Families of Runaway Husbands

Here I will critique the abnormal family patterns that can cause character problems seen in Runaway Husbands. It is important to note that not every Runaway Husband comes from a classic dysfunctional background- but this post will talk about those who do.

In my journey of trying to comprehend men who abandon their wives without warning… a frequent reoccurring theme comes up: The total acceptance of the husband’s behaviors by friends and family.

Many wives even get “replaced” when their in-laws openly welcome the affair partner into their lives. Someone who helped destroy a family is now being welcomed into the family- adding to the confusion and horror of the abandonment trauma. This is not only a betrayal of the abandoning husband, but a betrayal of an entire support network that seems to turn a blind eye to the moral failings of the Runaway Husband.

In addition to being replaced, there are also cases where in-laws band together in hatred and anger towards the abandoned wife. Hostile messages or dismissive attitudes from in-laws are also not uncommon. This goes beyond the traditional “family is everything” attitude- because there is an added denial of him doing anything wrong. They often quickly take his side and engage in bad-mouthing and mobbing behaviors. They may also assume that the abandoned wife has done something horrible to deserve what happened, in an attempt to justify their family member’s failings.

The betrayal of a Runaway Husband is usually followed with social isolation, and after abandonment, his family’s true colors seem to shine. These colors are who they’ve always been, but they have hid it in the same mannerisms that the Runaway Husband has hid their deficits.

The techniques used by toxic people to hide generational dysfunction is usually learned and refined throughout the entire family system – with exceptions to members who have rebelled and became isolated from the system(known as black-sheep). The more covert his toxic traits are, the deeper the roots extended in his childhood environment. The familial system has perfected an image of normalcy, which took generations to accomplish.

Had his family been healthy, his traits of denial, manipulation and false identity would not have been as practiced, well-rehearsed or encouraged. However, most abandoned wives report not seeing the bulk of his toxic traits until decades later, which is only consistent with men who have perfected their moral disguises prior to the marriage.

If you are an abandoned wife and have found yourself in this situation, you are not alone.

As I have said many times in the past: they were NOT created in a vacuum! The dysfunctional behaviors and shaky moral foundation come from equally dysfunctional surroundings, with few exceptions.

Traits of a Toxic Family that relate to Abandoning Behaviors

~ Enmeshment, Entitlement & Emotional Immaturity. ~

1. Enmeshment

Enmeshment within families is visible when there are poor boundaries, and family members view others as extensions of themselves. No topic is off limits, differences are not respected, privacy is unheard of, and apologies are absent.

Children in these families may develop a “need to flee” fear response to conflict, since engaging with an enmeshing family, or speaking up, would have caused gossip, hostility, disrespect and even mobbing behaviors. The lack of privacy and constant overbearing presence of enmeshing families can create a strongly rooted need for freedom, causing avoidant-attachment issues. A child is not allowed to have differences in opinions, or issues with other members, so staying and fixing issues was never a skill that was learned, because it has never been an option.

Children in these families often put up with their grievances throughout their whole childhood, giving them 18 years of experience at stuffing their feelings and feigning happiness. When they can no longer handle the pressure, they may sooner cut their family off rather than confront anything.

Children in these families may sometimes run away from home, but the more common outcome is learning to cope with their unhappiness by bottling everything up- impacting their long-term ability to maintain true intimacy in relationships.

This same pattern is seen in Runaway Husbands, who have reached the final decision to avoid after denying, minimizing and avoiding their feelings. They settle on the belief that nothing will get better and they look for a way out- leaving before any effort is made to communicate their unhappiness:

“Before announcing their intentions, men who run away often suffer in silence. They don’t express their mounting dissatisfaction because they’re conflict avoiders, but that avoidance of conflict just covers up a stew of unspoken resentment that one day bubbles over.”

Vikki Stark, Runaway Husbands, p. 35

2. Entitlement

It is uncommon for the family to condemn the Runaway Husband’s actions of betrayal and abandonment, no matter how blatantly wrong he is. This is because there is often a sense of familial pride, and sense of righteousness. They believe, for example, that the Runaway Husband is an exception to the rule. If anyone outside of the family commits a crime, it is wrong. If their own family does it, there is always a special circumstance that makes it excusable. The sense of pride leads down the road to entitled attitudes that dismiss rules, laws, their own promises, morals, and the well-being of others.

This entitlement is seen when Runaway Husbands make the statements; “I deserve to be happy” as a reason for their marital betrayal. His rights to be happy overshadows anything else, because he believes he is special and should be able to do whatever he wants without consequence. If you have a problem with his decisions, you are being controlling, vindictive, and are actively trying to stop him from being happy. Even his own feelings of guilt are enough to make him blame his victim for “trying to making him unhappy” and he quickly believes that he is now a victim in his own entanglement.

