Going through a divorce in a Small Town is like....
Been There, Done That.
One question I get when I first talk with a potential client that still surprises me is "Do you keep our conversations confidential? Is Divorce Coaching confidential?”
YES. 10000% YES.
I get it. I make my life in Small Town, USA (AKA Peoria, Illinois.) Everyone knows everyone and if they don't, they know someone else who does.
Considering that I live in Central Illinois, this question shouldn't surprise me…yet it always does. It surprises me because of how seriously I take your confidentiality and trust in me. I honor your privacy with the greatest intentionality. In my mind, privacy comes first and the process comes next.
When you work with me I have the policy that I will only acknowledge, if I'm even asked, that "I know of you" if your name happens to come up in conversation.
If I see you in public I'll wave back or say "Hi" ONLY if you greet me first.
I even go so far as to only scribble basic notes without your name attached to anything. I file them where I can refer back but no one else could ever decipher and connect them to you. (Also for the record, my husband who formerly taught middle school English tells me my handwriting is worse than a 7th grade boy's, so there's that factor too).
I have no doubt you already have enough unwanted onlookers. My promise to you, as your Certified Divorce Coach, is that I will do everything in my power to protect your privacy.
Personally speaking, I remember how it was during my divorce. I remember that I had a trip planned to visit a college friend and his new girlfriend. The friend had been a mutual friend of my ex-husband’s and mine, but I had stayed more in touch with him. It was NOT a romantic relationship in the slightest. More of a ‘he’s kind of like a lovable but sometimes annoying older brother.”
I needed a vacation. Remember, I was working 50-60 hour weeks at my job as a mortgage loan officer at a local bank during the wildly busy mortgage boom of the early 2000’s. I also was opening my new coffee shop, Eli’s Coffee Shop, in Morton, Il at the time. I was stressed, overworked and desperately needed a vacation. This seemed perfect. Money was tight for me after the divorce so I could stay with him and his girlfriend for free and was really excited to finally have something planned. I went on the trip and enjoyed myself. I met some of their friends, relaxed and had a nice time away. I went home rejuvenated and ready to get back to work.
And then I heard the rumor. Or rather, RUMORS. Plural.
The rumor was “Katie flew back to Colorado to reignite an old relationship.” “Katie tried to see if there was anything between her and their friend but he turned her down and she came home disappointed.” “Katie came home from Colorado rejected.”
How did that even happen?
I think I know how it happened and someone near and dear to me was in the middle of it. It involved a local Bible study, a relative and a connection to my ex husband’s new girlfriend’s mom (say that 10 times fast!) Essentially, a recipe for disaster in the divorce world.
I was stung by the unfairness of this group of ladies who were gossiping about me. The ultimate game of telephone as adults. I knew then and there that I never wanted to be part of something like that.
Another scenario I was out with a group of ladies. I really only knew one of them. The rest were her extended friends. At one point it came up that I was going through a divorce. One of the ladies was horrified, even though we had just met. She spent the next 20 minutes lecturing me on why I should NOT get a divorce and why ‘you should try harder to save your marriage.’
I had never met this woman before in my life and she knew nothing about my marriage.
But she had all the opinions.
It’s a lot, you guys. I’ve lived it and I know what you’re worried about going through. I pride myself on confidentially helping my clients understand the divorce process. The last thing anyone needs is one more person to gossip about them and spread false rumors.
Valentine’s Day 2024
A lot of us have a Love-Hate Relationship with Valentine’s Day. While I’m happy to, heck I even ENJOY, showing my love to my kids and husband on Valentine’s Day, I don’t love the marketing behind it. I don’t love that the showing of love is EXPECTED and is marketed to be done in a certain way or else it ‘doesn’t count.’
I distinctly remember going through my divorce while I worked as a loan officer at a small local bank outside of Peoria, Illinois. All day long there was a parade of flowers being delivered to my female co-workers. Every time a different florist delivery driver stopped in, all the ladies excitedly stood up to look over their cubicle walls to see if there was a delivery for them. One lady even had a singing telegram!? Okay…I mean, that was a little much. And weird. She just stood there awkwardly while we all stared at her and she was sung to by the troupe. That part certainly didn’t make me feel envious!
Notwithstanding the singing telegram, I remember having a pit in my stomach. Everyone knew what I was going though. NONE of those flowers were going to be for me and we all knew it. I worked hard to show happiness for my friends and co-workers as they beamed with pride. I hope I did a good enough job. They were not trying to rub it in my face (at least I don’t think they were!) but it still hurt my feelings. It also felt like my divorce stood out extra that day. Like I was wearing the proverbial Scarlet Letter.
What was wrong with ME that I didn’t have that love? That no one cared about me enough to send flowers? That I didn’t have dinner reservations with someone special? That I didn’t have a new piece of jewelry to show off and get the oohh's and aahh's over that day?
Nothing. Nothing was wrong with me. Although I didn’t realize it then. It just took me awhile to figure it out.
A day filled with Facebook and Instagram posts by friends receiving the coveted dozen red roses, flowers showing up for co-workers who blush and giggle that "He remembered!" and images on television of handsome men suddenly latching a new diamond pendant around their significant other's neck when she is not expecting it is not an accurate gauge of how lovable we are.
Brace yourselves, my friends. No matter the stage of separation or divorce that you are in you may feel triggered multiple times today. You may not even be at that stage but in a marriage struggling to hang on by a thread of hope. You might be barely able to make it through dinner without a fight or tears. The word ‘divorce’ maybe has not even been uttered. But if there is no romantic love in your life to celebrate, you may feel just as empty and lonely.
