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Tackling The Many Sides of Divorce with Elise Pettus


You can be perfectly happy in your marriage and listen to this episode. Have you ever thought about being divorced? Don’t lie, we all have at some point!

Even if just imagining a worst case scenario, everyone has thought about it. Divorce can be a really difficult process that can affect more people than just the couple involved. In this episode, we will discuss the reality of divorce, how to make it more manageable, how to find support and what practical steps to take for the best possible outcome.

Elise is the founder of UNtied, the Thinking Woman’s Divorce Resource. When Elise first entered the separation process in 2010, she felt desperate to reach out to other women who’d been through it.

Elise Pettus
Elise Pettus

A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she worked in documentary film and later as a reporter/writer for magazines like New York and Gourmet, before launching UNtied in 2013. Her passion is to connect divorcing women to each other as well as to the most experienced and competent professionals in all fields related to their needs.

Resources mentioned:

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study


Don’t forget to follow us on @ItsNotACrisisPodcast on both Instagram and Facebook for more content and even drop us a DM to say hi.

And remember: It’s not a crisis!



Doryn Wallach:

Welcome to It's Not a Crisis. I am your host, Doryn Wallach. I'm an entrepreneur, a mother of two, a wife, and a 40-something trying to figure out what is happening in this decade. Why is no one talking about it? I created this podcast to help women in the late thirties and forties to figure out what is going on in our mind, body, soul and life. We may laugh, we may cry, we may get frustrated, but most importantly, my goal is to make this next chapter of life positive. I'm also full of my own questions, and I'm here to go on this journey with you. So let's do it together.

Welcome to episode 15 of It's Not a Crisis. I am your host, Doryn Wallach. I'm very happy to have you back again. Today, we are talking about five tips to consider when contemplating or going through divorce. I've had several women reach out to me, and we, unfortunately, are at the age where a lot of people are reevaluating marriage. I've had women reach out to me, and not just women that are going through divorce or have gone through divorce, but women that are contemplating the idea and afraid to take the steps or don't know exactly what to do.

I don't know much about this topic besides the fact that my parents went through a messy divorce when I was nine. Unfortunately, I have some good friends that have gone through it and are going through it, so I've learned a little bit from listening to them. I've been married for 17 years, and we have a really wonderful relationship. We have an extraordinarily close friendship, but we've had bumps in our road, and most marriages do. I don't believe anyone who says that they don't. We've spent time working through them, it's always a work in progress, but we both couldn't imagine our lives without each other in them, and I think that that is what keeps us going.

However, you are lying if you've been married over 15 years and you haven't thought about what life would look like divorced. There's always a thought in your head of what if, or what if they leave, what if I leave, or what would my life be like? So I think this episode pertains to everybody, I think it's information to know. You never know what's going to happen, even if you have the most wonderful marriage in the world.

Today, my guest Elise Pettus is going to break down divorce with tips on the process in a way that's easy to understand whether you're going through it, about to go through it, have gone through it, or you're contemplating going through it. Elise founded Untied in 2013 after going through her own split and recognizing an enormous need for community and education among women who are facing divorce. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Journalism School, she worked in documentary film before becoming a magazine reporter and writer for outlets like New York magazine, the New York Times Gourmet and others.

Untied's mission has been to connect divorcing women with the most experienced and competent professionals, empower them with knowledge they need, and provide them with meaningful community support. Elise believes these are essential to navigate their split with confidence and start a great next chapter. That's all we talk about on this podcast. Now in its eighth year, Untied serves a growing number of members in the New York area and across the U.S. through workshops, panels, webinars and social events, and I thought it was so wonderful when I discovered Untied, so I really needed Elise on the show, and I'm so happy to have her here.

Welcome to the show, Elise.

Elise Pettus:

Thank you, Doryn. So happy to be talking with you.

Doryn Wallach:

I am so happy that I connected with you. I think you are so perfect for this episode, so I can't wait to jump in and talk about it a little bit more. But I first want to ask you what made you start Untied?

Elise Pettus:

Well, I was facing a divorce in 2010, I had two smallish boys, and when I realized what I was entering into, and it wasn't my choice and it probably was several years in coming, but I thought, I can survive this if I could just talk to other women who have been through it, because I was the first person in my social circle to face it, and it felt incredibly isolating.

The other thing I remember thinking was, I have such a steep learning curve here. I went to my first consultation with a fancy attorney, and I remember thinking I have five questions, but I think I'll only ask for three, because I don't want her to think I'm dumb. Now, I'm not a shy person and I have a pretty good education, I was a journalist, so I'm very accustomed to asking questions, but the fact that I thought that made me realize that so many of us, when we get into the divorce scenario, we're confronting things we've never done before, and it's overwhelming and we have no confidence in this zone because we've never done it.

