When a woman gets married, she usually doesn’t plan on getting divorced.
In fact, by the time she’s walking back up the aisle after saying her vows, she’s already imagining what it will be like to sit on the porch in a rocking chair next to her groom.
She pictures the two of them, gray-haired and wrinkled, holding hands and watching the neighborhood children ride their bikes in front of the home where they’ve raised their own children in.
Meanwhile, another tiny part of her heart whispers that she may possibly need to prepare for divorce.
Where should she start?
Should she even be thinking about both?
How could she possibly hope for the best while preparing for divorce?
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, visits with Debra, the newest Betrayal Trauma Recovery Coach, about her book, High-Conflict Divorce for Women: Your Guide to Coping Skills and Legal Strategies for All Stages of Divorce, and how to hope for the best while preparing for divorce.
Coach Debra is a Certified Divorce Coach (CDC) and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, who loves helping women find the confidence to become independent and advocate for themselves in their relationship and at the negotiating table.
Hoping For The Best While Living The Worst
Betrayal Trauma Recovery always advocates for the best: safe, healthy families.
However, when abuse and betrayal are present, the family isn’t safe or healthy.
In such cases, safety becomes the number one priority.
Once the betrayal or abuse are recognized, trauma sets in.
With any luck, the abused woman is able to find safe support.
What comes next depends on many variables.
She usually hopes for the best outcome: that he chooses sobriety, recovery, his family, her.
Coach Debra also hopes for that outcome.
But she’s also well aware of the scary alternative.
Anne has observed that it usually starts when the abused woman starts setting effective boundaries, her abuser doesn’t like that.
“When you start getting healthier and setting boundaries, they’re either going to improve and start getting it or they’re going to get worse. It’s not going to stay the same. You’re going to start seeing new things happen as you make forward progress.”-Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Coach Debra points out that it’s the entitlement, that allows them to be so abusive in the first place, that makes things worse.
This is where Coach Debra comes in, she helps women prepare for the “worst-case” alternative: divorce.
What-If: Why Prepare For Divorce While Hoping For The Best?
When reality hits and a betrayed woman finally recognizes that she’s been in an abusive relationship, often for several years, trauma may strike again.
“Traumatized women often underreact or overreact. Both of those reactions can put them in a poor position when it comes to divorce.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
The fight-flight-freeze response of trauma puts a woman in a vulnerable spot.
Coach Debra has helped many of them out of it.
Coach Debra understands the hope for a better marriage, but she also understands that abusers aren’t healthy, so they don’t think like healthy people.
She recommends preparing for the What-ifs, while also working on rebuilding their marriage.
What if things do change and it’s not for the better?
What if a strictly emotional abuser becomes a physical abuser?
What if he becomes more violent?
What if he cuts her off financially?
Coach Debra takes all these What-ifs and helps women prepare for them, a little bit at a time.
“We take baby steps. We just dip our toe into the water of getting ready. I tell them we’re going to give 150%. 100% to your marriage, and maybe 40-50% to setting yourself up, just in case.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
She’s seen a lot of things through her work coaching abused women.
It’s one of the things she considered when writing her book, High-Conflict Divorce for Women: Your Guide to Coping Skills and Legal Strategies for All Stages of Divorce.
“As I was writing the book, I really thought about the women who don’t believe it’s going to happen to them because a really common, what I call a ‘dirty divorce trick,’ is spousal starvation. That’s where, all of a sudden, he reroutes that paycheck and now you don’t have gas and groceries. What are you going to do?” -Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Limited funds are one of the biggest reasons many women don’t leave an abusive situation.
Often, their husband has been hiding the truth about their financial situation. There’s either more money or less money than their wife is led to believe.
“When you’re with an emotional abuser there is often financial abuse involved. These are women who may not have access to information about their marital finances. That makes it really hard to get started if you don’t even know what’s on the table to be divided.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Coach Debra helps women develop a plan, just in case.
