The decision to end a marriage is never easy. These tips will help you make the right choice for yourself.
Sonia Frontera is a divorce lawyer and author of:
- Solve the Divorce Dilemma: Do you keep your husband or do you post him on craigslist?
- Relationship Solutions: Effective strategies to heal your heart and create the happiness you deserve.
- Stop the hurt: The truth about domestic violence everyone needs to know
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Debra Jones: Welcome to OWN THE GREY, a podcast to dispel the notion that aging is undesirable and setting new positive attitudes. I'm Debra Jones, and I believe you can be vibrant and healthy throughout the best years of your life. If you're unhappily, married or considering divorce, this episode is for you. My next guest is Sonya Frontera, and she's a divorce lawyer. She's the author of Solve the Divorce Dilemma: Do you keep your husband or do you Post Him On Craigslist? Relationship Solutions: Effective strategies to heal your heart and create the happiness you deserve. And she wrote an informational booklet called Stop the Hurt: The truth about Domestic Violence everyone needs to know. She also writes for Divorce Magazine and Divorced Moms and is featured on NBC, MSN and the New York Times. Sonya Frontera survived a toxic marriage herself, and now she supports divorcees and domestic violence survivors as an advocate and empowerment trainer. I invited her on to OWN THE GREY to share her wisdom on examining the viability of a marriage and, if it isn't viable, what steps you need to take to make a graceful exit. Welcome to OWN THE GREY Sonya.
Sonia Frontera: Thanks for having me, Debra. It's a joy to be here with you today.
Debra Jones: It's a pleasure to have you on the show. As a healer, I have clients who come to me for help in building their confidence to make a move away from a toxic relationship. And there's one particular situation that I see often, and that is a debilitating fear of the unknown and of being able to cope with such a major change, especially in later life. So I guess the best place to start is what constitutes a viable or sustainable marriage and what should we be looking for?
Sonia Frontera: I strongly believe that a marriage should be a creation, a co creation, where it is greater than the sum of its parts. When we come together as a couple, we are meant to bring out the best in one another and create something that is good and is fulfilling for both of us. And we have been brought up with the belief that marriage is supposed to be hard and difficult, and we accept a lot of things that perhaps do not serve us and do not make us happy. But a viable marriage is one in which the parties are there for one another, support one another, believe in one another, and work together through life's ups and downs. A nugget of wisdom I learned from my gynecologist, of all people, when I was in my early 20s: Marriage is not 50/50. Marriage is sometimes 60/40 or 70/30. So it's about being there for one another. And if you don't have that in your marriage, you need to look to create it or try to ascertain if this is something that you and your spouse are not able to create. Because if you can't. Then it might be more humane to go your separate ways, amicably and start all over and it is never too late to start over.
Debra Jones: It sounds like a very scary proposition when maybe you've been in that marriage for a really long time but it's the pain that it's causing that makes you want to make some changes. What kinds of pain should we be looking out for?
Sonia Frontera: It's very important to look and see how your partner makes you feel how do you feel when you are with this person? Do you feel like a better person? Do you feel like you are the best expression of yourself or is it someone who demeans you or ignores you or downplays your feelings? It is very important to notice those interactions and one thing I know it's really scary and it's scary at an older age and it is scary also when you're young because it was very scary for me when I started and I found myself in a toxic marriage at the age of 24 and it's that fear of the unknown that holds you back. But you really need to do the math and come to terms with whether I would be happier with this person or alone and this is something that you should not use age as the main factor to keep you in or fear as the main factor to keep you in that relationship you need to take a holistic approach. A holistic look and a very honest one at best at your relationship and then make that decision whether you would be better off together or alone. And I have to say that I work with a lot of women in middle age. Women in their 60s who have found happiness after they realize, after their kids are out of their homes, they're grown up. That this relationship is not viable and that they cannot tolerate going on like that for another 25 years.
Debra Jones: You touched on a point that I hear often and that is wanting to stay in the marriage because of the children. What can you say to that?