So I thought, if there could only be a way to both connect with other women who have been through it, who are going through it, who get where I'm at right now, and if there could only be a place where I could hear really smart, experienced professionals teach me what I need to know to get through the process. I put those two things together and created Untied because it seemed like something that should exist.

Doryn Wallach:

It's so wonderful. I mentioned in the beginning of the podcast that I'm a child of divorce, my parents divorced when I was nine, but I am also a 43-year-old women, I have friends who are going through divorces right now, are about to get divorced or just got divorced. This is the age my parents got divorced, so it's not uncommon; nowadays, obviously, it's a little bit more common than it was when I was younger.

But I do think that a lot of my friends feel very isolated and they don't have that support so what you're doing is terrific. In fact, I sent it to a friend and she said, "Oh my God, I'm so happy to know about this, I didn't even know it existed." So thank you for providing this for women.

Elise Pettus:

That's great, I'm so glad. I'm so glad that, again, I'm always so gratified when people find it a welcoming idea. I don't know if as many men would be excited about sitting around a living room with a glass of wine talking about divorce issues.

Doryn Wallach:

They just wouldn't admit it. They probably would benefit from it, but would never admit that they needed it.

Elise Pettus:

Absolutely, absolutely. Because we're women, we have been, traditionally, for millennia, the ones to gather around the well and share notes and share suggestions and share what works, you know? Like, where are the good berries, back in prehistoric times. So I feel like that really helped women learn, was when they're in community. I think that really just bears out amongst the women that I see going through this process.

Doryn Wallach:

That's so wonderful, and such an empowering thing as well. My mother would've greatly benefited from something like this. I was telling her, she's actually here today, and I was telling her what I'm doing my podcast on. She goes, "Oh, that's wonderful. I wish I had that. I had very little support."

With that being said, I have gotten more than one message from listeners who have said, can you do something on if you're contemplating divorce? I thought that was really interesting, and in my intro just now I said that if you've been married over 15 years and you have never once thought about divorce in your head, you're lying, because everyone has, you've thought about your partner leaving you and what do I do, or you've thought about it. And it's true, so I think this podcast will pertain to many different women. But I think I'd like to start with your advice, typically, to a woman that says, "I don't know, should I stay, should I go? I don't know, I'm scared, I'm not sure of what's ahead of me, what are my steps, what do I do?"

Elise Pettus:

And for so many of us, we live in that place of uncertainty for years. There are many people who live in that place of uncertainty for years. So I do have some suggestions to sort of help people work their way through that place, they may go either direction, but the first thing that I say to people who talk to me about the fact that they're considering divorce is I urge them to talk to a lawyer. And I know a lot of them are resistant, they think, oh, wait a second, if I talk to a lawyer, that means I'm getting divorced, I don't know.

But here's why I think that is so important: because until you do, you really don't know what the picture might look like for you financially, or if you're a parent, in terms of your parenting life. So I feel like that is the first thing that you really want to do. I mean, more than even talk to your friends, just talk to an attorney who you can be super honest and upfront with about everything, which is very important, and then get a sense of what your options are. You're not pressed into making any decisions at that point whatsoever.

The second thing I would say is get a grip on the finances. This should be all of us, as married or considering divorce.

Doryn Wallach:

Honestly, I think that's something every woman should do, regardless of wanting to get divorced or married. I actually have a podcast coming up on finances for women, so I just want to put that out there.

Elise Pettus:

That's so great. We all know that we should be on top of our money, but I have to say that, too often, it takes divorce being thrust upon you to make us actually do that. So I feel like anybody who's even considering it, and this may be obvious to them, because if you're thinking about divorce, you're thinking, how am I going to survive? How am I going to live? You may or may not be the breadwinner in your family, you may be a stay-at-home parent. Sometimes even the breadwinner isn't really on top of the finances.

So as soon as you can, really start to watch, get a real grip on what you're spending, what your budget is, and that means down to the itty-bitty details. A lot of people end up ... if you have time to plan your so-called exist, you might start using budget tracking tools like because it saves you a lot of work in the future. So you really want to get a grip on what you spend, then you want to know what you make, and I mean you as in you and your spouse, what your assets are, and what your debts are.