“For women that are in abusive situations, what I love to do is start creating this exit strategy in stealth-mode. I love working with them before the process starts, so that when he gets crazy and does something, she’s at least got a few things in place.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Many women have been shocked when, seemingly out of nowhere, their husband announces that they want a divorce.
With a plan in place, a “surprise” divorce won’t be such a shock and she won’t be frozen in fear.
“Preparation makes any divorce go more smoothly, because when we act out of fear, we don’t make good decisions. When you’ve been with an emotional abuser, you need to really be prepared for what could happen.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Coach Debra says an abuser who seems like a “good-guy” can easily turn mean when his wife decides to leave. After all, that’s another boundary.
Why Preparing For Divorce Can Protect You From The Worst
Filing for divorce is a big step and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
That’s why being prepared helps.
When it does come time to take that step, if it ever does come, the woman will know what to do, when to do it and how it should be done.
Coach Debra also recommends having a solid support system that includes at least three people.
3 Support People To Help You Prepare For Divorce
- The BFF Backup– Someone you can call any time, day or night. They’re willing to help with the kids or keep you company and call you out when you’re say you’re fine but you’re really not.
- The Taskmaster– Someone who knows how to research the best attorneys and real estate people, and also willing to pick up the dry cleaning and groceries when you’re too emotionally crippled to deal with them.
- Safe Place To Share– A qualified coach or therapist, a healthy friend or family member, someone safe you can share with. Emotional regulation is key, no stuffing. You must get your emotions out so you can be strategic.
Having the right people around will help when things turn ugly, if they do.
Coach Debra has seen things turn very ugly when a woman decides to divorce.
“The sense of entitlement that allowed them to be abusive during the marriage, is the same sense of entitlement that can flip a switch when the woman decides to divorce them.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
When this happens, if she hasn’t prepared and doesn’t have her support system, she could end up being walked all over.
“The same ‘nice girl’ attitude that kept her in that toxic marriage, is going to keep her in a one-down position in a high-conflict divorce or her husband will try to talk her into mediation. She still feels like she doesn’t have the power and the voice to stand up for what she deserves and what is legally hers.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
But if she has planned and has the right support, she can at least be confident that she’ll make informed decisions.
Coach Debra says it isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about healing and confidence.
“There are no winners in divorce. Everyone walks away feeling like they didn’t get what they wanted. What we want to come away with is a settlement where we made decisions that were intentional and that we can feel good about. We had all the information we needed, and every choice was intentional.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Whether a woman decides to file for divorce or her husband makes that choice, being prepared can give her some peace of mind.
Many women find that they’ve become scatter-brained during the divorce process, but Coach Debra says that’s normal.
“In divorce care, they say up to 80% of your brain can be occupied with thoughts about divorce. If you think about a computer, 80% of your computer’s RAM is busy processing thoughts about the divorce. Only 20%, then, is available for your daily living. Of course, you’re going to forget your keys.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
That 80% that she’s focusing on the divorce will, at least, be focused if she has a plan.
That’s why having a plan, says Coach Debra, can make all the difference.
“Divorce can be a bump in the road, it doesn’t have to be your destination. Even though crappy things are happening, if you feel like you were informed and empowered, then you’re going to recover and move through that healing phase so much faster.”-Coach Debra, Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Whether you’re considering divorce or it hasn’t even crossed your mind, Betrayal Trauma Recovery is here to help.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group provides a safe place to share with other women facing similar circumstances. With unlimited access to more than 15 live sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a BTR Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
It’s my pleasure to introduce to you our newest coach at BTR, Coach Debra. She is a CDC, which is a Certified Divorce Coach. She’s also a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, who loves giving women the confidence they need to speak up in their relationships or at the negotiating table.
If you’ve been through or are considering divorce, you definitely need this. Debra also specializes in working with betrayed women by helping them make hard decisions about their marriages. When preparing for divorce, Debra helps women with a plan and exit strategy so they can move from being dependent and afraid to independent, confident and self-sufficient.
