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 Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to exEXPERTS.com to subscribe.
Jessica: Hi everyone, welcome to today’s episode of Divorce etc… with the exEXPERTS. This is Jessica. I’m here today, again, flying solo. T.H., unfortunately, couldn’t join us. But I’m really excited to bring a special guest to you today from Canada, from Vancouver.
Cindy Stibbard is a certified divorce coach focusing on family reorganization and navigating the divorce process in a better way.
We are going to hear all about her perspective and get some great insight for everyone, all of us who are going through it. Thank you so much for joining us today, Cindy.
Cindy: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Jessica: So tell us a little bit about how your journey in this process all started for you. I know you have a story that I think some people would say is–I think a lot of people are used to hearing about men having affairs in their marriages, but you having had one is what led you into the path of being a divorce coach. So tell us a little bit of that.
Cindy: Yeah, it did in a roundabout way. I was married for 22 years. You know how marriages work. As a wife, you always want to do the right thing by your family.
There were a number of indiscretions by my husband for years during the first year we were married, and then later on when my kids were young. It was those moments that I just didn’t want to deal with them. You’re so caught up with your life.
You’re so caught up with a fear of is this really happening to me? What does this mean at the end of the day? It was those moments where I thought, you know what? I’m going to be the better wife. I’m going to rise above this. I’m going to hold my family together. I’m just going to keep on plowing through and pretend this never happened, right?
Jessica: So you knew for sure that it had happened? It wasn’t just suspicions that you had?
Cindy: I knew about two. There were suspicions I had about others, but I chose to just keep focusing forward [I get it]. It’s what a lot of women do because they think, I can hold this together.
Jessica: I’m one of them. I was definitely in denial for a couple of years before it slapped me in the face.
Cindy: Yeah, I think because we didn’t deal with that because I was trying to be stoic and above it, it really started to weigh on me and erode my own self-esteem.
And so the second time I had discovered an actual affair, that was the turning point for me that started to build the resentment that I was building towards my ex-spouse. I started to feel like, well, what about me? Who am I? Who have I become in this marriage? I have kids now that were quite small at the time, still five and four, but you’re coming out of that early mom fog. They’re going to preschool now. It’s a little bit easier.
And so all of a sudden, I’m left to think, wow, what about me now? And who am I in this? Am I still desirable? Because all of a sudden, I was feeling like I’m not desirable.
I’m not the one that my husband’s making a priority here. He’s prioritizing other things outside of this marriage. I tried to lean in for that support and ask for that connection, but there was always a reason why we couldn’t do date night, or we couldn’t do this, or we couldn’t do that, and I should just be grateful about the life that I live. And so you start to think, well, is this it? Is this all I’m good for? I’m not even 40 yet and am I just all of a sudden this washed-up, undesirable wife and mother who stays home, and nobody wants me? In that moment I had, I guess people call it a midlife crisis, but I call it a reawakening for myself. I started to go out some more with some moms. I started to really dive into my life. I thought you know what? I’m not going to just stay here while you go do your thing. What about me? And so at that time, I think I was really feeling undesirable, unwanted, unsexy as you do after you’ve had–
Jessica: Which I think so many people feel in their marriages. By the way, people are feeling that even when they aren’t sure about what’s going on from their spouse on the other side. But it’s not a great place to be. I mean, when we are married and we’re with the person who’s supposed to have our back and build us up and be that partner in life, and you’re feeling totally undesirable and dejected, I mean, it’s not a great headspace.
Cindy: It’s not. No, it isn’t. And so I think that opened me up to seeking attention outside my marriage as well, because I thought, well, is this really as good as it gets? Am I really that undesirable?
Jessica: By the way, can I just say for everyone who’s listening, who can’t see, you’re going to die if you go onto our website and onto Cindy’s expert page. She’s freaking gorgeous. Go ahead.
Cindy: Thank you. But I guess I had to prove that to myself, right? And so I actually did. I ended up stepping out of my marriage. It was nothing really significant at the time. It was really an experience for me to prove to myself that I was still desirable. I was hoping it was going to wake up my marriage, that I wanted him to see this can go both ways. When it all came out in my marriage that I had a little bit of an affair I guess you could say, I was expecting a different response. I was expecting someone who finally awoke to me and that, okay, we need to fix this. I got more of the “this is funny. You’re not going to leave this marriage for this guy”. It was not taken seriously at all. That was almost turning the knife even deeper in my heart, because I was like, really?
Jessica: You don’t even care?
Cindy: You don’t even care that I did that? So at that point too,
I was humiliated and embarrassed that I had even done that. And so for the next literally five years, I started to spiral out of control with this husband who didn’t really seem to care what I did, although it did on the outside because it was still very much controlled. I’m thinking what am I doing?