All of that requires, I mean, depending on how conversant you are with those things before you're thinking about a divorce, it still requires some work. Certainly most of us don't know what we spend each month, so that's going to be important for you going forward in terms of really taking a cold, hard look on what your life might be like post-divorce or what you might require for maintenance if you've been a stay-at-home mom. Those are the most important things, and I would say that many of the women I see who are not the ones who deal with the finances, they've taken their hand off the wheel in that department because they're full-on with the kids. They may not even know what all the assets are.

So in that case, they really need to look at the tax returns. Don't just sign the tax return, but take a look at it and there's a certain section where you really can zero in and, I think it's the schedule B in the 1099-C, where all the interests and dividend earnings are, because that can alert you to accounts they didn't know about. I feel like that's one of the big things to sort of get on top of. What are our assets, what is our income and where is our money?

The other thing I think, in this same vein: if you have been a cardholder on your husband's credit card, which so many of us have, and so many of us didn't even know it. I was one of them. I was actually financing the credit card, but it was his credit card and I was an additional cardholder. That can be a problem. If you don't have a credit card in your own name, you need to get one. There are several reasons why this is a really important thing to have as you're preparing to get divorced.

One, if, for some reason, your husband is the earner and he has the power to lock you out of finances, you have that credit card that you can draw on to pay an attorney fee, to pay a therapist or something on an emergency basis.

The second reason you need a credit card in your name is because, going forward, you need your own credit history. What I advise somebody to do is to get a credit card in your own name while you're still married, and you can check off the box married income, which will boost your opportunity to get a credit card, and then have that card and pay it off, use it and pay it off, so that you have a credit history so you, going into your next chapter, have a better chance of being able to take on a mortgage, say, if you want to keep the house, better chance of being able to rent your own place, better chance of leasing a car. I mean, so many things require having a solid credit history, and so few of us who've been in long-term marriages are paying attention to that.

So I would just say take a look at that again. Similarly, I would make sure you have an account that you can draw from, set up a checking account in your name. You can't take a huge chunk of funds from your joint account it's funded with, but you could start, little by little, putting money in there so that you have the means to hire an attorney in the beginning, even if, at the end of the day, if your husband is, let's say, an investment banker and makes all the money and you've been home, he will end up paying those attorney fees.

It's really nice to be able to have some so-called rainy-day money in case you get into any kind of trouble or you want to make sure you get to talk to an attorney before alerting your spouse to the fact that you're starting to prepare for a divorce. Does that make sense?

Doryn Wallach:

Yes, that makes a lot of sense. So interesting and true. Speaking of attorneys, I remember when a friend of mine was contemplating divorce, she was told that she should go see all the best attorneys in the city, because then her husband wasn't allowed to use those attorneys.

Elise Pettus:

That's called conflicting out. Any attorney you visit and have a consult with cannot work with your spouse. Now, if you live in a tiny town and there's two or three great attorneys, you can pay consult fees and I guess you could do that, right? If you live in New York City or L.A. or whatever, it's not really practical to do that. And that's working it, perhaps you're married to somebody who's going to be an operator in that way, in which case you have to be more strategic.

But generally, I would really advise you to look for attorneys that you really want to work with, and I have a lot to say about this because I've seen so many women going through this process, right? And some attorneys are just more litigious. There are many choices you can make these days, unlike when our parents got divorced. Mediation has become very, very robust in the last 10 to 20 years. In addition to mediation, mediation, for those who aren't familiar, is one attorney and both spouses in the room with that attorney working through negotiations, right?

Now that sounds great to some people and sounds scary to others, but the thing that a mediator will do that a classic, traditional litigation lawyers really can't do is a mediator is going to be better able to work out an unusual, a tailored, very customized agreement. You're not getting handed down the law from the judge, you're not having a judge decide the details of your future.

So if you can work with either a mediation attorney, which, as I said, is one attorney for the two of you, or there's a newer process that has really been around for maybe the last 15 years called collaborative law, and in collaborative law, you have an attorney for each of you, so it's definitely you have more advocacy than if you have one mediation attorney. And a collaborative attorney will work on your behalf, but they agree they're not going to to court. So again, you have the option, you have much more agency to work out kind of a more unusual or customized agreement than you would if you want through the mitigation attorneys and through the court system.

Doryn Wallach:

Three friends started with a mediator, and one was successful, a couple others were not, unfortunately, and they had to go to lawyers. So I love the idea of that, but it doesn't always work, right?