It no longer surprises her that the offender goes on the attack when their victim decides to leave, so she helps them prepare and protect themselves for that possibility. She is the author of High Conflict Divorce for Women– Your Guide to Coping Skills and Legal Strategies for all Stages of Divorce. We’re going to be talking about that book today, along with a bunch of other topics that are really important to women who are considering divorce or are in the process of divorce.
Debra will be coaching a divorce-specific Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session. If you haven’t checked out our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Groups Schedule, we have multiple sessions per day in your time zone.
For only $125 per month, you’ll have access to unlimited live support. That’s more than 90 sessions per month for about the same cost as one therapy appointment, so check it out today.
Debra will have a BTR Group session where you can share and get feedback from her and other women who are considering their options or just preparing themselves to think about what they want.
It’s good, I think, for people to be able to assess the situation before they make decisions and Debra is good at helping women do that. She leads one of our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group sessions and you can also schedule a one-on-one session with her through our website btr.org, click on Services and then choose Individual Sessions.
Debra: Thank you, I’m thrilled to be here.
Anne: So many women who have been through a divorce say, “Things would have gone so much better if I had known this or known that.” You have put everything all in one place for women. Why did you decide to write this book? How did you come up with the title, High Conflict Divorce?
Debra: One of the things you’ve often alluded to is that we don’t know what we don’t know. I especially know that traumatized women often underreact or overreact. Both of those reactions can put them in a poor position when it comes to divorce. They’re also often the lower earners or they’ve been a stay at home parent, because of that, they can get hurt really quickly in this process, if they’re not prepared.
They’ll get caught off guard and are more likely to make emotional decisions instead of strategic decisions, where they’re looking out for their long-term wellbeing. As we know, they’re also likely to trust when trust isn’t deserved, so when you trust an untrustworthy person in divorce, sometimes that can come back to bite you.
I think for all those reasons it’s really important for women to have their own resources.
Anne: A lot of women don’t want to read a book like this because they think it means they are getting divorced when they haven’t decided yet. They might think, “Well, that’s the worst-case scenario. I don’t even want to think about that because what I want to think about is my marriage working out and I want to put all my effort into recovery.” They might be doing sex addiction recovery or something like that.
It seems like women don’t realize, “Wow, I really need a book like this” until afterward because they don’t realize all the things they didn’t know.
Debra: I work with clients a lot when they’re trying to make that stay-wait-or-go decision. I ask them to work on parallel paths, so while they’re working on rebuilding their marriage and rebuilding the trust, we work on some exercises to do that.
Having been through betrayal trauma myself, I’m really knowledgeable about rebuilding safety and doing those things, but at the same time, we take baby steps. Let’s get copies of your financial documents. Let’s get a little bit more in the loop on your finances. Let’s start setting a little money aside.
Anne: That’s a really good strategy, I think, because women need to be aware that it could go both ways. Is that part of why you wrote this book?
Debra: Yeah, it definitely is. I mean, preparation makes any divorce go more smoothly, because when we act out of fear, we don’t make good decisions. Even if you don’t have a high-conflict person, divorce can still be very conflicted so the better prepared you can be in any situation the smoother your divorce is going to go.
In the case where you’ve been with an emotional abuser, which is usually what these partners are, you need to really be prepared for what could happen. The sense of entitlement that’s allowed them to behave in the ways they have during the marriage, is the same sense of entitlement that can flip a switch when the woman decides to divorce them.
Anne: So many women say, “He’s such a good guy. He’s never going to do this.” Then, suddenly, they find themselves in a situation where he is doing those things. I think it’s good to be prepared to know that this could happen to you. In part of that stage of trying to figure out if you are or aren’t, there is a stage of denial where you think, “No, that’s not going to happen to me.”
I think all women should be required to read this book in high school or college, along with Why Does He Do That? Just be prepared and have it in the back of your mind so that you know what you’re up against.
