Recently there was a comment in one of the posts where a reader recommended the book Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal by Vikki Stark.  Whenever a reader recommends a book it peaks our interest, so we had to check it out further. 

A couple of disclaimers…  First, we want to be upfront and tell you that we did not actually read the book.  The information in this post comes primarily from the Runaway Husbands website . Our aim is not to do a book review but to educate you a little bit on the subject, as well as get your opinions on this topic.

Second, though this post is about Runaway Husbands and Wife Abandonment Syndrome, we certainly are of the opinion that there exists Runaway Wives and Husband Abandonment Syndrome as well.  We imagine the two are probably quite similar in many ways – but feel that men probably emotionally process abandonment differently than women do. (We know…we’re writing a lot about abandonment lately.)

Vikki Stark, MSW is family therapist, author and internationally renowned divorce expert, as well as the director of the Sedona Counseling Centre of Montreal. She is not only an expert when it comes to ‘Runaway Husbands’ as a result of her formal training, but also from a personal standpoint.  A while back, her husband of 21 years up and left her for another woman – his secret girlfriend of 6 years – with no warning and with no real signs. She was completely blindsided.

Ms Stark’s book is based on a study of over 400 women worldwide.  One of the commonalities among the study participants was that they were in marriages where they had no doubt about their husbands’ honesty and loyalty and had entrusted their husbands to protect them emotionally. The change in their husbands’ behavior was dramatic, sudden and unexplained.  These women experienced a profound and traumatic betrayal of trust, to say the least.

Stark says…

“The type of man who abandons often appears to be unusually moral and trustworthy, making it even harder for the wife to accept that his words are empty justifications. The most important first step in healing for a woman in this situation is the realization that her husband is not the man she thought she knew and that he never was.”

The wife is left bewildered, confused and usually feels like she is losing her mind as the husband, in his attempts to justify his actions, rewrites the history of the relationship with explanations that are typically far from reality.

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The wife is often presented with statements that are contrary to those her husband made prior to leaving. For example, the man who used to say that his wife was “his everything” now says, “I never really loved you”. The wife is forced to question her own memories and is at a loss to know what to believe – it’s almost impossible to accept that her husband is just out-and-out lying to strengthen his position.

runaway husbandsWhat are the Hallmarks of Wife Abandonment Syndrome?

1. Prior to the separation, the husband had seemed to be an attentive, engaged spouse, looked upon by his wife as honest and trustworthy.

2. The husband had never indicated that he was unhappy in the marriage or thinking of leaving, and the wife believed herself to be in a secure relationship.

3. By the time he reveals his feelings to his wife, the end of the marriage is already a fait accompli and the husband moves out quickly.

4. The husband typically blurts out the news that the marriage is over “out-of-the-blue” in the middle of a mundane domestic conversation.

5. Reasons given for his decision are nonsensical, exaggerated, trivial or fraudulent.

6. The husband’s behavior changes radically, feeling to his wife that he has become a cruel and vindictive stranger.

7. The husband exhibits no remorse; rather, anger is directed toward his wife and he may describe himself as the victim.

8. In most cases, the husband is having an affair and moves in directly with his girlfriend.

9. The husband makes no attempt to help his wife, either financially or emotionally, as if all positive regard for her has been extinguished.

10. Systematically devaluing the marriage, the husband redefines what had previously been an agreed-upon view of the couple’s joint history.


What are the Warning Signs?

1. Has he had affairs in the past or left previous relationships in a similar way, even if you were the one for whom he left his last wife. That’s the strongest predictor that he has what it takes to do that again.

2. Does he seem uncharacteristically unhappy with his life, even if his complaints are not related to the marriage? It’s a sign that he may be re-thinking his life.

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3. Do you notice a personality change? Does he just not seem himself? Is he withdrawn or suddenly irritable? Is he snapping at the children or not wanting to participate in family activities?

4. Are his habits changing – suddenly going to the gym, buying flashier clothes, dying his hair, getting a tattoo, buying an expensive car?

5. 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?

6. Is he taking “business” trips or disappearing for periods of time and the reasons given just don’t seem to make sense?

7. Has he started to frequently mention a woman at work?

8. Does he work in a career in which he is in a position of power or authority, such as a professor, pastor, business executive or chaplain, where younger women may look up to him?


How to Move Forward

1. Recognize that the chaos will not last forever

2. Accept that the marriage is really over

3. Integrate the fact that your husband has changed irrevocably and is beyond caring for your welfare

4. Understand why he needs to justify his actions in any way possible – including rewriting history, lying or attacking you

5. Give up trying to get the acknowledgement and apology that you deserve

6. Turn your focus from the past to the future

7. Celebrate your freedom as a single person


Give Your Overworked Mind a Rest!

Every woman who is subjected to Wife Abandonment Syndrome becomes deeply destabilized for some period of time. Many are tormented by relentless thoughts as they struggle to make sense of what happened. Those thoughts are of several varieties:

1. Obsessing about how this happened – what you did wrong in the marriage, whether your husband said anything in the past to hint about the devastation to come, where he really was that time he said he was on a business trip, etc.

