The kids will be just fine. The term “broken home” is offensive because it indicates that the post-divorce home life is dysfunctional…..actually, it was the marriage and the home life created under that structure that was broken and dysfunctional. Divorce can lead to more stability for the kids due to fewer parental arguments in the home (make sure any disagreements with your ex take place privately). Besides, suppose a divorce resulted from the mental illness or substance abuse on the part of one parent. In that case, the other parent can likely provide a stable, consistent home environment. Don’t be afraid to seek out counseling for them (and yourself) if it is needed. There are lots of resources out there.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Laura Ellick. She is an NY and FL Licensed Psychologist with almost 20 years of experience working with children, teens, and adults with issues such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, medical illnesses.
She is a speaker, life coach, and business consultant, and has been featured on TV/video channels speaking about mental health issues.
She works with VIP clients, athletes, and performers from around the country. Her first book, Total Wellness for Mommies, is available on amazon.com.
Her second book, Wisdom from the Universe, releases June 2020.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was raised on Long Island, NY, in an upper-middle-class family in a reasonably sheltered town. There was very little diversity (cultural or otherwise) in my world, which sparked a life-long interest in travel, learning foreign languages, and observing how other cultures live. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s when parents still sat out on lawn chairs in the driveway and had a drink together at “Happy Hour” while the kids played outside. We roamed freely, as long as we came home at night when the streetlights came on. Despite the chaos of the ’80s, the drug wars, the war against HIV/AIDS, and other wars, I felt safe and secure in my town.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Since I couldn’t be the Bionic Woman, my very earliest career goal was to be a teacher and live in Ojai, CA, just like her character on TV. As I got older, I realized that what I was really drawn to was making people, especially children, who are hurting feel better. At the time, I debated working in an orphanage or with abused and neglected children. I had no idea about the terms “social worker” or “psychologist” until later. When I went away to college and found that 6 out of 18 girls in my freshman hall had or had previously fought eating disorders, I was intrigued. By the end of my freshman year, I wound up developing a severe eating disorder. After seeking help, I was convinced that I had found my calling. The one class that never felt like “work” was going to study Psychology. I was fascinated by all of the topics and frequently read ahead the class textbooks to see what new nugget of knowledge was coming next. After graduating from college, I was excited to start my training.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I had the opportunity to work with many people from different walks of life and got to use my foreign language skills (Spanish, French, and Portuguese) that I had developed in college. One of the most exciting stories from my training involved my work in the psychiatric prison unit. To hear the prison doors, click behind you, and to know that you are potentially at risk if the guards are not quick enough to help you was eye-opening. Of course, there were no office spaces or closed doors behind which we could have sessions. It’s the only time in my life that I have conducted therapy in a wide-open prison bathroom!!! Although I was meeting with a prisoner who had tried to kill his girlfriend, I was quite surprised at his capacity to experience other emotions besides rage. When my supervisor let me know that this client had expressed worry about me because I had been out sick and missed our session, I knew I had connected with someone that other people had described as “emotionless.” This experience opened my eyes to the possibility that people can experience healing and relationship with others, no matter what has happened in their past.
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?
When I was in training, I was frequently at a loss for words when my clients would do things that were just so out of the ordinary. For example, I saw one woman who came from an Island country who was determined that I should date her nephew. One day, while on a phone session with her, she suddenly put her nephew on the phone to speak to me and set up a date! I was definitely flustered, but I learned to expect the unexpected and always be mindful of boundaries! Also, I learned about cultural sensitivity, as well. Because this woman liked me so much, she would have been honored to have me as part of her family. In her culture, setting me up with her nephew was a compliment and a way to make sure that I was taken care of as well!
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I have learned so many lessons along the way, but I am a huge fan of the quote, “Nothing is ever out of reach” (Hafiz). My entire life, I have been told that certain things were just not possible, like:
– “Most people don’t recover from eating disorders,”
– “It’s harder to get into grad school for Psychology than for Med School.”
– “You should pick another route.”
– “People don’t open their own businesses until they have years of experience.”
I have learned to ignore the nay-sayers because, at every single roadblock, I could either blast through or find a way around. I learned that sometimes, to go from A to C, you have to go around B and detour a little bit, but you will definitely get to C if you don’t give up.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
More recently, I have become more invested in listening to my intuition and learning to serve more clients through group coaching.
My most recent book, Wisdom from the Universe, is a journal book of quotations that came from my intuitive communication with “The Universe.” I am really excited to be going out and doing book signings where I can talk to as many people as possible and hear their stories. I’m thrilled about my new website (www.lauraellick.com) and the writing I’m going to be doing as part of a collaboration with The Wellness Universe on a book about self-care. I am committed to bringing help to as many people as possible and making it easy to find. My new program, “Peace and Love for Kids,” fulfills my long-ago dream of helping children in pain or in crisis.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?
