As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing
Jacqui Atcheson, CDC Certified Divorce Coach
Jacqui Atcheson is a Certified Divorce Coach and Certified Divorce Mediator who specializes in working with her clients at the earliest stages of divorce. She assists clients to reach a level of certainty regarding their goals, control over their future and peace of mind knowing they made the best possible decisions. Jacqui’s approach is positive, forward thinking and problem solving, rather than dwelling in the past.
Along with her certifications in the field of divorce of over 22 years, she has also worked in the mortgage, banking industry, and has a strong accounting and tax business background. She brings her life’s experience to her coaching practice by truly understanding all aspects of this process. She has waited almost 38 years to be able to truly live and work her passion by helping others get through divorce in the best way possible. There is a better way!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 1977, at the age of 21, I married the love of my life. We honeymooned in Mexico. Our lives were filled with dining out, shopping, concerts and movies. Two years later I gave birth to my first angel, a beautiful baby girl. She was everything we ever wanted. For me, she was a dream come true. For my husband, who was divorced, it was a new start. He lived with the pain of losing touch with his daughters who disappeared along with his ex-wife. I wanted to give him the family he’d lost. Then I got a phone call.
“Hello Mrs. Schwartz. This is the other Mrs. Schwartz.”
I knew there was another Mrs. Schwartz. My husband didn’t hide that fact. What he did hide was that he knew all along where his ex-wife and children lived. He said they couldn’t be found. That wasn’t true.
Being young and headstrong, I was determined to make things right. I insisted that his daughters — my stepdaughters — spend their summer vacations at our home in New York. Over the next ten years, as my immediate family grew — I gave birth to another beautiful baby girl — my stepdaughters became an active part of my family. We spoke often, even when they were back on the West Coast.
Over the years I got to see how the divorce had affected these innocent children. While not all marriages are made in heaven, that didn’t mean that all divorces had to be made in hell. I swore to myself that one day I’d do something about this. I couldn’t fix the past, but I knew I could make the future much better.
When my two daughters no longer needed me to be home for them after school, I applied for a court-sponsored program to become a mediator. But at a weeklong training about domestic violence, uncontrollable tears rolled down my face. What I learned seemed all too familiar. I realized that I was an emotionally abused wife.
I completed the program, becoming a Custody/Visitation Mediator & Case Manager for Richmond County, New York, in addition to being the Domestic Violence Expert for the program. I loved the work. My mediation skills, business successes (I played a pivotal role in the growth of my husband’s accounting business), and wealth of life experience, made it possible for me to help others through tricky situations. I made a real difference in other people’s lives. The ultimate test of my skills came three years later. I was embroiled in a very ugly divorce — my own.
My soon-to-be ex-husband did not want a mediator. I had no choice but to go the traditional “lawyer” route. Friends and family were supportive, encouraging me to “stand up to the bully at all costs.” The attorneys enjoyed every minute of it; and billed accordingly. Despite my mediation skills, business success, and wealth of experience helping others, nothing could prepare me for the break-up of my own marriage. It took every ounce of my strength to get through the process and the roller coaster of emotions. After two years, the divorce was final. I was physically and emotionally drained, and I was on my own. The job that I loved — mediator and case manager — didn’t pay enough for my daughters and me to survive.
I trotted off to Wall Street to earn serious money. Still, my passion to help others did not fade. I did volunteer work as a custody/visitation mediator in the NYC Court system, while I worked at a number of different jobs, on and off Wall Street. When I retired four years ago, I knew what I wanted to do. I became a Certified Divorce Coach.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I’ve seen divorce from all sides now. I know what it does to the children. I know what it does to the wife and husband. I know what it does to all those concerned. I also know that there is, indeed, a better way.
As a Certified Divorce Coach, my clients receive over 40 years of personal and professional experience in the arena of divorce, mortgages, finances, taxes and budgeting. I help my clients coordinate everything prior to meeting with a legal expert. I provide this support throughout the process; saving them time and money.
I show folks that a break-up is not the end of their happiness, and that they can move on to an even better life. I give them the tools and skills to take control of the pain that comes from divorce by showing them and teaching them how to redesign their whole life just the way they dreamed it would be.
