Tonyalee Henderson of Vivacious Bibliophile: “Talk negatively about your ex”

Talk negatively about your ex. This is crucial if you have children. You may dislike your ex, but at the end of the day, they are still their children, too. Children are very susceptible, and pick up on more than you probably give them credit for. This also applies to anyone that could come in […]

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Talk negatively about your ex. This is crucial if you have children. You may dislike your ex, but at the end of the day, they are still their children, too. Children are very susceptible, and pick up on more than you probably give them credit for. This also applies to anyone that could come in contact with your children, and your ex too. It causes a perpetual state of negative behaviors and environment. Take up a journal, or speak with a professional about your feelings and struggles. It’s perfectly OKAY to dislike your ex, and have negative feelings towards them, but you need appropriate channels to vent those to.

As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonyalee Henderson.

Tonyalee is a wellness & relationship blogger at, as well as a sexual health advocate; pursuing a career in freelance writing. Since her divorce from her High School sweetheart, she has ripped off her mask and embraced her true self. With a passion for helping others through their struggles and wellness journeys, she has helped women find their passions for their wellness, embrace their desires, and learn to fly. Tonyalee has two teenage sons, loves the beach, and is an avid reader and football fan.

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 always say, “I’m an only child with 3 sisters.” By the time I was 9, all of my sisters had moved out with their significant others and had started their own families. It was just me and my mom, for a time, before my now step-dad joined the mix. My parents divorced when I was young, and I don’t remember much of that time when they were together. What I do remember, aren’t pleasant memories but ones that do haunt me to this day.

Like most kids, I thought that I was different, special. More mature. I was never a giddy or loud kid, I was the quiet one with their journal and walkman, watching the people around her and taking notes. But it was also filled with nights outside with friends, sports, and boys. I was a very boy crazy teenager, which comes at no surprise since I too, started my family young with my High School Sweetheart. I graduated high school early, went to vocational school at 18, and started my first career at 19 in the medical field.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always had a passion for writing. When I was 12, I won an award within my school district for a paper I wrote on fire safety; and I was able to ride to school in a fire truck. That day is still so clear in my mind because it was the day I knew I wanted to write. Blogging combines my passion for helping people find wellness, embrace their sexual health, and writing all in one. For me, it’s a win-win!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Maybe not the MOST interesting, but since blogging, I have met people from all over the world. From different cultures, religions, backgrounds, and personal experiences. Some of them have turned into my closest friends. I’ve grown into the person I am today due to their openness, guidance, and challenging conversations.

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?

Ah, this is a hard one! I made a LOT of mistakes when I first started out, but what continues to be a huge struggle for me are TYPOS! I have similar nicknames with different friends because they are not only prevalent in everything I write, but I’ve had many embarrassing ones. Luckily, I have some amazing proofreaders and tools to catch my mistakes!

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Fall down seven times, get up eight”

I’m not perfect — and I too, have made several mistakes throughout my personal life, and career choices.. Each and every mistake, or failure, is a lesson to learn from. You learn, grow, try again, and work harder.. We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Keep pushing and moving forward.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I recently released my first free guide for Sexual Health & Wellness, and I am developing that into an eBook with more resources and in-depth guides. There’s still an aura of taboo when it comes to our sexual health, especially for women, and my goal is to educate as many as possible and help them embrace their bodies, desires, and health. Having a community, or even one person, to help guide us on something we are struggling with changes the mindset of pursuing your own happiness. I hope to be that person. If I help just one person, every trial I’ll face is worth it.

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?

Although we married young, it never occurred to me that our relationship would end. We were High School Sweethearts! On top of the world in love. We were the couple people compared themselves to, and strived to be. We survived deployment, moving across the country, career changes, and many other obstacles. Coming to the realization that I wanted a divorce, and that divorce was the only way for me to come into myself and BE myself, was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.

