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Spousal Abandonment Syndrome

As covered by The Times and The Daily Mail, while the divorce rate is at its lowest level for 40 years there is a growing trend in what the US have dubbed “Spousal Abandonment Syndrome”, where the husband or wife leaves the relationship suddenly and without warning.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 130,473 couples divorced across the UK in 2013. Family law experts Lake Legal estimate that up to five per cent of UK divorces could be triggered by Spousal Abandonment Syndrome and that it is becoming increasingly more commonplace amongst UK married couples.

The trend, which typically affects long marriages with adult children, is particularly shocking for the party left behind because there are rarely any obvious signs of unhappiness in the relationship.

Commenting on the trend Lyn Ayrton, managing partner of Lake Legal, said: “Spousal Abandonment Syndrome is particularly traumatic because one partner ends the marriage out of the blue and then literally disappears from the other’s life with no further contact of any kind, and seemingly no regard for the feelings of the partner they have left behind. It is a total bombshell”.

“It often seems that the ‘abandoning’ spouse has bottled up their feelings over the years and has dedicated significant amounts of time to planning an exit from the relationship. Often the catalyst for them is meeting someone new and beginning an affair. For the unsuspecting spouse they feel robbed of the opportunity to try and save the marriage, because they have not been made aware of the unhappiness or difficulties experienced by their partner. They are left with confusion and chaos in their lives, and the overwhelming feeling that they have spent years with someone who has now destroyed everything that was familiar to them”.

Lyn continued: “It’s important for the spouse who has been left behind to seek expert help and support from a counsellor. Very often they will become consumed by trying to make sense of what has happened to them, and hoping that the partner they knew and loved would walk back through the door so that everything will go back to normal. The physical and emotional effects of this can be devastating and long term”.

“All too often the hurt is increased by the inevitable involvement of the couple’s children, in-laws, other family members and circle of friends who may support the spouse who has left, therefore increasing the feeling of abandonment and injustice for the remaining spouse.”

‘Abandoned’ spouses are left grieving for the unexpected loss of their partner and experience a range of emotions including anger, loss of trust, fear, anxiety and depression. Many say that they feel it would have been easier to cope with their partner’s death than what they perceive to be the ultimate betrayal. The time to heal from sudden endings is typically longer than that for relationship breakdowns which have gradually occurred over time. The spouse who has left can exhibit very few signs of emotional upset, usually because they have been coming to terms with the breakdown of the marriage for several years whilst planning their exit.

Lake Legal has compiled a list of common features of spousal abandonment:

1. The perception of the ‘abandoned’ spouse is that their marriage was a happy one, and they have felt loved and appreciated by their partner up to the very moment that they end the relationship.

2. The spouse who leaves, has not shared any feelings of discontent prior to leaving, so that by the time they announce their departure the decision has been made and it is too late (as far as they are concerned) to try any couple’s therapy or counselling to try and save the marriage.

3. The shock announcement that the marriage is over is typically made in the middle of an often mundane, everyday situation. Alternatively, the leaving spouse does not face their partner at all, and simply writes a note to say they have moved out.

4. When the leaving spouse announces the marriage is over, the situation moves very quickly. Often they have already rented alternative accommodation, bags are packed, and solicitors have been consulted.

5. Once the leaving spouse has moved out, they tend to be very resistant to contact or communication with their former partner. They cut themselves off from the situation they have left behind.

6. Where the leaving spouse gives reason for their departure, they can seem to the other spouse to be trivial or even fictitious, against the background of what they have perceived to be an otherwise happy marriage

7. The spouse who has left behaves in such a way that they become like a stranger to their former partner, for example, they begin socialising with an entirely new circle of friends, taking up hobbies they have never done before, and living an entirely different lifestyle to what has been supposedly enjoyed previously with their family.

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