As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce” I had the pleasure of interviewing Toni Coleman.
Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC is an internationally recognized psychotherapist, relationship coach, nonverbal communications expert, and divorce mediator with many years of experience working with individuals and couples. Her expertise is frequently sought by local and national publications and top ranked dating and relationship websites and she has been a guest on a number of radio and TV programs. She is the featured relationship coach in “The Business and Practice of Coaching,” (Norton, September 2005); and is the author of the forward for, “Winning Points with the Woman in Your Life, One Touchdown at a Time,” (Simon and Schuster, November 2005). She has authored many articles on dating, relationships, separation and divorce, and divorce recovery that can be found in print magazines and on a number of self- help, personal growth and relationship websites.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like many people, I travelled a long and twisting road to get here. I began working in human services when I was very young, and was tasked to take clients to their therapy appointments. This experience opened my eyes to the need for therapists who could work with challenging clients who had learning and other disorders that created barriers to getting the help they required.
After completing graduate school I ended up working with many different populations, which exposed me to clients who presented a whole range of issues and levels of functioning. Then I entered private practice and found that so many of my clients came in with a presenting problem of anxiety or depression, but these were often connected to a history of relationship problems, loneliness or a recent break-up. I then decided to add coaching, specifically relationship coaching, to my practice — and from there Consum-mate.com was born. After working with couples who had tried everything, yet found divorce was the only real option for them; I was shocked to learn how expensive and acrimonious the process was for many couples, and saw its negative impacts on the whole family. This was when I got trained as a divorce mediator and founded NOVA Divorce Mediation.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
I believe my greatest asset is my depth and breadth of experience, from dating through divorce; with individuals and couples from very diverse racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds and socio-economic groups. I have expertise in everything from relationship readiness, dating, building healthy relationships, addressing relationship problems due to a wide range of reasons, negotiating the separation and divorce process, and healing from divorce and moving on to a satisfying post-divorce life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
A number of years ago, when my coaching practice was fairly new, I got a call from a producer of the Oprah Winfrey show. I had young children then and no baby sitters to deal with unexpected schedule changes. I was asked to send a tape of myself that same day, and I didn’t have one. Interestingly enough I had recently done professional head shots for my website and we discussed making a video, but I had decided to put it off for six months or so, which turned out to be a big mistake. I was not set up to do one myself, knew someone in the business who could do it if I could get there, but no one was available on short notice to cover for me at home. So, I had to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime. I decided it would be a great story to tell my grandchildren.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Crafting an online brand built in large part with the effective use of social media was in its infancy when I began the coaching part of my practice. There was so much to learn and everyone had a different idea about how to best utilize this new tool. I tried to learn everything very quickly, and created accounts on a number of different sites that I wasn’t completely familiar with, and certainly not fluent in using. In the process, I ended up hearing from a number of men who thought I ran a dating site and some who thought I was interested in finding men online. Some of the emails were quite funny, a few a bit creepy — but all told me I needed to pull back, do more learning, and craft a very clear, consistent, and focused approach to marketing my coaching practice. So I slowed down, focused on one thing at a time, and built a strong presence with a clear message.
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
I have actually had this happen on several occasions, and the feedback I got later was that my advice was helpful.
Avoid thinking about or checking on your ex and their new life
This is something that has made the grieving and moving on process following a divorce hard for many of my friends. Social media has made it too easy to check someone’s page and/or the pages of mutual friends for photos or posts that share what an ex is up to, who they are spending time with, and if they are currently dating or in a new relationship. It can become an obsession for an ex to check up on someone this way — and it keeps them stuck and unable to move on and create a happy and thriving post-divorce life. I advise them to unfriend the person and any mutual friends who may be posting a lot of information about their ex, at least temporarily.
Make your physical and mental health a priority
Divorce is a kind of death, the death of a relationship. The recovery centers on moving through the grief process. Since grief brings anger, sadness, and depression, it can be too easy to fall into dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Some examples include utilizing alcohol or other substances to dull the pain, binging on junk food, TV and movies, withdrawing from friends and activities and interests you once enjoyed, and letting other important things go in the process.
