The road to a marriage breakup is typically marked with many warning signs. Years of arguments and growing incompatibility foretell the ending of what has become an unhappy union for both spouses. But for some women, what they believe is a stable and happy marriage ends in a confusing, shocking instant when their husband suddenly and without warning says he's leaving.

"These are not marriages in which they've been in and out of marriage counseling and where there's been a lot of talk about divorce," says Vikki Stark, a Montreal-based marriage counselor and family therapist. "These are very calm, stable relationships."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Stark, author of "Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal" (Green Light Press, $17), knows firsthand how quickly a marriage can end. "It happened to me in 2006," she says. "I was very happily married. I really loved my husband." One night before dinner, her husband simply said the marriage was over and he was moving out. They had been married for 21 years. At the time, Stark was 57 and her husband was 59.

In Stark's case -- and in the case of more than 90 percent of the 400 women she interviewed for her book -- her husband left her for a younger woman. Like most of the cases she's studied, there were no warning signs that her marriage was in trouble. "If the guy was a louse all along, and was cheating and lying and an alcoholic, it wouldn't be any big surprise," she says. But almost always, the husbands seem happily married and, until the moment they leave, are reliable, responsible and loving. "That's why it's so tremendously devastating when they suddenly turn their backs and walk away." The book doesn't address women who abandon their husbands; Stark notes that it happens, but it is far less common.

Stark, who is originally from Queens but moved to Canada in 1985, says that a woman whose marriage ends when a husband abandons her faces a harder time coping than most divorced women. "She has to recognize that it is not a normal divorce," Stark says. "Your whole world has been destroyed."

At her website (runawayhusbands.com), Stark offers advice and stories from other women whose husbands bolted. She says it takes at least a year to recover from the shock, but most women ultimately put the hurt behind them.

"Time will heal and life will go on," Stark says. "Even if you're 40 or 50 or 60 or 70, as long as you're still alive and kicking, you have a future."