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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 know 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 from Amazon.

Check out my article in The Huffington Post for more information about tsunami divorces.

And, if you have been hit by a tsunami divorce or other sudden trauma, read Surfing a Tsunami: A How-To Guide For Healing

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57 thoughts on “What Is a Tsunami Divorce?

    1. wow…this was my experience. Good definition. Three years out and I am still asking myself those questions.

          1. Oh that is bad. Mine was a ‘date’ at a coffee shop after 37 years of marriage…No choice, no discussion…. Yes a tsunami is certainly one word that could be used to describe what it certainly felt like.

            1. Wow. Did he at least have the decency to pay for your coffee? 🙂

              I’m currently reading my journal from the first few weeks as I’m wrapping up a book I’ve written. It is amazing to read (and feel – the pen almost tore through the pages) the intensity of the emotion I felt afterwards. It is wild to see how “all over” my mind was as I struggled to try to figure out what happened.

              How long has it been for you? I’m at three years next month.

              1. Just nine months….still a bit raw. Survived initially by shutting down in an attempt to block out the intense emotions. I am writing it all down now and this is helping me to let go of the pain….Best wishes with your book.

  1. I am currently at the very beginning of a Tsunami divorce….I have used the word but never fully appreciated the depth with which that descriptor is true. I have been married for 15 years…we have two children….we looked utterly perfect from the outside. Many people envied us…..picture perfect. On a Monday, he announced his month long infidelity with a fella he met at the Gym…a man! i had no idea (enter Tsunami) he walked out 30 hours later after promising to “work it out.” … all lies. I am choosing to resist bitterness at all cost. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to learning from those who have gone before me on this path.

  2. fantastic description. i can totally relate to that. I had no idea there was an undercurrent to the still waters i was seeing. Scary stuff and really messes with your head and your trust issues.

  3. I too am going through a tsunami divorce. I just read your story. My God, it’s amazing to me how we get through it day in, day out!! Thank you fo ryour courage in writing your story. I find so much relief in writing what I think and feel. It’s a huge relief. He sees the kids one day a week but never grants me a word or any hummanity! He too blames his past.

    How are you now?

    1. Thanks for stopping by:) I’m doing really well now- 3 1/2 years out. It’s been a hard road and I have really had to work hard at forgiveness (I know that probably feels like a 4 letter word right now!) and letting go. It’s not easy but you can get to a place where it no longer consumes you or occupies much place in your life. I also found that writing was helpful. I felt like he stole my voice in leaving the way he did- writing gave it back.

      Wish you the best on your journey. Remember, don’t be afraid to rebuild:)

  4. Good God! THANK YOU for giving my divorce a name! I was told the morning of my 40th birthday after almost 19 years of marriage that he “loves me” but is not “in love with me” anymore. Then he moved into the basement and has been there for almost 7 months…while I keep wondering if he’s coming back. He’s not. I’ve been completely blindsided and everyone keeps telling me to get mad, but I can’t get over the sadness to hold onto mad. Thank you for stopping by my blog today…I really needed to see this. Maybe we can get a manicure together someday 🙂

  5. I had no idea there was a term for this. My ex hit me with this almost 1 year ago, Dec 27, 2014 @ 6:30pm. The day after my birthday, completely breaking my heart. I feel so stupid for not seeing it coming, even a year later. 28 years were washed away in a heartbeat. I am still such an idiot, I am paying voluntarily to ensure that she is safe with basic needs. I have no idea how to let go of the pain. We met when we were 16 & 14 respectively, we have a disabled child who resides with me, I have been together longer than I have been apart. Suddenly a single middle aged father of an adult child. Lost my job 3 months later too. Been a crappy year. Job life is better, personal life is still mushed up like baby food.

    Thank you for this article

  6. Hi, it is interesting to have a name to put to it. I’m more in a tsunami separation (have to be separated 12 months before a divorce). I usually don’t read any other blogs whilst I’m going through this as on my blog I want my raw feelings and how I am dealing with it. I’m glad I read this though. From the looks of it I’m handling it all pretty well… Or i’m just telling myself that.