Sonia Frontera: That is one social belief that we have inherited from society that kids need both parents to be happy and they interpret that as remaining together in an unhappy marriage for the sake of the kids and that is not a good thing. The kids are smart. They know what's going on. You think it's what they pick up they don't want to be living in a family where there's discord where the parents don't get along with each other or constantly fighting or the digs going on all the time, and by staying in a marriage like that you are creating a really bad example that is going to actually mess them up as they grow up, when they are old enough to be in their own relationships and they don't have good role models of what a healthy relationship looks like. So the psychologists agree that it is not the best thing to stay in the marriage from hell for the sake of kids because you're actually hurting them more. It is better to separate. If you are not happy as husband and wife, you're better off separating and try to be good co-parents.
Debra Jones: So, that's the alternative - is to be a good parent. But a good parent would really be a happy parent. And if you're not happy in that relationship, then that's not the best parenting.
Sonia Frontera: That's right.
Debra Jones: Wow. And I often say to clients that when you're not happy and you make a change to find happiness or to have happiness in your life, you're also teaching your kids how to do that for themselves. When they get themselves into a situation that isn't supportive to their life and their wellbeing, watching you make these difficult choices and make these difficult changes and then coming out on the other side of that is one of the greatest teachers.
Sonia Frontera: Absolutely. It teaches resilience. And most importantly, because this is the pinnacle of a happy relationship, is knowing that you deserve to be happy. And that happiness is something that you create for yourself. You're responsible for your unhappiness. Your partner is not responsible for creating that happiness for you. You don't create it for your spouse and your spouse doesn't create it for you. You need to take that responsibility on your own and create it. And that is the message that if we all received it, if we all believed it and acted on it, this would be a much better world.
Debra Jones: Yeah. We wouldn't find ourselves in that situation - for too long anyway. We would notice it and then make some changes without having to suffer so much.
Sonia Frontera: That's right.
Debra Jones: So, if we look at the situation and we answer those questions, does my spouse support me and listen to me? And is this a viable marriage? And the answer ends up being no, what's our next step?
Sonia Frontera: We really need to do the math. Be very careful because sometimes we think the grass is greener on the other side. So before we get to that conclusion, I highly recommend that we go through very detailed analysis of the relationship and factor in your role in the relationship. Because sometimes we act in ways that do not serve the relationship and see if there are some things that we can do differently. And I'm not assigning blame, but see if you can try something differently if that makes things improve. And if it doesn't, and if you convince yourself that you and your partner cannot create the happiness you both deserve, then you can go ahead and try to make the move to start your life anew and separate in a way that is amicable, in a way that supports rebuilding your life as opposed to being attached to your spouse in a negative way. Right. That's what I call being divorced TO your spouse instead of divorced FROM your spouse.
Debra Jones: Okay, let's unpack that. I saw that in your book and I wasn't sure what it meant. So can you explain that?
Sonia Frontera: Yes. And this is something that happens to a lot of people. I see it a lot, having worked in family court, you see it a lot. That is when you remain attached to your partner and it could be in a number of different ways. You can be attached to the wrongs that person committed against you, whether real or perceived. You're attached to the wrongs, you're attached to your mistakes or your partner's mistakes. You are attached to the fantasy of what you wanted that never happened and you're attached by unforgiveness or you have unrequited love and you think you have that fantasy that your spouse is going to get back together with you. So your world revolves around your spouse even after you have divorced, until your divorce is finalized. And what you really need to do is detach. Just release all those feelings, examine the relationship, distill the lessons. Because you and your spouse were in each other's lives for a reason. So you need to distill those lessons, be grateful for them, thank your partner and bless the relationship with love and be ready to move on and allow love to come in. Then and only then can you really build a healthy relationship with another person.
Debra Jones: That's a really good point and it's really not where we commonly go to first because the hurt is the voice that comes out. It’s all the ways that you feel afraid and all the ways that you feel that you've been hurt. And it's that wound that is talking, at least at the beginning. I wonder, are there phases just like in phases of grief and I guess this is a similar thing, but are there phases that we typically go through from that first step to being on the other side of it and to happiness again? Are there certain phases?