As a Certified Divorce Coach, I create a personalized, sustainable program so that each client can make better decisions; and be better equipped to handle the mental and emotional stresses of a breakup.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Most folks think divorce coaching is just for women. One of my first clients was a man in his 50’s, on his second divorce with 3 younger children. (As an aside, I was and am thrilled that men are coming to the realization that coaching is needed and useful to ease this very difficult and painful process). He was wealthy, was a high six figure earner, which allowed him and his wife life’s luxuries: live-in help, a Mc-Mansion in a very desirable area, 2 country club memberships, large child support and alimony payments to his first wife, etc. He traveled a lot for business, so he was clearly not the primary parent. Things got really sticky when his soon to be ex got a restraining order which resulted in supervised visitation along with parental alienation issues. The children refused to spend any time with him and the pre-teen daughter would send nasty, disrespectful texts routinely. The visits were disastrous. He was caught up in the emotional rollercoaster. He knew that he had to lighten up, relax and enjoy time with his 3 children. Visits were short, tumultuous and highly charged.
In addition, he wanted to ensure that his final divorce agreement provided fairness for both parties, but his number one priority was to learn how to spend time with his children without the “baggage of the divorce”. Being a traveling father/wage earner and part-time dad to another teenage daughter, together we began the process of teaching him how to be a dad/mom to his three younger children ages from 5-11. When men are married and have a high-powered job/career, typically they are not as involved in the routines of the children. Heck, they don’t even plan the fun events or downtime, they are just told where to be, what time to be ready, etc. They are ill-equipped for the task at hand.
By asking him questions and digging deep; we got him to a place of non-supervised visits, extended visitation and vacation time with his children. Instead of sitting at a table just eating a meal, we got his repertoire of visits to include; sports, hobbies, movies, game night at home, music, arts and time for playfulness. He also started sending weekly cards with old photos of him and his children with smiles and memories they shared as a family, reminders of the loving and fun times together.
His divorce finalized on a very high note and I receive notes of gratitude and photos of a happy father and his children.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my first clients was a young woman in her early 30’s, married 10 years, 3 children ages 8,6,4 looking to get out of her marriage but feeling weak and not sure how she will be able to pay all of her bills. The families were closely tied together through businesses shared as well. The conversation went something like this:
Me: So, in your past, you have encountered other difficult situations. Please share with me.
Client: About 9 years ago, my parents told me they were getting separated.
Me: I understand. What strength did you pull from within to get through that difficult time in your life?
Client: I got pregnant.
Me: You got pregnant? (Jaw noticeably dropped, clearly lost my neutral face)
Client: Yes, I got pregnant. It took the focus off of my parents and onto me and the hope of their first grandchild.
My takeaway: Expect the unexpected. Every client can be so resourceful when necessary. And truly work on keeping my neutral face. Actions and words must match.
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each
1st piece of advice: Grieve the loss and Celebrate Your New Life
Divorce is the second largest stress in life right after death of a loved one, though I do know many folks that feel their divorce was worse. Divorce is absolutely a tremendous personal loss that filters into most every other aspect of your life. Take 10 minutes a day and grieve; as it is critical to your moving forward.
Now, how can you re-discover YOU? I start my clients with an exercise when they are alone, and the kids are with the other parent and it goes like this:
Run the bathtub with your favorite scent, bubbles and sea salts. Dim the lights. Light candles. Put on your most relaxing music. Bring in a glass of your favorite wine, champagne, etc. (If you don’t drink, club soda with lime, cranberry juice, etc. Make it special). Close your eyes and take 3-5 deep breaths and just relax. Go to the places of just you. What are the activities, hobbies or passions that lit you up before the chaos of your tumultuous marriage and divorce set in.
My clients have come up with the following and the ideas are limitless based on the individual:
Yoga and Pilates through their community center
Joining a book club
Weekly walking tours of their city
Monthly museum outings with friends
Getting active in their house of worship
Volunteering on days off (from work and children)
Swapping babysitting with friends so kids have playdates and parents have alone time
My best advice on how to begin to celebrate your new life is to get into your “bathtub” and “dream”. Now put that dream into motion. These little personal acts of kindness to and for yourself, don’t completely take away the stress and anxiety of being newly single, but they are a way to begin your new journey in life. There really is a better life ahead.
2nd Piece of Advice: A New Way of Looking at Money and Finances
Let’s start with the obvious; Money is not what it used to be! Not only is there less income but there are more expenses. Adding insult to injury, you are probably paying off your expensive divorce attorney, refinancing fees, moving costs and anything else associated with the divorce.
In your marriage, there usually is one spouse in charge of paying bills, budgeting, investing, etc. For the spouse that didn’t do this, there is a whole new learning curve going on, a new adjustment with less money to spend. So quickly, a re-cap on just some of these issues that require a new skill: making a budget, paying bills on time, keeping track of your checking balance, have your employer re-calculate your payroll deductions, get life insurance, re-examine all your other insurance policies, re-finance your home, set up different bank accounts for different things, stay out of stores, eliminate take out…(I provide my clients with a full list of items that need looking into along with worksheets and checklists).