Showmanship on the holiday that marketers of flowers, cars, jewelry and chocolates live for is not a mutually exclusive sign of your worthiness of love (or a strong marriage for that matter.)
Just because you may not be in a wildly loving relationship TODAY does not mean you are incapable of receiving or giving love. Just because you do not receive a dozen red roses does not mean you are less worthy of love than your cubicle partner.
There are so many ways on this planet to love so many different people or creatures. If you think you might be triggered today, start a list of how you give and receive love, and to whom. I’ve found it’s much better to have a list ready to go to refer to when I am navigating a stressful life event. A lot of times we don’t have the energy in those specific moments to come up with ways to love or good deeds or whatever it is we need to fill our cups.
Here's a few to start:
Feeding the birds
Buy a special treat for your pup
Pick up doughnuts for your kids
Schedule coffee with your favorite aunt
Make a phone call to your grandmother
Bake cookies for a neighbor
Plant a tree
Buy a new houseplant
Pick up garbage in your neighborhood
Welcome hugs from your friends
Write love letters to your kids
Journal to yourself
Call your parents
Volunteer at the local Crisis Nursery or Homeless Shelter
Sign up to be a CASA for a local child
Donate blood at the American Red Cross
What would you add?
"I will never have this version of me again, let me slow down and be with her" Rupi Kaur
Going through a divorce, like any kind of grief, can often make us wish it away sooner than later. We do this in any variety of ways. Drinking too much. Dating too soon. Stuffing our emotions. Exercising too much. Scrolling all night. Netflix binge, again.
This moment. You feel like it will never end. You feel like you will never get through it. But it will. And you will. Be gentle with yourself. With this moment. With this challenge. Slow down. Don't rush the process. (Don't drag your feet either but that's another post for another day.)
After all, this is the only time you get to be this version of you. So who is she when she goes through grief? What does she need? What can help empower her? What will rebuild her life? What goals or desires has she put on the back burner for FAR too long that maybe NOW is the time to explore? What can she learn from this process to help her in the future?
In my experience as a divorce coach, I've noticed that a lot of people start dating far too soon. I get it. There often is that new person that is the final catalyst for a divorce that should have happened YEARS ago. Or maybe you finally feel desired again. Perhaps you haven't felt attractive in who knows HOW long and finally someone looks at you like *that*.
I get it. I know. Believe me. I REALLY know.
Suddenly you're not just juggling the emotions of an ending marriage. Of a divorce. Of your children who also are feeling big emotions. Of financial stress. Of legal paperwork. Of court dates. Of social changes. Of awkward conversations. Of lost friend circles. Of family drama.
But also you're navigating the topsy-turvy emotions of a new relationship. Which really, is enough in and of itself.
There's only so much our souls can handle and this is too much. If you don't allow yourself to properly work through the grief, anger, sadness and yes, even excitement of the divorce process, those emotions about your ex will continuously pop up through your life. You're doing your future self a huge disservice by not letting those flow freely.
You're also not in the best place to be starting a new relationship. You're seeking a thrill. You want to feel desired. Which means you just might not have the best lens of personality judgement on. I have had many clients come to me while we are not only working through their divorce challenges only to ask my help with an argument they've had with their new lover! Of course I will do this but this is such a stretch for anyone's emotional capacity, even my most emotionally intelligent clients.
The last thing you want to do is go from the frying pan into the fryer for lack of better analogy. I remember my mom joking that when you're dating someone new, you really need to give them three months because often that's when their heads begin spinning and they start spewing green vomit. Three months is usually when things start to get weird in a relationship. Or the red flags start showing at the very least.
She wasn't wrong. If we get swept up too fast and don't give the thrill of the new relationship time to show it's true colors we can find ourselves in a WORSE situation than we were before.
Slow down, please. Pause and take a breath. Get outside. Take a walk. Take your kids to the park. Go to the library and get a new book. Join a service club (my personal favorite is Rotary!) Take an art class. Sign up for a yoga series. Try out a new church. Learn or refresh a language. Start a garden.
One of my favorite bits of life magic is when I've tried something new only to have it turn into something I never would have expected. I would encourage you to be brave and try something new. Just for you. That's not toxic. That will help you GROW and EXPAND. That's not just to mask emotions but to help you soak up and round out who you really are RIGHT NOW. A wonderful bonus is that you will meet new people who are also interested in those things too. If you lost friends during your divorce, this is a great way to find a social circle of kindred spirits.
My personal story: I dated pretty quickly post divorce. I was only 25 and had no kids. I remember finally getting SO fed up with dating (you know...the whole spewing green vomit thing???) I finally heeded my own advice that I am now giving and PAUSED. I stopped. I decided I was only going to focus on me and my well being. I poured my energy into my fledgling business, Eli's Coffee Shop. I moved into the 2nd floor tiny studio apartment. I worked 16 hour days, almost 7 days a week. I quit my day job as a loan officer. I was ALL IN for me.
I met new people. Some of my best friends now were my customers then. I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and developed a network of business partners that still support me to this day. But best of all?? My husband walked in there. He was the cute new 7th grade L.A. teacher in town. He would come in and order a green tea and grade papers. He liked to shoot photography in the summer months and one day sent a message to me on MySpace...yes the MySpace days! He asked if he could hang his photos there.
We both were simply pursuing our passions and working towards our dreams. We were both well out of relationships by the time we met, his heart broken earlier that year too. We were focusing on ourselves and mending our souls. By doing so we were able to notice whom we really were and what we really desired.
About Katie VAndenBerg
Katie makes her life surrounded by river valleys and surprisingly beautiful cornfields. Her days are spent helping her divorce clients, working with her tenants, spending time on her pottery wheel and loving her family.