Hello and welcome to Happily Ever After with me, Hannah Harvey. I have an extra special treat for you because I am chatting with Danielle Barbereau, who is a Divorce Coach and author of the book, After the Split.
I first met Danielle a year ago after she was recommended to me by my mediation solicitor, and she supported me through some of the hardest bits of my divorce, namely battling it out in court! Hi Danielle!
Danielle: I’m very pleased to be here with you today Hannah.
Hannah: I’m thrilled! i’ve been wanting to do this ever since i started the podcast so I’m thrilled.
My solicitor had said, “ask Danielle for a compatibility call” and within about a minute I knew I had to work with you. You were so reassuring and instantly made me feel hope during a particularly traumatic time which is such an amazing skill to have.
So to get us started, how did you get into Divorce coaching? I didn’t even know they existed until a year ago.
Danielle: I didn’t know they existed until I did it, in fact it didn’t exist when I started 12 years ago.
I was a coach, I was coaching people and then one day someone said to me ‘could you speak to my friend, her husband has left her and we don’t know how to help her. And I said ‘well I can speak to her but I have no idea if I can help’. And I always remember this moment because I went to this woman’s house (I used to at the time, my diary was not full) and the woman opens the door and she was in her dressing gown and I said ‘Woah! What are you doing?!’ And she said she had no energy she couldn’t so I said ‘Shower, make up and then we start working’ and I started working and from that moment I knew without any doubt at all that that’s what I wanted to do forever more. And I’ve been doing this for over 12 years and nothing else.
Hannah: That’s giving me goosebumps! I love that! And did she get dressed and put on her make up?
Danielle: Oh yes I would not have worked otherwise
Hannah: You were like ‘No! this is what we do’
Danielle: Actually I remember she was actually a lawyer (not in family) and her head of firm so it just shows that when you are going through something like that it doesn’t matter who you are what profession you are, you get floored and bruised badly. It’s not a question of logic and how you deal with it, it’s much more complicated than that.
Hannah: So why do you think divorce is so hard? Why does it floor us so much?
Danielle: Well, you don’t get married with the thought that it’s going to end. This is your intimate relationship. Relationships are based on trust and respect, you don’t ever think that you’re going to lose that. But of course there’s a whole range of reactions.
I was thinking the other day that I’ve had over 1100 clients working one on one and what is fascinating about divorce is that I’ve never had the same story twice and that to me is so fascinating and people are too. And it’s incredible what people go through.
But you have a range of things, an easy divorce would be two middle aged people who agree that they’ve reached the end of the road, the children have left the nest and they’ve decided to separate. To the other side there is what you’ve mentioned, when it goes so badly that you have to go to court to try and resolve. A judge is going to resolve your divorce.
So of course if it goes badly in particular it’s incredibly hard especially if you are going to be blamed for it. Because let’s say your partner has made your life completely impossible, one day you realise that you can’t go on like this, and you are the one that initiates the divorce. Well not only do you have to go through this but on top of that, you will be blamed. Easy for your partner to say ‘oh well you see she started the divorce, she wanted the divorce’, and they portray themselves as the victim there. Then not only are you going through the divorce but on top of that there’s those very unfair emotions involved.
Hannah: So you mentioned there that there’s a range. You’ve heard every story in the book I’d imagine.
Danielle: But there will be more! Every client is a new story indeed.
Hannah: There will be more! So every situation is unique but are there common threads that your clients struggle with most? Like common things that, yes everybody’s got a different story but, I know people who have had amicable divorces but it’s still been hugely challenging. So yeah what I’m asking is, what do your clients struggle with most? The thing you see most that you help people with.
Danielle: A great deal but the two top ones, actually three top ones are;
Children. When children are involved, you’ll have them thinking that you’re not going to be with the other parent and the guilt of that and then there are these emotional expressions like ‘I don’t want my children to have a broken home’. Well what is the most broken? Two households where at least there is some calm and harmony or one household which is extremely toxic? So there’s all these things at play.
Sometimes when people have young children they decide to wait till later but actually teenagers and young adults are extremely affected.