Together, with much thought, my client handled her new life in an extremely creative way as she was truly motivated to make changes to feel whole; in the best way possible. She was accustomed to going out socially a lot; and cooking very little. For her personal well-being, she needed to remain social but now lacked the finances. She started watching for sales in the market. She started cooking. It started out as basic and she then discovered her passion for cooking. She quickly started planning small dinner parties at home. Then the holidays drew closer. The money was tight and she could not afford gifts that year. Again, with the right questions, the answers just flowed. She remembered how her daughters would mention an item of hers that they loved. She took a leap and threw out the idea of re-gifting. How easy to purchase something somebody wants, but ooooh, to take a possession that is near and dear to you and give it to someone you love. That ended up becoming more loving and powerful for each member of her family. Those feelings inside, money could not buy.
Fast forward 3 years; my client is financially fit once again. She so loves cooking and entertaining at home that she rarely goes out socially for dinner. As for the holidays, it has become a tradition that one gift each year is a re-gift from the heart.
My advice to a good friend on this one would be: Life throws everyone curve balls and at the time we don’t know why. For this gal, she has carried this lesson forward and it never would have happened without her divorce.
3rd Piece of Advice: Take the High Road (this one is for divorced parents with children)
Once you sign on the dotted line, your signature doesn’t erase the pain, anger, frustration, and fear. You start to question things like, how do you want your children, friends and family to remember you through all of this? Most important, who are you and how do you want to feel about yourself?
- Treat your ex-spouse with respect, even if you feel they don’t deserve it.
- Freely share information about the kids, without being asked to.
- Be flexible with parenting times and days without making a fuss.
- Don’t give your children the gory details of your split.
- You don’t always have to take the bait.
- Don’t text your ex-spouse 30 times a day.
- If you make a mistake or mess up; apologize.
My client and her ex have split custody and shared parenting of 3 boys ages, 7,5,3. They live 30 minutes apart from each other and both work full time. It was a bitter divorce with emotional abuse; loud, hostile tirades and threats in front of the children. They were out of control. In working with my client, including a few emergency laser coaching calls, we used the pause method. The power of not over reacting moved them into the next phase which I call, “Thinking and Brainstorming”. This allowed my client to handle the bullying tactics. My client was so focused and persisted in not taking the bait that they now just text each other information necessary and needed where their boys are concerned. They do pick up and drop offs at a mutually agreed upon local diner. When her boy’s father runs late from picking them up; she is prepared with a few games, puzzles and coloring books to keep everybody in a calm state of mind. (to date, their father does not do the same, but she stopped letting this take away from her focus as to what is in the boy’s best interest)
Advice for taking the high road is to always remember what an awesome person you are and have always been. Try not to let the circumstances of divorce change that. Remember, this too, shall pass; and when it does, and you look in the mirror; you will face yourself with a huge smile knowing you did the very best you could do!
4th piece of advice: Take Care Of Yourself; Your Health is Truly Your Wealth
Surviving divorce is just the beginning. Now we have to learn how to thrive; but how? The sleepless nights, poor eating habits and lack of physical activity wreaks havoc with us through this process and after. We are in a constant state of fatigue, exhaustion, headaches, stomach issues, etc. Without your health, you have nothing.
You need to move every day. Going to work or shopping, park in the furthest spot. If you can do stairs instead of an elevator, get your heart pumping. If you feel you don’t have enough time in your day, utilize your lunch break to take a short walk. If you are cooking, do some squats. Watching TV, push-ups, sit-ups, leg raises or planks are perfect. Put on a 15-minute yoga or Zumba show. Situational depression is a common side effect of divorce, so we must counter it by movement. You will feel better.
You also need to eat, no matter how sick it makes you feel. Pick nutritious foods that nourish your body. Eat smaller portions more often. Please be aware of processed and sugary foods at this time. In the long run they will make you feel worse. Don’t overindulge in alcohol, ice cream or cookies. (Notice I said overindulge. If you are eating well, treat yourself on occasion, but always be conscious of what you put in your body)
Be present and meditate. Start your day with 5,10, or 20 minutes of meditation. There are so many excellent, free apps online. This helps start your day calmly, relieves anxiety and keeps you present. While I understand from an emotional point of view, you may not want to be present, but for all other aspects of your personal and professional life, you need to be present.
Another great way to sort out emotions and get them out of your mind so you can move on with the matters of your day is to journal. Getting your thoughts and feelings on paper moves them out of your head and heart so you can function better.
