Take responsibility and accountability for your part in the relationship ending: It takes two to make a relationship and it takes two to ruin it. There’s no villain
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 Nikki DeBartolo & Benjamin Heldfond.
Ben Heldfond understands the detriment divorce can cause in the lives of children, as his parents’ divorce instilled a deep commitment to doing better for his children one day. As Co-Founder of Our Happy Divorce, a service that offers guidance on creating a post-divorce happy, modern family and Author of “Our Happy Divorce — How Ending Our Marriage Brought Us Together,” Heldfond has made it his mission to help families during the turmoil divorce can become.
Heldfond is also the owner of Heldfond Holdings, LLC, a company that invests in a wide variety of companies, including real estate, private equity, and venture capital. His corporate career began more than three decades ago during his real estate career, where he played an integral part in the company’s development acquisitions and diversified investing transactions. e has always had a passion for helping others and since then has been involved with several non-profit organizations; focused on addiction recovery, including, Facing Addiction w/NCADD, Road Recovery, Phoenix House, Young People in Recovery and American Cancer Society Tampa CEO Council with a focus on Governance, Finance, and Strategic Planning.
He is a graduate from The University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Science degree in African American History and Business Administration. Outside of the office, Ben is an investor, board member, philanthropist, sports enthusiast and co-host for a local radio show. He resides in South Tampa with his wife, Nadia, and three kids, Asher, Isabella and Jackson.
Nikki DeBartolo understands the impact of a loving family and how it creates a solid foundation for the future for a person navigating through life, love, marriage, and motherhood. As Co-Founder of Our Happy Divorce, a service that offers guidance on creating a post-divorce happy, modern family and Author of “Our Happy Divorce — How Ending Our Marriage Brought Us Together, DeBartolo has made it her mission to help families in every way possible.
Having grown up as a member of the iconic San Francisco 49ers football family, the values she learned on the field from a young age, have helped shape who she is today. As Executive Vice President of DeBartolo Holdings and the DeBartolo Family Foundation, Nikki has made it her mission to give back to her community in every way possible, from supporting local grassroots movements to national charities, she has been part of multiple initiatives, giving back to her community, including, Metropolitan Ministries, Meal on Wheels, The Boys and Girls Club, The Humane Society of Tampa Bay, and the HCSO Freddie Solomon Christmas Event.
She is proud of the accomplishments that the DeBartolo Family Foundation has been able to share with nonprofits and enjoys when those moments come to life, making the Tampa Bay community — where she lives with her husband, Chad, son, Asher, and their two dogs — feel more like a family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Nikki: For us, telling our story was about helping other people and sharing ours for others to relate, as it’s an important topic and part of many lives. Due to social media, people only saw bits and pieces of our story and kept telling us to “write a book.” People often asked us, “How did you guys do this?” With a lot of persuading by Ben (since I tend to be a little shyer when it comes to people knowing personal things about my life) we decided to give it a shot.
Ben: I wholeheartedly agree with Nikki. We wrote this book because we wanted to share our story so people going through a divorce can receive the hope that it can be different than expected and doesn’t have to be so ugly. We wanted to help change the conversation and offer Our Happy Divorce to help with redefining “normal” for divorcing couples and their families.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
Nikki: We like to call ourselves experts. We are not therapists, doctors or lawyers and we would never claim to be pertaining to the subject of divorce. Since the guidelines of this book worked for us, we felt like it was our place to tell our story in hopes of having an impact on other couples. One thing is for sure if we can do it with our hard heads and Type A personalities, so can anyone. We just had to learn to “fake it until we made it” because Our Happy Divorce did not happen overnight. We know many ways that can help, through our personal experience, which is why we know as much as we do about the topic.
Ben: The only reason we are experts on the topic is because of real-life experience. We are just ordinary people who accomplished something extraordinary. In my life, the power of understanding has been the biggest motivator for change. When I can sit next to someone who understands firsthand what I am going through because they have been through it themselves makes it so much easier to help and guide them. It’s people who just “get it” that make our “expert” advice easier to do.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Nikki: We think the best story for us is that after 13 years of being divorced we took our son on a trip to Africa together, just the two of us and him. Of course, we asked our spouses if they wanted to join us, but truly I think they both knew how important this trip this was for the three of us to do together. Asher is 16 now and there is going to come a time soon when it’s not cool to hang out with your parents. The best part of the story was that we kept our word to each other, Asher and our family.
Ben: The fact that I wrote a book and collaborated with my ex-wife for 5 years is beyond interesting because it’s a perfect example of how we work together as co-parents, best friends and business partners. We don’t always agree on certain things, but just like co-parenting, we need to put our differences aside and heads together. Since we have chosen to put our son first in our decisions, those differences just seem to eventually work out. Just like the book, we collaborate together and eventually, a beautiful outcome occurs.
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?