Elise Pettus:

You're so right. It doesn't always work, but I do have a couple of tips just to sort of make the chances, give you better chances for it being successful, and one of them is to have an outside attorney consulting with you as you go through that process. Good mediators will highly recommend you have that person, because you have an advocate outside the room who really can sort of help you find your way through these negotiations and give you a real sense of what's the spectrum here of what I could expect, given this much income, this number of kids, you know?

You'll have a much better grip on what you're going after when you go into the mediation room, but again, that consulting attorney is not going to charge you the enormous retainer fee that they would ... lawyer, but they're working with you in a different capacity. So that's one tip that I think can be very helpful.

The other tip that I think can be very helpful is to have, if you're not financially savvy, is to have an outside financial advisor helping you, because sometimes what happens with mediation is that you spend a lot of time in mediation meetings, and you come up with an agreement, and then sometimes the mediator says, well, show this to an attorney, and you do, and the attorney's like, what?! Or you show it to a financial advisor at the end and your advisor's like, what?!

So I would say that those two things can really make a difference. Some people would say, you know, a divorce coach can be super helpful because they have an antenna out for certain issues. And I'm not saying that mediation is going to work for everyone, and even when it doesn't, sometimes, and I don't know if this happened with your friend, but sometimes working through mediation can help you at least come to agreement in some arenas.

So let's say you're in mediation, you can solve the money part, but you can't solve the kid piece, or you can solve the kid schedule and the sharing of the visitation, but you can't solve the money piece. And that alone can also, that can save you money when you do finally get into the litigation system and the court system, right?

The other reason, again, to start with mediation is because, right now, I don't know how long this will last for, but during COVID the courts were closed for a good five months in most states, so they are so backed up right now that it is prolonging hugely a lot of processes that have been started in the courts. So it stands to reason that mediation, you can pick it up at any time, you can start it at any time, you can do it from home, you can mediate just part of your settlement, your agreement, so that you have, you're narrowing the scope. Maybe that's adjusting your expectations for mediation and also just bolstering yourself on the outside. Those are the two ways, I think, of maximizing possibility for success.

If you're a marriage where the balance of power is really out of whack, like either your spouse is making all the money and he's very controlling, he could be bullying, he could be abusive, he could be even violent, all of those scenarios, those make mediation very difficult. So in those scenarios, I don't think that mediation would be a first choice. I do think that you can still work around it if you have a really great mediator and if you have a really great consulting attorney, and sometimes, by the way, a good mediator will invite the separate attorneys into the room because they know how to work with those attorneys or know how to include your financial advisor in the room.

So if you feel very small around the money piece and very, very wobbly and worried, you could still try to mediate by having a financial advisor who can advocate for you and who can figure out the numbers and make sure that your back is covered on that.

Doryn Wallach:

That's wonderful. I don't know if this is a New York City thing, living here. In a lot of my friends' experiences, it seems to me the lawyers are making the divorce so much worse. It starts one way and then it just gets so awful and mean. Friends who have said I never thought my husband would be doing this, and a lot of times you know it's the lawyer speaking. It's really unfortunate, and it's really tough on the kids, too.

Elise Pettus:

You are so right, and I know a lot of lawyers at this point; my own attorney was a ligation attorney, and I loved her. But she had been a traditional litigation divorce attorney her whole life, right? And this is something that I really learned as an observer, it was almost like that litigation was in her DNA at that point, so she would, instead of tamping things down sometimes, she would inflame them. I remember thinking, I know she doesn't know that she's really making this worse for me, but she is, and it's making all the problems bigger.

And I think that it is part of just the nature of litigation. They want to win-win-win-win, and they're going to do the tactics. Which is why, by the way, so many attorneys who used to work in litigation have bailed for either a mediation model or a collaborative, because the idea, and again, it's not perfect and you need to put some extra muscle around it, and you need to do your work in both of those methods, collaborative and mediation.

However, it is aimed at ... the process harmonious as possible, getting you to settle, as opposed to screwing the other guy. It's a different mindset. And the other reason to consider it too is that this whole scorched-earth kind of back-and-forth is going to make it near impossible to co-parent with the other spouse after the process is finished. It's going to leave literal scorched earth ... so again, the mediation model is about making sure, trying to protect your ongoing co-parenting relationship.

Doryn Wallach:

I would love that for everybody. I think once I gets to this point with the lawyers and the this and then that, there's so much animosity between the couple at that point, which then affects the children. They feel it, whether they're hearing it from their parents or not. When I was a kid, my parents did not hold back anything in front of me from talking about the divorce. I knew more stuff than any child should've ever known. When I was talking about this last night with my mom, I said, Mom ... she's like, "Well, I think people really need to think about divorce, because it affects the children so much."

