Life with Gracie: Why husbands leave their wives during holiday season

If you made it through the Thanksgiving holiday with your husband at your side, you’ve probably already thanked your lucky stars.

If you haven’t, you might want to reconsider because Thanksgiving might have been your last chance.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the holiday season, most often that time between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, is the likeliest of times for husbands to bolt.

Well, that’s what a recent survey of 400 women seems to indicate.

The survey by Montreal-based family therapist and author Vikki Stark found that almost half of men who abandoned their wives did so over the holidays.

And while wife abandonment peaks around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, any old holiday will do, Stark said.

In her latest book, “Planet Heartbreak,” 62 women share their stories of heartache after being abandoned by their husbands.

You’ll find Patricia of Peachtree City on Page 134.

Her heartbreak came during a July Fourth weekend, when she returned home to find her husband’s things gone.

“I immediately picked up my phone and called him to see what was going on,” she writes. “I got an automated message stating that he had blocked my number. I was shocked.”

He left a five-page typed letter on the kitchen table telling her he needed a different lifestyle, that all the things he once loved to do had become boring and a waste of time.

“He left the way he did because he was afraid that if he told me face to face, he would not have been able to leave. And he couldn’t bear to see the look on my face as I watched him move out. I was to contact him only by email going forward.”

Stark describes this behavior as Wife Abandonment Syndrome, a phrase she coined.

Why the holiday peak?

Three reasons. First, the husband feels the pressure of having to appear to be the happy host at holiday social events and just can’t do it. Second, his girlfriend pressures him to make up his mind because she doesn’t want to endure yet another holiday while he is celebrating with his family. And third, the dreariness of the cold season pushes them to look elsewhere for, ahem, warmth.

Whatever the reason, it does seem clear that the dead of winter contributes to the mortality of marriages.

What I’m having trouble with is women who experience this loss say they didn’t see it coming. Were they just not paying attention? Were they in denial? Or both?

Actually none of that, Stark said.

“The wives may have noticed changes but didn’t know how to read the signs,” she said.

Men generally exhibit at least one of these seven signs:

  • Does he seem suddenly unhappy with his life? Even if the complaints he raises are not related to your marriage, it’s a sign that he may be rethinking things.
  • Do you notice a personality change? Is he withdrawn or suddenly irritable? Is he snapping at the children or not wanting to participate in family activities?
  • Are his habits changing? Is he going to the gym, dying his hair, getting a tattoo, buying new clothes or an expensive car?
  • 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 taking mysterious business trips or disappearing for periods of time and the reasons given seem a little odd?
  • Has he started to frequently mention a woman at work, telling you about her in an innocent way?
  • Does he work in a career in which he is in a position of power or authority, such as a professor, pastor, or business executive, where younger women may look up to him?


It happens so often, Stark calls it an epidemic that is doing a lot of damage not just to women but to their children and the community.

“People start to believe that if George can leave Susie, then nobody’s marriage is safe,” Stark said. “It creates a fear among family and friends. But mostly this unreality, how did this happen. If you don’t see it coming, it’s like a tsunami. All of a sudden, the wave hits and your landscape is unrecognizable. The thing you thought was real isn’t real anymore.”

Ummm, sorta like discovering Santa isn’t real.

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