Slow & Steady. This one is probably one of the most important tips of all. Take time to breathe, take time to reflect, take time to make decisions about what you want your future to look like. When I first went through my divorce I was 43 years old. For the first time I was learning who I was but to be honest I was worried if I would one day find someone who would want to be with me. But what I learned was there is plenty of time because there are plenty of other singles out there looking for love as well. So take it slow and steady.
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 Jennifer Robinson. She is a self-taught artist, the founder of Butterfly Beauties Co. and the author of “Butterfly Beauties ~ A Journal of Hope & Healing”. Her artistry and work are inspired by her past experiences with divorce and mental health where she now uses her illustrations and poetry to empower other women and remind them of their true inner strength and beauty. Jennifer is happily remarried to her best friend Steve and they have a loving blended family of 6 kids.
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? Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am the middle child and the only girl in my family amongst two brothers. I grew up with a devoted Dad who worked a lot and a loving Mom who stayed home to raise us. Our life consisted of spending many hours outside when you only had to be home “before the lights came on”. These former childhood experiences were a wonderful way to build resilience and learn about life through mistakes and trials. But for someone like me, who was quiet and sensitive I didn’t venture too far from home. In fact, I was content to stay in my room and converse with my stuffed animals or playhouse with my animal friends in our backyard. I had a cat named KC, with whom I would dress up in doll clothes and take for walks in the stroller and I spent hours in the backyard with my Barbie house filled with toads as opposed to Barbie dolls (yes I said toads!). Those were some of my fun childhood memories. I was that quirky sensitive kid and it wasn’t until grade 8 when we were asked to write a children’s book that I found my voice in writing and drawing. This was about the same time when I started to journal my feelings and discovered a world of creative expression for my sensitive self.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I have met many women who have come to talk to me at various vendor shows while I was selling my healing journals. One time a woman approached me very slowly and quietly flipped through one of my books. She was shaky but curious and looked at every page. Then finally she turned to me and asked how I came to create this journal book. I told her my story of healing from a 19-year marriage and working through my fears and low self-worth. She then proceeded to tell me how today was the 1 year anniversary of the day her family escaped from a cult. She talked about the fear, the control and the oppression and I hung on her every word. I felt all her emotions pierce my heart. When we were done talking, she quietly thanked me and we hugged. Meeting that woman helped me to be more open in realizing that you never know what someone else’s story is and what they may be going through. When I’m having a down day I think of all the women I’ve met who have struggled and survived.
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 first began to learn about the publishing world I was overwhelmed at the amount of little details involved. But I was determined to figure it out and get my book up onto Amazon. I had put so much of myself into the healing journal and I wanted other women to feel the love I had put into it. I wasn’t about to let the technical glitches beat me. After numerous technical errors, and upload after upload my book was repeatedly rejected. I was about to upload the book for the 10th time to Amazon’s portal and with fists clenched I shouted at the Universe to stop testing me and to darn well let this 10th revision of my book pass all the markers. I hit the upload button and my heart sang when I saw all the green checkmarks accepting my book! I was so full of joy! I patiently waited over the week for the printed copy to arrive at my doorstep. 6 days later I frantically ripped open the package to reveal my beautiful masterpiece! It was finally finished! I sank to the floor and curled up with my dog as I slowly leafed through the beautiful pages. I couldn’t contain my smile. The cover was beautiful, the affirmations were inspiring, the illustrations were heartfelt… until… the 2nd last page of the book. One of my illustrations was upside down! I cried big tears of frustration. Then I picked myself back up and sat back at my computer once more. I looked up into the Universe and shook my head but I knew what I had to do. I realized this healing journal wasn’t about me anymore. It was about them. It was for the women who needed to hear the message of hope and healing. And yes, the book successfully uploaded on that 11th attempt.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I first began my journey of finding myself I was still married, severely depressed, numb to any of life’s pleasures and desperately looking for anyone or anything to help me climb my way out.
My doctor had been working with me for some time with various medications to help me cope but eventually referred me to a psychiatrist for additional help. During the year or so I spent with my psychiatrist we found a medication that helped me start to see the light again. One day while sitting in her office I asked her if I would ever be able to be off of the meds and still function in a healthy way. She smiled and nodded and said “with some big life adjustments and some mindful mental health practices” that I may be able to live a life without my meds.
