Abandoned spouse syndrome

Spousal Abandonment Syndrome | Marriage.com

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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 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

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Runaway Husbands: Wife Abandonment Syndrome

The fall of 2006 should have been the happiest time of my life. I had published my first book, My Sister, My Self, about sister relationships and had set out alone on a whirlwind book tour that took me 3,000 miles crisscrossing America. The trip was great but hard—23 days in the car driving from bookstore to bookstore, eating practically all my meals at the wheel.

By the time I got to my last stop, San Diego, I was so looking forward to coming home to Montreal. I took the red-eye back and fell into my darling husband's arms in relief when he picked me up at 8 am at the airport. I was so happy to see him! He dropped me off at home and headed to work.

I spent the day getting organized but noticed a long dark hair in the bathtub when I took a shower. I didn’t think anything of it. I also was puzzled later that various dishes in the kitchen were in the wrong place. We’d lived there for years and we always kept the colander under the sink and the spatulas in the pot on the counter but now I had to search for them. Also a bit weird—but, no matter.

When my husband returned that night, I threaded my arm through his and said, “I bought fish” to which he responded, “It’s over.” I thought, weird, but said, “Okay, if you don’t want fish, we can have chicken.” And he said, “It’s over and I’m leaving you. Right now.” And he did. He moved right in with his girlfriend of six years who had been staying in my house while I was away.

Runaway Husbands

Source: Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock

That moment marked my descent into the nightmare that I’ve come to call Wife Abandonment Syndrome. Wife Abandonment Syndrome is when a man leaves out-of-the-blue from what his wife believed to be a happy stable marriage. There is typically another woman in the picture. One of the hallmarks is that the husband then turns angrily on the wife, blaming her and dismantling everything she knew as their loving joint history together. He seems to have no regard for his traumatized wife, even if he had been a loving and attentive husband days earlier, as mine had been.

After my husband left, I started researching this phenomenon and was amazed when I realized that it’s pretty common and that the features of how the men leave are almost identical from case to case. I started a study and interviewed women all over the world to whom this had happened. Based on the findings of the study, I wrote the book, Runaway Husbands, and launched the website, runawayhusbands.com. Very quickly we developed an international community of women supporting women through this terrible trauma.

This is not a typical divorce in which the wife may have seen it coming. In Wife Abandonment Syndrome, there are often no signs that the husband is unhappy or thinking of leaving, as was my case. When men leave in this way, their wives feel like they’re crazy and completely alone. When they stumble across our website, Googling in the middle of the night, they’re shocked to learn that it’s a “thing” and deeply comforted to be able to share what they are going through with others.

Recovery is a long and painful process. Initially, the wife is obsessed with understanding her husband’s motivation—how he could morph overnight from a loving husband into a cold and angry stranger? Once she’s been helped to see what was behind his actions, she will become freer to turn her focus from mourning her past to glimpsing her future.

I’m a psychotherapist so my goal in helping women in this situation is to guide them to a point where they can see this crisis as a springboard for change. The first year after wife abandonment is very rough, but with enough support, the wife left behind can start to see possibilities for her life as a single woman and hopefully, be able to flower into embracing her new life.

Over the years, I’ve developed therapeutic resources to provide help both online and face-to-face. The power of being part of a healing community cannot be underestimated—when women get together, they offer each other both strategies and support. We have a Facebook group, newsletter, online meditation group, and what we call Healing Circles—where women can meet others locally in their towns to provide support. These exist in cities all over the world.

I’m able to work personally with women through online therapy groups where we can see and hear each other, just as if we were in the same room. We meet together in yearly retreats in Montreal and Sedona, Arizona and for those that need more support, private Skype therapy sessions are available. Our community is powerful, with active participants in Australia and New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Nigeria and Ghana, Britain, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

I know how powerfully women suffer and grieve following Wife Abandonment Syndrome. I’ve been there. But I also know that this trauma can also be used for what is called post-traumatic growth, in which women are forced to strengthen themselves so they can manage their thoughts and emotions and develop a profound new understanding of their lives. Although they can’t see it when they’re in the midst of it, they’re not always going to feel this badly.

Elektra Complex: Abandoned Girl Syndrome?


A girl who lost her father at an early age and unwittingly idealizes him for many years. A daughter who continues to rebel against her mother even after adolescence is over. A teenage girl who is more attracted to dreams of boys than real relationships. A woman who cannot realize herself in any way in the profession ...