Then there’s money is something that some people have a great deal of or in fact not that much, businesses together, then it’s incredibly complicated. Because you have one pot and sadly this has to be split into two so sadly that’s complicated.
And also I have to mention fear. Because a lot of my clients, even if they don’t really know it, are in an abusive or coercive relationship and by definition when you are in one of those relationships you don’t know that something is not normal and that it’s no way of treating people. Because what is happening is the result of years of drip, drip, drip. Comments, criticism, put downs all this sort of thing which makes somebody lose their confidence and self esteem.
And also let’s say that you’re in a violent relationship, you have to be concerned about what happens the moment I leave and expose my partner. What he (more often than not) really is.
So all these things are not surprisingly extremely difficult and I feel that my role is often.. I used to think it was to help people survive, of course it is because I know what helps people. But really more importantly it is about helping clients get clarity. Because they think one second ‘oh I’m going to divorce’ the next second ‘no I’m not because he’s been nice today’ and they drive themselves absolutely crazy no longer knowing what to do, not trusting their judgement and for me that’s the most important thing I can do for a client. First of all help them gain clarity and then once this is done I can support them through something that is very difficult.
Hannah: So does that mean sometimes the clarity is.. actually we can stay together and we can make it work?
Danielle: Yes but rarely. 1100 clients or more and I can probably think of 3 or 4 who have decided and successfully stayed together. I think once you start having these doubts, there’s a reason for it and it becomes very complicated.
Hannah: I always think it’s a bit like The Truman Show. Like how do you know what’s reality and what isn’t depending on your circumstances and once you start to get that glimpse of ‘I’m not sure this is actually right’. It’s hard to go back from that.
Danielle: Yes exactly. Almost impossible. And neither should you (go back). When this is happening, you realise that you’ve been in something pretty toxic and you should not be in that situation. There are some people who spread toxicity around them, they become abusive. And it’s nothing to do with the person who’s on the receiving end of that, they’re being made to feel like it’s their fault. Unfortunately there are people like that, they’re damaged and they damage other people. It’s hard to recover from that, it’s absolutely possible but it’s hard.
Hannah: But you need to be out of the trauma before you can start recovering.
Danielle: Totally, you cannot do it when you’re in the middle of it. And then when you see your partner or speak to your partner, even if you feel a bit better, there’s a bit of piece and a bit of harmony, the moment you speak to them or read a text or get a phone call it’s a step back and it takes time to recover from that. It gets easier and easier with time because one thing you need to do is realise what is happening and observe it rather than get swallowed into something which is toxic. These people thrive on oxygen on the fire, they need the oxygen of an argument or provoking something. If you don’t play the game and if you stand back, it becomes more difficult for them to do that and you become stronger than them as well.
Hannah: Is there such a thing as an easy divorce.
Danielle: When I hear amicable divorce I feel ‘mm.. really?’ but easy would be if the couple had reached the end of the road, the end of a chapter, let’s close it then we can move on and it happens. But it is quite rare because it’s the rawness of the emotions involved in a divorce, it’s very very difficult. Let’s imagine for example that there’s another party. You sense that your husband is having an affair except he doesn’t admit it (that works both ways by the way, women do the same). It’s difficult because you feel humiliated. You deserve to have the respect of a real explanation but sometimes you’re never going to get that and if you’re not, it’s hard, very very hard. And you feel that the other person is having your life. It’s complicated.
That happens a lot when women are menopausal as well. It’s a stage in their life which is really difficult to handle.
Hannah: And you might get an explanation but it might not be the truth.
Danielle: Exactly, and you deserve the truth. Because more often than not, the explanation can actually be a blame for you. It was something you didn’t do or something you did. You deserve to hear them say ‘Do you know, I’m really sorry but I’ve fallen out of love with you, I’ve met somebody else’. That would be at least respectful, not easy to hear but at least it’s an explanation. Often it’s going to be turned round, you’re inadequate, you’re this, you’re that. It’s nothing to do with what you do or don’t do, but the person wants out. Once the person wants out, there’s nothing that will keep them in the marriage. You don’t persuade anyone to love you.
