Calif., had been married for 32 years. When he was 52, he left early from work, packed his clothing, left a short note with a savings account of several thousand dollars secretly opened years before, then left for good.
June Dillon was 42, a customer service representative from Irving, Texas, when Darold, husband of 28 years suddenly left. “I thought we had finally found a place that was comfortable for both of us. Surprise was my first response, then there was just emptiness,” she recalls. “The calm before the storm can be lulling.”
Sudden spouse abandonment is more common now than it used to be, according to Jason Price, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at the Center for Divorce Recovery in Northbrook, Illinois. “Historically, men are more likely to suddenly leave their spouse. However, as women have made gains in the workplace, have more status, and financial opportunity to leave, it is becoming more common for them to leave as well.”
Stark would discover to her astonishment that her husband had a girlfriend for six years. “My mind was spinning, trying to absorb how it was possible that he had lied to me for so long, that he had lived a double life.”
Price has observed that men are more likely to abandon their spouse for somebody else. “Men are more likely to leave suddenly, especially when they have a new relationship they are going to. They usually see it as an escape from whatever challenges their marriage is facing.”
Another woman was a not a factor for the Dillons, but rather the intense ongoing battles between June and their rebellious 13-year-old daughter. “If mama is not happy, then nobody is happy. My daughter was the youngest of four and the only one still at home. By the time that she was 13, she had already given us more trouble than the three boys combined.”
Her husband chose to escape the conflicts. “I just had to get out of there. I was just getting too old to listen to it. Once I left, I sure did appreciate coming home to peace and quiet.”
Edwards had made his decision to leave seven years before. “We got married too young. I had realized for years that I no longer had a companion or best friend in the marriage. She did what she wanted to do, I did what I wanted to do and it was rarely the same thing. As we got older, we didn’t even watch the same TV shows. We had nothing in common but the boys.”
Edwards had deliberated for a long time. “I realized that I did not need to make a decision quickly. After a while, I simply accepted it as inevitable. It was no longer an emotional issue for me.” Edwards felt that he needed to fulfill his family obligations. “She was a gentle person and I knew that if I left earlier when I wanted to, the two boys would run all over her. So I waited until they were out of the house.”
Waiting until the children are grown can be a factor in a premeditated severance says Price. “I have had clients who have talked about waiting until their kids go to college so that they can leave their spouses, since they do not want to disrupt their kid’s lives while they are at home.”
Edwards tried to minimize the financial impact. “I knew that my leaving would be hard for her no matter when I left. I knew I would never be happy with her, so there was nothing to discuss. I started a savings account for her and she could have the house. There was more than a hundred thousand dollars of equity in it.”
In sudden spouse abandonment, there is rarely turmoil, leading Price to observe, “Sudden abandonment is usually much more devastating. Clients have described this as being akin to finding out that a loved one had died in a car accident.”
“I think my initial response was numbness, shock. I didn’t cry, I wasn’t angry,” recalls Stark. “He never breathed a word about being unhappy with me. On the contrary, he remained warm, loving, affectionate and appreciative right up until he told me it was over.”
At first, there is often a greater loss of self-confidence for the suddenly abandoned spouse compared to a divorced person that could foresee the breakdown. When a marriage is headed toward divorce there can be a “steady deadening of self-confidence and increased depression,” says Price. “When someone is suddenly abandoned they go through intense shock and have a more severe initial loss of self-confidence.”
“I had always taught myself to be a strong person. At first, I thought that I was financially ruined,” says June Dillon. “I thought that I was functioning fine. One of my sons moved in with me because I wasn’t. I was even forgetting routine things like remembering to pay the rent. My family had never seen me like that before. Nonetheless, my daughter continued to manipulate and exploit the situation.”
After several months June began to date. “I was looking for a knight in shining armor. It was woe is me. It was, and is, hard to trust myself with other men. I seemed to be too trusting and made some bad choices. My esteem was so low that I would accept anybody. I didn’t feel I was worthy of a man of substance.”
“I have been irrevocably changed and in many ways. My whole life has been shaken up, my past as well as my future, and I’m still in the process of recovering.” says Stark over year later. “Will I ever recover completely? I’m sure a time will come when there is no longer any pain.”
Price does not necessarily think that there is a slower, more difficult healing process for the suddenly abandoned spouse. “The grief process is really an individual one. Self-esteem, the support system and the ability to take responsibility for their role in the problems, all impact the healing process.” Edwards would later remarry and become widowed. “It was a difficult decision to make, but I have never regretted making it.”
June Dillon would also later remarry and become widowed. “I am happy within myself and do not need a man in my life to be fulfilled.” Darold Dillon never remarried and in hindsight “would have done the same thing.” He and June are friends again. “That’s the way it should be.”
Stark is currently finishing her second book and moving forward in her life. “I am certainly far better than the hell I was in, but after 21 years of marriage, this is a profound betrayal and takes quite a bit of time.”
TIPS FOR THE ABANDONED SPOUSE
1. Recognize that the chaos will not last forever.
2. Be kind to yourself.
3. Accept that it is really over.
4. Keep your mind occupied with other things as much as possible.
5. Turn your focus from the past to the future.
Source: Therapist/author Vikki Stark
About the author: Bruce McCracken is a seasoned journalist and senior analyst for FAO Research. McCracken has an MA in communications from the University of North Texas and resides in Irving, Texas.