Then she handed me a brochure for an 8 week class of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction — created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn). That was my first introduction to mindfulness and the beginning of a whole new life for me. And it was also the first time I heard that quote. Now anytime I am feeling stressed from the guilt of past mistakes or the anxiety of an unknown future I remember this quote.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently working on a new Self-love Journal for female teens. It will be filled with poetry, journaling pages, colouring pages and affirmations with a focus on Self-love, Self-talk, Body-love and Healthy Relationships. I am hoping to create something that will help young women with their confidence and self-worth. I think if i had something to guide me when I was blossoming into a young woman then I may have not had the hardships that I had along the way. I believe that with social media and the internet, these girls have it even harder than my generation did. I can’t imagine the pressures they must face. My first journal was created to help women heal from past hurts and low self worth but I’m hoping this journal can help the young women to learn before they are out on their own.
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?
I’ve been on a journey of healing after a 19-year marriage to my former high school boyfriend. In that marriage I found myself feeling trapped, lonely and living in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Having 3 children gave me focus and distraction but watching them grow older wasn’t enough to keep me from feeling the deeper pain of not being my true self and living authentically.
I found bravery through the eyes of my daughters. I knew that staying was teaching them what love was NOT supposed to look like. I thought I was staying for them, but I realized I had to leave for them… for myself.
It was the hardest thing I ever did and I had to learn to put myself first but 8 years later I am thriving; with a wonderful husband and a blended family of 6 kids. It was through art, journaling, meditation and listening to my heart that helped me to heal. From my past experiences, I published a Healing Journal for women needing the message of self-love and self-worth. My experience of drawing and writing, while releasing emotions of guilt, anger and low self-worth was a huge part of my healing. The experience of putting it on paper was extremely cathartic.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
In my opinion, the most common mistakes people make after going through a divorce is dating too soon after the breakup. It’s that desire of finding someone else to fill the loneliness and the fear of being unwanted that hits hard after the relationship is over.
I’m not referring to casual dating with the desire to have fun and practice being social again. Intention is key.
I myself experienced some casual dating after my break up with the intention of learning to date again and get over my fears of socializing with men. After a 19 year marriage, my social skills of dating were nil to say the least. I needed to get out there to overcome some fears, but my intention was to play it casual, meet new people and focus on how I was feeling in these interactions.
These dating experiences, in the beginning, gave me insights on where I needed to focus on my own internal relationship issues so I could date again later on in a confident and healthy way. I took note on what I was feeling and knew I needed to learn more about myself and how I could attract the right person and a healthy relationship. I stopped dating and turned inward and began to read a lot on relationships and building my self-worth. It was imperative that I attracted the right person into my life, for myself and as a role model for my kids. I knew that my kids were watching.
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?
Yes, there are the negative impacts of financial stress and the guilt of a broken family. But there are also many positive things you can gain… one of them is finding your true self and living an authentic life. The other is having your children see real examples of what love and a healthy relationship is supposed to look like.
Here’s a snippet of my story:
When I first met my partner (now husband) we were both very careful to not introduce our children to each other until we felt we had a solid relationship with a future together. We had the same values on not getting our children involved in our dating lives. It can just be too confusing for kids and young adults.
So after about 6 months of dating, Steve and I decided that my children were ready to meet him. We spent several interactions with my kids over the course of many months (my kids: 2 daughters aged 17, 14, & a son aged 9) and over time we all became comfortable with each other. Around the 1 year mark Steve began to visit our place occasionally and we’d have fun watching movies and eating pizza.
One morning my eldest daughter turned to me and asked me point blank, “Who are you? I mean really, who are you?” I was dumbfounded at first as I stared at her with her hands on her hips. “What do you mean I ask?”. She proceeded to tell me that I seemed to be so “fake” whenever Steve was around me and she wanted to know who this woman was she kept seeing that she’d never seen before. She explained how I was so “fake” by the way that I was always happy, giggly and smiling. She’d never seen me like that before and so she must assume that I was putting on an act whenever Steve was around… like I was somebody else.
And in that moment I realized the greater picture of it all! I slowly relaxed my shoulders from the breath I had been holding when hearing those hurtful words. I locked eyes with her and listened to what she was actually saying… she wanted to know who I really was. Was it all a facade?