How am I getting through this? I started to drink a lot more and hang out with girlfriends to cope and numb myself. I wasn’t the breadwinner, so I didn’t have the financial means to say, listen, I’m leaving. It was a really lonely experience. I didn’t know how to get through it. Therapy at the time for us was that he told me I needed therapy to deal with my infidelity, and that was my problem. Maybe I needed to get a job. Maybe I needed to fulfill myself because I wasn’t fulfilled, which is partially true. The reason he was stepping out of our marriage was also because I probably wasn’t fulfilling his needs either. I take responsibility for my part too. And so he wasn’t filling my needs, I wasn’t filling his, but we were both not trying to figure out how to fill each other’s needs instead.
Jessica: You just mentioned that as the person who was not the breadwinner, you didn’t feel you had the financial means to walk away. But, I mean, had you considered divorce during any of that? Or it really wasn’t even a thought for you?
Cindy: It was a thought, but it was such a fear because I didn’t really know what that meant. I had two small kids. I thought, god, what does that even look like? I mean, yeah, it definitely crossed my mind when I realized that there is more out there for me, that there is this spice and this energy. I think for me, what the affair signaled in myself was it gave me a new sense of reassurance and love for who I was, that I knew that this was not it, that I knew that I had something more, that I knew that I could still be desired, and I had something more to give that that men wanted.
Jessica: Was this a guy that you thought you would end up with? Or that you thought there was long-term potential with?
Cindy: Oh, no, no. This was just–
Jessica: You’re like, nooo!
Cindy: This was an ego boost that I needed to feel. But had it been different, had it been a situation like that, I think that’s a whole another situation too. I just needed this to be really for my own ego at the time. But I think that because it didn’t help us–
Jessica: Did anyone else outside you and your husband and this other man know? Did friends of yours know?
Cindy: Yeah, people knew. It was looked down upon, of course, by other women. But because it didn’t break up the marriage, it was just one of those things that’s shoved under the rug, like, oh, everyone has affairs. And men especially, have affairs, right?
Jessica: Did the same people that knew about you, did they also know about your husband?
Cindy: No, they didn’t, because I didn’t share. Going through the marriage, and when he had his indiscretions, I was tight-lipped. I did not tell anyone. I did not share what was going on, because I didn’t want to talk poorly about him. I thought this was my job to keep our family safe. This was my job to keep it under the rug. I was humiliated that it was even going on. It would terrify the crap out of me. Plus, it made me feel completely unworthy and undesirable that he was seeing someone else. I had crazy trust issues.
Jessica: But then when you were talking to people about your situation, you said you were embarrassed, but it could have been like no, but it’s because it’s a reaction to that. But you still chose not to tell people about your husband?
Cindy: I did. Yeah. Which is probably not good, but it was more like I didn’t want people to think I was doing it tit for tat. It was really about me, right? I did later. Now that I’m divorced, I bring it up. People are like, really? He did? In hindsight, I should have just been honest and transparent, because now it looks like, oh, you’re just saying that. I know. I could have shared all along what was really going on.
Jessica: Well, would have, should have, could have. I mean, we’re all learning so many lessons in retrospect from what we’ve taken from our relationships and our divorces. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to handle it. But I would imagine that it would be somewhat eye-opening for people if there were people out there that had been judgmental about it. It’s like, okay, well, now you know the whole story.
Cindy: Yeah, and I think that it happens on so many levels for couples, and way more often than we think. We sometimes use that as the reason to end the marriage, when I really feel since being on both sides, it was the symptom of some really underlying deeper problems that we were not addressing. Either we didn’t know how, or we didn’t know how to get support. He was really resistant. So for the next five years, every single Christmas and birthday, I would always ask for marriage counseling. I was like, we really need this. I even wanted to go to Seattle and do the John Gottman program together. He was like, why would we go to Seattle to save our marriage? I’m thinking, oh my gosh, what does it take to get through?
Jessica: That’s crazy!
Cindy: It wasn’t until I actually left my marriage did he wake up to the fact that I was serious. That’s when he wanted to work on it. But at that point, I was just done.
Jessica: You’re out.
Cindy: I had gotten to the point where I felt this big after all of that. And why now? Now that you actually believe me and think that I’m serious? Now that it means something to you? It’s too far gone for me. Sometimes when you sit there and you think, I should have just given it one more try, and I’m like, I gave it so many tries. I just knew that I couldn’t change him. I had to change the situation because he wasn’t willing to come to the table and even be accountable for the past. Even as we’re divorcing, he brought up the infidelities on both sides. His somehow were always a lot less than mine. Mine was the big one. Mine was, but you did this to me. It was someone also that we had known, and people knew in the community, so it was more impactful.