What I recommend instead is to schedule time with good friends and family, plan healthy meals, avoid any use of substances to get through the day or night, exercise regularly (with a friend is better), and try to maintain a structured schedule with regular sleep and awake time hours.
Don’t rebound into a new relationship quickly
If you are not over someone, jumping into a new relationship is unfair to the new person as you will likely bring unresolved feelings and old, unhealthy dynamics along with you. It is hard to start anything new when you haven’t closed out the old. This does not mean that you have to wait years, or that you should avoid dating until you feel completely over your ex. What it means is that you should wait until you have enough closure, distance, and perspective to be truly open to a new person, what they offer, and how you two are together — without any lingering feelings from your past relationship casting a cloud over you.
Learn the practice of living in the moment
When you have mastered the art of living in the moment, you have found an important key to happiness. Because when you are truly present in the moment, you gain great clarity regarding your thoughts and feelings, and those insights provide you with clear sight to help you set goals and understand what it is you want and need from your life and any future relationship. It is when we are fully present that we can find out true North, which will guide us on the right path for us.
Set new goals for your future
When a marriage ends, all the shared hopes, dreams, and plans for the future you envisioned together end as well. Once you have grieved for these goals that will never be, it is important to find new goals that will help steer you to a fulfilling single life. If you try to hold on to the old hopes and dreams you will stay stuck in a reality that is no longer yours, and that will keep you from moving forward to something better.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
Jumping back into dating or a relationship too quickly
Make a commitment to not jump back into dating until you have reached a certain milestone in your post-divorce life. Instead, fill your time with meaningful pursuits and passions, time with good friends, and quality, along time with yourself.
Cutting ties with friends you and your spouse had in common
While it might not be possible to remain friends with some old mutual ones; there may be many people who want to remain friends with both of you, and who will not take sides and/or make the recovery process more difficult for you. In fact, good friends are what you need as you move through the divorce recovery process. So, go slowly and weigh your decisions around this carefully.
Avoiding social gatherings and spending too much time alone
Greif can bring the desire to hide out from the world, nursing your wounds in private. Though the feelings are understandable, you should be careful not to indulge them frequently. Some along time is both healthy and therapeutic, but too much is not. Weigh your options, choose gatherings and time with friends carefully, and make sure you are getting out socially at least a couple of times a week to start. Over time and recovery, you can increase this.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
I think books are so useful, and they can be read and reread and referred to as needed. There are many out there that deal with different stages of the divorce and recovery process. Here are some of my top recommendations to my clients, though there are certainly others that are excellent as well.
Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay (Mira Kirschbaum)
This is Me Letting You Go (Heidi Priebe)
How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over (Theo Pauline)
NestorResilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Eric Greitens Navy Seal)
Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead (Brene Brown)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
“A relationship is a marathon, not a sprint. Many celebrate after the first mile, not realizing that the real trials come later. It’s not about how strong you start. It’s about your mental and emotional conditioning to finish the race.” Tony Gaskins
This quote helps to inform us of the reality of not only relationships, but of any long-term, important investments in our lives. There will be ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks. Staying the course with consistent investment and determination is what makes all the difference. Knowing this has helped me to stay the course through many difficult personal and professional challenges, and reap the rewards that have resulted from my commitment.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have been working on a book outline and proposal that is about nonverbal communication, and its importance to relationship happiness and success. The #1 problem cited by couples entering counseling is a “problem with communication.” In my experience, the key to communication lies in reading between a partner’s lines, which is where the true meaning and intent of their words can be found. I believe that if everyone became fluent in nonverbal communication, the divorce rate would go down significantly.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Pre-marital counseling that delves deeply into the realities of commitment, marriage, children, potential lifestyle and financial incompatibilities, challenges of balancing work and home/family demands, and the resulting stress, and overload — and how all of these relate to one another and can damage even the seemingly best relationships. I would encourage everyone considering marriage to participate, and in the process, decide if this is really the right person and relationship for them.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Michelle Obama. She is an inspiration, not just because she is an ex-First Lady, and is accomplished, intelligent, and influential. But because she is so real, has a solid grasp on who she is and what she believes, and candidly shares her story to help others. She doesn’t go along with what is popular or political, instead she speaks from her heart, telling it like it is — and what she shares resonates with women everywhere.