Create a bucket list and start fulfilling it. I loved to travel, so I went to other states and counties I found interesting and exotic. I went to East Africa and volunteered there. I went to Egypt after that. Then Mongolia. I grabbed my best friend, who would one day introduce me to my now fiancé, and we backpacked across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. And when I was home in the states, I went to vineyards, visited friends in other states, and went to cities and national parks I’d always wanted to visit. The worse thing I could’ve done was stay home and dwell on my losses. And now, because of all my diverse experiences, it’s turned me into a better person and even a better writer for the novels I’ve created.
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 James Russell Lingerfelt. He has a BA in Marriage and Family Counseling from Auburn University. His blog on relationships has garnered over 6 million views at JamesRussell.org. He’s authored numerous novels of hero journeys with strong romantic storylines, found at Barnes&Noble, Books–A–Million, and Amazon.
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?
After being raised on a farm in a town of 900 people, reputation is everything. I ventured into the cities and traveled to other countries after that and learned people are pretty much the same everywhere. We all want peace, happiness, wealth, but we have different ideas on how to attain those things.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was told in high school by people that they felt like they could tell me anything. But I enjoyed listening to them because I learned things about them, but I also discovered that my problems weren’t as severe as I thought. I’ve always had a curious mind, especially about what leads people to do what they do. That’s what took me down the path of psychology and counseling.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I’ve had people from all over the world write me, some even called, and said my writings saved their marriage or helped them through difficult times. I’ve talked two people out of committing suicide. I just kept reminding them of the people who’d feel guilt for not being able to save them. Namely one of their parents. “Who in your life loves you? You do realize that person is going to blame themselves, don’t you?” Both times, they never thought about that.
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?
People can be very sensitive to gender stereotypes and norms. For example, never refer to a woman as a “girl.” Don’t hint that a man might only want sex or a woman might only want a man with money. I don’t hint at the picture of a woman cooking and cleaning for a man while she works full time, or a man letting a woman tell him what to do just to keep peace in the house. I try to be respectful of people’s triggers while writing truthful and realistic content that would help anyone who reads it, no matter their nationality or ethnicity.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Do things right and do the right things, never do anything you know is wrong, and before you make a major decision, ask, “Is this wise?”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’ve written three novels. People tell me the examples the characters set for them as they go through heartbreak and life, that the lessons really help them. My fourth novel will be released next year, and then a fifth one the year after that. They’re already written but it takes timing and strategy to release them.
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?
Let’s work with helping people as their experiencing divorce and life after divorce. One must navigate and cope with extreme emotional pain while balancing all the other facets of life. People outside my inner circle, and my colleagues and bosses at work, they don’t know or care about my misery. I’m expected to show up and do my duty. My circle of friends will change. People I thought were my friends, I’ll learn that they don’t care about me as much as I thought. For example, your buddy Larry’s wife is friends with your ex-wife. Now that you’re divorced, you don’t see Larry as much. Because his wife doesn’t want him to hang out with you, so he distances himself without telling you because he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. You’ve lost enough, already, he knows. But he wants to appease his wife. But if Larry cared about you as much as you thought… Larry could tell his wife she isn’t allowed to tell him who he can and can’t hang out with. You see? Then there’s separating possessions and financial accounts, the awkwardness of family on her side who liked you, family on your side who liked her, both sides knowing the marriage failed and the shame and guilt you feel. They’ll never understand what happened because it’s not black and white. No one thing led you two through divorce. All sorts of events, reactions, mechanics led you two to that place where the only way out was separating.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
We let emotions be our guide instead of reasonable, rational, and logical thinking. Find trusted friends with good common sense who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. If I want to react to something that happens, I bounce it off them and see if it’s okay. Because you’re not thinking reasonably, rationally, and logically. You’re thinking emotionally. And once you say and do something, you can’t take it back. And in the world of social media, that word will spread quick. And it won’t take its context with it. It’ll be standalone content and you can no longer control where it goes from there.
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?