Jessica: The guy?
Cindy: So my affair partner was someone that we knew in the community, where his were not. So that was worse because everyone knew, right? It was like, well, that’s way worse because people know this. Because they didn’t know his, it didn’t seem to make as big of a difference.
Jessica: Well, he obviously was justifying or whatever the case may be. How long were you married in total?
Cindy: 22 years.
Jessica: Okay. Okay. And how long have you been divorced now?
Cindy: Four years. It’s coming up four years.
Jessica: Okay. So you kept saying you wanted marriage counseling, and he finally heard you say that you were leaving. Then what did that experience look like for you? I mean, you had been afraid earlier about not being the breadwinner. How do you feel you finally mustered up the self-confidence, so to speak, to say, I deserve better than this?
Cindy: I think because I couldn’t keep living like that. I couldn’t keep living this lie of feeling–my resentment had turned into disgust, where I would avoid going to bed at night. I would drown myself in the last bit of wine just so I didn’t have to go to bed. I knew this is the spiral to the bottom right here. And if I stay in this, I’m not going to be able to sustain this very long. I’m feeling like every part of me was being affected, my mood, my body, my mind. My skin wasn’t good. Everything was just coming out in that unhappiness. I had to come up and rise above. Financially, yes, my lifestyle was very, very comfortable. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to worry about that. But at the same time, I wanted to. At the same time, I wanted something for myself, and that I couldn’t have in that situation. I was never a materialistic person. I didn’t care about the fancy car. He wanted me to drive a Lexus. I chose a Toyota 4Runner. I’m like, I don’t care. It’s not my thing. I had to get over that perception of being a bag lady under the bridge one day. No matter what, I knew I was going to be okay on some level, and that couldn’t be the piece that kept me there. Because I looked at my daughter and I thought if this was my daughter, what would I want her to do in this situation? To not stay, right?
Jessica: Right. And how old were your kids at the time that you decided to get divorced?
Cindy: Seven and nine.
Jessica: Yeah, so they were little.
Cindy: Yeah, they were little, but also I think they were at a good place where they were able to recover quite well and be really adaptable to the situation. Whereas a lot of people wait until they’re teenagers or young adults, and I think I’ve seen even worse happening with that.
Jessica: Yeah, my kids were so little. My kids were two and four. It’s really all they’ve known. I feel, on the one hand, people used to be like, oh, it must be so hard for them. I’m like, I don’t know. They don’t know anything else. Literally, their whole life has been the divorce and going back and forth, and they’re seeing two happy parents. I’m like, but the truth is I’ll never know how fucked up they are until they’re in their thirties and having therapy themselves. I’m just going to go with it for now. They seem pretty well adjusted. I’m going to ride that wave. What made you decide to pursue being a divorce coach? Had you guys used one in your divorce process? It’s funny because when T.H. and I started exEXPERTS and started doing research for it before our website and podcast even launched a few months ago, we had never heard of a divorce coach. We had gotten divorced 14 years ago. There was no such thing as divorce coaches. How did that all come about for you?
Cindy: Well, we ended up going down that traditional adversarial path of lawyering up and then spending a fortune. Because of my financial fear of not having access to any money, I thought I’m not going to be able to even afford this divorce. I’m not going to be able to get out, because I wasn’t able to leave the house, and I was living in the basement. I thought I had to figure out a way that I could navigate this in a better way. I almost had to coach myself to getting the team of people that I needed, to figure out a way that I could afford this divorce, and use my lawyer super strategically so I wasn’t leaking out legal fees everywhere. And going through the process too, I realized there were so many women that would reach out to me message me and say, hey, I heard you’re going through a divorce. I’m thinking about it too.
Jessica: Isn’t it funny how people come out of the woodwork? So many people don’t talk at all realistically about what’s going on behind closed doors. You look at everybody, and it’s like all of these perfect little pictures. On Instagram, it’s all these perfect little lives. Then all of a sudden, someone is getting divorced, and everybody’s like, oh my god, my marriage sucks too. This is what’s been going on. It’s like you become the vessel that everyone is now coming to.