Many of those girls and women who are close to such styles of behavior live the myth of Elektra in their lives - says Jungian psychologist Nancy Kater, author of the book "The Elektra Complex in the Psychology of Women. "

What archetypal situations recognizable in modern families does this myth describe?

Psychological incest with father

The legends about Electra have different interpretations - first of all, the tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Seneca. The essence of the conflict can be represented as follows: first, Clytemnestra, the mother of Electra and Orestes, in alliance with her lover Aegisthus, kills Agamemnon, her husband.

Years pass, Orestes and Electra grow up and decide to avenge their father: Orestes, led by his sister, kills his mother and Aegisthus.

Looking more closely at this story, let's pay attention to the story of a girl who is acutely experiencing the loss of her beloved father.

Until about the age of six, Elektra lived as a princess in a palace at Mycenae with her father, Agamemnon, a powerful king. She grew up "daddy's daughter", a favorite. It can be assumed that little Elektra already idolized her father.

Later, during the ten-year absence of her father, who went to the Trojan War, her desire for idealization intensifies.

And the death of Agamemnon at the hands of Clytemnestra makes Elektra forever fix the ideal image of a courageous, loving, protective father - an image that can no longer be corrected in reality.

“If at first a positive fantasy about a father helps a woman by giving her a sense of hope,” explains Nancy Cater, “then over time it becomes destructive, because it does not allow her to continue to live her life.

A woman lives only in her imagination, without real relationships. She has no energy left to follow her own destiny.”

The disturbed image of the mother

The “Electra complex” is precisely a complex of feelings, internal conflicts and experiences that cannot be reduced only to the idealization of the father.

Another facet of it is a disturbed relationship with one's body and one's own sexuality, the reason for which is Elektra's difficult relationship with her domineering mother, Clytemnestra. The mother does not share the grief of her daughter who lost her father, moreover, she devalues ​​her loss in every way.

“Clytemnestra embodies the negative aspects of Elektra's maternal archetype,” says Nancy Cater. The absorbing mother does not allow her daughter to grow, develop personally or experience joy, creativity, freedom.

More generally, she denies the uniqueness and individuality of her daughter.” It is especially important that the negative maternal image breaks the connection of Electra with her female "I", with her sexuality.

Electra complex

The term "Electra complex" was coined by Carl Gustav Jung. In The Theory of Psychoanalysis, he suggested using it to describe the oedipal stage of development in girls, the stage in which a 3-6 year old daughter "develops a special affection for her father with a corresponding zeal for her mother."

Portrait of a modern Elektra

Portrait of Elektra from Nancy Kater's point of view is as follows. This woman is psychologically stuck in adolescence because of her unresolved relationship with her father. She continues to mourn for him many years later and cannot find her place in the outside world.

She identifies with the role of the victim, blaming her mother for all her problems. She projects her power onto men (primarily her father and brother, Orestes) and is unable to act: she simply waits for her brother to come and save her. At the same time, she unconsciously has an inflated opinion of herself as a princess.

The myth of Electra is lived today by many women and girls. The loss of a father is not only about death, but about the departure of a father, divorce, is a common occurrence in our world. It becomes a trauma - for both the mother and the daughter.

A mother who cannot cope with the loss (becomes angry with her ex-husband, blames him or suppresses love for him) will find it difficult to bear the behavior of a daughter who continues to demonstrate her love for her father.

As a result, the mother becomes closed to her feelings. Their mutual misunderstanding strengthens the mother's new marriage, which the daughter may perceive as a betrayal of her father and her.

In the future, such a psychologically incestuous relationship with an ideal father can complicate her sexual relations with men.

Feeling isolated, the girl can go into a fantasy world populated by heroic male figures. She will dream that one day one of these father-like heroes will come and save her from life with her mother.

In the future, such a psychologically incestuous relationship with an ideal father can complicate her sexual relations with men.

Having matured, the modern Elektra may also experience difficulties in finding her own professional path. And not only because of depression and unwillingness to act. If her domineering mother is successful in her career, the daughter may refuse to realize herself in the profession in order to avoid comparison with her mother.

Find your way out

The young women who recognize themselves in this story should not be trapped in the myth, insists Nancy Cater. It formulates tasks, the solution of which will help to go beyond the myth and become freer. Here are some of them:

1. Say goodbye to your father. In order to complete the grieving process, the modern Elektra must come into contact with her anger at her father for leaving her.

Anger plays an important role in the process of mourning, and the refusal to acknowledge it only prolongs this process. Once she can openly express the feelings of anger and abandonment that are repressed by her idealized father image, she will be able to accept her loss and move on.