    1. Tsunami separation – sounds kinda like an oxymoron. I wrote about states with mandatory waiting periods. At first, I liked the idea but then my readers talked me out of it. What’s your take on the 12 month wait?

      1. At the moment I’m not sure on my take. In a way I like it as it gives me hope she may decide to come back before it’s all over. On the other hand I have to deal with a year of uncertainties before really moving on. From a government perspective I see the benefits as there would be less administrative work in case couples did reunite. But here is Australia nothing involving the government is easy. Here’s the link to information on divorce here, in case you want to read it.

        1. I can see they’re coming from a place of encouraging couples/individuals not to make a rash decision. On the other hand, having to stay legally married for a period of a year, especially if the relationship is toxic or violent, seems like punishment. I wonder about mandatory waiting periods and counseling on the front end – the marriage- instead. I will say I am impressed with the clarity and ease of use of that website- nothing like that when I divorced!

      2. It stinks. It’s six to 12 months while you’ve got people in one ear telling you to fight for your marriage because it’s not over yet, and people in the other ear saying the signature on the final papers is just a formality but it’s really over.

  7. I agree, the absolutely HAVING to stay married for a year doesn’t really seem fair. I believe instead there should be an option to have the marriage audited. You see a counselor or something and they provide a judgement over whether or not the waiting period should apply.
    Yes the information on that site is great, you just have to know how to find it.
    Again, thank you for your blog, I will try to use your journey to help me on mine.

  8. I didn’t know the word for what I’ve gone through until I read this post. My wife told me the day after my 55th birthday and 32 years of marriage that it was over. I thought we were perfect, as did everyone we knew. I certainly never saw it coming. Thanks for the inspiration to keep moving forward.

  9. I got the lovely tsunami divorce too. I had NO clue. After 25 years of marriage, he just disappeared and left his credit cards and phone on the counter. I didn’t get a text, a note…nothing. I had a 14 year old son who also was the victim of abandonment. So not only did I have to deal with my own shock, I had to try and stay strong for my son. If it wasn’t for the internet I would have never been able to determine what actually happened…..he had moved in with another woman. He didn’t have any contact with my son for 10 months after he left. He left with the clothes on his back and never returned for his personal belongings.

    Six years later, I still struggle with how he treated me. I have never spoken to him since he left. The good part (for me) is that I don’t have to share my son with him. He has literally destroyed me and it’s a challenge to try and get over it. I have seen a therapist, am dating a really great man and trying to get my life back. But I can’t see me ever truly recovering.

    1. I am so sorry for you and your son. Recovery may not be the best term. Maybe more learning to live with what happened and still move on in spite of. More of an incorporation than a getting over.

      1. This paragraph is beautiful in its simplicity and truth. I was married 38 years when my husband blindsided me and left. Very little communication; but I live in a state where a 12 month separation is required, so things had to be worked through (& I was in such shock, the time was needed). I’m 22 months out from his “declaration” and I am doing better and trying to rebuild – even at age 64.

  10. I just found you blog and I love it. While I hate that other people have had to go through what I’m going through, it is nice to see that others have made it through and survived. I had no idea there was a term for a divorce that completely blindsided me, my four children, and everyone we know.

    He came up with all sorts of excuses why he was leaving me and they were all my fault. In the very end it all came down to him saying I just wasn’t cute enough and skinny enough. The really ironic part is that I weigh the same as I did when I was a teenager and we started dating, and I look way better than when we got married. He let me know that his expectations have changed and he wants different things. I found out the truth was that he’s having an affair with a girl who’s 10 years younger than him.

    Over a year later and we still aren’t divorced. He’s dragging it out for monetary purposes. Trying to make it looks like he doesn’t make any money so he won’t have to pay as much child support. Hopefully my attorney can help get the ball rolling!

