Joanie Winberg never lost sight of what mattered most in the midst of her divorce. At the time, her children were 9 and 12, and while no one person or specialist told her to put their needs first, she intuitively realized that being the best mom she could be would make for happier children -- children who grow up to become adults who are capable of having loving relationships.
This big-picture approach to divorce made a lasting difference for Winberg and her children, who are now grown with children of their own. It has also made a difference for the hundreds of men and women she counsels individually, through "The Divorce View" weekly talk show and her group programs, on how to emotionally and financially survive divorce.
Sharp: I'm so impressed that at a time of high emotion you had the vision to look to the future. How did you do it?
Winberg: I asked myself two questions: What did I want my kids to remember when they are in their 30s and home for the holidays? And, did I really want them to see Mom and Dad tearing each other apart? These straightforward questions helped me and have helped many of the women I counsel.
Sharp: What led you to becoming a divorce coach?
Winberg: Back in 1995 (when I got divorced), divorce coaches and mentors did not exist. Therapy and family counseling was the only support option. After working with a family counselor preceding and after my divorce, I became frustrated because all we talked about was the past. My husband and I had been married 20 years, and it was time to move on. I needed tools to advance my life and tools to help me become the best mom possible. I knew that I couldn't be the only divorced mom feeling this frustration, so that's what propelled me to become a coach. Terrific as my counselor was, she just didn't offer the strategies to help me greet the future. One of my clients put it like this, "My therapist helps me with the past, but Joanie is the one with the tools to move me forward."
Sharp: What's changed today?
Winberg: Deep stigmas surrounding divorce still exist. Let's be honest: married couples treat the divorced person differently. Perhaps with the best of intentions, they don't invite divorced friends to couples' events. I have a client who bristled at filling out a credit application. "Why should I have to check off single or divorced?" she asked. "I'm single. So be it." The point is . . . unless you've been divorced, you can't possibly understand the complexity of emotions.
Sharp: What are the must-dos when considering divorce?
Winberg: Always, always contact a financial adviser before you file for divorce. You simply have to understand the big picture. You need to gather documentation on 401(k)s, bank accounts, investments, property holdings, and anything else that has asset information. I've seen a lot of people make the mistake of going into attack mode before they've really planned accordingly.
Sharp: Tell us about your groups on your coaching program, How to Emotionally and Financially Survive a Divorce.
Winberg: This is a jam-packed, four-session coaching program with only eight women per group, plus me. Women learn the formula to build better relationships, how to communicate with confidence and negotiate with ease, and strategies for feeling heard and understood. We also teach practical tools about how to gain stronger credit and other financial necessities.
Sharp: So what are those "emotional" secrets no one talks about?
Winberg: I train women to understand personality styles. That's the key to understanding your partner/ex-partner and your children. You have to recognize people's strengths and weaknesses, and meet them in the middle. A client of mine was married to a very overpowering guy; he was a bully, and even though she was quite timid, he pushed her so hard that she'd explode. And then he berated her all the more. My client was so stressed out that she'd lost her confidence. Here they were about to go to court, and she was terrified to repeat the same pattern. I helped her recognize her ex's consummate need for control and how staying quiet and disengaging was a better strategy. She did that and wouldn't you know her ex became enraged in court, making a spectacle of himself in front of the judge. Because of her actions, my client was able to gain split custody of her children instead of potentially losing them as she'd feared.
By the way, when it comes time to date again, understanding personality styles will also help you avoid dating the same type of person you just divorced.
Sharp: Good point. So when should you begin to date again?
Winberg: This should be a very conscious decision. Never jump into dating because of loneliness or family pressure. Can you stay home on a weekend night and watch a movie without feeling sad or sorry for yourself? That's usually a good barometer.
For more information about Joanie Winberg, her coaching programs, or "The Divorce View" weekly talk show, visit Fresh Start After Divorce.