All you Wanted to Know about Spousal Abandonment Syndrome

All you Wanted to Know about Spousal Abandonment Syndrome

Spousal Abandonment Syndrome is when one of the spouses leaves the marriage without any warning, and—usually–without having shown any signs of unhappiness with the relationship.  It is a growing trend in the United States. Spousal Abandonment Syndrome is the opposite of the traditional divorce which typically comes after years of trying to work out difficulties in a marriage.  With Spousal Abandonment, there is no sign that one of the spouses is frustrated or considering leaving the marriage. They just leave, with a note on the kitchen table or email announcing that they are gone and the partnership is over.  

Contrary to what one might think, Spousal Abandonment Syndrome happens to long-term, stable marriages. Many of these couples are viewed by their circle of friends as being moral and trustworthy people who are happy with each other. The sudden ending to the marriage is a shock to everyone, except for the person leaving, who has been planning his exit for months if not years.  Needless to say, the person being suddenly left is thrown into a position of questioning everything she thought she knew about her husband.

Spouses who abandon their marriage share some common traits:

  • They are usually men.
  • They work in societally-approved professions and are successful at what they do:  business, church, medical field, law.
  • They have kept their discontent with the marriage bottled up for years, pretending that everything is fine.
  • They are having an affair and leave for the girlfriend.
  • They announce their abrupt departure in the middle of a normal conversation.  An example would be a phone call where the spouses are discussing something mundane, and the husband will suddenly state “I just can’t do this anymore.”
  • Once the husband has told his wife he is out of the marriage, his exit happens fast.  He will move in with his girlfriend and have very little contact with the wife and the children.
  • Rather than take responsibility for his actions, he will blame the wife, rewriting the story of their marriage to portray it as a vastly unhappy one.
  • He embraces his new identity wholeheartedly. If the girlfriend is younger, he will start acting younger, listening to her tastes in music, socializing with her circle of friends, and dressing youthfully to blend in more with his new lifestyle.  

The abandoned wives also share some common traits:

  • They may have been the “other woman” for whom the husband left his previous wife.  And he left his previous wife by sudden abandonment as well.
  • They had no idea that there was trouble in the marriage, and thought of their couple as secure.
  • Their lives revolved around husband, home and family.
  • They viewed their husbands as upstanding members of the community and trusted them completely.

The abandoned wives also share some common traits

The aftermath of the abandonment

There are predictable stages that the abandoned spouse will pass through as she processes the news of her husband’s sudden departure.

  • Initially, she will feel confusion and disbelief.  Nothing had prepared her for this unexpected life-changing event.  This feeling of destabilization may seem overwhelming.
  • She may begin to doubt everything she thought she knew to be true about the marriage.  Indeed, spouses who are preparing to abandon their partners seem attentive and engaged in the relationship. They are not necessary abusive or mean.  The wife may question her ability to trust anyone ever again, and may obsessively replay scenes from the marriage in her head in an effort to see if she missed any signs of unhappiness.
  • Odd behaviors will start to make sense in retrospect.  All those last-minute business trips?  He was meeting up with his girlfriend.  The cash withdrawals noted on the bank statement?  He didn’t want to use a credit card when paying for hotel rooms or restaurant meals with her.  The new gym membership, the change of wardrobe, the extra time he was spending in front of the mirror? Now the wife realizes this wasn’t for her benefit.

Getting through sudden abandonment & coming out healthy

  • In the days and weeks following his abandonment, give yourself permission to grieve.  You have lost something very important to you:  your mate, your couple, your identity as a happily-married pair.
  • When you are ready, seek counseling with a therapist who is trained to work with victims of spousal abandonment syndrome.  Your counselor will provide you with targeted support for the stages you are going through, and be able to offer you expert advice on how to best move forward.  In addition to in –person counseling, there are numerous websites that focus on spousal abandonment where you can read other victim’s stories of recovery, as well as share support on the online forums.  This is helpful as it provides you with a sense of community; you will realize that you are not alone.
  • Make sure you get good legal representation, especially if you sense your husband will be trying to cheat you out of any assets that should be legally yours and the children’s.
  • If you find yourself dwelling over your state, distract yourself with life-affirming books, movies, music, workouts, friendships and healthy meals.  This is not to say that you should ignore your pain.  You just don’t want it to define you.  
  • Trust in time. You will come out of this a stronger and more self-aware person.  But this transformation will happen at its own pace.  Be kind and gentle with yourself.

There are few things in life that can be as hurtful as being abandoned by someone that you love.  But hold on to life!  Things will get better, and you will emerge from this experience with grace and an enhanced capacity for love.  Let those around you help you through this, and when you are