Spousal abandonment, when one person leaves without warning, doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live in a perpetual state of bewilderment and grief.

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Knowing what to do when your husband abandons you, your wife picks up and leaves, or your partner suddenly calls it quits can be challenging.

Not only might you be facing the typical pain associated with a relationship ending, the situation can feel surreal with all of the:

  • confusion
  • denial
  • a lack of understanding

Both parties typically see a breakup coming when a relationship goes through a sustained period of conflict or “rockiness.” But partner abandonment or even an abrupt end to an affair, occurs without warning — real or perceived.

Here are just a couple of possibilities for the relationship ghosting:

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the level at which you recognize and empathize with emotions.

Research from 2018 suggests low emotional intelligence may contribute to the likelihood someone may abandon a relationship without warning.

Trauma response

May Han, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Beaverton, Oregon, says their abandonment could be due to a past trauma being activated by something in your relationship but, “that may have nothing to do with the current partner.”

She indicates someone who’s been through abuse or bullying, for example, may be hypervigilant of acts that minimally resemble betrayal. Not knowing how to express their feelings safely, they may, in turn, leave as a means of avoidance.

It’s not that unexpected

Sometimes the warning signs of an unhappy partner are there, but you may not clearly see them.

“As hard as it might be to hear, there might have been some ongoing issues that had not been dealt with, which is why it might seem ‘unexpected’ for one partner, but it has been brewing under the surface for a while,” says Diana Garcia, a licensed mental health counselor from Weston, Florida.

Life changing circumstances

Life can throw some major challenges your way. Sometimes, experiences that create lifestyle overhauls can put new, unexpected strain on relationships.

A common example would be a major medical illness. A 2009 study found women living with life threatening illnesses were more likely than others to experience spousal abandonment.

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve a relationship, but there are ways you can help yourself and find closure.

1. Ready your support networks

According to Han, finding that connection in family and friends quickly can be very important, especially if children are involved.

“I have a client who went to their parent’s house with their young child after going through a brutal abandonment in their marriage, and they told me it was the best decision they have made,” she says.

“If children are involved, people in your network can offer as surrogate caretakers for your kids so that you can have some time to heal and recover from the hurt.”

2. Get away from self-blame

Han cautions against falling into the trap of self-blame. She explains it’s natural to feel guilt, as it’s the body’s way of making sense of something unfathomable.

“We can, for sure, take this as a learning experience about ourselves and our relationship needs. However, when the reflection becomes self-berating and criticisms, it maybe adds more pain to an already painful situation.”

She recommends practicing self-compassion, and treating yourself the same way you would treat a friend going through the experience.

3. Allow grief expression

Even if your spouse returns, the relationship as you know it may have changed, and it’s OK to express grief:

  • verbally
  • in journaling
  • or through expressive arts

“You’re grieving the loss of this relationship, what it meant to you, and the role this person played in your life,” says Garcia.

4. Avoiding instant gratification

Feeling an onslaught of negative emotions may make you want to reach for things that can immediately make you feel better.

Kasey Scharnett-King, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Fort Worth, Texas, suggests being wary of impulsive decisions.

“After breakups, we are known to cut our hair, move to another state and make quick decisions based on a temporary emotional feeling,” she notes. “We have seen these in all of the breakup movies.”

While cutting your hair may be regrettable, more harmful decisions may result in challenges down the road, such as substance misuse.

5. Skip out on the rebound relationship

One way you may seek fresh validation and appreciation might be through a new romantic partner.

Scharnett-King warns this rarely works out. “This is a way to avoid your hurt and not deal with your emotional health. In addition, not dealing with your feelings of abandonment can create dysfunction such as anxiety and jealousy in future relationships.”

Marriage abandonment can be the result of many factors, including:

  • trauma responses
  • lifestyle upheavals
  • low EQ

If you’re wondering what to do when your husband or wife abandons you or your partner suddenly leaves, turning to family and friends for immediate support can be invaluable.

If you feel stuck in your grief, or if holding onto hope a spouse will return is preventing you from moving forward, speaking with a mental health professional may help.