Bestselling author and Certified Divorce Coach Cherie Morris talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about how she helps her clients navigate separation and divorce and why it’s important to have an objective thinking partner during the process.
Getting a divorce is ranked right up there with grieving the death of a loved one in terms of life’s most stressful events. In fact, the process of untying the knot can be so excruciatingly painful and confusing for people that they just want to get it over with at all costs. So they lawyer-up, placing their trust—and beaucoup bucks —into the hands of their legal counsel without pausing long enough to consider how their decisions will impact their lives for years to come. “This results in a much worse emotional or financial picture down the road and even an inability to effectively co-parent because the terms weren’t in the divorce agreement,” says Cherie Morris, co-founder of Dear Divorce Coach, a service that provides non-legal, practical and emotional support for people navigating every stage of separation and divorce. “You definitely need an attorney, but you also need an objective thinking partner because what’s best legally may not be best for you financially, emotionally or for co-parenting your children.”
Morris launched Dear Divorce Coach in the D.C. area last year with Vicki Vollweiler, who is also a Certified Divorce Coach and a marketing professional based out of Long Island, New York. “Vicki and I saw, in our own experience of divorce, a lack of resources for the practical side of the situation and we hoped to create a business that could help people meet practical goals in divorce and feel supported during this often chaotic, overwhelming and life-changing process,” she says. “One of the things we do is to provide practical tools to help reduce conflict between exes so they can avoid protracted disputes and effectively co-parent their children.”
Morris, an attorney herself, never practiced family law but was interested in conflict resolution as a litigator. “I was interested in helping people figure out how to avoid the often intractable disputes that often lead to litigation,” she says. “I spent years looking at alternative resolution methods, became a yoga instructor and adopted a number of alternative philosophies for people to come to a ‘meeting of the minds.’ I heard about training for divorce coaching, decided to pursue it and found it transformative. Vicki, with her marketing background and an M.B.A., is very interested in the business terms of divorce and how to get people to various agreements. One of our primary considerations as we work with clients is supporting the children involved because our experience suggests that healthy kids exist within both intact marriages and divorces if they are well supported by both parents. If we successfully help our clients learn how to support their children and do the co-parenting we feel we have achieved our primary goal.”
Opportunist: Nearly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. Any idea why the divorce rate is so high?
Cherie Morris: That’s an interesting question. There are many reasons. One that Vicki and I have observed, anecdotally of course, is the dissolution of family support for many couples. When they can’t turn to extended family for support, the situation may seem hopeless. So they turn to divorce without finding a way to end the conflict. Also, as women have become more economically self-sufficient, they have more choices and more power to exercise those choices. As a result, they may decide to end the marriage and reenter the workforce knowing they can support themselves and their children.
Opportunist: What are the benefits of hiring a divorce coach?
Cherie Morris: The benefits are pretty practical and pretty clear. Again, our inspiration was to offer support that Vicki and I may have wanted but didn’t have, such as the concept of an objective thinking partner. Your legal advocate is your legal partner but sometimes may inadvertently cause more conflict. A divorce coach helps you decide what works for you, your partner and your children. It’s like having someone hold your hand as they guide you through the chaos and help you make a daily plan of how you’re going to live your life for a while. We don’t provide psychological counseling, but we do provide emotional support and clear plans for people to follow before, during and post-divorce. We have also tried to create a real circle of trust by developing relationships with counselors, Realtors, parent coordinators and financial planners whom we can refer our clients to so they can save time and avoid the agony of wondering ‘Who am I going to call?’ We do the screening and make the appropriate referrals as they need them.
Opportunist: What services do you provide?
Cherie Morris: Our services include coaching, financial expertise to help our clients set budgets and contemplate how to generate additional income when needed, conflict resolution tools, setting appropriate boundaries and even language to get the job of divorce done and resolve conflicts. If someone is contemplating divorce, we first take them through coaching exercises to help them figure out whether they actually need a divorce or if there is some other dissatisfaction in their life. We don’t encourage divorce. In fact, we provide a realistic framework for people to understand the consequences and help them see that there may actually be alternatives if the marriage is not the true source of their dissatisfaction. Each situation is obviously different. Sometimes couples counseling might help, but if there has been physical or even emotional abuse, we help our client become clear about the resources they should seek. If they’re simply unhappy, we can help them evaluate the reasons for it and help them collaborate with their partner to make changes in the marriage.
Opportunist: How can someone navigate a divorce if the other party is unreasonable, spiteful or even dangerous?
