Runaway Husbands Bolt Without Warning

Three years ago, Montreal author and therapist Vikki Stark took the red-eye flight home from a book tour, eager to be back in her loving husband's arms.

"He picked me up and uncharacteristically went off to work," she said. "Usually we want a connection."

But that night – after a 21-year marriage –- when Stark told him she bought fish for dinner, he replied, "It's over."

"I said, 'Fine, we'll have chicken' –- so he didn't like fish," she said, to which he responded, "I'm moving out."

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"My husband had never breathed a word of an unhappy marriage," said Stark, who was 57 and whose husband was 59 when he bolted. "In fact, he had been quite a loving and attentive husband and I felt 100 percent secure in my marriage."

After surviving the devastation and then the anger, Stark embarked on a new life course, studying what she now calls, "Wife Abandonment Syndrome."

She created a website, Runaway Husbands, and solicited responses from women who had been wronged. Stark said she wanted to know, "How is it possible to maintain the fiction of being married when they were planning their escape?"

As a therapist, she had counselled couples on divorce, but Stark was completely unprepared for the disintegration of her marriage.

"How do you deal with the hit to self-esteem when you feel like an old dish rag he threw away?" she said. "How do we turn anything life throws at us for an opportunity for growth?"

More than 400 of women aged 45 to 60 from around the world responded to her online survey, and their stories were mind-boggling.

Some husbands left "hit-and-run" text messages or Post-it notes stuck to the television, while others dropped the bomb in the most mundane moments -- eating cereal or putting on socks.

They said things like, "I can't take do this anymore," or, "I never loved you,'' or, "Our marriage was never good," or even, "You have knee problems and I love to go hiking.''

One woman who had been married for 25 years found two notes on her kitchen counter next to a grocery list, one for her and one for their son. "I have to leave, we don't have much in common anymore," her husband wrote.

Another woman drove her husband to work: "Everything seemed fine," she said. "He kissed me and I told him I loved him."

Two hours later she received a text from him that he wanted out.

A third woman said she kissed her husband goodbye at the airport and never saw him again. When she went to pick up him up, their son, who had travelled with him, reported that his father had been sent out west on an "indefinite assignment" with his company.

Now, Stark has documented the stories in a new book, "Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery," and offers resources and support on her website.

Runaway Husbands Are Pillars of Community

The hallmark of these men is they seldom show any remorse or concern for the marital wreckage they leave behind, according to Stark, they just pick up and don't look back.

They are often pillars of the community: doctors, dentists, professors, pastors, little league coaches, who seemed to be involved with their families and community.

"People look at the couple and see them as having the model marriage," she said. "That's part of why it's so devastating to friends and family -- if that couple could split up, what marriage is secure?"

In 95 percent of the cases, Stark found, the men ran to other women, almost always younger, but surprisingly not "trophy wives."

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