And this is what I said to her. “I am so sorry Hun. I owe you a big apology. This woman you have been seeing over these past few months is the real me. I have done you a big disservice by hiding the joy, happiness and love that I couldn’t maintain with your father. You bore witness to a Mom who was busy working and raising her kids but never took the time to look at herself and ask “What lights me up? Who am I? What brings me joy?” I did you wrong by not showing you what a true loving and healthy relationship is supposed to look like. I failed to teach you what standing up and loving myself looks like. And so No, I am not acting fake when Steve comes around. I have found myself, found joy, found healthy love and this is the real me. I have hidden her too long from you kids and it is my job to show you what healthy love should look like.”
At 17 years old, that is a hard thing to hear from your Mom… but a year later the same conversation came up between us and she said “ I get it now Mom, what I thought you had before was normal in relationships, but I see now that this is what healthy love looks like”. So YES, divorce has positive sides too! Both my daughters are now 25 and 22 years of age and are strong, independent young women.
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?
The first thing I want to say is that I met my husband on an Online Dating site and it was the best experience ever. Online dating can be a lot of work but it is a fun way to “shop” and read all the different profiles from the privacy and comfort of your home. You can keep it very private from anyone and take your time. It was a great way to fill my curiosity and slowly build up courage to meet someone new. I took the approach of “I’m going to meet some new cool people and have someone treat me to a nice cocktail or cappuccino. 🙂
Here are some things I recommend (and I did) before starting to seriously date:
- seek a therapist (even if for only a few sessions) to dig up some of the bigger reasons why you do what you do (in relationships) and if there are any emotional issues that may need healing when it comes to things like trust and self worth(we all have them)
- Read books on relationships and personal growth.
- Go out on social outings with a few close friends (even one friend is ok and sometimes better) where there is a mix of men and women and practice being in close proximity and starting up conversations. Being with a friend or small group can make it feel less intimidating.
- Try online dating. For me, talking with someone of interest via a dating service was the first step in practicing to converse and socialize with other men. It was very intimidating at first but a good small step before meeting someone in person. Of course, I always followed safety rules with online dating. These were my rules:
- NOTE: these rules are here to keep you safe, not to scare you. I had many great experiences with online dating but always kept my safety boundaries and listened to my gut/intuition. I also had one good friend who would offer advice on when to delete any gentlemen if he was not a good fit. Sometimes having a trusting friend can be very helpful but don’t fall into the trap of getting advice from too many friends/family. I kept most of it quiet as I had my own lessons to learn.
- Always do a Google search and Facebook search of the person beforehand to make sure they are the real person. Yes, sometimes people will pretend to be someone they are not. If I couldn’t verify who they said they were, I wouldn’t meet for a date.
- Print out all the documentation you found on them and give that info to a close friend or family member. Tell the friend the details of your date. (Where, when) and send them a text or 2 throughout the evening to let them know you’re safe. I was always very open about this process whenever I met someone on a date. I would tell them in a funny way and we’d usually laugh about it.
- Never get in their car until many dates into the relationship. Always meet them at the date location with your own vehicle. Make sure the location is in a public space.
What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?
From my experience, the one thing I had to be open to changing was my opinion of men. I had to be open to change my beliefs around men and trust. I had to be open to the fact that there are actually decent, caring, loving men out there who will fall in love with your real authentic self — men who aren’t looking to change you; men who will love your children, (and your dogs) and men who are also looking for a meaningful connection with the right partner.
When I came out of my past marriage I was carrying a lot of baggage regarding trust and an overall feeling of low self-worth. I was curious to start dating again but was not looking to have a relationship for a long time. I thought “who’s going to want a 40 something Mom with 3 kids and 2 dogs?”
But when I met Steve (my now husband) something inside me changed. He too was looking for a meaningful relationship with the right partner. The connection was instant but it took me a couple of years to come to terms with the fact that he actually did love me, for me. Over time, my issues with trust slowly began to fade (I worked on myself) and I was able to change my views on men. There are some really fantastic men out there. Once I shifted my perspective I started seeing more and more examples of good men. My mindset and inner work was crucial to me feeling safe and fully loved.
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. Forgive yourself
Of all the things I found the hardest to do, it was forgiving myself. It never crossed my mind that forgiving myself was something I needed to do. I thought “Heck, it took me 5 years to find forgiveness for my ex-husband but why would I need to forgive myself?” It wasn’t until I found myself feeling stuck in my relationship with my new husband, that I knew something was off. Then one day I had a conversation with a woman I had just met. I was being open about my struggles and out of the blue she asked me if I had forgiven myself. That one little question opened the flood gate, the tears poured down my cheeks and I knew she had touched on something. Since then, I have worked on forgiving myself for a failed marriage and the weight has slowly lifted and my new marriage has blossomed.