Debra: As I was writing the book, I had a target audience in mind, and that really was the women who don’t believe it’s going to happen to them because a really common, what I call dirty divorce trick, is spousal starvation. That’s where, all of a sudden, he reroutes that paycheck and now you don’t have gas and groceries. What are you going to do?
What I tell clients is, “We hope that doesn’t happen. I hope your husband is a nice guy and negotiates fair throughout, but what harm would it do if we had a little emergency savings account?”
Those are the women to whom I just want to say, “You know what, what would it hurt if we took a few steps to protect you just in case. I’m sure your husband will be the ‘model citizen,’ but what if?”
Anne: Yeah, I think that is so smart. I would highly recommend that for everyone, no matter how much you think, “He would never do that.” The other thing is that, when you start getting healthier and you start setting boundaries, they’re either going to improve and start getting it or they’re going to get worse. It’s not going to stay the same. You’re going to start seeing new things happen as you make forward progress.
Debra: You’re right. It will change. It will change one way or the other. Either they will have a sense of guilt, remorse, empathy or, like I said, that sense of entitlement will come bubbling to the surface and all of a sudden it becomes “their money” and “how dare you.”
We just ask the “what-if” questions. You’ve had a friend go through a bad divorce, what if your husband did that? What position would that leave you in? If I just ask the “what-if” questions, we can maybe get them to take a few baby-steps to protect themselves.
Anne: My guess is, most of the women who listen to this podcast would have a high conflict divorce, I mean, if I just had to guess. With abusive men, when you do set a boundary, they get worse, right. If you’re considering a divorce or you’re starting the divorce process and he’s abusive, it will get worse. I think you can count on that.
I don’t know in what way or how, but it will get worse. The reason is he wants to hurt you, as a way of maintaining his power. This is something that listeners really need to understand.
What impact does betrayal have on their decision-making process?
Debra: In this day and age, it just seems like betrayal is rampant, and sometimes it’s financial betrayal. Sometimes, they actually don’t know for sure, they don’t have any proof, but a wife knows the truth. She might not know the facts, but she knows the truth.
Anne: I wonder, in those marriages where “there wasn’t a betrayal” and they think, “Oh, we’re just growing apart” or something, if pornography is involved somehow, they just don’t know it. I always wonder what is really going on. Just a sidebar there.
What impact does betrayal have on the decision-making process?
Debra: I think, number one, when you’re with an emotional abuser there is often financial abuse involved. These are women who may not have access to information about their marital finances. That makes it really hard to get started if you don’t even know what’s on the table to be divided. If you don’t have access to your own money that makes things really hard.
Number two, the other thing I see often is that the same “nice girl” attitude that kept the woman in that toxic marriage, is going to keep her in a one-down position in a high-conflict divorce or her husband will try to talk her into mediation. She still feels like she doesn’t have the power and the voice to stand up for what she deserves and what is legally hers.
I say, they wait until they’re hit by a bullet before they put on their armor. They’re already hemorrhaging, they’re already bleeding, and now they’re trying to backtrack and figure out how to repair that.
Anne: Women, listen, to all my listeners right now: You’re going to make him mad anyway, regardless, so that is not a good reason to not do something.
I hear a lot of women say, “If I play nice, then I’ll get more of what I want,” and that is not the case with a high-conflict divorce.
We can do some of it in stealth-mode, so that when he gets crazy and does something, she’s at least got a few things in place, like copies of financial documents in a safe space because they disappear, some money set aside because money disappears, those kinds of things.
Anne: In your experience, is it common for everyone to have one or two things that they regret? Or do you think that if they’re coached well and they know what to expect that it’s possible to have no regrets?
Debra: Well, I feel like that’s a trick question, Anne, because you know there are no winners in divorce. Everyone walks away feeling like they didn’t get what they wanted. One thing I see very often, with betrayed women, is expecting the court system to mete out emotional justice, “He cheated on me so I should get more.”
Anne: Yeah, or “He’s the one that caused the breakup of our family.”
