What is a Tsunami Divorce?

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


The Day the Marriage Died

Up until now, everything I have posted has been recently written, almost 3 years since the end of my marriage.  I recently went back and visited some of my earlier writings, drafted in the weeks and months after he left.  I’ve decided to share some of that, to expose the raw underbelly of divorce.  Please be aware that this writing has a different tone.  The emotions and language are harsh as they capture my reaction on the day the marriage died.

Choosing: painting by first husband, George Fr...

Wellness is not measured by the amount of broccoli you eat or the number of miles you can run.  It is not found in the number of punches on your yoga membership card or the double digits of your sit-up count.  Wellness is not indicated by the reading of the blood pressure cuff or the size indicated on the label of your jeans.

I used to think I was well; I had all of the above mastered.  My lean, muscled body spoke of the intense workouts it was subjected to along with the strict vegetarian diet that was used to fuel the exercise sessions.  I awoke before dawn to ensure that I could fit a workout into my hectic schedule as a middle school teacher.  I fit long runs in on open evenings or on the weekends.  I watched everything I ate, avoiding meat and keeping a careful eye on the amount of fat consumed.  My favorite way to spend the weekends was working in my extensive garden or going on long hikes in the nearby North Georgia mountains.

I used to think I was well.  But, I wasn’t.  All it took to strip away all of physical manifestations of health was a few short sentences.  A text, sent across the country on a sunny Saturday afternoon, arriving unexpectedly on my phone.

July 11, 2009  12:38 p.m.

I’m sorry to be such a coward leaving you this way.  I am leaving. Please reach out to someone let the dogs out as I am leaving the state.  The code for the garage is 5914.  I’m truly sorry but I can’t do this anymore.   Please give me some time to come to terms with my decision.  I will call you in a few days.  I am sorry that I have failed you.

Lesson One

When two become ones, you are able to see yourself clearly.

Fear gripped.  Legs collapsed.  Brain stuttered.  Lungs heaved. Gut clenched. Body trembled.  World shattered.  Visceral.  Violent.

My father’s arms engulfed me as I lay shaking on the floor, my body and brain rebelling from my new reality.

“What can I do for you?  Do you want me to call mom?” my dad offered, seeking for a way to comfort his only child.

“Yes, please,” I responded, forcing the words out through my locked lungs.

He reluctantly left me in a heap on the hallway floor in my aunt and uncle’s house as he moved to the dining room to make the call to my mother in Texas, whom he had divorced decades earlier.

My brain barely registered his soft, yet strained voice in conversation several feet away from me.  My hands gripped my phone with urgency, willing it to send another message.  Wanting this to be a mistake.  A joke.  Anything but real.  A little anger pushed through the initial shock, enough for me to summon the courage to flip open the phone, using muscle memory trained over years to scroll down twelve names to Mr. T, the nickname he used to put himself in the phone he bought for me years before.

“Hello.  You’ve reached T of MMS.  I cannot come to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as possible.”

I took a deep breath and left a message, almost unintelligible through my tears, my shaking, and my heaving chest.

“T.  I don’t understand.  What is this?  A text message?  Sixteen years and a text message? Please don’t do this.  Not like this.  Call me.  Please.”

I closed the phone, severing the connection.

It sat there silent.  Taunting me.  I opened it again, this time to send a text message.

What about the dogs?  Are the dogs okay?  Call me.

It remained silent, the screen dark.

I’ve Buried the Hatchet, but I’ve Marked its Location

Making a hatchet sheath, step 2: flip the hatc...

Forgiveness is such a loaded word.

It requires an acceptance of someone’s actions.  Actions that may be horrific, born from unknown motivations.

Forgiveness was on my mind soon after I received the text that ended my marriage.  According to the platitudes I had always heard, I needed to forgive him.  It was the right thing to do.

It was an unfathomable thing to do.  I viewed forgiveness as a selfless act, and I had a self that was way too hurt to pardon its executioner.  I couldn’t begin to even understand what he did, much less WHY he did.  And, now, I was supposed to exonerate him for those same things?  It just seemed like one more way that he would be getting away with his choices and actions.  I refused to endorse his behavior with my stamp of approval.

Time passed.  He remained unforgiven.  I thought I could attend to my anger without addressing that little matter of absolution.  I was wrong.  I held on to an ember of hate, fueled by my refusal to accept his choices.