Sonia Frontera: Well, some psychologists would say that going through the end of a marriage is comparable to the same stages of grief when you lose your spouse to death. The way I look at it is more at the shortcuts. And the point of my teachings is to reveal the shortcuts from the heartache to the healing. And that comes from your awareness. It's your awareness of the relationship. What got you in it. What kept you in it. What was not working in this relationship and then how you can go from there to create what you want. Which also requires you to go into self expression. Discover your purpose and try to build your life from that point of power as opposed to one that is built in an attachment to a partner that is premised on being in a relationship. You first need to gain that independence, that attachment to yourself, loving yourself, getting to know yourself and nurturing yourself in MINDBODY and spirit. There is a shortcut and it's within you, it's completely accessible to you.
Debra Jones: I love that. That seems to be how, when my clients come to me, I help them focus on themselves and what makes them happy and to find their own groundedness and clear away any of these connections that don't serve them anymore. So I really see a correlation with what you've just said and the way that I help people. And it really is about focusing on yourself, isn't it?
Sonia Frontera: Absolutely. Part of going through that divorce process is becoming your best friend. You mentioned earlier that you need support, when we spoke earlier, that support is very important. It is key. You can't go through this without support. But you need to understand that you're not necessarily going to find that support in the places you're going to be looking for it. Right. Sometimes our friends and relatives do not support us on that journey. They may not understand what you're going through. Maybe because they have their own secret agendas, they don't want to break up the couple, and now we're not going to be double dating anymore, or you're going to move away or whatever reasons they may have for not wanting you to break up your relationship. Well, families can be so opposed to a divorce, especially in a conservative culture, that you're not going to get that support. So make yourself your best friend. Find that inner support. Reach out to other people who will be there for you. I believe in therapists and coaches who can be neutral. Third parties who will support you, will listen to you without judgment, a support group. But the most important part in your team is you.
Debra Jones: Yeah. In your book, you talk about after you get clear with, can I stay or should I go? The next part is about getting strong. And that's what we're talking about, isn't it? Building yourself back up again rather than whether you have or whether you haven't felt that you're wounded. There's still a part of you. There's beliefs that have been shattered, for instance, and even the judgment. Nobody goes into a marriage expecting to be divorced. And so we sometimes blame ourselves for making the wrong choice. For instance, I know I've been through a breakup as well, and that was, how stupid could I have been with my inner thoughts to myself, you know, why didn't I see this before? Why did I actually get married? And so there's that self blame piece. What can you talk to about that?
Sonia Frontera: One of the things that I'm really passionate about is debunking the myth of the failed marriage. And that is another social belief that is devastating. And we are taught that if we cannot make a marriage work, we failed. We are failure. And we wear that label long after the divorces are over. It's just the label. Peel it off. There's no such thing as a failed marriage. You have a learning experience again. You and your spouse were in each other's lives for a reason to learn your lessons. Learn your lessons and move on and don't beat yourself up. And it's really funny that even our First Lady, Jill Biden, felt like a failure for her first divorce. I was stunned. But that is something that we carry that has been passed down. I have someone in my family who has divorced and was having problems in her marriage, and there's the mother saying, oh, another failure. And I was in sense I was in sense when my mother talked about my failure. No, no, you haven't failed. You have a cheaper result. You have learned lessons. Divorce is a failure only if you don't learn anything from it.
Debra Jones: That is a really good point. I love that being kind to yourself is part of the way out of it, isn't it? And that's not kind.
Sonia Frontera: Absolutely, yes. And you need to strengthen yourself not only after the divorce. But for me, especially, the important time to strengthen myself was before making that decision. Because I found myself in a toxic relationship. And I had someone chipping away at my self-esteem constantly and my self-worth. And I needed to empower myself to make that decision. A decision I knew was going to be opposed by my own family. So you need to build that strength because otherwise you might backpedal on a decision that is really important for your wellbeing. So you need to be strong enough to accept that you may have picked a partner that was not the right partner for you, but without beating yourself up. And you also need to come to terms with the fact that I need to make a determination. It's my life. It's the rest of my life at stake. How do I want to live my life? Whether you're 25 or 50, you need to make that decision. How do I want to live my life? And feel empowered enough to know that certain things are not acceptable, that certain behaviors between partners are not appropriate, and you should not take them. So you need to empower yourself to get to that point, which was the hardest thing for me, and then how to stay strong throughout the divorce process, which may or may not be extremely difficult. For the most part, it can be difficult, but you need to know that you have the inner strength to get through it. And you're not alone. A lot of people have gone through it. A lot of people have come out on the other side. And it is terrifying. It is terrifying. There's no sugar coating it. But the bottom line is that once it's over, you will look back and you will realize that you might have made the right move and that no matter what you go through, you can pick yourself up and create your life from that point on, from a position of power and create the happiness you deserve. And I have friends and readers - I have a reader who divorced in her sixties and she told me it was her own kids and said to her, mom, you don't have to take it. And she divorced and not so long ago she sent me pictures. She met a wonderful man.
