Traits of the Runaway Husband

After joining several support groups through this journey, and many books later, I decided to list off common traits that the typical leaver has, and I may expand on these topics later. Maybe this will help people who are not sure if their husband fits this exact shoe, or maybe this can validate those who see some patterns but missed others. Either way, I will unapologetically list the most common traits I have seen across the board:

  1. Traits of Codependency
    • Low self esteem. This wasn’t all that obvious, besides, people are able to cover their insecurities in many ways. A trend seen is that these men sometimes feel unworthy, unlovable, and like failures. This contributes to their unwillingness to voice their feelings, since they don’t feel like their voice would make a difference.
    • Unstable self image. They rely on other people’s approval or disapproval to gauge how they feel about themselves. They can alternate between feeling like they are superior, to feeling worthless. They don’t know who they are and take feedback from others as their identity. If someone sees them as having negative traits, this hurts them so deeply that they may cut that person out of their lives, making claims that the other person is flawed. They only talk to people who reflect back to them that they are lovable, worthy, and successful. This may explain why some do not have many long term, genuine or close friendships, because those people are able to see his true and authentic self, including flaws that he is desperately trying to deny. He tries to get rid of those flaws by avoiding the people who see them and associating those people with the bad feelings he has about himself.
    • People-pleasing without boundaries. He wants people to be happy, but on the flip side, will lack boundaries associated with saying “no.” When he does things for people, he does so because he feels he has to. While wanting others to be happy seems great, lacking the ability to set limits has chipped away at his own happiness for years. He is stuck in a perpetual loop of wanting to be seen as “good” and relies on the feedback from others to validate this.
    • Too Easy-Going. He seems to not make any demands, or have strong feelings towards any particular subject. It almost seems like he lacks individuality. He goes with the flow and does not make a big deal about much of anything. He gets along with any and everyone, even if he is being treated poorly by someone. He will not stand up for himself, and struggles to stand up for others. It almost seems like he is disconnected from his own needs, and runs on auto-pilot. He has an inability to identify or express his needs.
    • Agrees with everything. Almost too easily influenced by others. Once you state an opinion, he quickly adopts it as his own without much of any thought. While it may seem validating to have someone agree with you, it did not come from genuine connection or understanding. In fact, this agreeable nature stemmed from utter disconnection with his own identity.
  2. Conflict Avoidance
    • Low tolerance to conflict. This man is extremely sensitive to conflict and may consider a small disagreement as a painful experience. He might even see a gentle reminder of him to pick up his clothes as a declaration of war against who he is as a person. He may feel that he is being attacked unfairly, but then respond in an agreeable and light-hearted fashion. This gives each spouse two opposite experiences of the verbal exchange. Often, he will recall events as being much more intense and unpleasant than the other party’s memory of it. He may silently feel controlled, manipulated or even abused- even when this is not the case. When claims are made like “we are incompatible and always unhappy” and “we fight all the time,” It baffles their wives, who saw the marriage as relatively happy and conflict-free.
    • Afraid to have needs of his own. This correlates with not being able to voice his needs. This difference in this case is that he will convince himself and believe that he doesn’t have any needs that aren’t being met. This denial builds up, paving the way for unspoken resentment without understanding where it comes from or how to reverse it. When years pass with him not getting his needs met, without realizing it, he pulls away. This is a natural consequence when a spouse does not turn to the marriage for his needs, and does not express vulnerability with them. The connection is not deepening on their end. Sadly, the other spouse may still turn to the marriage for their needs, and he responds in loving attentive ways. This is because fulfilling other’s needs makes him feel better about himself, especially when he is not the cause of any the problems. Since he lacks the ability to genuinely be vulnerable back, the connection grows one way.
    • Fear of engulfment. No one likes to be smothered by someone, but an intense fear of engulfment can prevent people from forming meaningful connections. This is the opposite of “fear of abandonment” and also stems from unhealed childhood issues. Fear of engulfment can express itself as extreme sensitivity to anything that doesn’t allow them to act freely and independently. Men who have this fear might be described as having “commitment issues” whether they are married or not. There are many things that factor into why someone might have this fear. Just like abandonment fears stem from being abandoned, its presumed that fear of engulfment comes from being engulfed- usually when they are a child. This forms a “need to escape” reaction when they begin to feel uncomfortable in social settings, and can impact their levels of commitment within their long term relationships or marriages.
    • Indirect communication. This is strongly related to the inability to identify/express needs, and fears of upsetting others or not being liked. When people hold their feelings back, deny them, or bottle them up without processing them, it comes out in other forms. This happens both consciously and sub-consciously. Unfortunately, identifying and voicing feelings can be a struggle for many people, and this can hinder their ability to communicate directly. People who have problems with this tend to use more indirect and subtle ways of communicating, such as sarcasm, jokes, asking others what they need, answering questions with a question, and making neural suggestions, rather than directly saying what they mean. The indirect party’s fears seem to outweigh their needs in the moment, as they are fearful of the reactions/rejection/judgement of others. This can be frustrating for both parties.
  3. Questionable Family History
    • Mother issues. There is a trend with runaway men having some sort of abnormal relationship with their maternal figure. Whether it’s an insecure attachment, engulfment, neglect or emotional incest. Sometimes these men seem to be “married to mom” and/or have never quite outgrown the role of “little boy.” Other times the mother is absent, whether emotionally or physically, and the son is unable to develop into a stable adult. Sometimes the mother is demanding and knows no boundaries. Either way- the relationship with the mother is a large factor because when it is unhealed, it sets the tone for the relationship a man has with his wife. The man may also treat his wife like more of a mother figure than an equal partner, and seeks maternal approval from her in order to soothe his childhood wounds.
