Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and author of On The Road From Heartbreak To Happiness. At DivorceForce, we are most impressed by Karen’s commitment and solutions helping people affected by divorce. We think you will find her story and advice most inspirational in the interview with her that follows:
DivorceForce: Before we get into some of your advice for the DivorceForce Community, can you share some of your background as it relates to your personal and professional experiences related to divorce?
Karen Finn: My original training is in chemical engineering and I had a very successful career as an engineer for several years.
When I got divorced my entire world changed. I struggled to make sense of my new life, my new responsibilities and my new way of looking at the world. It wasn’t easy for me despite all of the support I surrounded myself with. I kept waiting for someone or something to have “the answer” to how I could feel normal and even happy again. Slowly, I came to realize that my marital status wasn’t the only thing in my life that needed to change.
I had been living my life according to what I thought were the generally accepted rules about how to live life instead of my personal rules about what made my life worth living. BIG difference. But when I finally allowed myself to discover what was important to me I realized that my job didn’t quite fit and I began searching for greater career fulfillment.
For three years following my divorce, I tried a few different ventures within the engineering world. But as I finished healing, I realized I didn’t want to be an engineer anymore. I wanted to help people – people like me who found themselves struggling with divorce and an uncertainty about how to set their lives right again (or maybe for the first time as I did).
So after careful consideration of what was right for me, I enrolled in a coaching program and began my divorce coaching practice. And, as a result, I’ve been researching, teaching, writing and coaching about divorce ever since.
What makes me most happy is knowing that along the way I’ve helped hundreds of people – some to save their marriages and others to begin their next chapter and still others to begin new relationships that are built to last. As you can probably tell, I absolutely love helping people.
DivorceForce: In the paper “Contemplating Divorce? Here’s What You Need to Know,” you provide an exhaustive list of things people encounter progressing through a divorce. Can you group together key themes of challenges people affected by divorce face?
Karen Finn: Of course, I’d be happy to. I think of all divorce challenges as falling primarily into one of 5 basic categories: Social, Emotional, Legal, Financial and Functional. I tell people they can remember these categories by remember to take care of their SELFF.
The Social category covers things like how friendships and family relationships change during divorce, how the relationships with an ex and children change, and even dating and remarriage not only for yourself, but for your ex as well.
The Emotional category deals with the grief process that people experience with divorce – the anger, the loneliness, the self-doubt, the fear, the depression, the pain. It’s all of the stuff that can make you feel like you don’t even know who you are at times.
The Legal category contains all of the legal things required to be divorced – all the way from choosing the method you’ll use to divorce (yes, there’s more than one way), to negotiating the agreement, to filing modifications, to even taking your ex back to court.
The Financial category is all about assets and debts – not just money. It’s about how you’ll equitably divide these during the divorce and it’s also about how you’ll be supporting yourself (and your kids) moving forward.
Finally, the Functional category covers the changes in how you live your life and the new roles, rules, rituals, and responsibilities you now have. This category is one that most people overlook as just something that happens naturally, but the more consciously someone addresses this category, the faster they can move forward with their life.
Now, this is an easy way to think about divorce and make it a bit more manageable, but the truth is that very few of the challenges people face when divorcing fall neatly into only one of the categories. So what is usually most useful is to start with the primary category and then ask which of the others are involved. By doing this, it can become easier to tackle each challenge because it’s no longer just some amorphous blob that needs to be dealt with.
DivorceForce: As I read through your list of “divorce issues,” it becomes obvious that divorce can be (and usually is) overwhelming for the individual going through it. What are some high-level suggestions you have for people to help them strengthen their inner self and well-being?
Karen Finn: Let me give you three different ideas for people to start strengthening their inner self and well-being.
The first suggestion is to realize they’re not alone and that’s one of the reasons I like DivorceForce so much. It’s a great community for people to find other people who are facing divorce and take comfort in not being alone.
The second is to build your support network with people who have been through divorce themselves and have successfully healed from it. I emphasize this because although people who haven’t dealt with divorce personally may have a huge heart for helping they just won’t quite get what divorce is and how profoundly it impacts your life.
The third is to nurture yourself every day. Divorce up-ends your world. Nothing is quite the way it was and all of this change can be traumatic. You’re dealing with a lot and the only way to continue to deal with a lot is to make sure you’re taking really good care of you. Do your best to eat nutritious meals, get enough sleep, take breaks from everything and everyone, and remind yourself that you love you.
DivorceForce: Divorce is not easy on anyone. Everyone has increased stress in his or her lives. But are there any warning signs that an individual is having extreme difficulty adjusting and needs professional help or is it just a matter of “time heals wounds”?
Karen Finn: Oh my gosh, you’ve hit on one of my pet peeves. No, time does not heal all wounds. If time healed all wounds, you’d never ever hear of a person who got divorced 25 years ago and is still bitter about it. (I know we’ve all at least heard stories of these people.) You have to be purposeful in how you use your time. You have to be self-aware and know when to ask for more help. For example, a fleeting thought of suicide is fairly typical when you’re going through a divorce, but if it’s more than that, seek help immediately. Or if you’re having difficulty sleeping for more than a week and you’ve tried all kinds of things to help you sleep, you need to talk with your doctor. And if you’re just not sure if what you’re experiencing is normal ask a professional ASAP.
DivorceForce: Is there one common issue for people navigating divorce or does each divorce scenario create its own set of complications? Are the challenges a person faces more about the scenario they go through or how they react to different situations?
Karen Finn: There are definitely some common issues for people navigating divorce because, at its heart, divorce is about grief recovery and dealing with change in general. However, each person experiences grief differently, faces different situations and naturally responds differently to change and challenges. As I found out when I went through my own divorce recovery, there’s no one answer out there that can tell someone exactly what they have to do when to make it through their divorce. The biggest job for the individual dealing with divorce is to figure out what’s most important to them and then find the support and resources they need.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and author of On The Road From Heartbreak To Happiness. She helps people deal with the stress and pain of divorce. Karen has recently published a most helpful paper titled “Contemplating Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know.” You can get a free copy of the paper at her website here. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at [email protected] for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.