I grew to see forgiveness in a different light.  It was actually a selfish act for me.  After all, I do not expect to ever have any contact with him again.  He will never know if I am his pardoner or if I hunt for vengeance.  I forgave him for me.  It helped to extinguish the fire of anger.  It brought peace to my days and kept him out of my dreams at night.

In order to find forgiveness, I had to shift my view of him.  I had to see him as sick, confused, desperate.  I do not know how true any or all of those labels are, but they are true to me, as they helped me to feel compassion for him.  They let me accept that my greatest love sought to destroy me, regardless of intent.  I cling to those labels when I feel the anger spark.  I cover the ember with thoughts of mental illness and a frantic push to survive. I chose to see him as weak and frightened, acting in his own twisted version of self defense, rather than as some evil puppetmaster, cruelly controlling my life.

I do not endorse his choices.  Regardless of his mental state, he lied and manipulated for years, he committed bigamy and fraud, and he ran and hid like a frightened coward.  I still believe that he belongs in prison for his actions.  I still would feel no sadness if I heard of his demise.  I have simply found a way let go in my mind so that I could find peace.

I have forgiven him, but I will never forget the pain.  I’ve buried the hatchet, but I’ve marked its location.

Marital Treason

Caution: Rant ahead.  Proceed with care.

An yellow orange warning sign with an ! . Re-u...
An yellow orange warning sign with an ! . Re-uploaded because someone on the English Wikipedia wanted it again. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is so much about the legal process of divorce that is just not fair.  I’m feeling that very acutely right now, as I received an email from someone in my life who is now in the same no-win property situation I found myself in.  In both cases, the spouse was dishonest and actively hiding information.  In both cases, the judge awarded the marital home to the partner with the agreement that they would assume the full note and make payments.  In both cases, that failed to happen.  This puts us in the position of owing money on a home we do not own and cannot sell.  Speaking for my case, I truly felt as though I had no option other than foreclosure.  My ex had disappeared again, I could not afford to pay lawyers any more, and the courts could only change the ownership of the house, not the names on the loan.

I am disgusted by the fact that actions that would be deemed illegal against a stranger are allowed against a spouse.  It is not unlike the way it was (and still is in some cultures) where a husband could forcefully take his wife without it being termed rape because of the legal contract between them.  Why is it that a marriage contract makes despicable behavior tolerable in the eyes of the law?  Why is it that just because I called him,” husband,” he could embezzle my money, steal my files, and abandon joint responsibilities without more than a slight slap on the wrist?  If someone came into my home and did the same, they would be sitting in a jail cell, learning how to do pull-ups on a bunk bed.

I propose we need a new law: marital treason, the act of betraying one’s marriage (there used to be a similar law called petty treason).  This would include adultery, deception (financial and otherwise), and acting in a way that is in opposition to a marriage.  Once convicted, the treasonous spouse would be required to pay restitution (enforced by payroll deduction) and forced to serve community service in a cause chosen by the spouse.  For those, like mine, who like to run, their passports would be confiscated until the requirements of their conviction had been met.  It seems as though the only time the law takes divorce seriously is in the case of child support (don’t get me wrong here, I strongly support hunting down deadbeat parents).  Also, please understand I’m not whining for alimony or excess; I just want what was stolen from me.  The marital treason law would seek to identify and hold responsibility to those who chose to betray their marriage through deception.  It’s only fair.

Okay, I feel a little better now.  Just had to get that off my chest.

Clean Up, Aisle 5

I received a notice in the mail yesterday that I have to report to court to settle one of the financial messes that my ex left behind. I have known that this was coming, but that does not make its arrival any easier.

I’m angry. Angry that he continues to dodge his responsibilities while I, as a tax-paying citizen who holds a job and a valid driver’s license, gets to deal with the mess he so casually left behind.

I’m anxious. Even now, almost three years out from the initial blow, I’m still half-waiting for another explosion.

But, most of all, I feel ashamed. I don’t know why, but this is my response when I feel like people are judging me, even when their assumptions are untrue. These people don’t know anything of my story, nor do they care. I want to walk in there, head held high, with the “innocent spouse” letter from the IRS fastened to my collar, an anti-scarlet letter. I want them to know that I am the one cleaning up the mess, not the one who left it there in the first place.

But, I guess it doesn’t matter. Part of marriage is cleaning up after your spouse. My clean-up duties just happen to extend beyond the matrimony. I’ll walk in there, keep my story to myself, and take care of business, leaving me with one less of his messes to clean up.