In 2017, after 40 years as a nurse in Cambridgeshire, I relocated to the West Country with my husband and reinvented myself as a health coach. It was meant to be a fresh start. It turned out to be the beginning of the end of our 37-year marriage.
Then came the pandemic
With the benefit of hindsight, deciding to end my marriage two weeks before lockdown wasn’t the wisest decision I’ve ever made, but I didn’t feel I had a choice, and obviously I couldn’t have known how the pandemic would pan out. Like so many other separated couples, we went from rarely seeing each other to being locked down together seven days a week for seven months. It was tough.
Eventually, my husband moved out but six months later, following a change in his work situation, he asked to move back. Things turned acrimonious when I summoned up the courage to say “no”. I’ve since found out that my situation was not atypical: a partner who continued to control by refusing to engage, but it left me with no option but to take him to court. If only I’d known then about divorce coaching.
A solicitor was not the right person to turn to at this point, nor the person to help me process my complex emotions. I was not thinking things through rationally and needed someone to help me deal with my feelings and the practical aspects of divorce. A lawyer is not that person, as I discovered to my cost.
To further complicate matters, my ex-husband was moving to Japan, and I, wrongly, believed I had to act fast to secure a favourable divorce settlement.
I found the spreadsheets my solicitor sent me laying out the different settlement options, very difficult to comprehend. That’s just not the way my brain works. My emotional brain, however, was in overdrive, overthinking and catastrophising at every turn.
Looking back, I can see that my husband and I and our adult children were in very different places about the breakdown of our marriage. If I had not felt my case was so urgent we could all have had more time to process our emotions. As a result, my relationship with my children was strained at times, which only added to my distress and confusion.
How a divorce coach would have helped
If I had had the support of a divorce coach, they would have helped me build a better support team, including, critically, finding an Independent Financial Advisor. I now strongly believe women over 50 who are divorcing should seek the advice of an IFA. Yet only three percent do. You must walk away from a divorce with your financial needs met to sustain you for the rest of your life. IFAs use visual models that help you make sense of different financial settlements.
In my case, working with a divorce coach might also have removed the sense of urgency I mistakenly felt, giving me time to ensure I was making the best decisions for me and my family.
They would also have understood and highlighted where I, my ex-husband and my adult children were in the grief process, gently challenged my thinking, and helped me work out what I wanted to communicate and how best to do that.
I made the mistake of putting my life on hold while waiting for the divorce, avoiding conflict as I had for years and not saying what I needed. Divorce coaching would have helped me to see these behaviour patterns weren’t helping me move forward.
At one point, when I was desperate for it to be over, I insisted on going into specialist mediation, despite the fact my ex-husband hadn’t provided any financial information. A divorce coach could have gently questioned whether he was likely to co-operate with any negotiation (which he wasn’t) – potentially saving us £10,000.
When I was utterly devastated at the prospect of going back to court, they could have helped me process my anger, ensuring I focused on taking care of myself and showing me I did have the strength to keep going. Ah but hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Seven words and a whole new direction
It was seven words from my solicitor that turned the three hardest years of my life into something positive. “Sally” she said, “you’d make a great divorce coach”. After the trauma of my divorce I had lost all my confidence and my self-esteem was in my boots. Knowing that someone still believed in me, gave me the encouragement to see that I could be a role model and support other women going through the same painful experience.
From the day I started exploring divorce coaching, I began to thrive. I found a course with the Divorce Coaching Academy, accredited by the Association of Coaching. Each week we were coached ourselves, coached each other and observed coaching. I loved this experiential component, which, along with the teaching of the theory and regular rigorous assessments, made the training rewardingly comprehensive. My confidence slowly returned, and the feedback I received reminded me that I was a great coach.
It wasn’t long before I had my first client – a high-conflict relationship with high net worth. I was so glad I knew how to support the woman and her daughter to leave a very controlling relationship safely. With my help she chose her IFA, found a solicitor with the relevant experience she needed, spoke to her daughter’s school, informed her boss, planned how she was going to tell her partner and daughter and formulated a back-up ‘escape plan’ (which in the end she didn’t need). It felt wonderful knowing that we had helped her think things through and she was as well prepared as she could be.
The women I’ve helped
My next client was going through her menopause and unsure about whether to leave her relationship. She believed she was depressed, was contemplating leaving her role as a senior exec and felt she was failing as a mother and wife. Sex was painful, and even cuddles were unwanted as she almost always broke out in a sweat. She was worried her partner would look elsewhere for comfort. I gently helped her tease all this out.
As a divorce coach and former menopause nurse specialist, I was able to help her unpick what was happening. Together we looked at her values: had they changed? Did she still enjoy spending time with her partner? Did they have shared plans for their future? What was happening to her physically, emotionally and cognitively because of the menopause?
She decided to see if she could get better support to manage her menopause at work and through a menopause clinic before rushing into any decisions. I also encouraged her to talk to her partner about her fears and find out more about his reactions to what was happening.
Another client was heading back to court yet again following her ex-spouse’s insistence that the child arrangements for their 14-year-old daughter be changed. Having spent 10 years as a lecturer in clinical communication at Cambridge, I love helping clients with complex communication. In this case, after spending time getting the client into a positive space and recognising the strengths the father offered as a parent, we carefully crafted an email explaining what the daughter wanted and offering three options. This course of action avoided a further trip to court and set up a new working pattern.
These are just some of the ways a divorce coach can help. My clients are mainly midlife women, but I also work with men and couples. Many divorce coaches have specialist areas: co-parenting, supporting children, divorcing a narcissist and thriving post-divorce. So if you’re considering using one, choose someone you feel meets your needs and who you can trust.
My five top tips if you’re facing a divorce:
1. Don’t waste your precious money processing your emotions with your solicitor: find someone to help you deal with the emotional and practical aspects of divorce and only go to your solicitor when you’re thinking rationally, prepared with a list of questions and able to make decisions.
2. Build your support team. Select the professionals you want to work with: IFA, solicitor, divorce coach, or mediator. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to opt for the person your friend used or the cheapest, but they may not be right for you. Interview three and choose the one you feel meets your needs. Don’t be frightened to change if your situation changes.
3. Every divorce is different. Family and friends can be quick to offer advice but no one knows your situation better than you and no one else will have to live with the consequences of your decision.
4. Look after your wellbeing. This may be the toughest time of your life; prioritise taking care of yourself. Eat well, sleep when you can, get out in the fresh air, exercise, stay connected with your support team, build your emotional resilience. Remember: without your oxygen mask, you can’t support others.
5. Many things will not go your way. You choose whether to react or respond. Things can feel so important at a given moment that seem quite different some time later. Will you channel your energy into finding a positive solution and move forward? Or, channel that energy into a negative state and make this and subsequent situations worse? Stop, breathe and ask yourself, “How do I want to look back on this in 10 years’ time?”
By Sally Jackson
Find out about Sally’s divorce coaching services HERE