Divorce Isn’t the Worst Thing That Will Ever Happen | S2, Ep. 31


Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.

T.H.: Welcome, Susan Guthrie, to our podcast today. I’m T.H. and Jessica, unfortunately, can’t be on this podcast today, so she’s sad to miss this, but I would like to introduce everybody to Susan Guthrie.

Susan: Hi, everyone, it’s nice to meet you.

T.H.: Susan is an attorney and mediator and the host of ‘Divorce and Beyond’ podcast. With exEXPERTS, some of you might know that we have our industry professionals, which Susan wears the hat of being an attorney and mediator, but we also have our real-life experts like Jessica and myself. Susan is also a real-life expert in terms of experiencing divorce in her own life. Our podcast today is kind of understanding and listening to her story, which is really awesome–I was going to say she’s an awesome role model, which is true, but it’s also a story to learn and listen to because it is and can get better in your life if you go through the process and learn, and all that good stuff. We’re going to talk about all that today, and also how she started this podcast and why it’s so important to her. That’s my whole big intro. So Susan, tell us about you.

Susan: Yeah, thank you so much. I really appreciate you having me on. It’s been a long journey from 30 years ago when I first got out and became a divorce litigator to now when I spend, I think every minute of every day talking about how divorce is not the worst thing that will ever happen to you. But it was the many changes in my own life and my own journey through life that has changed my professional journey. That’s what I like to share with people so that they know that it can be done in a different way, that divorce can be a process that will move you forward in that better way and give you an opportunity to have the life you want, rather than the one that you may find yourself in. I take every opportunity I can to try and help people find a better path. And for me, those are the non-adversarial approaches to divorce, things like mediation or collaborative law.

T.H.: And then not everybody will have heard the other podcast we did. When you went through your divorce, did you have children? Did you litigate? What was it like for you?

Susan: Yeah, it was a situation where I had been a divorce attorney for about 12 years at the time that I got divorced. I was a really traditional divorce litigator, it’s all I knew. Then I went through the process and was at least smart enough to hire an attorney to represent me, but I fell into every trap or whatever you want to call it, that my clients fall into. I was very emotional. I wanted my pound of flesh. I argued a lot. I didn’t listen to my attorney, because I was an attorney. Why did I need help? It really changed how I looked at the process. It really changed for me because it made what was already a difficult relationship that much more difficult and that much harder. But it really wasn’t until I met my current husband, who had just gone through a more difficult divorce and had children, I did not have children, he had three young five-year-old triplets, and when you see the effect of divorce on those little young people, that’s when I really started to shift to realize that the process that we put people through to get divorced, is the biggest part of the problem for families.

T.H.: So it was probably hard for you to wear different hats though, because, well, first, let’s just talk about the fact that, and I’m not sure how many people really consider it, but we have interviewed other real-life experts who have gone through a divorce without kids, and I think that the knee jerk reaction is so much easier, so much easier. Her perspective is it’s really hard in a different way. What do you think about that?

Susan: You know, I have my stepchildren, I don’t have children of my own, and so I’ve not been through the process myself with children. I would say from the perspective of when you are dealing with the financial aspects of divorce, people need to still realize there is a great deal of fear around money for people. Nothing is going to trigger people more than the fear of not being able to provide for themselves going forward, and not being able to make up for lost time in their past. We have a lot of people who have given up career opportunities or things like that. But the blessing to a certain degree of getting divorced without children is that when the divorce is finalized, your interaction with your ex is optional, right? I mean, I speak to my ex-husband, periodically, like he’ll pop up in my text messages when there’s a football game with my–he adopted my college team or something. But the amount of interaction we have to have is extremely limited and totally optional. Whereas if you have children together, it matters even more how you conduct yourselves through the divorce because you know you’re going to have a relationship after the divorce.

T.H.: Right. Right, it’s really true. And what kind of a relationship are you going to have? You just came off a roller coaster of emotional and financial exhaustion, and now I’ve still got to deal with her or him? I don’t even like him or her. I don’t even respect him or her. And now, I have to be nice, so my kids don’t hear me speaking badly. I don’t want to look like a disgruntled ex. But I really want to learn more about your journey. You divorced your first husband, and then I know for me, it was a big hallelujah moment. I was really, really unhappy in my marriage for many years, then the divorce on top of it, that’s like eight years of my life. But the four years during divorce, even though it was difficult because of the process, I was starting to grow from minute one. That was everything to me. Did you have a period of time between your first divorce and when you met your husband now, that you felt like, well, I’m an attorney, and I’ve divorced my husband, what about me? What about just me, Susan, without all these other hats on? Did you take the time to do that for yourself? I’m assuming you did because look at you now. You actually tell everybody that you did.