Getting divorced was the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking experience I have ever had to go through. I can honestly say that I tried my absolute best to save a marriage that probably shouldn’t have happened in the first place. It was 6 weeks after my wedding when I realized that I was not going to be able to count on my husband for emotional or functional support, but it took me 13 years, a couple of false starts, and 3 children before I could muster the strength to leave. It has not been easy, and I made a LOT of mistakes in my haste to get things settled and done to move on. I lost out financially by not being a good advocate for myself and wanting to make things “nice and pleasant” for everyone around me. I wanted so badly to make things “ok” for the kids that I didn’t stand up for my rights in terms of money, time with the kids, shared personal property, etc. I was woefully unprepared and uneducated about mediation and divorce and would now always recommend that someone have an agreement reviewed by a neutral third-party lawyer. I wound up, falling into horrific debt and causing myself years of stress, anxiety, and tears. It is now 6 years after my separation/divorce, and I am STILL in a financial bind because of those long-ago decisions. I’ve done a lot of work to see how things could have gone so wrong.
My ex and I were together for 3 years before we got married and even lived together. Looking back on my dating experience with my ex was valuable in my growth because I could finally see the “red flags” I had missed when I was caught up in the excitement of our relationship. We were definitely mismatched in terms of personality styles, although we shared essential values like family, honesty, good work ethic. When I went back into the dating world, I was armed with more knowledge about what I needed in a relationship instead of focusing on pleasing the other person and being what HE needed. I still have to be very careful when I interact with my ex to make sure I do not fall into the same pattern of just doing what he wants because it’s easier than arguing. He’s also very good at getting his needs met first and foremost, so I have to establish clear boundaries and remind myself that I do not need to make him happy anymore. Although this has been such a tough experience, I am happy to report that my kids are thriving…I am reassured that they see me as a role model in terms of bouncing back from adversity, and they consider my new husband and me to be the “ideal couple.” While we always remind the kids that no relationship is perfect, I do know that I am giving them a better idea of how a partnership should work (something they would not have gotten had their father and I stayed together). I continue to heal and rebound daily, but I feel empowered and know that my life finally belongs to me.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
Throughout my career ups and downs, I wound up getting married and having 3 children. My children are the light of my life; however, I soon realized that maybe I hadn’t married the right person for me. It’s really amazing how easy it is to ignore “red flags.” I had one “false start” where my ex and I had planned to separate but decided to give it one more try. But in 2014, after years of trying and failing, my husband and I did separate. I have made multiple mistakes along the way, so my goal is to share what I know, hoping that someone else will not do what I did and will wind up having a smoother experience.
I don’t think that divorce is automatically “bad” that the home is “broken,” or that children will necessarily suffer from having divorced parents. Children need stability, comfort, and happy parents. If parents are fighting or there is constant stress in the household, the children will suffer. Besides, children learn about relationships and marriage from their parents. Suppose parents are in a dysfunctional relationship, a turbulent relationship, coldness, and withdrawal. In that case, children are not learning what real marriage and partnership are, and they are at risk for repeating the same patterns in their own partnerships. I became much closer to my children because I wasn’t distracted by my marital issues, and I could focus on each child and his/her needs.
As my kids have gotten older, they’ve also been able to establish independent relationships with their father and me. They have been able to learn about our strengths and challenges as individuals.
People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?
Despite the financial hit I have taken and the difficulties I have had with rebounding, I had to move to Florida because I could no longer afford to live in New York, I have become a better version of myself. I cannot even imagine still being married to my ex. I would not have been able to grow as a person, have many adventures and experiences given the status of my relationship. I have thrived in an environment where I make my own decisions and take responsibility for my actions. I have been able to do volunteer work at a neurological clinic in Ecuador, rebuild and rebrand my business, and put a new book out. I have not had to worry about asking my spouse for “permission” to do any of these things. I have been able to enhance my life and the life of others by leaning in fully to my life. That’s not to say that others would be unable to do this while married. Due to my particular relationship with my ex, I WAS UNABLE to do these things because I never really had a partnership in the first place. As a result, my confidence in myself and in my own competence has grown exponentially. With all of the traveling I have done, I now know that I am savvy, an excellent problem solver, and I never panic in a crisis, like when I witnessed a mob in Ecuador capturing and holding a thief until the police came.
Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?
I was very open to dating and meeting new people after I separated because I had been so lonely and isolated in my marriage. I was convinced I would never get married again, more on that later, but I wanted to learn more about myself and how I had wound up in a pattern of repeatedly attracting the same type of guy that I had wound up marrying. Dating from that perspective, rather than from a need to find someone so that I wouldn’t be alone, made the dating experience more fun. I met some incredible people, some odd people, some fun people, but I also discovered that I have more aspects and angles to my own personality than I ever thought. Be open to dating people that you would never have before because you might just make a new friend or discover a new passion! I never knew how important it was for me to live near the water until I dated a couple of men who owned boats and lived close to the beach.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. 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?
