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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

What is a Tsunami Divorce?

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English: Tsunami hazard sign

What is a Tsunami Divorce?

A tsunami divorce is one that completely blindsides a spouse, flattening him or her with a wave that was never spotted.  A tsunami divorce is characterized by a normal marriage and a normal life up until the moment of total and utter destruction.  The spouse that embodies the wave may simply disappear, abandoning their significant other with little to no communication or explanation.  Infidelity, substance abuse, and mental illness can all play a role in a tsunami divorce.  The causes of a tsunami divorce are rooted in the past and far away from the marriage.  These contributing factors lay buried beneath the placid sea of the marriage until they burst forth in a great wall of destruction.

What Are the Effects of a Tsunami Divorce?

A tsunami divorce catches the other spouse completely off guard; it is a shock and awe campaign that leaves the survivor stunned and disoriented. One of the more damaging effects of a tsunami divorce is the survivor’s tendency to question him or herself about why no signs were spotted.  Others in their lives may echo this sentiment.  It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that the signs may have been minimal or only visible in the rearview mirror.  The survivor is left devastated by the end of the marriage, confused as to why it occurred, feeling foolish for being “taken,” and angry at the tsunami spouse.

English: Tsunami Evacuation Route signage sout...

How Does a Tsunami Divorce Differ From Other Divorces?

Most divorces have a long, slow decline or a visible, yet rapidly building disintegration.  This leads to a protracted period where one or both partners are wondering if they should stay or go.  There are nights spent feeling alone while one remains in the marital home.  There are difficult discussions and perhaps heated arguments.  One or both partners may be holding on to hope that things will get better or that he/she will change his/her mind.  This is a painful process that can slow or even stall healing.  On the other hand, it also allows time for pre-grieving of the marriage and it gives both partners a voice in the divorce.

In contrast, a tsunami divorce is sudden.  The marriage is often good up until the point it simply doesn’t exist anymore.  There are no painful discussions.  In fact, there are no discussions at all, which can leave the survivor feeling as though his/her voice has been stolen.  There is no chance to pre-grieve, but the healing process can be easier as the abrupt amputation leaves no room for false hopes and no hesitation in the correct path to follow.

What Are Some of the Lessons That Can be Learned by the Survivors of a Tsunami Divorce?

1) Understand that the causes of the tsunami are found in the past and far away. Don’t spend too much time there.

2) Examine your own tsunami warning system.  Did your fears and anxieties cause you to look away from some signs of the impending disaster?

3) Realize that, although your devastation was complete, the flattened earth is a clean slate.

4) Don’t be afraid to rebuild.  Statistically speaking, tsunamis are pretty rare.

You can read the entire story of my tsunami divorce in my book Lessons From the End of a Marriage, available on Amazon.

Tsunami Divorce in the Huffington Post

How to Surf a Tsunami: A How-To Guide to Healing

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54 thoughts on “What is a Tsunami Divorce?

  1. This is very insightful. Where did this term originate from? Did you coin it? There may be a book here.

    1. There are signs, but the hard part is recognizing what they point to. The reality is so unexpected and extreme, it is difficult to imagine unless you’ve been there. For example, my husband took the coat he wore to our wedding to the cleaners a few days before he left. I only learned later that he wore it during his bigamous wedding. Can’t say I would have seen that one coming!

  2. Yep, lived through one of those. Looking back I can now see signs – the small cracks in the terribly-laid foundation. I beat myself up about it for a long time. How did I not see it coming? And better yet – how did I even end up marrying someone who really didn’t like me (let alone love me)? Hard questions I’ll never know the answer to. But my therapist has taught me that my Intuition is always right – where there is smoke there is fire. I lived in fear for a long time that it would happen again and the tsunami would hit again – but that’s a lie. That’s my old self living in fear. Today I am a stronger and more independent woman because of it, and I now see my divorce for exactly what it was – a gift!