Sleep is big as it is mandatory to function. If needed, speak to your doctor about your current situation and get a temporary solution for your insomnia. Try out some natural and/or herbal remedies. Shut down devices 30 minutes before bedtime. Keep your bedroom cool.
Have a great and trusted group of friends as your support group. This is critical at this time and remember, at some point, you can’t remain, “Debbie Downer” or friends will slowly find reasons to politely and lovingly shy away. This is where professionals are needed.
Along with tackling the physical aspects of how divorce wreaks havoc with your system, there is the emotional. If you were seeing a divorce coach and/or therapist through the divorce process, don’t stop now. If you weren’t, this might be the time to consider seeking professional help. They will get you to where you need to be quicker. What is more important than your health?
One of my clients went to a referral partner of mine, a local chiropractor/acupuncturist. She was physically and emotionally exhausted, depressed, lost weight and simply put, feeling like crap. She decided it was time to get back to the “world of the living”. As a team, we all worked together utilizing acupuncture, all-natural supplements, body movement and coaching (see above). Week by week, there was such noticeable improvement. She is now back at the gym three times a week, joined a local band (she always wanted to play the flute) and is looking and feeling like herself again.
Once you get through the trauma of divorce, the right team to help get you to thrive is critical. No man is an island.
Final piece of advice from my own story on dating: Don’t Take Your Old Relationship Baggage Into Dating
Whenever my ex-husband would behave poorly/abusively; he would bring home a trinket, a piece of jewelry, flowers, tickets to a show, etc. Clearly, I quickly felt that anytime somebody did something nice for me, it was an apology for bad behavior; somehow. I lost trust and faith in people.
Fast forward to after my divorce and my dating life. After an exceptionally great first date, I received flowers from this gentleman/suitor delivered to my office on Wall Street. I immediately shut the door and started having a full-blown panic attack. My emotions and associations immediately jumped to the conclusion that anybody that brings me flowers is bad.
The world and the people in it became a bit scarier. I trusted less. I had to talk myself off the ledge by repeating, “Not all people that send flowers are bad”. I had to repeat this, many times, until my emotional brain left. Unfortunately, we carry lots of baggage from our previous marriage. Remember, we promised to take care of each other until “death do us part”. It’s very hard to imagine that the person that you loved and made this vow to could harm you in such a way. You really need to do lots of “self-talk” to get back in the game where you were before the trauma of a bad and unhealthy marriage set in and divorce was the only way out!
My best advice regarding your old relationship baggage and dating is to pause and get out of the emotion; as it is critical to making the best decisions for yourself and your situations. If I went with my emotion that day, I never would have married the best person for me and my family. I am so excited to share my story and my 17+ year second marriage.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
There are practical and emotional mistakes that newly divorced people most commonly make. Unfortunately, the checklist doesn’t end, nor do the costs for some professionals.
Let’s start with the practical and absolutely necessary:
- Forgetting to update Retirement Account & Estate beneficiaries.
- Not signing over title/deeds to homes and cars.
- Not updating personal wills, trusts, etc.
- Not speaking with your tax advisor/CPA regarding tax consequences as you are now in a new tax bracket.
- If you are an employee, not reaching out to HR and changing your tax exemptions.
Unfortunately, they are time consuming but a necessary evil. Once completed, you will feel a huge sigh of relief.
Next there are the emotional obstacles and challenges. For most divorced couples, letting go of someone you loved or had a life with stinks. You invested many years in this relationship and now you are starting over. The emotional pain doesn’t end the day you sign the final divorce decree; but you can choose to extend the suffering or choose to begin your new life.
Many post-divorce, newly single folks find themselves home alone, laying on the sofa listening to sad break-up songs. I understand the pain doesn’t go away overnight but why linger in it? Now is the time to discover a new hobby. Getting out and finding a new hobby also brings you to a place where you meet other people with common interests. If you have children, why are you on the sofa or in your own bedroom wallowing while your children are playing “Fortnite”? Find a local chapter of “Parents Without Partners”.
Talking to your ex or hanging out with him/her at this point in time is certainly not recommended. You need to move on in your personal and social life. This includes Facebook stalking as well. What could be more hurtful than seeing your ex with his/her new SO? Why would you do this to yourself? Communication should be limited to and regarding the kiddos only.
If you had a contentious divorce, don’t bring it into your new single life. Don’t continue to fight or seek revenge with your ex, especially if children are involved. While you are not husband and wife anymore, you are still mom and dad aka: a family to your kiddos. Learn how to co-parent for the sake of your children. If you find you love your children more than life itself but cannot get past the hurt and anger, I strongly suggest considering an anger management class. Human nature is such that anger puts up walls for negotiation and compromise. If you and your ex have a working relationship, remember workloads change, schedules get altered. Learning how to control negative angry feelings will probably get you more flexibility in issues that arise for you.