Susan: [Laughs] No, I absolutely did, because as I said earlier, I fell into every trap and every–what I would tell you not to do now going through a divorce, I did it. My voice is truly one of experience, not just from the divorce attorney side, but from the participant in a divorce who wasted time, energy, and just years of my life being caught up in the this is somebody else’s fault that this happened to me, that this marriage didn’t work, that I had to get divorced, that I find myself restarting my career a few years down the road. And really, for me, unlike for you, it took me a little while to really realize I didn’t much like myself, the person that I was as I came out of that relationship.

T.H.: Did you have any ‘aha’ moment that was like, okay, I understand. Now I need to go right of center. Was there one thing that happened?

Susan: I think it was more accumulation where I thought like many people that as soon as the divorce was done, life would get better, I’d be happy, and everything would move forward. Instead, I found myself in this–I had a beautiful new home, but I didn’t really feel it was mine. There were just all these different things, but I wasn’t particularly–I didn’t like my career. I didn’t like my life. I didn’t like where I was. It all boiled down to when I finally was able to open the door to look at myself and go, you know what? I don’t really like the person that I’m being in this world, this bitter, angry, resentful person. That was the ‘aha’ moment where I realized I was still doing that look for completion outside myself. It was at that moment I finally realized you have to look inward. That started about a three-year period until when I finally did meet my current husband, I was completely ready to meet someone like that.

T.H.: When you got divorced, because I’m curious to hear your answer, were you thinking I’m never getting married again? Or were you thinking I definitely want to get married again? Or that never even crossed your mind?

Susan: I’d always been a serial monogamist. I just assumed I would find somebody else. I didn’t know if I would get married, I wasn’t really even thinking in that context, but I just assumed I would meet somebody. And I didn’t. That was part of that process. I didn’t meet somebody who interested me, who I felt like I wanted to spend time with, and that was unusual–I think that’s three years where I didn’t have a significant other, between ending my marriage and meeting my current husband. That’s the longest I think, since I was about 16 and had my first boyfriend, that I had gone without a significant other. That’s where the real shift in just my internal makeup started. And thank god, that was the biggest gift.

T.H.: Right. Or mistakes could be repeated. They say that 64% of second marriages end in divorce, because they may not be taking that three-year time period, or the years I took to really–there were two in that party. It took two. And so you may not have been the one who cheated, you may not have been the one who was rude, whatever. But you and I, I’ll speak for myself, I enabled bad behavior. I permitted it. I didn’t do it. I was a lady. I was a good mom. I was a career woman. But I allowed someone to treat me in a way that if they were a friend, they would have been gone long ago. Taking responsibility, it’s a really hard and humbling process, but you are so much better for it. Tell us about your life now. Not as an attorney right now, but just Susan.

Susan: Yeah, well, now I’ve been with my current husband for, we’ve known each other for about 20 years, and we’ve been married for 12. I’m now the stepmom of those once five-year-old triplets. They’re now 23 years old.

T.H.: Wow.

Susan: Yeah, and it’s been an amazing journey. I always say now and today, that if it hadn’t been for those three years where I did put in the time, 1) to be alone, it was really hard for me to do that, to turn off the dating switch and do that and just spend time being me, and getting to know me, and reconnecting with values. But I don’t think that if I had met my current husband, without having done that work, I would have recognized the truly stellar qualities that he has, that are why we’ve been together for 20 years.

T.H.: It may not have worked for him if you hadn’t done that work either. I feel like both people need to have done that work. I just moved in with my boyfriend. I haven’t lived with anyone in 16 years. I’ve been running the show of my life all these years. Now I’m sharing an office, and I’m in his home and trying to be in here but not be in everybody’s face. It’s definitely an adjustment. But it’s because we were both in a really good place at the same time, because I probably would have missed him, to be honest with you, and he would have wanted nothing to do with me, or vice versa. I believe in that 100%. Now, tell us about this podcast that you’ve created. It’s an online community empire. I feel so many of your experts, there are so many different perspectives and personalities, but you bring out the core of what they have to offer people regardless of your situation. We know divorce is so unique, except there are many common threads between all of us, especially in the way it makes us feel and the things we should and should not do. The details are going to be different, but I think that there is enough connecting us. Tell us about this podcast that you’ve created and why you felt it was necessary.

Susan: Yeah, the podcast is just such a passion project for me. I had started actually my first podcast with a partner, and we were both divorce attorneys. This was about three years ago and it was very law-centered. It was very, what’s the law? What do you need to know? It did quite well, but it wasn’t feeding me. It wasn’t making me feel like I was adding something positive to the world. When I decided to leave that and start my own podcast, I sat down and said what do I really want people to know about divorce? What is the message I want to put out there for them? It went back to that central, divorce is just this finite period of your life, and you have this whole future that you don’t want to lose sight of. That’s why I named it Divorce and Beyond, and I really focus more on the beyond. You mentioned earlier your divorce was four years of time. That is a significant chunk of time in your life, but you’ve clearly moved beyond it and are living a life beyond it. Those four years do not define you.