        1. I hope so! It is the whole story – no stone left unturned – of the relationship, the tsunami, and how I found happiness through the pain. I think it gives hope and understanding for any one who has been through the end of a relationship. I know that when it happened to me, I felt like I was the only one who had such an abrupt end. I don’t want anyone else to have to feel that way.

          1. I felt that way, too. I know I’m not the only one who’s gone through divorce, but I thought no one had experienced such a quick demise of their marriage. I honestly can’t express how much it meant to me to read what you wrote and know that I’m not the only one. Thank you so much for writing! 🙂

            1. You are so welcome! I felt alone as well, which is one of the main reasons I started the blog and wrote the book. There are many of us who have felt the sudden destructive power of a tsunami divorce. And there are many of us who can prove that it is a survivable tragedy.

  3. When my husband left suddenly it felt like i was hit from behind with a baseball bat; a complete blindside. I agree with the other comments on here…it’s the perfect way to describe what I have been going through.

  4. This caught my attention and I sit here reading it because the other day, January 9, 2013 I greeting my girl friend/partner of 14 years from work about 7:30 a.m. Everything was better than ever, and she had just moved back into my home, (not from separation reasons. Was a family reason, which is another mind blowing discussion), mid December. She was preparing soup and we were normally, pleasantly talking. I decided to mention to her how it made me feel to get up in the middle of the night, 1:30, 3, 4 etc. to find her texting and silently laughing. Or taking her phone in bathroom staying an hour…no water running sound, dead silence. I felt like she was texting. WELL, she casually turned to me and said: “I don’t want to be in this relationship anyway. I’ve wanted out for awhile.” It was like she fired a gun right in my chest. All this took place within about 15 minutes.

    Within a few hours, she had gathered her things AND LEFT. I am still in SHOCK!!! I can’t fathom any of it. Sheer devastation. Day by day, I’m trying to make it to the next day. It’s been 10 days now. I think I am getting better. I am riddled with anger, contempt, and hurt. I thought I’d share my tsunami. I’m devastated. Fourteen YEARS.

    1. That initial shock is so overwhelming. Incomprehensible. It took months for me to comes to terms with it, much less begin to work through it. You’re doing the right thing now – day by day. Keep taking baby steps towards where you want to be and you’ll get there. Hugs:)

  5. Amazing blog.

    My tsunami happened last year, after I suggested a day out with the kids, he said no I want to leave you, and he left, that was it, no txt, email, discussions etc. A relationship / marriage of 12 yrs – dead.

    He left me with a 5 yo and a 3 mo, yep a 3 mo! What man can leave a women just after he watched her give birth, it makes me feel sick,
    8 months later still had no explanation, luckily I am not waiting for one now, he doesn’t deserve my time. Like you say just taking baby steps and, well thats it!

    I look forward to reading more of your blog – Thanks

    1. Thanks:)

      So sorry you’ve had a tsunami as well. I hear from many women whose husbands abandoned them during pregnancy or soon after the birth. Doesn’t make it any less despicable, just now you’re not alone. You’re smart not to focus on an explanation. It took me a while to let go of that desire/need.

      Keep taking those baby steps – they’ll take you far!

  6. WOW.. I just love this term, “tsunami divorce”. I was also blind-sighted after 20+ years of marriage. But then I was so broken that I did not realize the extent of his psychological abuse. This explains the devastation that I experienced. How can someone be so deceitful to hold someone everyday and say how much they love them … only to walk out and say that they never really loved them and waited till they were ready to leave. The pain from these deceptions is excruciating. You will help many with your story. May God continue to pour out His blessings upon you!

      1. It will be 10 years this summer. Mine was devastating so I can not even imagine what you went through. He told me that he never loved me and I found out that he married me because he was told that he would never be able to date me… I was a challenge to him. So much deception and so much abuse… he broke me but God restored me. Thanks for sharing your story. It will help many.