Unfortunately, lots of folks come out of divorce feeling like a failure. You are not a failure so don’t brand yourself that way. You are in control of your thoughts. Choose to feel free; free at last! Choose to feel that you got a second chance at life; the chance to do it your way! Choose your thoughts wisely as your thoughts control you, your actions and how people react to you.
Stuff is stuff and it holds energy. Get rid of the old marriage bed! Get rid of that connection. And if you can’t get rid of the bed, get rid of the sheets, duvets, pillows and burn sage in your bedroom!
Dating the same person or dating too soon before you spend time getting to re-acquaint yourself with the new you can lead to problems down the road. If you are concerned about being alone forever, you first need time to heal. Take some time now to go on your own spiritual journey. Learn the lesson your divorce taught you.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
Aha Moments: When Intellect & Intuition Collide by Dianna Amorde
Getting Organized for Divorce by Brette, McWherter, Sember
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
How to Sleep Alone in a King Size Bed by Theo Pauline Nestor
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner
POD Casts and/or TED Talks
Mel Robbins: 5 Second Rule
Dr. David Rock: Learning About the Brain
The Gottman Institute: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse
Esther Perel: Where Should We Begin
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
‘Bad Things Happen To Good People’ is one of my very favorite quotes, thoughts, inspirations and a book by Harold Kurshner.
My oldest daughter gave me this book as soon as her dad and I were getting divorced. She wrote me some very poignant words on the back of the front cover. She was struggling, suffering and confused by this herself, as a 19 year-old away at college. She didn’t want me to drown in the negative emotions and become paralyzed; she just wanted me to understand that bad things happen to good people. Wow! the wisdom of a young lady suffering herself and wanting her mother to understand and be whole.
My dad was a holocaust survivor. Bad things happen to good people. Constant reminders of what could be worse.
While my clients are going through divorce; they are continuously scared, frightened, angry, confused, tired, overburdened, and too emotional to understand or tend to the matters necessary to go through the process. They truly need a calming person on their team. They need somebody to help get them off the emotional roller coaster and embrace the mindset that the business of divorce requires. We have choices in life. We are alive. I remind my clients that nobody in life gets away unscathed. Stuff happens. How do you want your children, your family, your loved ones to remember you once this is over? Who are you as your best self? Life’s reminders of not how life sucker punches you but how to handle it with dignity. That’s my goal every day with every client.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am extremely excited about starting my pilot support group called, “Sister to Sister: A Journey to Self- Discovery”. It is an in person, 6-part series for women struggling with the decision to divorce and don’t know how to find a way out, how to be single, what is needed to prepare, etc. This will give them an opportunity to manage their intense emotions, gain clarity and obtain practical information so as to find resolution with the best chance for a good outcome.
Each meeting will include experts and resources in Family Law, Health & Nutrition, Business and Transition, Financial Planning, A Personal Stylist and a Dating Coach.
My biggest dream began in 1979, when I watched my ex-husband and his ex-wife behave so poorly regarding the children. While I understand the trauma and pain of divorce; I always felt there had to be a better way. Life is short and precious; why does divorce have to bring out the worst in us? You can be hurt, scared, disappointed and angry; but why take it out on your precious children? Why do they need to be involved in adult issues?
My movement would be Pre-Divorce Counseling. It would be similar to Pre- Cana/Pre-Marriage consulting/preparation but for divorcing couples. I do understand the challenge to this but for folks that truly have their children’s best interest at heart, just imagine how empowering it would be to be able to communicate in a peaceful way.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
My dream breakfast would include: Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Jenna Haeger-Bush, the Ladies of the Today Show. These ladies have it all together while they openly admit their human flaws and open us up to their brilliance, their families, their hearts, their passions. They are real. They are champions of making women’s lives better. I don’t believe I have seen them tackle the issue of divorce or a peaceful way of going through divorce with dignity. 50% of first marriages end in divorce and the stats get even larger for 2nd and 3rd marriages. Today’s largest segment is the Gray Divorce population. (married over 20 years in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s). Lawyers are all about the law but a Certified Divorce Coach helps the client save time and money while putting all the pieces together for the individual going through the process. I began my journey in the 90’s as a dinosaur in the industry as a Certified Divorce Mediator and now pioneering once again as a Certified Divorce Coach. I would love to get the word out regarding how to ease this very traumatic process. While nobody can take away most of the pain, we surely can strive to make it just a tad easier.