T.H.: No, I don’t even know who that was. For the last four years of my marriage, I don’t even recognize her. I look at pictures, and I just, it’s sad. It’s sad, but it was a process and I can’t change it. I probably wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through some of that anyway. [Laughs] I don’t know if I needed all of it, but some of it maybe!

Susan: Yeah! What’s sad is that I meet people who are defined by that time still, that they’re living in that moment of time in their lives. I met a lady the other day who was telling me the story–when you’re a divorce attorney, one of the things is people always then tell you what their divorce was like when they find out what you do for a living. She told me the whole story of her divorce and then mentioned it was 26 years ago. But she had just spent a half-hour telling me all of the things her ex-husband had done, what a jerk he was, and all that. She’s still living it. That to me is the saddest thing for someone because divorce doesn’t define you. You define your divorce, and then you set your life as you go forward. It’s so much better after. I just posted something the other day about how people always use the hashtag divorce sucks. And it does at times suck. I will never tell you it doesn’t. But in reality, divorce is usually a necessary thing for the people who are going through it. I rarely talk to someone who says their life is not better off for having ended a relationship that was not working for them. Although divorce may suck at times, divorce itself does not suck. We have to stop thinking of it that way.

T.H.: Yeah, I mean, the process is not fun for anybody. When you have to worry about people other than yourself too, I’m sure there are people who have to worry about family when their families are involved in everything. I mean, my mother was not allowed to come to a single meeting with the lawyers or to go to court ever because she was that toxic pill. She would have thrown everything off the rail. It’s unfortunate, but it gives you the opportunity. You have an opportunity like you were saying about rediscovering yourself. I mean, I started hiking, I climbed Kilimanjaro. My mother used to take me hiking and I’m like, huff, I don’t want to hike. I’m going to go do four aerobics step classes. Okay, so now I’ve aged myself again, everybody, but–

Susan: I love step classes!

T.H.: Have a sweat. That’s a workout. A hike? What’s a hike? I’ve discovered this whole thing. I hike three times a week now. I just got to know who I really am inside and discover new interests and make new experiences with old friends even. I called out my friends and went paddleboarding yesterday on a local lake. It’s only 20 minutes away. I live in New Jersey, just taking it all in. The man that I’m with, we go skiing together, we love the outdoors. He does not like hiking up a mountain, but he will do it on occasion for me. But I don’t need him to go with me either. I am perfectly happy going up, looking and talking to my trees and just being at peace with me. I think it’s really important in a relationship to have that too. You can’t rely on the other person to make you who you are supposed to be. You be you, they can be them, and then together, you’re just so much bigger, right?

Susan: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You said it earlier, divorce is that opportunity. It is an opportunity to actually create a new future. So many people look at that as a scary thing, like with a divorce, this picture they had of their future is gone. But it’s also thinking about how few times in your life you actually have that opportunity to create a future, to decide to move somewhere, or switch jobs, or live in a different style home, or pick up hiking, or do those things. We don’t have that many opportunities where we have some freedom. Divorce represents some freedom, not just for freedom from that relationship, but freedom to make new choices.

T.H.: What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were going through your divorce? For me, it was to trust my gut, because I knew it was talking to me, but I had suppressed everything, noise, advice, my own gut, for so long that I just wasn’t hearing any of it. I would tell people to trust their gut. What’s the one thing based on your personal experience that you would like people to know that you wish you knew?

Susan: I wish I’d known at the time, and I would like people to know, that you are better off taking a step back and doing some work on yourself at the beginning of the process than waiting until when it’s over and it’s done.

T.H.: And you’re talking about divorce in the process?

Susan: Yeah, the divorce process. What I did is white-knuckled it through the divorce and dealt with all my emotions by just bottling them up. Then it took me three years to unpack everything after the divorce. There are these days so many wonderful resources out there, coaches, therapists, and just teams of people who can help you with dealing with all of the emotional content of the process. Don’t wait until you’re done and then think okay, now I start working on myself. Start as soon as you possibly can. Start healing as soon as you possibly can.

T.H.: That’s great. I love it. Thank you so much for joining us today, for sharing your story. Everybody listen in to her podcast and follow Susan Guthrie. Also, she will be on our website and all of her links to all her great resources will be there for you. We hope to have you back again.

Susan: Absolutely, anytime. Thank you T.H.

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