2. Date yourself
After finding myself single and on my own, one of the things I had to learn to do was “date myself”. I know that sounds like a silly thing to say but if you can’t learn to enjoy your own company then how will you learn about what you like so you can share that part of yourself with another person. After being married for 19 years I realized I had lost myself. It’s easy to lose yourself after a long-standing marriage while working and raising kids. Have you ever been to a movie by yourself, taken a pottery class on your own or simply gone for long walks in the forest? The time that we spend alone, is how we get to know who we truly are. Spending time on your own, no matter how uncomfortable and scary it is at first, is an important part of growth and stability. When you figure out who you are, then you are ready to share your amazing self with another person.
3. Inner work before outer work
Inner work can look different for everybody, but for me it meant reading a lot, meditating, reflecting on my past experiences, learning about healthy relationships and figuring out what I wanted my life to look like going forward. Of course, it’s important to pamper yourself and maybe get a new haircut or your nails done, but your inner work is really important work.
I would say my biggest focus was spent on making time for myself when I didn’t have my children home. That way I could get quiet and create space for lots of self-care without any guilt. I came to treasure those quiet times on my own. Fill your cup first so you will have the energy to fill the cups of your loved ones.
4. Define your inner circle
Going through a divorce or break up can be painful, not for just yourself but for those around you. Whether there are children involved, family members taking sides or friends who are concerned about you’re well-being. One lesson I learned, was to decide who was in my inner circle. Because a divorce can also be hard on others, it can be difficult for outside people to give the best advice without their own personal bias. We all need someone to confide in when going through these stressful times, but I urge you to decide who is the one person (or maybe 2) that can listen with your best interests at heart. In some cases, you may have to talk to a therapist. Having someone outside that small inner circle doesn’t mean that they don’t matter to you, but when it comes to safely discussing the matters of your heart, choosing only 1 or 2 people will make your life so much easier. In stressful times we can be easily swayed with everyone’s opinions, and it makes it difficult to really listen to what your heart is trying to tell you. Choose your inner circle wisely.
5. Slow & Steady
This one is probably one of the most important tips of all. Take time to breathe, take time to reflect, take time to make decisions about what you want your future to look like. When I first went through my divorce I was 43 years old. For the first time I was learning who I was but to be honest I was worried if I would one day find someone who would want to be with me. But what I learned was there is plenty of time because there are plenty of other singles out there looking for love as well. So take it slow and steady.
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?
- Take time to reflect and journal your thoughts and emotions. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center “one of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself. This makes a journal a helpful tool in managing your mental health. Journaling can help you: manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression.” Journaling helped me to sort through my feelings and seeing it written down helped me to get clear about my decisions moving forward.
- Start a Mindful practice to help you take a break from the everyday stresses. Mindfulness can be practiced through various ways such as meditation, art, writing, going for a walk, or any hobby you enjoy that requires quiet and focus. You’ll need small quiet breaks throughout the months to help you balance and reset your emotions. This is a time for you to be selfish and take care of you.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
My top 2 books that helped me survive and thrive after divorce:
- Love Smart — by Dr. Phil McGraw (a good read before you enter the dating world)
- Why Did You Have to Get a Divorce? And When Can I Get a Hamster?: A Guide to Parenting Through Divorce — by Anthony E. Wolf (a great book for parents)
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 missions is to be able to gift a woman one of my Healing Journals upon entry into a women’s shelter, to support them in their own healing journey. I aspire to partner companies with Women Shelters to meet this vision in helping women better themselves and in turn their children’s lives.
If you’re a company with an interest in partnering with a local Woman’s shelter in your area please reach out so we can make this happen. My vision is to see this go widespread across the Country. It takes a Village to support and raise others up.
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 🙂
Yes, I would love the opportunity to sit with Dr. Phil McGraw over coffee so I can thank him. When my girlfriend first handed his book to me I laughed. I read the Title “Love Smart” and asked her why I needed this book? She smirked at me and said “Read the darn book so you can get it right this time! You need to know what you will and won’t settle for and I think this book might help you.” And she was so right! If I hadn’t read Dr.Phil’s book I wouldn’t be where I am today or with the loving man I’m married to now. Thank you Dr. Phil
Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!