And I said, "Mom, your divorce wouldn't have affected me as much as it did. The way you two handled your divorce is what affected me, and the way that I was involved in your divorce is what affected me." I think it's a good point that if you are somehow able, and I know it's hard, because I see it over and over again, but if you are able to do it in a way that's amicable or somewhat more calm, it certainly is going to benefit your children. So I think these tips are really interesting things that I never knew.

Elise Pettus:

There's another point that I guess I want to bring up about ... that directly relates to this. I spend a lot of time helping both moms and dads, doing events for both of them together, about how to be a co-parent. And most of it involves reminding people again and again: don't expose your kids to conflict and don't ever bad-talk the other parent. And studies have shown that it's not actual divorce that really damages kids, it's the conflict that they're exposed to.

So to that end, one of the other big tips that I would have for anybody considering divorce is to make sure they have a team. Ideally, a team of three. And it could be either a combination like your attorney, either collaborative or litigation attorney, your sister who's got your back, and a therapist. Or it could be, if you're in a mediation, it could be a divorce coach, your therapist and your friend. But the idea here is not only are you getting some help on the practical stuff, somebody's got your back, but also the emotional overwhelm.

You do not want to ... bubbling over with rage when you're with your kids, even if you have super-young kids and they're not understanding. Even pre-verbal, they pick up your energy. So you need to make sure you've got a team before you really get into this process so that you don't end up being the toxic parent to your kids.

Doryn Wallach:

And I would say that team should obviously know ... I think that's really smart, as opposed to a friend who may not get it and may not be as supportive. Not that a friend doesn't want to help, but I can't even imagine how hard, especially for some of my friends, how hard it is to pretend like they're okay going through this. So I knew that my mom probably should have done that. However, even us women that are married, when our husband does something to bother us or piss us off, we'll find ourselves bitching about it in front of our kids and go, okay, no, stop. Don't involve them.

Elise Pettus:

It's almost like you need to have a hotline for that friend that you can vent to. We do that on our Facebook group, yes. "He just said this thing and I can't believe it!"

Doryn Wallach:

But even having a person, having a way to match up women with other women that they can text or reach out to when they're just having a moment would be great.

Elise Pettus:

Absolutely. What ends up happening, and this is one of the things that I think I have enjoyed the most about this, about running Untied, is that even from the very first gathering we had, which was in 2013, and I didn't know anybody directly and I had asked friends, I was like, if you know anybody who's getting ... women who are contemplating divorce or getting divorced, can you give me their email?

And so 17 women show up, I'd never met them before, but we all knew somebody in common. They didn't know each other. Actually, some of them were like, oh, yes, you and I have a third-grader, same class or something. But they bonded and became friends, and so many women in the room have become besties and go on trips together. It's been so gratifying to see that, you know? They've helped each other through the process in the most beautiful ways, because I feel like there's a huge difference. Your friends will feel bad, but they also feel a little bit terrified, your married friends. It's so unfathomable and it is frightening to them.

There's a tendency, among some people when they're going through divorce, like, oh, they're worried I'm going to steal their husband. I don't think it's that bald, it's just it is so threatening, you know? It's threatening in a very primal way.

Doryn Wallach:

My mom used to say that. She wanted to move to city, because she said every woman in the neighborhood in our suburb thinks that I'm trying to steal their husband by having a conversation.

Elise Pettus:

I was there, and I wouldn't ... it's hard to describe this, but I remember thinking that I didn't know anybody who had gone through a divorce, right? And what I realized two years after my divorce is that I did know them, but I had sort of disappeared them in my mind. Isn't that weird? That's why I think it's a waste of time to sort of be blaming, but I think it's a biological survival thing, and I've also had friends who said, oh, my husband's been hanging out with two of our best women friends who are getting divorced, and it's really making me uneasy because he suddenly now wants to have an open marriage. I mean, I get why it's threatening, you know what I mean?

So for that reason, I feel like you need a social network, and it's so helpful to have a social network that you can open up to about those things. The other thing I love about Untied and the community is that they're never pretending, nobody's ever pretending everything's great or being fake in any way. It's not like everybody's constantly having breakdowns, but there's a shared sense of humor, even, dark humor sometimes, and the conversations are so real and so vital and kind of refreshing, in a weird way. I do think that having other people who get where you're coming from and get what you're going through is hugely valuable.

Doryn Wallach:

How would you suggest somebody who might want to meet a friend locally that is also divorced in person? I would think that it would feel better to know that you have that one person that can understand or that you can do things with your kids or whatever it is together. How would you suggest that begins? It's almost like dating.