    • History of abandonment. Usually abandonment is something the abandoned wife is not familiar with, but occasionally there are stories of husbands who had a history of abandonment, such as the husband was abandoned by their own father, had an absent father in general, or abandoned previous significant other’s in their past. They may also have estranged relationships with people within their family, justified or not. Sometimes this history is also revealed after the spousal abandonment has occurred. This history can influence their view of marriage/family as something that is acceptable to discard, as opposed to a lifelong and rewarding commitment. They may or may not be aware that they hold these views at the time that they wed or start families, making conscious promises and commitments that they did not subconsciously internalize as lifelong. At the time that they started families, they would have never imagined themselves abandoning them, and swearing by their commitment and loyalty.
    • Family Problems. Often abandoning husbands come from families of dysfunction. This includes drug use, such as illicit substances or abuse of alcohol. This also includes emotional, sexual or physical abuse that may have been present. Sometimes there is a “black sheep” within the family that they will all point to as “the problem.” This type of mobbing behavior comes from hidden problems within the family that they are trying to avoid addressing, by shifting the focus onto someone else. This mobbing behavior also instills a deep fear of being shunned if problems of their own are revealed, so there are intense efforts to avoid their faults. Sometimes they will associate their faults with the people who trigger them, to avoid ownership of their faults.
  4. Depression
    • Depression in Men– While it may seem like depression expresses itself as sadness, tears and sluggishness, these symptoms are more frequently seen in women. Depression can be much harder to see in men, since it has more of a tendency to show increased irritability and decreased feelings of pleasure from everyday things. Sometimes pleasure will only be attained when doing things that are extra-exciting that are not routine, such as going out with friends or buying new things. The pleasure once felt with their spouse is now absent, since a spouse is so familiar. Sadly, depressed men may associate their lack of pleasure around their spouse as a signal for them to ditch their marriage, emotionally and/or physically, and they may even blame the depressed feelings on the spouse.
    • Excessive anger/irritability. Anger can be seen as a secondary feeling, there is usually masking a painful feeling or fear that occurs. Anger makes people feel more powerful, and releases chemicals that block pain. In order to avoid emotional pain, one must remain in a perpetual state of anger or irritation. If you are reminding them of some fault they are trying to avoid, they may associate you with that painful feeling, and direct hostility towards you. In cases of runaway husbands, this anger is more about them avoiding feelings that they have about themselves. When they feel like failures, see you cry due to their actions, disappoint you or others, it triggers strong feelings of shame within them. Anger gives a quick high to alleviate the pain of those negative feelings.
    • Indifference. This is also a major symptom of depression, and often appears as if the husband just does not care. Cognitively, they might “care,” but they don’t appear to act on things or express their cares. They seem indifferent, emotionally absent and disconnected. Sometimes the husband is physically capable of caring, but it is associated with so many other deeply rooted painful feelings, that they disconnect. This has been frequently described as “flipping a switch.” It seems, suddenly, the person who loved you has vanished. The short explanation is that there are so many other painful feelings flooding in, that they must disconnect with all of it.
    • Mid-Life Crisis. This is more typical with runaway men who are roughly around 40-60. Testosterone drops, among other hormone changes. This may kick start an episode of depression. As the youthful feeling begins to dwindle on a chemical level, there are social factors that change at the same time. They may be looking at their life and realizing that there were things that they did not accomplish. This happens more when people go through life on auto-pilot, disconnected from their authentic selves. As they grow nearer to old age, there is resentment, regret, and blame. The unaffected spouse may now be the target of misplaced anger, and the spouse in crisis may be viewing the marriage as “holding them back” from dreams and aspirations. This is a time where hasty decisions are made, such as rapid changes in career, increased spending, moving, new friends, and often- a new romantic partner.
  5. Other Patterns
    • Emotional Immaturity. There is a trend of runaway husbands who act as if they are teenagers who never grew up, and treat the abandonment as if they had just rebelled against their parent.These men may retreat to do childish activities, such as play video games, neglect responsibilities, make crude jokes, ignore phone calls, stay out at odd hours, and hang out with other adults who lack responsibilities. They can become irrationally angry at any attempt to bring them to their senses or remind them of their commitments. It seems like they see their wife as a parent figure, and themselves as an adult child, likely related to childhood issues they have with their own parents.
    • Splitting. This is when someone views something- an event or a person, as either all-good or all-bad. This also applies to how they view themselves. If you tell them that you don’t like a certain behavior, now suddenly they feel like you are telling them that they are a terrible, unlovable person. Defenses go up and they may start accusing you of things. They might complain that you’re “telling them that they are horrible” when no such accusation has ever left your lips. This is the power of splitting, a distorted and scary black-and-white reality that they are living in. It is easy to see how any slight interpretation of criticism may be blown out of proportion.
    • Addiction. This applies to illicit drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, work, gambling, video games, sex, porn, and sometimes even food. Addition is powerful and can override feelings of love. There seems to be a correlation between a recent addiction and abandonment.
    • Lying. This ranges from small lies about doing a chore, to big lies about having other women. Runaway husbands seem to lie, big or small, in order to temporarily avoid confrontation, get their needs met, or manipulate. Pride and ego also come at play, since lying can be used to influence how others view them- which as previously mentioned, impacts directly how they view themselves.
    • Infidelity. This is one of the most horrific things that can happen, because of how this impacts the self-esteem of a wife, and something a runaway husband can never take back. The women these men choose are ones who make them feel like they don’t have flaws. It is the exciting, lustful, ego trip that they are chasing- and believe that they have found their soulmate. There is nothing spacial about these women- this trip is about how the husband feels about himself, not how he feels about her. A majority of runaway husbands have an “other woman” by the time they abandon. For the ones who don’t, there is almost always an outside influence, such as family and friends, who are guiding them in the direction of divorce, with promise of a happily ever after in a future that does not contain you. They have idealized this future and reinforced this in their minds long before they leave.
    • Mental Health Conditions. Aside from the previously mentioned depression, there are other mental health problems often cited from abandoned wives. This includes bipolar disorder, ADHD, ASD, and various proposed personality disorders (narcissistic, borderline, anti-social, and avoidant, to name a few)

