Ask Ellie: After shock subsides, it's possible to rise above ex's callous abandonment

Advice columnist EllieDear Ellie: I’m a woman, 47, a wife for 18 years and mother of two children, who’s in shock after suddenly learning that my husband wants a divorce.

He came home unusually late four months ago. Like everyone else, his business was affected by the pandemic, he had to let some employees go and frequently spent long evenings at his office.

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I was half-asleep when he came upstairs and announced, “I’m leaving.” I laughed, thinking he was joking. He added, “This marriage isn’t working for me.”

I felt my heart miss a beat. But he coldly said, “It’s over,” and packed a suitcase. He left that night and didn’t tell the children what was happening for several weeks. I’ve since learned that he’s been with another woman all those late nights “working.”

I still feel shattered emotionally, though I have no love left for him.

How can anyone who just weeks before still acted as my partner, and still made love with me every weekend, turn so uncaring and mean?

How do I get past his betrayal of everything I believed about us?

Tossed Aside and Lost

It’s the shock that makes this feel like a perpetual nightmare. But you can recover and rise above your ex’s nasty “abandonment.”

That’s the no-holds-barred word used by Vikki Stark, a Montreal-based Master of Social Work (MSW) psychotherapist and divorce recovery specialist whose book Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal was originally published in 2010.

It offers healing therapies to women like you who feel their lives have been upended. It had happened to Stark, too, when her husband of 21 years suddenly left.

Recognizing how alone and shattered other women also must feel, she’s created “a community” for healing/friendship/support and motivation through runawayhusbands.com.

Stark’s research, conducted with 400 women world-wide including 167 face-to-face surveys, found 10 hallmarks of the runaway husband. These include, that at the time he left, the wife believed she was in a happy marriage; in 99% of cases there was another woman involved; many husbands gave trivial reasons for leaving (e.g., too many boots in the hallway); men who’d once been loving left with no remorse.

Also, an element of “covert narcissism” frequently appeared in these men who’d been “comfy” with their wives until their early-50s. They then wanted a “new lease on life” and the similar-aged wife is no longer “valuable” to them, her findings revealed.

These common behaviours should help you and other women in similar situations become pro-active in getting over the guy who ran away.

Women are sometimes runaway partners, too. I’ve heard from similarly-shocked and emotionally-wounded men in the past, and, sadly, likely will hear from more.

I know that it’s not easy for anyone in this situation. But it IS an opportunity for making changes that are liberating.

Stark’s findings specifically on runaway men reveals their tendency to provide an “alternative narrative” to the marriage, e.g., they’ve been “unhappy for years” — final words to justify their leaving and a form of “gaslighting,” Stark explains.

But no, you’re not crazy and you don’t have to accept feeling like a victim. Freedom from the runaway husband, can open a new world to the self-affirming wife.

You have a long life ahead, and given your ex’s true nature, you’re now better off with new opportunities and fulfillment ahead.

Dear Ellie: My common-law partner and I are both 55-plus. He wants sex all the time and even dreams of it.

I don’t feel any pleasure during sex but it’s not his fault. He even tries sex toys to help me. Can it be hormones? I had a hysterectomy 10 years ago. What should I do?

No Pleasure from Sex

Contact your family doctor or gynecologist. If your hysterectomy operation only removed your uterus, the ovaries may have produced hormones until menopause would normally occur (likely by now). If both ovaries were removed, then menopausal symptoms likely occurred soon after the surgery and mayn have affected your sex drive very soon after.

However, even after menopause (when you’ve had no monthly bleeding for 12 months), there are ways to help your sex drive, through vaginal lubrication to combat vaginal dryness, trying different positions, learning and regularly practicing pelvic exercises, and couples counseling to help you work together on this.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Women who’ve suddenly been emotionally and physically abandoned by their husbands can reject the victim label. They can find healing, recovery, and motivation through personal determination and/or with the benefit of counselling.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

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