Hannah: Do you find that it can be the other way round? Like somebody has maybe cheated, but they regret it and they want to keep the marriage going?
Danielle: Yes, it happens and it depends on how much you’re into review to the other partner. For example if your partner does not know you’ve had an affair but you’re determined to keep the marriage going then my advice, although it goes against the grain, is keep your own counsel because you’re introducing something that is really extremely complicated to process. Never the less, this is rare. Once a person has had an affair, the only time they regret it is when their partner says ‘no way, I’m out’ and then they realise what they stand to lose. But it’s very rare for someone who’s had an affair to suddenly think ‘oh no what was I doing’. It’s rare, it happens but it’s rare.
Hannah: I’m gonna go off topic here but I would love your thoughts on this because as I’m entering the dating world. This is post long term monogamous relationship, I’m coming up to 40. What I’m finding a lot is people having either open marriages or are polyamorous.
Danielle: Oh my goodness, well I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this, I’m not a dating coach and actually I spend a great deal of time saying to my clients not to get involved in anything until you’re really ready. In other words until they’ve processed the whole thing. Why? Because when you date, you open yourself to rejection. That’s part of the world. And after being extremely hurt, you’re not able to handle more rejection. So you need to have gotten back on your feet before you can. It is true that on the website there’s loads of damaged people or people who are barely out of a relationship. Their marriage will end one day, the following morning there they are putting up a sign.
But what you describe is even worse and I have to admit, I’m very innocent in that and didn’t realise that was the case! How difficult to navigate that. Never the less, it’s a numbers game isn’t it, and you may meet so many people who are not the right people and suddenly there is a genuine one. We all know people who have met somebody online and it has been successful. But it’s not only working through it’s also timing, you have to be ready and they have to be ready, the others are time wasters.
Hannah: I’m kind of using it as a way to explore what I actually want going forward so I’m chatting to some people who are polyamorous mainly to see how it makes me feel. Like ‘Is that something I’d be interested in…? No I don’t think it is’.
Danielle: Nooooo. You deserve better, you deserve exclusivity from somebody but I agree with you when you start dating. I hate the word ‘journey’ I can’t stand that expression but actually it’s a process isn’t it. You find out by doing that what you’re prepared to take, what you prefer or what you’re not wanting at all. My advice would always be make a list of what is really important to you and I would say actually not sharing with anybody else would be very important.
Hannah: Top of the list!! No sharing. Sharing is not caring in this instance.
Danielle: Not in this circumstance at all. I think what you’re describing is totally normal, it’s a process, but eventually you have to think ‘this is important to me, and I want somebody..’ I don’t mean ‘I don’t want to be going out with a bald man’, I mean please, look at the person for who they are. But once you know, you’re much more likely to find that person. It’s an interesting thing isn’t it, it’s almost like once you’re clear, it’s easier to find someone.
Hannah: But it’s that getting clarity thing again, that’s so important. And I still don’t know if I know what I want. And I think having children made it more complex because I’ve had relationships in the past where they’ve met the partner and it was just not quite what I wanted and it was very quickly back to being very domestic and kind of more work than if it’s just me and my kids.
But then the other extreme is that it’s me and my kids during the week and then I’m this single person at the weekend and I love that but it does make the transition between the two quite extreme.
Danielle: But it is exactly that, it is a transition. It has not been a very long time since you left your marriage and it takes time. And I would say just enjoy, enjoy trying to meet someone, go for a drink, go for a coffee, enjoy that. Don’t think ‘oh this is going to be my life partner’. This is unlikely to be the case, just enjoy and see whether you want to see them again.
Now you’ve spoken about children and I have to say, your children make dating complicated for a woman especially if she has the caring responsibilities for the children. It’s very rare that children will welcome a partner, very rare. Of course with time. That is a very difficult dynamic and everybody is trying their best but it’s difficult. I was in the same situation, I got divorced probably 30 years ago now, it’s ridiculous to think about that. My children made it so difficult to the point that I had a few relationships and then really had to wait till they were away, university and the rest of it.
Hannah: Nancy’s only 3?! I’ll be waiting forever.