Thank you for reading. I will likely continue to edit and add on to this list. Feel free to comment any suggestions you may have.

More from Husbands who Abandon:

12 thoughts on “Traits of the Runaway Husband

  1. This is incredibly insightful, thank you. As I read through your list I was mentally ticking pretty much everything relating to my RH. It addresses so many of the ‘why’s regarding their behaviour.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On the conflict avoidance thing, mine would interpret very minor things as an “attack” but instead of responding as you describe, he’d see that as a need to attack me back. In other words, anytime he felt hurt he’d seek to hurt me back. For 19 years I accepted this as his character, though I always thought it was childish- god forbid I point it out as childish- I’d have never seen the end of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article thanks for sharing insight ! I also want to add that the attachment – or rather unhealthy attachment to family can seem to be generational. Also there are triggers that seem to cause the fight or flight that is associated with this. I have seen subtle behaviors in past would trigger me and would question those things. Always seemingly to be dismissed. I got the impression that it was more shame and guilt than intentional but assume it could go both directions. This has become a horrific epidemic for spouses of both genders and children as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thirty five years I was also fooled. the list fits him to a tee..One thing I could never understand was the intense need to be admired by other women mostly online emotional romances, bordering on compulsive and addictive. After several discoveries, he left me for another younger woman, not the woman whose picture i found on our boat.


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