Elise Pettus:

Well, it is a little bit. During non-COVID times we had these events, and sometimes 25 women gather in the space and can meet. We have workshops where there's more, a little bit more vulnerable, emotional material sharing, and they really get to bond. I'm trying to create the same sort of thing online, because A, it's COVID and we have to do everything online, and B, a lot of women have been calling me from places like Ohio. "Is there something like what you have around here?" And I have looked and I haven't found those other groups. I think there's one that was started up in Darien, Connecticut recently, I talked to a woman who was starting up a group.

But it's really a helpful, wonderful thing, and I think ... actually, I will say, if you're in a community outside of New York City, sometimes there are online mommy groups or parenting groups that might have a sub-section. I know in Park Slope Parents, there's a very vital single/divorced/separated parent group in that, and they have meetups and it's fantastic. Some people start meetups, although then you're really kind of casting to the wind, like help, anybody!

But that's what I would say, it's hard. That's why I started Untie, because I found it very difficult to find like-minded souls who wanted to kind of connect not just around venting, but around moving forward.

Doryn Wallach:

Well, that's what I was going to say, because I don't want anyone to be turned off by this in the way that ... I don't need to sit and listen to a bunch of women bitching all day long.

Elise Pettus:

Totally. Exactly. In the beginning, I thought, well, I'm just going to have practical events that tackle practical issues, I'm not going to get into the emotional world of this, I'm just going to provide, here are three different attorneys, they all work differently, come hear what they have to say. If you like some, you can meet with them afterwards or whatever.

And then after maybe a year or two, a friend and colleague started this workshop called Grief and Gratitude, and she started as a layperson ... she's also a journalist like me, but she started it because she wanted connection with people and she created this little workshop that we started offering and have been offering for the last six years, I guess. I can't even call it a support group, but it involves sharing around structured writing and reflection in a way that it doesn't end up being that spiraling southward sort of thing that we all don't want to be part of it.

The people who have come to our meetings and gatherings share an outlook, which is like, I want to tackle this thing. I am going to roll up my sleeves, I'm going to learn, it's going to be hard, I know, but I want to be present for it and I want to figure things out. And I think that's a really valuable outlook to have, because those women I see, they're really resilient, you know? I don't see as many who are like, I don't want anybody to know, I'm going to stay in my house, I don't want to meet anybody else, I just don't want to talk about it, I want to pretend it's not happening or whatever.

I have a few friends, actually, who have gone through divorce ... kind of held onto it and had a hard time relinquishing bitterness and starting a great new chapter. I feel like it's holding them back a little bit.

Doryn Wallach:

Yeah, definitely. Oh boy, I could talk about that for my mother, sorry, Mom, but it's true.

Elise Pettus:

It so saddens me, though, because I've seen so many women who would, say, come to one of these workshops and start with my life is over, I thought my life was over, and now, three, four years later, like, could not be happier that they split.

Doryn Wallach:

You had written me a little bit about that, and I actually want to get to that in a minute, but I had reached out to my listeners to ask if they had any questions about divorce. I thought this was interesting from somebody, if you don't mind me reading it. She said, "I am 40, no kids planned and freshly divorced. I find that people say congratulations when I tell them the news. 'You didn't want kids anyway,' like if I didn't want to be a mom I should just be a spinster? Lack of better term, I hate that word. Marriage is not a conduit for spitting out kids, yet it's something that can happen while being married, but it can happen at any time or not at all for many reasons. Our society is still in the Dark Ages, it makes me kind of sad because I feel like if you are of an age, you're married or not, which means you're in or you're out.

"I miss my companionship with my ex, but we both understand that we're not meant to be married to each other. We're amicable. Explaining this to anyone is almost impossible; throw the kid thing on top and I'm like an alien creature."

Elise Pettus:

That's interesting.

Doryn Wallach:

It is interesting, because I think getting ... we all think about getting divorced means you have kids and you're dealing with that.

Elise Pettus:

Yeah. Not always, though.

Doryn Wallach:

No, no, not always.

Elise Pettus:

Obviously, yeah.

Doryn Wallach:

Obviously. That's a whole other podcast, by the way, and thank you for that question. I am going to have a podcast where we're going to talk about women and children, because the fact that women are made to feel a certain way because they choose not to have children is not okay, and I really hope that that's changing with the new generation. I actually think it is, because it's not for everybody.