Cindy: Yeah, it was crazy. I kept getting messages. I remember one day I was taking my kids bowling, and I’d gotten this message from this woman that I knew. I thought, god, there’s got to be some training I can do to help people through this because all I can do is help them from my experience, but that’s not what’s going to work for everybody. Maybe there’s something I can do. And lo and behold, there was a training program to become a divorce coach. I thought this could be a great start for me. That’s what spawned me to do it. I have also done my certified divorce specialist certification at the National Association of Divorce Professionals. I just realized I’m trying to create the support that I needed going through a divorce. I’m just someone that you can reach out to that’s not your therapist that you have to make a scheduled appointment for, that’s not a lawyer, and who’s not going to charge you billable hours for every single text message, that kind of “oh shit” moments support, and I’ve got a question and I’m terrified, I don’t know what to do, just to help navigate through this, whether they’re just thinking about it, whether they’re in it, whether they’re in the trenches already, or on the other side coming out.
Jessica: How have you built up your business?
Cindy: A lot of networking. I think I really started by reaching out to as many different professionals as I could who would be working with potential divorcing people, like therapists, mediators, lawyers, real estate agents, and mortgage brokers. I mean, the divorce world has tentacles everywhere, right? I think the more people that you can bring into your network the better you can build up those relationships. I also never will refer my clients to anyone professionally, unless I’ve met them before and I really feel like we’re on the same page. That’s been the years. I just keep making connections, building connections, and getting the word out there. That’s how it starts.
Jessica: I mean, I know it is divorce coaching, but you said it’s about helping families navigate in a better way. Tell us a little bit about your process.
Cindy: So the way that I operate is almost in levels of support need and in terms of time. I do a three, four, and six-month level of coaching support, where my packages are all-inclusive. The amount of hours that you get and the access to me is all included. There are no extra fees, and it’s not a transactional situation. Within that, it’s just about how much hand-holding do you need? Do you need me just to help you get jump-started and give you your checklist of things where you can go off and do? Or do you want me to personally connect you with professionals and feel like we can be more of a team in this? Or at the top end, do you want me also to be in on every meeting making sure that you’ve asked the right questions and you really understand how this all works, and to be that liaison with your divorce team? So that’s how I work in three different levels. I also offer what’s called my Divorce Academy, which is a weekly support group that I run as a monthly membership. In that support group, people get to come and meet people from all over the world who are going through a divorce and share their challenges and their experiences. Every month, I bring in a professional to educate and inform the group on certain things, whether it’s legal, parenting, or finances, just so everyone can feel like they’re learning and they’re growing at the same time. A lot of people in that group haven’t even had the discussion that they’re leaving the marriage, but they just want to learn more.
Jessica: Wow, that’s fascinating.
Cindy: Yeah, it is.
Jessica: What are you hearing as some of the biggest issues or challenges or questions that you’re getting from the groups and the clients that you’re working with?
Cindy: The biggest fear is financial. That is the number one fear.
Jessica: Are you only working with women?
Cindy: No, I work with both. And I also work with couples.
Jessica: Okay. Alright, but still, the biggest fear is financial. Coming from both sides, I guess?
Cindy: For the men, it’s not as much financial. It’s more of the kids, being able to parent the kids, and how do I navigate through with a really difficult ex when I want to be with my kids? I think the men who come to me really just want to do it in a better way. They’re trying their best to find a different path. Then the women, it’s that they’re contemplating it because they’re scared. The two things that keep you in that marriage are your lifestyle and your kids. And so what is it that’s holding you back? We all, I think as women, I mean, it’s known that women contemplate divorce for a minimum of two years before even making the decision. We always want to do what’s right for everyone else instead of putting ourselves first.
Jessica: That’s so interesting. Two years before we actually approach our spouse to tell them that we’d like to get divorced, that really is a very fascinating statistic. Well, are there people that ask about your personal experience and the circumstances of your divorce? And how do you feel that’s helped you in helping other couples coaching them through a divorce?
Cindy: Yeah, I think my personal experience can come in terms of what I wish I should have done or the things that I did that really helped, like help hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst right away was a game-changer. I didn’t even know this type of person existed. But once you can really make that financial piece clear in your divorce, then everything else is much easier to negotiate. It’s crazy to me when people come to the table and they’re ball-parking things. Oh, we sort of ball-parked how much we have, or ball-parking this. He’s given me an offer of this. An offer based on what? Imagine this is a business, you wouldn’t sell your company to someone who’s just ball-parking you. Or your house, you’d want to actually list it properly. It’s the same thing in your marriage. This is a contract. It’s a business agreement. This is a deal. And so that financial piece, I think is the biggest part for a lot of people.
Jessica: Well, we always say you don’t know what you don’t know when you’re coming into divorce, particularly everybody who’s coming into it for the first time. You literally don’t know. You can hear your sister’s experience or your best friend’s experience, but it may not have anything to do with yours. Even for T.H. and I, we got married at the exact same time, our husbands were best friends, we were best friends, and we found out within a week of each other, 13 years into our marriages, that both of our husbands had been having affairs and were covering for each other, and yet our divorces were still completely different. Everyone who’s coming into it, they’re ball-parking stuff because they have no idea. They’ve never been through it before. They don’t know what else to do.
