Runaway Husbands: a book review

Divorce is hard. This year has been hard. The hardest part isn’t the logistics, the moving, the financial untangling, the stress, the aching, or the loneliness. It’s the fact that I still disassociate my self from the fact that divorce is now part of my story. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I followed the rules. I did what I was taught was “right” and practiced integrity in how I lived and loved. I loved him and sacrificed unquestioningly for him, and it still ended with him telling me “I don’t miss you. I’m happier than I’ve ever been without you here. I want a divorce.”

The shock of that statement, coming about three weeks after I moved out to acquiesce with his sustained requests for a separation (and to keep me from being left alone in a tiny basement apartment I hated), and just days before our second anniversary, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn to accept.

This is my new reality, not that, that happy marriage teamwork and cuddles and inside jokes and serious talks and road trips and dinners and coffee and naps and home. Everything I had known was true, but also wasn’t. Everything had been real, but everything had been a lie. And now it was gone.

In the following weeks I fell into grief and a loneliness of a peculiar sort that I think maybe even widows/widowers can’t know–not just “this love/r is gone,” but “this love/r is gone and is not what/who I thought he was and now despises me.” I’d run into habits of the heart that left me reeling with the shock and despair of my new reality–I couldn’t go to him with ideas, weariness, excitement, inside jokes, whatever, and I’d have to accept once again that the man I’d loved was [functionally] no more.

Halfway through the subsequent depression, my counselor opened our session really excited. “Hannah, Hannah, I have another client with the SAME sort of story and she recommended this book and OH you have to read it. It’s called Runaway Husbands.”

Dutiful me bought it and started to read it, and found it incredibly hard to read. Everything* was my story. Everything was familiar. I couldn’t forget reality and I had to face it. And that was so good for me. And so hard.

Maybe the most healing thing for human suffering is to know that your experience is not isolated. That you are not alone. That someone else has walked this road before you and hears your pain. Runaway Husbands played that role for me, and I’m sure for countless others, and it made me feel a little more sane and a little more sure that I was going to make it to the other side of this grief in one piece, with my sanity, and with some joie de vivre left over.

Runaway Husbands is not an explicitly Christian book, and it doesn’t give you “five steps to wholeness after your husband bails on your marriage,” either. It doesn’t try to fix you or your situation, but rather provides story after story that shows you that your experience is common, your reaction is normal, and give examples of what others experienced and felt as they dealt with similar situations.

While this book is written by a woman, for women, and frames the discussion in terms that are stereotypically feminine, I think that this book would be a great resource for anyone who’s had their spouse abruptly leave the marriage and become seemingly cold toward their spouse’s shock and grief. This book teaches you to unclutch the shards of the relationship and accept that answers are cheap and unsatisfactory, and that recovery will be slow (but it will happen).

I’d love to hear from any others who’ve been through similar things–what books helped you? What other resources did you appreciate? What was cathartic? What was healing?

And, if you’re in a similar situation, but too newly into this experience to comment and haven’t yet accepted reality for what it is, message me and I’d love to mail you a copy.


*Editorial comment: “everything” is, of course, not literally accurate in every sense. The overall analysis, despite a few details that didn’t match because of courtship culture or personalities, was spot on.

7 thoughts on “Runaway Husbands: a book review

  1. Oh wow, Hannah, this brought it all flooding back to me- I could have done with this book 9 years ago. My ex left me for our next-door-neighbour, I had 2 small kids aged 4 and 7. It was so traumatic and heartbreaking, one of the hardest years of my life. I did find an on-line support group called Divorce Care, they sent me 365 daily e-mails- Biblical, practical and loving- taking me through the grief process- I’d recommend that to anyone. In the UK we don’t have many local ‘real-life’ groups, but I think there’s a lot of Divorce Care groups in the US.

    Today, I’m doing ok. I re-married 6 years ago, my husband has been a brilliant step-dad to the kids, and a lovely husband to me. But it hasn’t been easy. At all. And I still grieve over the loss of my first husband, and how our family should have been. Whilst I’m very grateful for him, and indeed I am in love with him, I am conflicted. I am struggling terribly with the upcoming marriage of my ex and my old neighbour. The fact that they’re still together 9 years on, and apparently very happy. It just doesn’t seem right. It’s not right that my now 13yr old daughter is a right old state over whether to go to the wedding. That my 16yr old son tries to spare my feelings and also tries to keep his dad happy. I’m struggling. And I can’t really share my struggle with my husband, cos that might make him feel bad that I really wish I was still married to my ex. Which I do, in a way. But really, I can’t even look at my ex without feeling sick. So, I’m confused. And struggling. And beating myself up, like, ALL the time, for ‘failing’ so badly, and letting my kids down. Although, logically, I know it really WASN’T my fault, I still feel guilty. Welcome to the messed up world of divorce and remarriage. (Oh, and I’ve also had plenty people tell me that my remarriage is actually adulterous, and that I should separate immediately and repent. That really hasn’t helped)!

  2. I really struggled with facing that divorce was part of my story, too, especially because I, too, followed all the rules for doing it all the right way. My ex-husband didn’t choose to leave me, in the traditional sense, because I am the one who asked for the divorce, but he left me by making a commitment to alcohol and to sleeping with other women. I’m grateful that God walked me through the process of seeking every other possibility before coming to the point of choosing the divorce because He knew I needed to know I had done everything possible to keep my marriage together. One of the most helpful books was “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend. It helped me to see that God supports healthy boundaries and that He does not expect me to become a doormat to the ones I love. Getting a divorce was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but one I knew I needed to make. I still find it difficult when I think about never becoming a mom or when I need to travel alone instead of with the one who used to be my best friend. But this decision and “Boundaries” helped me grow stronger and more mature and I find I use what I learned in this book in many of my other relationships.

  3. I’m not exactly sure how I missed that this was a part of your story. In any case, I’m so sorry. I have no idea how long ago this was or what your process has been or where are you are now, but I’m sorry & mourning with you for the loss of things you held precious.

  4. “Maybe the most healing thing for human suffering is to know that your experience is not isolated. That you are not alone. That someone else has walked this road before you and hears your pain.”

    This is so true, at least in my own life. After dealing with a significant loss of a very different variety, I read C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. And what I liked most about it was the rawness which let me know others had felt the same when it came to death and grief (in my situation, the loss of a parent). While it didn’t provide any answers, just knowing I wasn’t alone was healing.

    I’m so sorry to hear about the grief and loss you’re going through over your marriage. Thank you for being so vulnerable. ((HUGS))

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