2. Obsessing about how to hurt him back – fantasies of revenge, the perfect withering remark you would like to say to him or his girlfriend, ways to hurt him in court, etc.

3. Obsessing about insecurities in the future – how to afford to stay in the house, what if he doesn’t contribute to a child’s medical bills, how to face old age when you’d always expected to finance it through his future inheritance, etc.

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These obsessive thoughts can steal away nights and nights of sleep and torment you every waking moment. Try as you might, in the early days you can’t escape them. Here are some ways to sweep your mind clean of those disturbing thoughts:

  • Keep your mind occupied with other things as much as possible. Talk on the phone, keep the radio on, drag yourself out to a movie, fill up long lonely Saturday nights doing a jigsaw puzzle (you’ll spend hours looking for the man with the blue hat!). You just need to survive until the passage of time can heal.
  • Schedule a dedicated worry-time every day. This will take some discipline but it works for some people. Decide that you will do intensive worrying from 6pm to 9pm every day (or any other time slot that works for you) and try to limit your obsessing to those times. You need to give your mind a rest after 9pm anyhow.
  • Sweep your mind clean – literally! Imagine that your mind is a dusty room, but you’ve just hired a perky tiny cleaning lady who is armed with a miniature broom. When you realize that you are obsessing, close your eyes and tell her, “Sweep, sweep, sweep!” and imagine her hopping up from her stool and getting to work, sweeping your mind clean of those debilitating thoughts. Throw those thoughts out with the trash – you don’t need them! (Go to the Runaway Husband Website)


Listen to the author

Here is a really good recording of a radio interview that Vikki Stark did awhile back.  She goes over some of the concepts and tips that are in her book in greater detail, as well as shares her personal story. It  lasts about 50  minutes.


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    9 replies to "Runaway Husbands"

    • Saw the Light

      Thank you for this. I needed it today.

    • chite

      Uh im sorry but that describes like 90% of cheating spouses.

      • livingonafence

        It does. It makes sense that these WSs find something else and then begin rewriting history to justify themselves. Dealing with being a cold hearted prick I’m sure isn’t easy LOL

    • gizfield

      I agree with Chite, this sounds like most Cheaters except to the point where they actually leave. As we’ve seen on here numerous times, when it’s time to hit that door you have to pry their fingers off the door frame. People that really want to leave just do it usually. My brothers wife moved her crap out while he was at work, after 25 years of marriage. I don’t think she even left a note. He was messed up for a while, but has a girlfriend hes lived with 10 years. He and his ex and the girlfriend and the new husband are all friends. Lol. If he doesn’t have a problem with it, neither do I.

    • MJ

      My husband Michael Raithel is a complete narcissist and probably escaped to a girlfriend. He couldn’t do it on his own. These runaways are not grown ups, just cowardly boys.

    • Sunny

      I am a 55 year old woman who guided my husband, Michael Thomas O’Brien , through his career. Found him a job at Regal Beloit, moved from home and family to Wisconsin. Finally after 16 years of marriage his career took off. One day he wrote me a letter telling me he had more support from his peers than he had from his son and I. He began to travel more, take longer walks with the dog, said he was going to the gym…, would run to the local store and be gone longer than needed. He just became more and more disengaged. Then one day he came home… Said he wasn’t happy and left. He disappeared . He does not want to talk to me or our 15 year old son. He now currently lives in Florence KY. He has another woman or a man. She/he can have him. My leftovers! Lol. My son had seen him texting”Kevin” continuously.
      He does not even care about the devastation this has on his son. What type of animal is this? Narcissistic behavior at its best! My son and I sleep on a couch at my 93 year old mothers condo. And he just doesn’t care.

    • Sweetz


      Pull up your big girl pants and hold your head up high for the sake of your son. Your lives are NOT over. The rest of your life is determined by what YOU do moving forward. Show your son that…because there may come a time (God forbid) that something like this could happen to him in his own future marriage. Show him how to handle rejection with the class and the dignity that is God given.

      Do NOT let this man define who you are or the value that you have. Tell your son that his worth and value stands firmly in his own rights and by his own choices in life also…show him that. Shake the dust off of your feet and start planning each baby step on the way to a new life that does NOT include the Narcissist or his devaluation of you. You can do this!

      Stop waiting for the Narc to care…he already has shown you that he does NOT. Thank your mother for her open door and care…that she was even still alive to help you during this time in your life. Then ask God to show you the way forward and never turn and look back or you may easily turn into a pillar of salt and tears (which wont help you or your son).
      God has not abandoned you.

      A voice in the night,

    • Sunny

      Thank you for your kind words. It truly means a lot to me. I will save your encouraging words and read them when ever I need additional strength.

      Thank you.

      • Hope

        Same here. Supported his behind for 23 years and when he finally starts excelling at work he starts taking “Long walks with the dog.” MY DOG no less!! That was the time he spent video chatting Michael, “The love of his life” as he posted on social media. Then he left and moved 5 states away. That was 7 weeks ago. Minimal contact and financial support. Still in shock. Inwantnto know how things turn out for these psychopaths.

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