Cindy: That’s right. Yeah, and I think that there’s such a different approach. If I was to change the way that we approached divorce, it would start with getting coaching on the financial piece and getting that all clear, and then the opportunity to mediate potentially without legal representation just yet. Because what happens, not that lawyers are bad, they are part of the process and we need them, but sometimes, depending on the type of lawyer you get, they then steer the ship.
Jessica: That’s right.
Cindy: This is not their life. You have to live this result. So make sure that you have a big say in how this goes.
Jessica: Right. Well, T.H. and I always say, again, it’s been a while since we had both gotten divorced, and a lot of the people that you would have on your team, so to speak, those types of positions and those types of people didn’t really exist, or we didn’t really know about them back then. It was like back then you find out or you decide that you’re getting a divorce, and your first knee-jerk reaction is I have to get a lawyer today. We have found now in our own experiences, with everything we’re doing with exEXPERTS, that it would not be my first move to get a lawyer. And so we have come to realize it’s so valuable to have all of these other people, and particularly people in positions of coaching, where they can lay out the options for you and give you some information that you had no idea of otherwise, to decide what the right process is for us. Yeah, I mean, divorce today definitely is different than it used to be, but it still for sure needs to change. Are you feeling when a lot of your clients come in that there’s still a sense of shame and stigma around the fact that they’re getting divorced? Or are people becoming more comfortable with it?
Cindy: I think hugely that’s still there.
Jessica: Well, what’s it like in Canada in general? I know what it’s like in America. But in Canada, is there a lot of shame and stigma around divorce?
Cindy: I think there really is. I mean, I think that’s really the blanket in Canada and the states, especially more so I believe for the woman who has left a marriage because that’s seen as much different than a man leaving a marriage. If a man leaves the marriage, I mean, I’m going to stereotype here for a second, but a man leaves a marriage that had an affair, clearly, the wife was crazy or something, right? It wasn’t working. But if a woman does it, what kind of mother is she?
Jessica: She didn’t try hard enough.
Cindy: Yeah, she didn’t try hard enough. She’s giving up this lifestyle. She’s off her rocker. She’s crazy. You get a lot of that shame. I really felt that in my own social situation quite a bit because I live in a very affluent community. Everyone is sort of Keeping Up with the Joneses but keeping their own shit on the inside. I think my leaving my marriage just really brought everyone else’s stuff to the surface for them. And no one wants to deal with that. It’s way easier to live vicariously through someone else’s divorce than to actually look at the shit that’s going on in your own life. And as a woman, different than as a single man, I think, I mean, I can’t say, I’m not a man, but we’re looked at differently in a social circle because a woman is threatening to other women. Oh, no, so does this mean she’s going to go after my husband?
Jessica: It’s so crazy.
Cindy: Is divorce contagious? Now husbands don’t want her around, because I don’t want my wife to get any ideas. It’s this social judgment that happens to you. It’s not easy at all, because you are sort of shunned for your choices, but thinking, I’m shunned for choosing my happiness and choosing a better path for myself? That’s pretty sad.
Jessica: It is pretty sad. I’m glad that you’re able to work with clients and help them through that part of the process emotionally. It’s definitely something that T.H. and I are huge advocates for, trying to help reduce the stigma around divorce, because there are way too many of us out there who have felt it’s our fault, or we failed, and just all of the negativity and the negative feelings that come with divorce. What we really want to try to put out there is exactly what you just said. Your own personal happiness outweighs everything. The truth is the kids are going to be fine. People figure stuff out financially. You pursued something that you didn’t even know existed. We’re always saying to people, think about what you like and what your passion is to be able to do it, because there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s so much better on the other side. It’s just a shit show getting through it. It really does suck regardless.
Cindy: But it makes you stronger right? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And it really, really does.
Jessica: It really does. It really does. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story, Cindy. We really, really appreciate it. For everybody listening, like I said, if you go onto our website at www.exEXPERTS.com, you can go to the Meet the Experts section, and you will be able to click through to Cindy’s expert page. And on that will be all of her contact information, and all of the information about her, and why we chose her and love her. She is based in Canada, so keep that in mind. But do you work with clients in the US?
Cindy: Oh, yeah, all over the place. I’ve got them in the UK, in the US, because it’s all virtual. I do have quite a network.
Jessica: Alright, perfect. You can go in there and check out all of Cindy’s information and we will see you next time.
Cindy: Thank you.
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