Some divorces are like the outgoing tide -- a slow and inexorable decline. Others are like a summer storm over the beach, building until the clouds can simply hold no more, the rain washing hard rivets into the sand. Still others are like a tsunami, a great wave arising from a previously placid sea that destroys all in its path.
My divorce was a tsunami. The wave of precursors was hidden deep beneath the surface of the marital waters and were not visible to the naked eye. As I did not possess the equipment needed to warn of its approach, I was caught unawares while standing on that beautiful beach. The shock wave of the sudden departure of my husband carried me far inland, depositing me in a foreign world, unrecognizable.
I was flattened. Nearly drowned. Dazed and confused. How could a destructive force come from such a calm sea? Was the entire coastline of my marriage a mirage, hiding some brittle reality? Was I so busy paying attention to my tasks upon the sand that I failed to realize what was building offshore? Or, did I choose to look away from the swelling sea and hold my belief in a perfect day at the beach?
All of those explanations have some truth to them. I shied away from confrontation, giving in to my anxieties. I discounted any uneasiness I felt as a defect in my internal warning system rather than accept it as a sign of impending danger. I was busy with work and was at times guilty of putting my marriage on the back burner, assuming it would be there when the work was done. And he worked to conceal his actions beneath a beautiful veil, screening me from the awful realities. There is truth in all of these, but none explain the sudden devastation, the sheer force of the wall of water that obliterated my world.
Tsunamis appear to be sudden events because their root causes are found far off shore, in a tremor in a foreign land. I believe the tsunami that leveled my marriage had its start long ago and far away, in old fears and insecurities that my husband kept buried beneath the surface. These built over time, gaining power as they rushed forth from his past into our marriage. They were pushed down deep; the pressure of the water held them under until the shallows allowed the full brunt of his pain to come forth, a great wave that drowned him before it ever touched me.
Survivors of tsunami divorces face a unique road. They are bombarded with questions and accusations about their complacency and ignorance since they were apparently enjoying the sunshine while the wave was building. They question themselves endlessly, "How could I have been unaware of the building force?" They often find that their world has been completely destroyed, no signs of the old life remain in the swaths of debris. Like a tsunami, the spouse may deliver the blow and then disappear, melting back into the sea, leaving no opportunity for examination or answers.
Surprisingly, a tsunami divorce also has its benefits. There is no unhappy period in the marriage. It was good. And then it was gone. There are no long nights trying to decide if the marriage is worth saving. There are the untold dollars never paid to a marriage counselor and the hours of painful conversations about the demise of the union that never occur. The damage is outright; there is no way to restore what was. You are left near drowned, but you stand on a blank slate -- a tabula rasa swept clean by the surge.
When a tsunami hits, you are at its mercy as it carries you far inland. Your only goal at the outset is to stay afloat, to not be swept under its massive power. Once the wave begins to recede, look for shelter and support as you begin to survey your new surroundings. As you try to grapple with the causes of the tsunami, you may spend some time investigating the far-off shore where the shock was initiated, but expend most of your energies on your own shore. What conditions on your beach made it prone to a rogue wave? How can you improve your tsunami warning system so that you are not blind-sighted again? It is impossible to safeguard the sandcastles of your life against all harm, but it is also foolish to build them in the way of a known danger. Look to the past for your lessons, but enjoy the moments in the sun and don't be afraid to build again.