2. Separate the real father from the ideal image. Elektra may learn about her father's shadowy, negative traits after he leaves relatives, family friends or other people.

However, there is a possibility that she will still be attached to the idealized image of her father. Therefore, the modern Elektra can work out this issue indirectly through her subsequent relationships with men.

Modern Elektra will have to reconsider her relationship with her mother, admit that she and she are in many ways similar to each other

3. Reconnect with your animus. Electra women project their animus (the male part of the female psyche) onto men. It is important to determine what these traits are - for example, the ability to set goals, make decisions, take actions - and develop them in yourself.

As soon as these projections are returned, the psychic energy will be released, and the woman will be able to become stronger, more responsible, ready to find her own way in life.

4. Discover your femininity. The modern Elektra will have to reconsider her relationship with her mother, recognize that she and she are alike in many ways, try to see positive traits in her and reconnect.

What to do if the relationship is destroyed irretrievably? Fortunately, the positive mother archetype exists within our psyches. The Elektra woman can reconnect with him in a variety of ways.

Positive mother figures may appear in her dreams, she may also interact with him through her relationships with other female teachers and friends.

Nancy Kater is convinced that recognizing a myth allows us not only to understand our own experiences more deeply, but also to take the first steps towards liberation from its unconscious power.

Text: Alla Anufrieva Photo Source: Getty Images

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Trauma of the abandoned: accept yourself and live on

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Get to know yourself Man and woman Relationship crisis

Masha is 30 years old, she is afraid to be alone in the evenings. Even knowing that her husband is late with colleagues at the bar and will come in a couple of hours, she does not find a place for herself: she was abandoned, she was left alone in this apartment, in this world.

If her friends went out of town for the weekend and did not invite her, she experiences their betrayal very hard, if colleagues or the boss criticize the work or do not notice the proposed ideas, she falls into a state of resentment and hopelessness. The trauma of abandonment haunts her throughout her life. Is there a way out?

What causes this injury?

“The trauma of abandonment most often appears in early childhood,” explains psychologist and family counselor Anna Konstantinova. - In the first years, the foundations for building relations with the world are laid.

If the parents did not provide the child with basic psychological needs: love, security and acceptance, then it is highly likely that a person who grew up in such a family will show the trauma of abandonment.

The same problem occurs if the child has had to experience a loss, such as death or the departure of a parent from the family

He doesn't know how to handle it. And if there is no adult nearby who helps to survive a difficult event, the trauma of abandonment occurs.

If a child is given to be raised by a grandmother without explaining the reasons, the feeling of uselessness and abandonment will haunt him for many years. It often happens that a child lives with his parents, but they are inattentive to him. For example, a mother plays with her child, but at the same time constantly looks at the phone or chats on the phone with her friend for the whole walk.

In the future, a person develops problems with self-esteem, and he returns to the state of a useless, abandoned child. It is difficult to talk about adequate self-esteem in such people.

If a person is constantly in a state of anxiety and does not know what it means to be accepted and understood, unique and yet loved, it will be difficult for him to feel confident.

How does the trauma of abandonment affect relationships?

Canadian psychologist Burbo Liz in the book "Five Injuries That Prevent You from Being Yourself" notes the features by which you can outwardly recognize a person with such an injury: an elongated, toneless body, weak legs, a twisted back, disproportionately long arms.

Taking care of the body and health is not in the first place. This is expressed in the rejection of their external qualities, stoop, tightness, complemented by a desire to decrease, hide. In this regard, their typical diseases are back pain, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes and depression.

Why does depression occur? A person does not realize what is happening to him and why he has so many fears. He can build good working and friendly relationships, but there are always difficulties in relations with a partner.

In such relationships, there will always be a feeling of worthlessness and fear of losing a partner in the background.

“I had a client who put up with his wife's infidelities. During therapy, it turned out that he grew up with an alcoholic mother who went on a spree. The feelings that he experienced in childhood, he lives again with his wife. The situation did not change until he realized and accepted this scenario.

There is another variant of the relationship scenario, when a traumatized person in a relationship with a partner tries to occupy all his space, to be near him all the time. Psychologists call this an unhealthy merger in which the "I" is lost, there is no sense of oneself as a person.

For a partner with trauma, abandonment is a way to satisfy a need for safety. Any parting is perceived painfully: a husband’s fishing trip or his two-day business trip can turn into sleepless nights for his wife, tears, then anger and anger at her husband, and as a result, depression, ”explains the psychologist.

How to deal with this?

The trauma of abandonment begins at an early age and is often not recognized.

Learn more