Elise Pettus:

It isn't for everybody, and it's funny, I was just speaking with Meghan Daum, who is an essayist and author who wrote beautifully, she wrote a beautiful essay for the New Yorker about divorcing and not wanting kids, and also the process of going through a divorce. And she's a great spokesman for that. I would say that the kid piece does one thing usually: it keeps us in marriages past the time we know we should leave. So in other words, it's not easy to get divorced ever, but it's harder when you have kids.

And so I feel like those marriages tend to go on a lot longer in maybe a bad place, even though, of course, we are staying together for the kids. But I think it's harder, and I think especially for women. Even with women who are falling in love with somebody else, say, they're still, I find, less ready to divorce if they have kids. It's almost like, you know, we are the tenders of the nest, for the most part. Not always, but we are the tenders of the nest, and so we don't want to upset that nest. We're ready to stay on the nest.

And sometimes, I know plenty of women who were in miserable marriages and not even able to admit it to themselves because they were so busy taking care of the nest, and then the husband leaves and they think, oh my God, I'm a victim, I'm a victim. And then it's like, through reflection they realize, oh, wait a second, thank you, husband. I know this is a bad marriage, and I now feel like I can have freedom to live the life that I'd be happier in.

I know that's a lot, but I think if you have no kids, it's easier for you to get there. I feel like the kids just make it ... first of all, to be honest, kids put a lot more pressure on a marriage. And yet it's also harder to leave, to break up the nest because of them.

Doryn Wallach:

Right. Which doesn't negate what this woman is saying, which I understand is a feeling like, I'm not married and I don't have kids, and I'm just a nobody. We should not make women feel that way. I've said to friends before who are thinking about it, they're like, it's the kids, though, it's the kids. I can't ... but I said, "Your kids can feel the tension in your marriage, they hear you fighting, they know you're not happy." And often, I've seen it happen many times, once they're through the divorce, the kids, there's just a weight lifted off of them and they're very happy.

So a lot of women do that, or they wait until their kids go to college. And I have a friend whose parents got divorced when she went to college, and that almost affected her more because she was like, my whole life was a lie. My parents were never happy, they were just waiting until I left. And that actually caused her more damage, I think-

Elise Pettus:

Well, first of all, yes. There's a lot of conversation right now amongst therapists who work with divorcing couples about that idea that if you wait till your kids go to college, it does make them feel exactly that, like, oh, my life was a lie? This was all just fake? And that leaves them super ungrounded, especially at an age where they're starting relationships.

My parents got divorced when I was five, and as far as I'm concerned, it was kind of great because I didn't have a lot of parent-together time to mourn or grieve. It was like, oh, we just go to Dad's house on these days, you know? That's just how it is. As we work up from being little, the teenage years, there's going to be rage. There is going to be some rage, but if it's really tense, there's also relief. There's really no ideal time, but I do sort of want people to think carefully when they're adamant to themselves, like, we're going to wait till the kids are in college. Who is that really serving? I think it takes some real work with a therapist to be honest with yourself. Is this really helping them? Is it really modeling family that's helping them grow up and have their own relationships?

Doryn Wallach:

Have you ever seen the movie ACOD?

Elise Pettus:

No, I haven't.

Doryn Wallach:

Oh my gosh. You must. I saw it at a film festival, it's actually a great movie. ACOD is Adult Children of Divorce. There are real people integrated into the movie, and they talk to them about their relationships as adults, but it all, there's a lot of psychological parts of it that relate back to their parents' divorce. And it's humorous, it's funny, it's a great movie. It did not get recognized as well as it should have, but I would actually recommend it to anybody, it's called ACOD.

Elise Pettus:

I'm so looking it up, I can't wait.

Doryn Wallach:

Yeah. It was a great movie. I related to it so much, especially in the end, I think it was in the end, the different men and women were talking about issues they have in their current relationships because of their parents getting divorced, and I think that that topic has always fascinated me. I don't think I was told enough or worked with enough when I was a child to really understand how that was going to affect my adult years, and I think it's a lot easier than we think, but we need to have the support to do that, and I think if it goes unspoken, I think a lot of kids ... when my parents got divorced, it was like, here's a therapist. I remember the therapist would just shake their head. I used to call him the Head-Shaker, he didn't talk, he didn't give me advice. And I'd say to my mom, "This is so stupid, this is not doing anything."

As an adult, I've done a lot of work based on my parents' divorce, and not because they, again I mention this, not because they got divorced, but because of how they handled the divorce and how that has affected me as an adult. I think if the parents can't be amicable in front of the kids, and hopefully we have professionals that are trained to work the kids so that they don't bring these issues with them on as they get older, and they're not 43 years old when they're starting to work on it.