Debra Jones: That's really good to know about these success stories because they're not really accessible to us unless we read somebody's life story. That part of ‘it's never too late for happiness,’ I'm a firm believer in that. And it's never too late as soon as you decide, hey, this is not for me. This is not working for me or for my partner. Because there's part of it that's almost like you might be doing your partner a favor if they couldn't leave the relationship. There needs to be one strong person that's the first person to leave the relationship. What do you say?
Sonia Frontera: Yes. Somebody has to do it. Somebody has to do it. Maybe both parties are unhappy. We turn into old shoes sometimes and we just get so complacent with the familiar and again, that fear of the unknown. What is my life is going to be like in this marriage? It's going to be different, but you don't know how different it's going to be. But I think it's better to just sit down and talk to your partner and you might be on the same page. It's like, you know what? We gave this a good shot and maybe we would be happier if we were friends. You don't necessarily have to make it acrimonious. You can just change the way the relationship is because maybe you could be good friends, but you are not meant to be husband and wife.
Debra Jones: Yeah. So if that is the case, there are some things to be considered and finances and where would you live, all those kinds of things. What other things do we need to consider if we're thinking of leaving the relationship?
Sonia Frontera: The biggies are finances for a lot of people, especially people who are retired or people who have been out of the workforce for a while. And the bottom line is that you can start over at any point in your life. So try to get help, especially if you're not financially literate. I know a lot of women have been raised with the belief that guys should handle the finances and they don't feel comfortable doing that. There are so many opportunities for you to educate yourself. There's so many resources that can help you understand finances better so you can take care of yourself, build wealth. And another important topic is the legal aspects of it. It's important. I'm a divorce lawyer, but I don't consider myself through divorce. But you really need to get an understanding of what's involved because there's a number of moving parts and not having the right counsel can be very costly. You need to understand the law, how it protects you. How would the property be divided? Other aspects of the financials that are important things like Social Security, dividing up the pension, life insurance, health insurance. So you need to work with someone who's going to counsel you on those areas so that you can prepare yourself. Financial advisors are key because they can help you understand how you can maximize your financial position. So you come out of the divorce and it's not going to be the same, but in as good a position as it can be. So you can start creating your life, rebuilding from the best position possible. So surround yourself with professionals who can guide you along the process.
Debra Jones: That's a really good point. So then from your perspective, what would constitute a good fit with a divorce lawyer and what would constitute a bad fit?
Sonia Frontera: And that's a big one you know, one of my chapters is picking the Right Lawyer. Because picking a bad spouse is bad and picking the wrong lawyer is worse because you're going to be in together for a long haul and a rough ride and you need to work well with this person. You need to think of your divorce attorney and you as a team. So you need to find a team member that is compatible with you. And let's say one of the most important things is finding somebody who is conversing in family law, somebody who practices family law and knows the in and out. But another thing that's really key, you can have the best attorney if you're not on the same page it's going to create some problems. Some attorneys are more inclined towards litigation than others. What you want to do when you're divorcing is try to move the case as quickly as you can. Try to settle it so the money goes to the spouses, not to the lawyers. And by trying to get even and just put up a really hard fight with your spouse, you're really hurting not your spouse, you're hurting both of you. So find a lawyer that is on the same page, someone who's settlement minded, who is going to be a strong advocate and represent you strongly, but without dragging you excessively into court. Because sometimes people end up dragging a divorce for many years and then it turns out being very costly, not just financially, but in human terms. So ask the attorney how many of your cases go to trial? Because at least here in New Jersey, where I practice, it is said that about 98% of the cases do not go to trial. Try to cut to the chase and see if you can settle as quickly as you can in a way that is beneficial for both parties. And find an attorney who's respectful to you, who is respectful of your time, somebody who doesn't talk down at you. Because sometimes the attorneys tend to be rough and look down on clients. I don't do that as an attorney, but when I have been a client, I have had attorneys treat me that way. And I find that unacceptable. So try to find somebody who is easy to work with, who is compassionate and caring and do your homework. Ask around. Ask people who have been divorced who live in your area if they were happy with their attorney and try to get some referrals up that way. Word of mouth is the best way to find a good attorney.