If there’s abuse or you’re absolutely miserable and it’s either leave or fight to your death… well, leaving and filing for divorce is the better option, isn’t it? The problem with our world is that most of us are broken. But what if instead of being broken we were happy? If we’re not hurting ourselves or other people, shouldn’t happiness be our goal? Well, let’s make happiness our goal. We’re all broken at some point in our lives so it’s our responses that lead us to healing and finding happiness. During our period of times of brokenness, we have to treat others the way we wish to be treated. If we all did that, the world, for the most part, would be a much safer one.
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?
Here’s what I told trusted friends a few years following my first heartbreak. I waited 5 years before I was ready to date someone again. 5 years. “I’m open to dating again. So please keep your ears and eyes open for me. But if you wouldn’t set them up with your kid brother, I don’t want to meet them.” 8 months later, my best friend’s wife introduced me to one of her best friends. We’ve been dating almost 3 years now, we’re engaged, and will be married next year. I didn’t use dating apps or try to meet women at parties or pubs. I went through friends. I wanted a village to vouch for her character before being introduced to her.
What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?
How am I responding emotionally, thus with my body and words, when things don’t go the way I believe they should? Because that’s the largest component of getting along with other people.
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?
1 – Go to a licensed counselor. I needed someone who’d seen and heard it all when it came to relationships and had been professionally trained in their counsel. Two years after my heartbreak, I went to one. And I found more healing in 3 days than I had in 2 years because after hearing my story and confirming what he heard, he gave me mental exercises to perform. It was like a doctor giving my prescription pills for a cold I’d been trying to remedy myself for years. Within days, I was feeling better.
2 – Find something you can invest your time into that’s bigger than yourself. I did a lot of volunteer work and met a lot of people who were experiencing far worse things than myself. Not only did it build empathy and sympathy for others but it helped heal my soul. If you can help others in the areas where your heartache is, even better. For example, if you lost your home, volunteer to help with the homeless. If you were being abused, volunteer to help with people who have been abused.
3 – Create a bucket list and start fulfilling it. I loved to travel, so I went to other states and counties I found interesting and exotic. I went to East Africa and volunteered there. I went to Egypt after that. Then Mongolia. I grabbed my best friend, who would one day introduce me to my now fiancé, and we backpacked across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. And when I was home in the states, I went to vineyards, visited friends in other states, and went to cities and national parks I’d always wanted to visit. The worse thing I could’ve done was stay home and dwell on my losses. And now, because of all my diverse experiences, it’s turned me into a better person and even a better writer for the novels I’ve created.
4 – Surround yourself with people who say kind things to you and treat you with respect. Limit your time with people, even family members, who drain you. One of the hardest things, at first, was cutting down the time I spent with people (who were toxic or emotionally draining) I considered to be close to me. But over time, I found more peace and healing in doing so. Just understanding this and knowing who needs to be limited in their time spent with you, you’ve already won half the battle. Now, put it into action.
5 – Make sure you’re healed enough and like yourself enough… before trying to date again. If I tried to date my fiancé before I was ready to date her, as elementary as this sounds, it wouldn’t have worked. How can I give water from my glass if I’m thirsty? How can I give someone food if I’m starving? If I’m a physician, I must care for myself before I can care for patients. It’s self-care. It’s not selfish. Let me say that again. It’s self-care. It’s not selfish. And if I’m healed and I can lead with a good head on my shoulders, and I can express love without wanting anything in return… maybe then I’m ready to date again.
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?
We can’t well on the loss or blame ourselves. It’s healthy to try to understand where we went wrong and what we could have done better. But it besoms unhealthy when we condemn ourselves. We did the best we could with the knowledge we had. Let’s learn from this and do better in current and future relationships. Practice the 5 points above where we attend licensed counseling, find something bigger than ourselves to invest ourselves in, fulfill bucket list items, stay surrounded by supportive and affirming people, and make sure we really are ready before dating again.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
No, and let me tell you why. This is a very personal traumatic experience. It needs to be tailored to you. That’s why it’s so important to visit a licensed counselor. The stories and emotions and feedback and advice exchanged in those meetings will be pure gold for you. Will you let go of your pride that you need some help and just go? Believe me, there’s nothing he or she hasn’t already heard before when it comes to relationships. Yours won’t be unique.
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. 🙂
What about a reality show on the internet where different people share their stories of how they found healing?
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 🙂
I would share a meal with Gary Vaynerchuk. I think that would be a great experience.
Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!