Debra: Right, or “Why do I have to do with less? Why do I have to live in a small apartment? Why do I have to drive a used car?” Whatever the what-if is, or the why, that’s one of the things I work really hard to coach women on. Unless it’s something really egregious that’s going to shock the court, there is no emotional justice.
That’s the one thing we want to work with betrayed women on, in terms of setting expectations. What we want to come away from a divorce with is a settlement where we made decisions that were intentional and that we can feel good about. We had all the information we needed, and every choice was intentional.
Sometimes, you will give up something that you were entitled to in order to get something else. That’s okay, as long as it was an intentional decision. We just don’t want to come away feeling like we were missing information or we’re a victim because what that does—and you’ll get this—is it impacts their ability to recover afterward.
Divorce can be a bump in the road, it doesn’t have to be your destination. Even though crappy things are happening and he’s being mean and unfair and you may not get everything you want, if you feel like you were informed and empowered, then you’re going to recover and move through that healing phase so much faster.
Anne: Absolutely. Speaking of support, what kind of support does a woman need when they’re facing divorce and in the throes of dealing with all these emotions that come up?
Debra: Yeah, I talk about that in the first section of the book, where we talk about preparing for divorce. I talk about two people, in particular, that you need on your team and that’s what I call the BFF Backup. This is the person you can call at 3:00 in the morning, who can pick your kids up from school, who knows what you’re thinking before you do. When they say, “How are you?” and you say, “I’m okay,” they go, “No, you’re not.”
You need a BFF backup and a Taskmaster. Your Taskmaster friend is someone who might not sit with their arm around you, but they’re someone who will research attorneys for you, will do all the real estate legwork, will pick up your dry cleaning or go to the grocery store for you. Someone who will do the things that you’re too emotionally crippled to even deal with.
Then you need a safe place to share and be real because emotional regulation is key during this process. By regulating or managing your emotions, I don’t mean stuffing them. What I mean is having someplace safe with a coach, a therapist, a healthy friend or family member to get that stuff out so that you can be strategic in your planning. You want to be having a safe place to get those emotions out, and then you also want to get the affirmation that what you’re feeling is normal.
I’m constantly surprised when I talk with clients and they say, “I can’t remember where my keys are, and I can’t do this and I’m crying all the time.” I just affirm them and say, “Of course you are, of course, you feel that way. Look at what you’re going through.”
In divorce care they tell you that, I think it’s up to 80% of your brain sometimes, can be occupied with thoughts about divorce. If you think about a computer, 80% of your computer’s RAM is busy processing thoughts about the divorce. Only 20%, then, is available for your daily living. Of course, you’re going to forget your keys.
Anne: We’re going to pause the conversation here and continue it next week. As you can see, Coach Debra is an amazing addition to our incredible BTR team. Our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, BTR Group, with multiple sessions a day in your time zone, is incredible.
We have coaches who are experts on emotional abuse, experts on boundaries, and experts on divorce, who can help you move forward towards peace and safety. Whether that means that you remain married or you get divorced.
You are already living in the worst-case scenario, an abusive relationship. Figuring out how to make your home a peaceful place is your top priority because you can’t live in chaos and pain and neither can your children. Well, I guess you can, but you don’t deserve to.
You deserve peace and happiness. Especially if that’s what you want and you’re working toward. Especially if you are dedicated to living in healthy ways. If you want to be honest, if you want to be able to process your emotions, you deserve to be around other people who are like that. Not someone who is trying to take advantage of you or manipulate you or hide things from you.
At the end of this, I just want to say that I genuinely believe in families. I love my children. There is nothing more valuable to me than family time, so I don’t wish divorce on anyone. I want safety and peace, and that’s what families are for.
We go out and we try to combat pornography in our communities, which is good, but if it’s happening in our own home it needs to start there. We need to change the world one home at a time, and it starts with us.
Please stay tuned for my continued conversation with Coach Debra, and in the meantime, if you want to schedule an individual session with her, go to btr.org or join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group and you can get in a session with her or any of our other amazing coaches.
Until next week, stay safe out there.