The reason that Wife Abandonment Syndrome is so traumatic is that the change in the husband's behavior is dramatic, sudden and unexplained.
In order to justify his decision not to include his wife in the process that led to the end of the marriage, he needs to come up with a compelling explanation for his actions. That explanation often has little to do with reality, causing the bewildered wife, who had previously trusted her husband's word, to wrack her brains trying to make sense out of something that is inherently nonsensical.
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.
Ten 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.
Warning Signs for Married Women of Possible W.A.S. (even if your husband has not talked about being unhappy in the marriage)
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.
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?
In an effort to validate leaving, departing husbands devise nonsensical excuses and re-write the past, reversing statements that they had previously made. This greatly confuses their wives, often causing them to feel like they are losing their minds. This form of manipulation is called Gaslighting in reference to a 1944 Ingrid Bergman film, Gaslight, in which in which the devious husband of the delicate heroine flickers the gaslights every evening as part of a plan of psychological torture designed to delude her into believing that she has gone mad.
Women who are subjected to Wife Abandonment Syndrome are often presented with statements that are contrary to those their husbands made prior to leaving. For example, the man who used to say that his wife was "the rock of his life" now says, "I never really loved you". Women are forced to question their own memories and are at a loss to know what to believe – it's almost impossible to accept that their husbands are just out-and-out lying to strengthen their positions.
Karen from Rapid City, Iowa
One of the hardest part of this experience has been “wrapping my head around” how he could just simply walk way from his family, from his obligations, from his commitments. It isn’t in my being to do what he has done. I doubt I will ever understand his choices or actions
Marnie from Hewlett, New York
My husband sued me for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. This was the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with in my whole life because he, my son, and our home were the most important part of my life. Mental cruelty was an absolute lie. I describe the place I was in as a deep black hole; I was suicidal and fought desperately to stay alive.