Danielle: What you can do is have a relationship where you don’t introduce the children straight away. And when you’re sure, then you can. But the children, however much we love them, in this circumstance, they are a complication. And for a partner it’s not that easy. They might have children themselves that they don’t see and feel guilty about that, it’s complicated. But as long as you understand that it’s complicated, but it’s not unsurmountable.
Hannah: So I was very excited to hear that you’ve got a online course that you’re launching very soon.
Danielle: I am launching it very soon, thank you for asking Hannah. I just felt that I’ve been doing this for so long and with so many clients that I thought ‘I have something to say, I can’t just say it one to one with a client, there’s only so many people I can see. I could just put something down which would help people’. Because although as we discussed, divorce is unique, but there are things that help people to recover and I could really clearly put that tidily in 6 modules. In 6 chapter headings, the first one being ‘to understand what is happening’ and then ‘to start taking control’. There’s a whole process which actually I follow with clients to help them recover and this is what the online course is about. And I’ve tried to put a lot in it and there’s also a worksheet which will become a workbook later. Because for me the process has to be worked through. You cannot say ‘well I’ll buy this course and in two weeks time I’ll feel okay.’ Because you need to work through things. And to me this reflection is really important and this is what makes you grow.
So the course is both me explaining things through videos but then after that I give you some things to think about for your own circumstances because sadly not everybody is my client but you can purchase a course. But I think it’s good! The feedback I’ve got from the 5 or 6 people who have tried it is overwhelmingly positive. So I think it’s going to be useful.
Hannah: I definitely think so. What I think struck me about the whole idea of it, like you said, is that everybody has got a unique story and sometimes you can get stuck in your story where as when you’re doing something like this, you know you’re moving to something positive at the end. You can follow your guidelines, make it relevant for your situation but you’re not staying stuck in your story.
Danielle: And that’s a really important aspect of the course or of any recovery. You cannot stay there because often that involves very negative emotions which actually only affect you. Feelings of revenge or jealousy, yes at first I get that, but not if that defines you afterward. So what I tried to do I think is try to give some perspective. You have to gain perspective on the relationship and that doesn’t happen overnight. But as you say it’s a normal human reaction to get stuck in bad habits or not to see that there are alternatives.
Hannah: Yeah so I feel like this kind of pulls you out of that and gives you hope. Because it’s called ‘Emerge and Recover’ … from a painful break up. And the other thing that I think is perfect is that you’re running it so it starts on the 21st November, it’s a live run through because you’re going to do Q&A’s each week.
Danielle: Indeed, every Monday evening at 6pm to answer questions.
Hannah: Yeah so you can do the module. Get your questions then go online and speak to you about them.
Danielle: Exactly right, making sure that you’re anonymous, I wouldn’t want people to show their face or name, to be careful to protect yourself. The stories will be unique so therefore there could be a question that is unique but actually it’s going to help other people and what has struck me when I’m working with clients is that they find it incredibly reassuring to know that they are no on their own. They are not freaks. It’s just that something happened to them but it’s not a bad thing, it’s normal to be confused, all these things. This is where it’s important to take some perspective.
Hannah: And to take some control.
Danielle: Essential. It starts there and when you’re going through divorce, a break up you have not chosen, it’s easy for you to think that you have no control at all over the situation and you look at it in terms of loss. Whereas I work with clients in trying to get them to regain some control. Sometimes it’s very small steps but it’s amazing the difference it makes. And often this is also about setting boundaries, there are things that are acceptable and things which are not.
I had a client a few months ago, her husband had left her for another woman, he would come back every morning to have his shower in the house.
Danielle: Yeah! So you know it was a way of checking up but also asserting the control that he should not have. And I said to the client ‘no, no no!’. He has lost the right to treat this house as his home. He will shower at the other place thank you. And there are many examples of this during the year. Many! And the moment you start asserting, it’s about self esteem it’s about standing up for yourself, it makes a huge difference. And it gets easier to do it all the time as you’re doing it.
Hannah: Yeah like little baby steps, but each one is empowering.