He also may believe that he is “doing what’s best,” claiming the throne of superiority and being an authority on what should be done. He may even say that what he did was better for his wife and kids. This excuses him from his broken promises and wrongful behavior- because insisting that this one decision was “right” implies that all other possible were decisions wrong. He may adopt a matter-of-fact attitude, and leave no room for compromise. His destructive ways must be justified as the only way.

3. Emotional Immaturity

Passive aggression, lack of empathy, black and white thinking, defensiveness- all hallmarks of emotional immaturity.

Passive aggression is the common language of most Runaway Husbands and the families they come from. With conflict avoidance and denial of their own feelings, the discontent seeps out in uglier ways.

Direct communication takes a certain level of responsibility for one’s own emotions, and stepping into that light can feel very vulnerable- since their enmeshed families-of-origin know no boundaries. Maturity is not a level that can be safely met without being cast out as difficult, over-reacting, or problem-causing. For this reason, many family members are at various stages of emotional maturity, and may choose to “do what works” and operate that that child-like-level, because it doesn’t disrupt the balance.

Lack of empathy is another major theme in families of runaway husbands. the typical toolkit used to handle conflict is: Ignore the problem, deny their feelings, minimize their feelings, hide their feelings and when all fails, avoid the things that trigger unwanted feelings and mask it with anger. You are expected to operate on these same terms, because this is what they see as ‘normal’. This is why empathy becomes such a struggle- they cannot even empathize or connect with their own negative feelings- the expectation is that you are responsible for avoiding your feelings just as they do with theirs. Anything else is seen as a deliberate act of war on them, and you are treated as the enemy.

What’s worse, is that any negative feelings that they are unable to ignore will become projected, and anger will be thrown in the direction of what they associate their feelings with. Since abandoning a spouse typically triggers shame, those powerful feelings are masked with equal amounts of anger and thrown at the abandoned spouse. The ability to process through negative emotions is foreign, and usually never learned from their childhood environment.

Accept that it is likely that his family may be just as dysfunctional as he is.

It is unlikely that the Runaway Husband’s family will be anything close to a sanctuary for abandoned wives. In-laws may put on a front in order to have access to grandchildren, but after a couple years, true beliefs are revealed. It would be wise to find other means for support. His behaviors and false identity were learned and perfected before you stepped into his life.

Lookout for those who…

  • Excuse or defend his decisions, claim that there are two sides, even hypothetically (devil’s advocating)
  • don’t acknowledge that his actions are wrong, or claiming total neutrality (playing Switzerland)
  • Still actively maintain contact with him
  • Suggest that you need to be forgiving, “get over it” or happy for him
  • Shame you for your negative feelings towards him

This would be a time to lower expectations from his support system- both his family and his friends. Sometimes even mutual friends do not support the abandoned wife.

He may have taken off out-of-the-blue, but his traits did not appear out-of-the-blue.

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3 thoughts on “Families of Runaway Husbands

  1. I can totally relate to this, my husband and his peers were not allowed to cry.. his mother forbidden it at the home..
    If u needed to cry, take a shower and keep it in there..but never let them see you cry for it’s a weekness.. I will always remember that…our first argument I was at his parents house and i started crying and she yelled at me to stop crying and to go to the bathroom…there was no empathy towards me.. she was cold as ice. Now, I know why my husband left so cold and mean.. they had learned not to have empathy.


  2. Thank you so much for your article about an outside party possibly being the one who supported the runaway husband in doing what he did. I did not understand this enough in my situation but your article clarified it for me. I believe this is exactly what happened to my ex husband. It was a woman much older than him who he had known as a child. He had sent her a letter of thanks as she had supported him when his mother died when he was 14. Rather than thanking him for the letter, she infiltrated his life and the life of our family like the Pied Piper or as ivy clings to a tree, eventually choking the life out of it. At one point, I begged my ex to stop the relationship as he had stopped confiding in me and put that on to her. He indicated that he did not want to. it eventually caused so much trouble for our family that he said he had cut off the relationship. My children told me that he secretly kept it going. She is still a big part of his life to this day. Thank you for opening my eyes.


  3. My husband’s family are definitely dysfunctional. There are five children four sons and a daughter. The daughter ran away at fifteen and they never saw her again. She was ok, she kept in touch with her Grandmother but none of her immediate family. My husband always said he wasn’t very good at showing his feelings because of his upbringing and I accepted this. I could write a blog myself just on his family. I realise now how dysfunctional they all are. Although I thought my husband was the “normal one” I obviously now see how he is just as bad as the rest of them and maybe I chose to ignore it because I loved him so much.
    He’s left after a thirty five year relationship twenty five of those married.
    Most of what you have written is definitely true of my husband except I would say he doesn’t seem to have any narcissistic traits except for lack of empathy.
    Thanks for writing this it has been most enlightening.


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