Cherie Morris: The single most important recommendation we try to give our clients is setting effective boundaries with their soon-to-be exes—we call them STBXs—because they need to establish a new and different relationship going forward, especially as they co-parent their children. We encourage them to use email as a first and best medium. During a divorce, even texting can become fraught with turmoil except for the last minute ‘I’m going to be late’ logistic issues. If the STBX poses a real danger, we encourage clients to file a complaint with the local police so they have a record of what is going on or get protective orders if necessary. Most of the time, however, we find it less common for an STBX to be a danger and more common that they are merely trying to engage the other party through toxic communication to make them respond emotionally. We do everything we can to encourage clients to get coaching or therapy to learn different manners of response. Most people will stop trying to engage you if you do not engage with them at their emotional level of toxicity.
Opportunist: Narcissism has become a popular buzzword in today’s selfie-obsessed society, but what if one party to the divorce truly has a narcissist personality disorder? Can there be a positive outcome?
Cherie Morris: Narcissism is clearly an overused term in popular culture; however, there is real narcissism that creates a dysfunctional relationship. It’s extremely important to learn how to co-parent with someone who only sees things through their own lens and how it impacts them. This goes back, again, to creating good boundaries. If you’re forced to co-parent with a narcissist you’ll need to set clear boundaries and find a way to deal with them in only the most rudimentary fashion because narcissists violate boundaries constantly. When children are supposed to be home at a certain time, for example, the narcissist is constantly pushing and violating boundaries to try and achieve their own results—and, frankly, they are not even recognizing their responsibility in that. A narcissist will constantly find new and invasive ways to be toxic in your life. If your child is half this person, you want to not disparage them but create very clear boundaries and emotionally disengage so that when you do get the email or text it’s no longer a trigger; it’s just an item on your to-do list. It may sound simple to do, but it’s not. It can take lots of coaching and work to understand how to disengage from a narcissist.
Opportunist: Do you work with many men and, if so, how do their situations differ from your female clients?
Cherie Morris: Yes, we do. An important part of our mission is to work with men in separation and divorce and we are very clear about why. We feel that if both parents are well supported by divorce coaching they will treat each other with more respect in the co-parenting. We find men are often more emotionally unprepared to deal with the fallout of divorce. There are probably lots of reasons, including the emotional disconnect that men often feel generally and culturally in our society. Men tend to be less in touch with their emotions, have fewer support systems than we as women do and typically do not have a therapist to talk with. It’s not universal, but it can exist. Men need to know they can function as a co-parent even if their role in the family has not been as primary caregiver. They can become involved in helping to fulfill the daily needs of their children and we help them understand how they can do it. We take them through a daily agenda of how to make that a reasonable part of their skill set and understanding of who they are as a father. Another point that we try to address is helping men to not be defined only by economics and realize they are more than just a paycheck to their family. The nurturing they do with their children is as important as what the mother is doing. It’s a shared burden and their role is greater than financial provider.
Opportunist: Are there any stories from the ‘trenches’ that you can share with us?
Cherie Morris: One client’s husband simply moved out on her. He left the marital home and her—certainly in an emotional sense—but continued to provide support for the family. Not knowing if he was coming back left her in a state of uncertainty and, as a stay-at-home mother, she felt her financial options were limited. When she came to us as a client, we felt it was important to help her decide what she wanted and to create some boundaries around her husband’s entry and exit from the house and his time spent with the kids. He was not motivated on keeping the marriage and she needed a separation agreement. Our goal, as her objective thinking partner, was to help her figure out how to co-parent when she was still emotionally devastated. She was an educated, smart competent woman with an M.B.A. who would be just fine reentering the workforce. The kids would be OK. But her STBX might have to step up to do more caretaking if he wanted the divorce. She learned to reimagine her life and recognize that it was not disastrous. We typically help our clients figure out how to imagine a future that is different from the one they thought they would have. It’s simple but not easy and can take a lot of coaching work. This client has cleared many hurdles but still has a long way to go and will probably need some therapeutic intervention and financial tools. It’s not that we are a one-and-done deal. We are very much an objective thinking partner that can exist before and during divorce or even in post-divorce complications.
Opportunist: Do you have any new features planned that you can tell us about?
Cherie Morris: We are planning to expand our coaching reach. We really enjoy the coaching we do with individual clients. Most of my clients are in D.C. and Vicki’s are in New York. We can meet with local clients in-person at the office, in their homes, or a bookstore/coffee shop. It’s really about making them comfortable and putting them at ease. Many times I will take walks with my clients if that’s the way they’re able to process what is going on.
We also have clients all over the United States and a couple in Western Europe. We want our reach to be international and have various campaigns on Facebook and Twitter to reach people worldwide. We very much enjoy providing coaching-on-demand, where a client calls in with specific concerns and receives instant coaching. Providing people with help in the moment gives them a sense of ease when they have nowhere to turn and can help change the framework of their divorce and improve their ability to set boundaries or just to feel heard by someone objective who has had the experience of divorce and can relate in all respects. We reach people all over the world, wherever they are in the divorce process, and readily and easily give them access to us by phone, by Skype and by text, and provide those coaching-on-demand services.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
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