Danielle: Exactly right, that’s exactly what it is. You progress and then there’s a set back, that’s normal too. Nobody progresses in a straight line. Have I done three steps forward then two steps back? Yes that’s normal too except that it will be less and less profound and affecting less and less progress. One morning you’ll get up and think ‘I don’t want him back’. That’s quite a step isn’t it. And it’s all these things, recovery is never a straight line. It’s normal to have set backs.
Hannah: Yes, and I think if people have your course, there’s that kind of reassurance that, if you’ve got a set back, you can step back into the bit of the course that relates to that thing.
Hannah: I think I would have found that really reassuring because obviously I had you at the end of a phone call but that’s not necessarily accessible to everybody because a) time and b) money, all those kind of things. Where as this means you are in their pocket whenever they need you which I think is so lovely because it was just such a huge support for me.
Danielle: Thank you Hannah, that’s exactly the spirit of the course really. Yeah you can dip back so it is a useful tool but it’s also real support because people feel so lonely when they’re left with this.
Hannah: Yeah you feel like you’re the only person on the planet going through it.
Danielle: People you know! Like I’ve probably got a client on your street. The idea of the weekly calls is to let you know that there are other people in the same boat.
Hannah: The other thing that I was going to say that I love about it is that you’re running it over the Christmas period. Because obviously Christmas properly sucks when you’re at the beginning of the divorce process, you’re not together and you’re navigating the joyous period and everyone’s having loads of fun and blah and you just feel like you wanna Bridget Jones it out.
Danielle: The first Christmas especially, you get taken in by the imagery of Christmas, the ads on TV, everybody happy in the family. Obviously this has a very loose connection with your reality but I do remember my first Christmas on my own and it’s very difficult when you don’t have the children, I was not prepared enough. My advice would be to think about your day, what is that going to look like. And make it special for you in a different way, start new traditions but don’t get caught. Everything is closed, everybody is seeming to be having a good time but you, well this is the time to do something special for you. I think that would be my advice for the first year especially.
Hannah: And get your course so that they can speak to you in between Christmas and new year!
Danielle: I will not speak on Christmas day! I’ll be back around on boxing day.
Hannah: You’re going to do a special one between Christmas and New Year.
Danielle: I will be doing a special one and of course people can email me any time and then I can respond to that. Often the questions that people have are often what other people would have. But I will respond to emails on the one to one definitely. It’s important.
Hannah: Oh well that’s amazing. That is really amazing to have that kind of access. That’s been really interesting! I was going to finish off with your top tips for people starting out on their divorce journey and I’ve used the word ‘journey’.
Danielle: The divorce journey!!
Hannah: The divorce process to a great future. I don’t know..
Danielle: Absolutely. Because again everything is unique it’s difficult to say general things but what comes really strongly for me first of all is, be informed! Know where you stand, for example with the house, the children. Sometimes fear can come, people will say ‘you’ll be destitute, you won’t see the kids’. That’s ridiculous! So your lawyer will be able to explain that. So be informed!
I think also don’t feel that you have to give an explanation to anybody. People almost want gossip sometimes, you’re not a subject of gossip. Deflect that if you don’t want to give information. For example, some people say ‘Oh I heard that you and James are getting divorced’. Deflect that with a very simple sentence. Just say ‘Yes, we’re going through it’ and don’t get drawn into having to give explanations to anybody. Except for the ones who are in your support system. Who is your support system? Who is always there for you? Who makes you feel better when you speak to them rather than drained? These people are really really important, be sure about that.
And frankly, it will pass, it’s a terrible time, it hurts so much but this will pass and you will get better. Everybody, every single one of my clients has got better. Nobody gets stuck there. And often if I bump into people or they email me several years down the line they say ‘do you know, the divorce was the best thing which could have possibly happened to me’ because when you do that, you really have to look in yourself, your core values and what matters. It actually makes you grow into a better person. And then you move on positively. I can assure you, literally no exception to that, it will pass.
Hannah: Thank you so much Danielle. See! Wasn’t that a lovely treat everyone.
Danielle: Such a pleasure!
Hannah: Honestly and huge good luck with the course I know it’s going to be a resounding success. Thank you so much!
Danielle: The pleasure is all mine I assure you.