    1. Ugh. I’m glad you see through his excuses. Because that’s exactly what they are – excuses.

      I decided on the term tsunami divorce when I couldn’t find anything that captured both the suddenness and the devastation of my own experience. It fits.

      Crossing my fingers for you on the legal process!!

  11. I am pleased there is a term for my kind of divorce. This totally describes it. I just upped and moved away from the coast never looking back at the destruction in his wake… always forwards.

  12. Im glad that I have this to read ! I have been merely struggling for 2 months now together 6 years and all of a sudden one day he says he is divorcing me, of course there was the co-worker that help influenced that decision, thanks again for hope im taking one day at a time.

  13. My husband told me he loved me but wasn’t “in love with me” after 15 years or marriage. He said that he’d been disconnected before in our marriage but always seemed to right itself but that this time it didn’t fix itself. He didn’t want to say anything as he didn’t want to worry or scare me. A very confusing thought process.
    We have two children and this has been so hard on them and on me as I do still have to communicate with him but it’s making it so hard for me to heal. I cannot stand to hear his voice or see him as it literally hurts my heart. It’s still so new and raw. Only 3 months ago, it’s so difficult to be in love with someone who doesnt love you and hate them for what they’ve done by hurting me and the kids, at the same time.
    I wish I could fast forward this phase of feeling like I’m sinking and scared for the future all the time. Triggers of going to places we’ve been together, or memories of the past wondering if he was happy on this trip or at that time are something I can’t help but wonder still. Trying to come to terms with the fact that his family will no longer be my safety and support is so hard. We live in a smallish town and everyone knows who he is. I wish he’d move.
    The holidays are fast approaching and my kids still believe in Santa and want to wake up to both of us Christmas morning and open presents is just unthinkable for me at this point.
    It’s hard to balance what is best for the kids and what is best for me to be able to heal and be there for them. Starting therapy on my own to help deal with all of this.
    We too have a separation period in Canada of 1yr before you can file for divorce and it does leave one wondering if they’ll come to their senses and realize how big of a mistake they have made, all the while trying to move forward and figure what the future will look like
    without them.
    Good to know I’m not alone but that doesn’t lessen waking everyday wishing this wasn’t my life.
    You’re description of how this made you feel was like I wrote it myself. Happy for you that you are on the other side.
    I know I’ll make it through,as my family is very supportive and I have a close group of great friends.
    Thank-you for sharing your story with the world.

  14. This is my life. It’s been 9 days since I found out my husband was having an affair with his high school girlfriend. He said he was sorry, he did the unconscionable. He slept with another woman and told her he loved her. I feel broken and so alone. We were together 26 years and have 2 adult children, 24 and 25. I spent more than half of my life with him. So many thoughts, fears, and uncertainties race through my mind at all hours of the day and night. I don’t know how to do this.

    1. Your pain and confusion come through your words. I wish I could send you a hug through mine.

      I remember that gutted feeling, that overwhelming sense of disorientation and disbelief. I am so sorry you’re experiencing that now.

      At this point, you don’t have to have anything figured out. Focus on the immediate – sleep, food, breath. Reach out for and accept help. It’s okay to need it right now.

      Sending you thoughts of strength and clarity.

      1. Thank you. I have been reading online and none of the blogs or articles fit my circumstances. Then I found your site. Your words have helped me tonight.

  15. My husband of 32 years announced at lunch one day last summer that he was done being my husband and part of our family (2 kids), and proceeded to move out. We had a good marriage (I thought, as did everyone else, apart from my husband). There were no signs. None.

    It still feels like hell.

    Thank you for doing what you do.

  16. Tsunami divorce exactly describes my devastated family
    I only found out when my son went missing that my husband of 27 years was having a relationship with a girl the same age as our daughter in the rugby club my son grew up in . My darling boy had been made by his dad to keep it secret and it broke him …. he was suicidal with humiliation and the truth was out . Still reeling 10 months later but looking back it was exactly that eat, sleep , breath in the early days . Hang on in there …. somehow life just carries on x

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