In no particular order, here are my five most valuable pieces of advice for someone who is in the process of divorcing:
1. There is no timeline for recovery…even if you were the one to initiate the divorce, expect to have mixed feelings and mourn the loss of the relationship. Getting divorced means the death of specific dreams such as: buying that retirement property together, taking care of each other as you grow older, visiting grandkids together. I still have moments when I am sad that we don’t have Christmas morning as a family anymore. I’ve had to let go of some dreams to make new ones.
2. You will lose people you thought were your friends. There is a tendency for “couple friends” to take sides in a divorce, so the wife of your husband’s best friend may not be so willing to go shopping with you anymore, even if the divorce was not initiated by you. Sometimes, couples feel threatened by divorced individuals because a divorce can spotlight their own marriage (and its imperfections). I have heard lots of gossip about me and about my divorce, and I’ve had to cut off friendships with unsupportive individuals, but the last thing someone going through a divorce needs is negativity. It’s natural for each ex to “get custody” of certain friends. This will allow you to meet more people who are in your situation.
3. You will be awed by your newfound freedom. People who are divorced will often say that the loneliness they feared would follow never did. In my practice, I’ve had both men and women tell me that they love not having to “report” to anyone about their comings and goings. Women, especially, will often report that they feel a sense of relief to no longer have to do a lot of the household chores that fell to them or that they are happy that they can do things on their own time frame.
4. The kids will be just fine. The term “broken home” is offensive because it indicates that the post-divorce home life is dysfunctional…..actually, it was the marriage and the home life created under that structure that was broken and dysfunctional. Divorce can lead to more stability for the kids due to fewer parental arguments in the home (make sure any disagreements with your ex take place privately). Besides, suppose a divorce resulted from the mental illness or substance abuse on the part of one parent. In that case, the other parent can likely provide a stable, consistent home environment. Don’t be afraid to seek out counseling for them (and yourself) if it is needed. There are lots of resources out there.
5. This is your chance for a do-over. Hopefully, you take something out of the relationship that was a meaningful learning experience. Maybe you’ve decided that you don’t want to get married again or that you are unsure about dating because you want to focus on your job. This is your time to re-evaluate what’s important to you, set some goals, and get yourself back on track without a troubled relationship distracting you. Take your time and learn about yourself….you may be surprised at what you find out! I never thought I would get married again, but I went and did it in 2019, but I am in this relationship with an open mind and an open heart. This is completely possible for you too!
The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?
Give yourself the time to experience your emotions in all of their fullness and messiness. You will likely feel angry, sad, hurt, maybe even jealous when your ex starts dating. I came out of my divorce feeling emotionally battered and bruised, and just so exhausted. It’s essential to seek out a support group or a therapist to help you process your emotions. It may be that you and your children attend some sessions to help them cope with changes and work on building a new family unit. When kids are in the picture, it’s even more important to have a safe place to work on your own feelings so that they don’t spill out in front of the children (badmouthing their other parent is never a good idea). Also, be ok with being happy, even if your kids are not. Ultimately, you made the best decision for both you and them, and it’s critical for children to have happy parents.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
Due to my own past experiences in relationships, I found great support by reading books like The Gaslight Effect (Robin Stern) or Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex (Amy J.L. Baker and Paul R. Fine).
When I couldn’t find a support group, I started my own. There are definitely options, now that we are so connected by social media.
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. 🙂
One of my goals is to help people recognize that they all need to use their voice to prevent being taken advantage of in relationships (including workplace and professional relationships). Setting boundaries and being able to say “No” are skills that we need to be teaching our children from a young age. While I recognize that fathers do a lot of parenting these days, I truly believe that “Empowered women raise empowered women.”
It is particularly important to teach our daughters to become vocal, insightful and determined women. I would never want my daughter to have to go through what I have gone through over the course of my life, and I hope I have given her the skills she needs so that she doesn’t ever have to.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
While I hope that readers can learn from my experience, I have to give thanks to the individuals who have kept me going through their writing, speaking, or music. There are so many people with whom I would love to gather around the table for an exchange of ideas: Oprah because she is Oprah! In addition, she knows all about taking adversity and turning it into a learning experience. She is also a champion for women, and we definitely need more like her. I would love to have a sit down with Eminem — he is a controversial figure due to his lyrics, but he is also a prime example of the ability to use music as a coping skill so that he doesn’t act on his negative, destructive thoughts. Who doesn’t want to have breakfast with the US Women’s Soccer team? They have shown determination and grit in their desire to win not only the game but also pay equality for women (and, as a past soccer player myself, I never had the opportunities that these women have had!). Let each guest bring their own guest so we can have a roundtable of individuals committed to doing things differently, and let’s inspire change!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.