  7. The seventh month anniversary of my tsunami is coming up. November 17 is a date that I will never forget. I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I now bore the status of “crime victim”, feeling unsafe in my own home. The man I loved more than any other, after picking me up from work, told me in a single sentence that he was outta there. This was on a routine drive home. It took him less than a minute to undo years. At first I thought I was hallucinating because this kind, wonderful man who had only been good to me would *never* do that. It took months for the reality to sink in. My victim’s services counselor told me that it’s fairly common for people to abruptly leave spouses and significant others in situations like mine.

    He would have eventually left me for another reason if not this one, and I don’t take it personally, because I know I was not to blame in any way. Oddly, this is of no comfort, because if I had done something wrong — one thing to offend him or hurt him or make this justifiable — I could make sense of it. So I am left wondering why I chose not to see the signs. Why I couldn’t see his true nature.

    1. The endless questions can be so difficult. One of the conclusions I reached was that I actually didn’t want to be able to understand because that would mean that I was capable of doing the same.

      Hang in there. 7 months is still early. It does get better and the shock lessens. Although the unreality of it all will remain.


      1. This is the first time I have heard the idea of not wanting to understand because it would mean you are capable of doing the same. One of my big hurdles is needing to understand why, and also wanting to know what the actual truth was after discovering 4 years of very calculated lies. I am also struggling with knowledge of what this person has lied about to other people and I am feeling culpable in their ignorance of what he has lied about. Why do I feel an obligation to tell them they have been lied to as well?

        1. Oh, do I ever relate to what you’re going through. I spent years battling the need to try to understand “why.” (Seriously – search my sight for “why” and you’ll probably find dozens of posts as I worked through this).

          As to wanting to inform others, I think there are several parts. One, you want to try to protect them from the same horrific realizations that you’ve experienced. Two, you want the comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in reconciling the man you knew with the reality. And three, there’s probably some sense of wanting him to face the consequences of his actions.

          I can tell you where I eventually settled on the question of why – I’ll never really have an answer. Even if I talked to him, well…he lies. But I eventually settled on what feels like truth to me and a perspective that has allowed me some compassion towards him (which meant that I could finally release the anger that was holding me back).

          Be patient with yourself. Discovering that your life was a work of fiction is horrific.

  8. I just discovered your blog a few days ago. This post in particular describes what happened to me extremely well. My tsunami started about a month ago and peaked with the revelation of her infidelity 2 weeks later. I’m really hoping the flat earth is indeed a clean slate.

    Thank you for this.

  9. Happened to me too. We were, I thought, not just happy – but completely happy. He texted the day before from work “Just sitting there thinking how much I love you”. He was widely regarded as the nicest guy around too. Totally devoted to me and the family. Then he just sat there and said he could not continue, he left 5 minutes later and within a week had got his own house. He left me financially, emotionally, physically. I barely survived. There was never anyone else – he had depression I the only “reason” I was ever given. He simply said he had loved me until the day he left, but quite suddenly changed his mind. He then changed from the kindest most thoughtful person in the world to my attacker. He didn’t want friends and family to think he was a bad guy, so he went around blaming me, making things up. He was so successful that he got his parents to cut me off and he walked away the victim. I honestly will never understand as long as I live, why he did what he did, or how someone I knew and loved for so many years was capable of it.

    1. This sounds very much like my situation. When confronted about his infidelity he became a completely different person than I had ever seen, almost like a split personality, and he went into attack mode, even taking the risk of filing a false police report just to make me look bad. He lies to everyone, including his own family, while on the outside he looks like the most wonderful person. I’m not sure it is understandable.

      1. I think you’ll find many posts and comments from people who can relate to your situation. Unfortunately, the liars are out there. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced this – it’s horrible and completely crazy-making.

    2. Sara I wish I could talk to you… same thing happened to me three years ago and I still cannot move on.

  10. I know you’ve heard this over and over but I’m so glad you wrote this article. Having a name for something so devastating is kind of a relief. After 17 years of marriage my husband came home, thanked me for a great dinner and said the dreaded words, ” We need to talk”. He packed up his stuff and moved to his parents. Its been a year and our divorce is still on going. Im so much better than a year ago. The shock has worn off but not the anger. Im still working on that.
    I enjoy reading your columns. They have helped me understand some of my feelings along the way and realize that I’m not alone and I thank you for that.