Nikki: At the beginning of our separation we were clueless, but we tried to navigate it as best we could without totally screwing up. Ben had just moved out and would come back in the evenings and then back in the morning so that Asher did not know he was gone. I think as parents we often do not give our children enough credit on just how smart they are….at any age. Asher was about 3 ½ years old, he walked into my bedroom one morning looked at the bed, looked at me and said, “Mommy, where did Daddy sleep last night?” That to us was a mistake number one. They are smart, very smart. We learned to be honest with our kids from there on out.
Ben: I don’t know if it is funny at the time, but when we first decided to get divorced, I was so angry and resentful that I had convinced myself that Nikki was the villain of this story and I was going to do whatever it took to let everyone know. I hired the perfect lawyer to fulfill that desire. The perfect guy for the task at hand. I met with him and told him what I wanted to happen and looking back, I think if I had looked close enough into his eyes, I would have seen dollar signs. He took a lot of money from me and wrote up a 30-page “game plan” on how we were going to accomplish my goal. Luckily, when I started reading it, I had a moment of clarity and realized what going down this path would do to our son. Immediately, I changed paths. What I learned from it is that I needed to listen to myself without my ego getting in the way.
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?
- Take responsibility and accountability for your part in the relationship ending: It takes two to make a relationship and it takes two to ruin it. There’s no villain
- Forgive yourself — and the other person
- Leave your ego at the door
- Don’t let your emotions guide you
- Allow yourself time to heal
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
Nikki: Using their kids as tackling dummies. These kids don’t choose the divorce and they are not pawns. They are human beings that we chose to create. When we bring children into this world it is our job to love and protect them not put them in the middle of our messes. No matter what the divorce situation is, don’t take it out on your children.
Ben: In the early stages, people make decisions based on their ego, their fear, and resentments. Nothing good can come out of those choices in life in general, much less divorce. The other early mistake is not taking responsibility and accountability for their actions during the marriage. It is easy to “if only” the other person. If only they did this, if only they hadn’t done that.
The other common mistake I see people making is they introduce a new partner into the situation way too early and not in a constructive way. Similar to climbing Mt. Everest, it is hard to climb and doesn’t happen quickly.
However, if you make a mistake, the fall happens MUCH quicker than the climb. When I brought Nadia into Asher’s life I was as close to absolutely sure there was a future for us, but also that Nikki was comfortable with her. A lot of people might say, why does your ex-wife have to be comfortable or who is she to say who you can and can’t bring around your son. Well, those are the questions that the ego asks. In our journey, we tried to take our own egos out of the decisions we made and made them from a standpoint of “what is best for Asher.” I communicated with his mother along the way and allowed us to not make the wrong move climbing the mountain.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
- Our Happy Divorce — Book available for purchase on Amazon — https://www.amazon.com/Our-Happy-Divorce-Marriage-Together/dp/1631779974
- Our Happy Divorce Website — https://ourhappydivorce.com/
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?
Nikki: I think for us a big life lesson was a few years ago after we had been in a new place of our lives Asher said to Ben, “you know dad, this divorce is really hard on me,” and as a parent knowing all of the hard work we have created blending these to families your first reaction is to think with instant resentment, but once you sit back you realize that no matter how easy you make a divorce on your children, it sucks, and it’s truly hard. It was probably one of the most eye-opening experiences of our life. Divorce is painful for all, no matter what.
Ben: I used to read a mediation book and it always talked about that as human beings, we all have the right and capacity to be happy. However, happiness is not possible if you are living in the past. Happiness lives in the present. Nikki and I would never have accomplished what we did if we hadn’t cleaned up the wreckage of the past and taken accountability for our actions.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Nikki: We have thought about writing another book together and adding in more of our spouses’ perspectives on things, but first we are starting our own podcast in hopes of growing our outreach even more.
Ben: We are exploring and open to anything that will get our story out there. Eventually, we want to create a place that gives support and resources to people starting the divorce process and is committed to taking a different route than a traditional divorce. For now, our focus is on the podcast.
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. 🙂
#OURHAPPYDIVORCE (or something similar) is a widely used hashtag. For us, although it is the name of our book, we know we will have succeeded in our mission if we type in the hashtag and we see people we don’t know who have read the book and were inspired to have a similar outcome, we have accomplished our goal of writing the book. Hopefully, that couple will inspire another couple and so on and so on. We want to live in a world where parents understand that it wasn’t their kids choice for them to get married, it wasn’t their decision to have them and it surely wasn’t the kid’s decision to get a divorce so they understand that the children shouldn’t be responsible with the consequences of decisions they had NO choice in.
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 🙂
Nikki: Oprah, Michelle Obama,
Ben: Gweneth Paltrow and other “celebrities” who have an open public happy divorce. I would want to have breakfast with them to see how we could use our stories and so many others to try and carry this message to as many people as possible. Knowing that you are not alone and not the only person who has these awful feelings is comforting and the more influencers we can collaborate with, the more people we can reach