Debra Jones: That's great advice. And so once you've gone through, ticked all the boxes and crossed the T's and dotted the I's and the divorce is final, what do we do then?
Sonia Frontera: Start over. Enjoy the ride. I mean, for me those were some of the best years of my life was right after I got divorced. This is your time to shine. This is the time to take care of yourself. When we join a couple, we tend to merge into a couple and very often at the expense of ourselves, at the expense of those things that nurture us, that make us happy, right? We start giving up perhaps an education or a career that was satisfying or activities that we enjoyed and friends and relatives that we like to spend time with, to spend more time pursuing those activities that our partners like. The time to be taking care of yourself is now and actually not after the divorce. Start before the time is right now. Start discovering your passions and your dreams and reignite them. Start at the time when you met your spouse and then start discovering new dreams, new things that would make you happy, perhaps a new career. It's a really excellent time for self discovery. And I have to say I love the story of one of the mediators who practiced in my area. She went through a divorce and it was a mediated divorce and she thought her mediator was terrible and she said to herself I can do better than that. So she decided to become a mediator as a result of her divorce. So you never know where it's going to take you, right? So enjoy the exploration and start. Use your imagination to envision a future that is full of joy and happiness and all of those things that are meaningful to you as opposed to those things that were meaningful to your partner or that you endured for the sake of a partnership.
Debra Jones: Well, that's good advice. So if you were to share the most important message that you want to get out to somebody who is maybe still sitting on the fence, not sure. I know we've talked about an assessment and then taking care of yourself and getting strong and then making the moves towards a happy life, what would you say to that person that is not entirely sure they're able to do that for themselves?
Sonia Frontera: If you're on the fence, really work hard at making that decision because you do not want to be a victim of divorce regret, which is something that according to statistics affects about people who file for divorce. So try to make that decision. If you're having a hard time making that decision on your own, work with someone who can help you. Work with a coach, a therapist, your clergy if you're religious and you don't think you're going to find opposition. Sometimes clergy can be more harmful than good for you. But work with a trusted source, somebody who's going to help you make that decision and ask yourself all the hard questions. Do all that work and see if you can try to work things out with your spouse. And if you can't, you owe it to yourself. Just do it in a way that is kind and start developing an exit strategy. And I think very important is start dreaming, what is it that I would like to do with my life? If I could have my life any way I wanted, what would it be like? Who would be in it? What kinds of activities? What would I be doing? What would a day be like? And then you can start trying to think, is this something where my partner would fit in? Right.
Debra Jones: Yeah. That is so beautiful. It's taking your power back. It's the empowerment piece and then the creation piece. What do I want to create? Because I can create anything I want.
Sonia Frontera: That's right. And it really is about creation. And I especially say that in the financial sense, very often, people get hung up on who gets the house and who gets the car and the boat and whatever other property they're fighting over. Hey, it's about what you create. Start creating now. Because sometimes we get so attached to what other people have or what they don't give us that we just sabotage our own creativity. That tremendous power that we have, let's unleash it to create what we want, not to keep what somebody else has or is supposed to give to me by law or by belief. I like the teachings of Joe Goldsmith, who was a 20th century mystic, and he said, ‘God is my supply. It's not another person.’ And to me, that's the most powerful. When it comes to a divorce situation, your spouse is not your supply. So don't hang on to a spouse over that, because you have the power to create, to be your own supply.
Debra Jones: Thanks for listening. And did you know that positive reviews from listeners like you help me get these messages out into the world? Leave a rating for OWN THE GREY on your podcast, cast app or at www.ownthegrey.ca