So that movie was very inspiring, and there are a couple other books also; there's a woman who did a study of children, I don't know if you've heard of this. If I think of it, I'll put it in my show notes. But she did a study of children, I think, starting in the '80s or '70s whose parents got divorced-

Elise Pettus:

I do know the book you're talking about [crosstalk 00:43:16].

Doryn Wallach:

And she followed them through adulthood. That was so interesting, too. But anyway, the last part of this that I want to touch on is, I'm all about, in my podcast, that we're doing work, but we're also looking at a positive future. So you had said to me in an email that you shouldn't think of divorce as a failure. Talk a little bit about how it gets better.

Elise Pettus:

I love this topic, I really do. I think that if we are in marriages that are not working, that it takes a great deal of strength to leave those marriages. And when you're on the outside of a marriage, a bad marriage, you're feeling so much better, but you also know a lot of people who are in unhappy marriages. So I feel like this idea of divorce as failure is almost like a conspiracy brainwashing thing to keep people in bad marriages. Like, oh God, her marriage failed, what a loser, kind of thing.

That's just such B.S. because it's hard to get out of a marriage, it takes a certain amount of personal reflection and struggle and being frank with yourself and strength. And I'm telling you, when you get to that place on the outside, I mean, it is hard and there is grief, even if you're relieved not to be living with your spouse, it is certainly ... there's some grief around losing the dream of the perfect family or whatever it was.

However, once you're able to give that up, it's like you are discovering whole new rooms in yourself. You are suddenly given full agency over your life again. What is it you want your life to be like? You get to decide, and it's intoxicating to many of us. I think that there's just this opportunity, suddenly, to not only deepen friendships but also do the things that you really love and care about, spend time with yourself, and now we're at a different point in our lives than we were when we were 20, right? We're somewhat driven, perhaps, by the need to have kids, the need to have kids. And again, that's another primal thing that can push us into marriages.

And now, at age 40 or 45 or 50, and I'm 57 now, we are at a place where we aren't driven by that. We can choose [inaudible 00:45:39] now, what kind of person do I want to be with? There's just a whole lot of upside after divorce, if you come through it in a way that doesn't destroy you. I guess Untied is about helping you through this process and laying the groundwork for your having a really great, nourishing life afterward.

Doryn Wallach:

That's so good to hear, and I think a lot of women need to hear that. Honestly, in my friends, I see something coming out of them, not immediately, but I just see a lightness to them. It's really wonderful to see when you've known them in both directions.

Elise Pettus:

Yeah, we have a lot of women who have gone through the process who come back to events. We have social events, and they come back because they want to share, A, that they're still standing, and this is what I needed when I was going through a divorce. They want to share that they're still standing and their lives are great, they're happy. They are light, they are able to appreciate the present and where they're at. They are experiencing a lot of joy.

So I think, yeah, I think it's a journey and it's not an easy journey by any stretch, but I feel like it's impossible to go through a divorce without getting to know yourself a lot better, right? And what you care about, because you really have to confront that when you're splitting up. Just that discovery alone is really valuable.

Doryn Wallach:

Trying to do that in marriage is really hard, trying to figure out who you are when you're married is difficult. I understand that notion. Sometimes I'm like, I just want to escape for a month somewhere so I can just figure out who the hell I am right now and what do I want?

Well, this has been so, so wonderful. Can you please tell the listeners where to find you?

Elise Pettus:

Our website is, we have not too much newsletter, but we have an events calendar and you'll get invites to events that we're hosting online through the year, any workshops that we're holding, you'll find out about those through that. You can also just email me directly at I'm happy to reply to any emails, even with specific questions, if I can be helpful.

Doryn Wallach:

Thank you for that. I hope this was helpful for you, my listeners. When I started out speaking about this, I said I think every woman should listen to this because I think you never know what position you're going to be in, so you gave such a great amount of information and I thank you very much for coming on the show. I'm sure there will be follow-up questions. If you have any questions, also as a follow-up to the show, please email me. If you liked the show, email me and don't forget to rate, subscribe and review. And that is it for today. Elise, thanks again.

Elise Pettus:

Thank you, Doryn.

Doryn Wallach:

Thank you again, and until next time.

Thank you so much for listening. Remember to give yourself permission and know that you are not alone. Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss any episodes. Reviews are always appreciated, and you can reach me by email at ItsNotaCrisis@gmail, Instagram It's Not a Crisis podcast, and please join our Facebook group as well.

Until next time, just remember: it's not a crisis.





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