    1. You are so welcome. People like you are the reason I started writing and the reason I continue to write. Anger is normal after the shock fades. It will fade in time as well. Hugs to you.

  11. My tsunami happened almost three years ago when I picked my husband up from the airport after him having spent a month at a depression clinic in AZ (we live in FL). He got in the car, told me he didn’t love me and never had, wanted to get divorced, sell our business, etc. This after a happy 26 years of marriage and three wonderful grown boys. I don’t know how I managed to drive the hour and a half home and now wonder if I should have let him out on the highway or swerved into a pole…on his side!

    He had suffered from depression at times throughout the marriage, but the last five years got progressively worse. The last episode was the most protracted and began the day one of our twins came out as gay. He tried everything to deal with his depression — meds, talk therapy, acupuncture, EMT, TMS, and even ECT. I was extremely supportive throughout the whole thing and he called me his rock.

    There was a crack in the veneer, however. I went with him to his therapist three years prior as a support when he blurted out to that that he didn’t know if he loved me or ever had. I was gobsmacked and he was cold and mean for two weeks until he apologized and said he was in a dark hole and didn’t mean what he said. He went on about wanting nothing more than to live out our days together with our wonderful family. Looking back, I chose to believe him, but apparently there were dark waves rumbling under the surface.

    He got out of Sierra-Tucson (his therapist suggested that place and I don’t mind mentioning it because I think it’s bad when vulnerable men and women are put together in a supposed place of therapy/healing). It also cost $50K and I am left to pay it back because my relative lent him the money to go there. He said we were married at the time and thinks I deserve to pay it. Sorry, but I had to mention that because it still makes me angry!

    I found out that my husband had met someone at the clinic (he only knew her for 10 days!) and he followed her back to the state where she lived, leaving me, our home, the business he built (CPA firm), his seat on a bank board, and all of our friends and family. He left myriad school loans for our kids behind and put several on them that he had taken out in their names. I think the financial pressure was a huge contributing factor, but he wouldn’t discuss it with me even when I asked about it.

    Fast forward and we divorced last year after 28 years of marriage. I read Lisa Arend’s book, among many others (it was fabulous and I still read all of the posts). I went to a Jungian therapist, had acupuncture, journaled, exercised, and got up to go to work every single day. It was super hard, exhausting, and expensive (did I mention I had open heart surgery just two and a half months after my husband took off? Nothing to do with him…just a congenital condition). It was a frightening time, probably mostly because of finances. My husband had taken care of everything and left me in the lurch. I joined forces with my brother, another local CPA, and we are partners in the business now.

    I am still healing, but knew all along that I would be okay. I told myself I wasn’t going to let him take me down. We are civil to one another, but don’t speak much. Thank goodness he is in another state and no, his relationship with the woman didn’t last. She was married, too, and ended up getting a divorce. He has never shown any remorse and I just tell myself that I don’t need it. It is a reflection on him and not me.

    I have been seeing a very sweet man who understands that I’m still working through everything (he raised two kids by himself and has an ex-wife that was depressed). But I had to make the decision to open myself up and be vulnerable if I wanted to find love and be in a relationship again.

    I know this is long, but I wish everyone who has been through their own hellish tsunamis the absolute best. I just KNOW that there is light and happiness at the end of the tunnel for all of us!

  12. Hello people! This post was a long time ago but I was wondering how you are all getting on now – looking for some inspiration! I’m two years out from when my wife walked out and that was that…..
    Still dwelling in a pit of misery really and wondering if it’s worth continuing 🥴

    1. Always worth continuing. She does not have the power to determine your worth. There are many success stories on this blog – people that have been betrayed and abandoned in the worst ways and have found a way to live in spite of it. Some of my early readers keep in touch and fill me in on the surprising and happy turns their lives have taken. As long as you’re still breathing, there’s always hope.

      I hope you’ll read the applicable posts and the comments. You’re not alone.


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