I was lucky enough to proceed with our divorce in an amicable way. There was no long, drawn-out process in the courtroom, no fight over custody, and neither one of us went into debt in lawyer fees. For that, I will be forever grateful. Yet, in order for that to work, we had to sit and have hard discussions about finances, our children, our home and put contingency plans in place for the future. These conversations are never easy, but from our past experiences, it was close to impossible. Most of those items were the harbinger of fights in our marriage; how are we going to sit and work something out now as our marriage is dissolving? Especially since it was rare that we setted on anything.

During those months, I learned to listen. Not to everyone around me, or anyone for that matter, but to my gut and follow my intuition. I was putting myself first and putting my foot down. It wasn’t just about protecting our children, or “doing right by him,” it was also about protecting myself. This is when I learned to say NO. Yet, it was also a time of learning to LET GO.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

  1. Blaming their ex for the issues leading to their divorce. Are there instances where they can be solely blamed on ONE thing? Absolutely. But, there are so many instances where both parties have done their damage that lead to the divorce. No one is innocent. Take a long, hard look into yourself and do some soul searching. Own up to any mistakes you might have made, and learn from them.
  2. Talk negatively about your ex. This is crucial if you have children. You may dislike your ex, but at the end of the day, they are still their children, too. Children are very susceptible, and pick up on more than you probably give them credit for. This also applies to anyone that could come in contact with your children, and your ex too. It causes a perpetual state of negative behaviors and environment. Take up a journal, or speak with a professional about your feelings and struggles. It’s perfectly OKAY to dislike your ex, and have negative feelings towards them, but you need appropriate channels to vent those to.
  3. Holding back. I’ve seen friends do this; I am even guilty of this, but holding back from who you are, and what you are meant, or want, to do. Use this time to learn more about yourself, and discover YOU. Take up a hobby, or do something you’ve always wanted to.

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?

For me personally, I was not only able to find my wings and fly, but soar. I can’t wholly blame my ex for holding me back, since there are several factors to consider, but our situation wasn’t one of mutual success. Since my divorce, I have learned who I really am; more everyday. I look into the mirror and not only see the person I was meant to be, but I love her. I embrace her imperfections, her mistakes, and of course, make more everyday. I’ve become a better person as a whole.

I recognize that this might not be the case for everyone. We can get trapped into negative emotions and feelings after a divorce, and it’s hard to get out of that. It takes time. There is always positive after the change. We need to focus our mindset on the positive that comes from it, over-dwelling on the negative.

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?

First, I want to say that there is no timeline for getting back out there, dating, or even engaging in a casual sexual relationship with another person. There is no timeline for moving on, letting go, and being ready to start again. What you must consider is where you are mentally and emotionally. Consider why you may, or may not, want to date or start another relationship. We are often scared because of two things: we don’t feel worthy of being loved or being in a new relationship, or because we compare our exes to other potentials.

I say, do what makes you happy. If you want to spend more time alone to find who you are and what you want, do it. If you are ready to start again and find love, do it. Don’t allow someone else’s opinions or negative experiences drive you away from what YOU want to do, and your own happiness. I found mine.

What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?

Change is hard, no matter what the circumstances are; whether or not it’s positive or negative. For those that I have talked to about their divorce, and even for myself, I say one thing to be open to changing is their mindset. Again, it’s become a habit for a lot of people to focus on the negative of a situation, let others try to tell us what we should and should not do. Instead of dwelling on the bad, focus on the good. What did you learn from your relationship? What good times will you cherish forever?

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. First and foremost, you are not a failure. Your marriage might have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean YOU are the sole reason, or that you are even a failure at all. Your marriage didn’t fail, it ended. We were young when we got married. I was barely what you would consider an adult. Of course, I never thought my marriage would end, especially after all those years together and what we had been through. When I was set in my decision to divorce I felt like a failure. How could I let things get this way? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? As hard as I tried, I couldn’t think of anything that could have altered our path. There are some things out of our control. Your divorce, and marriage, is a lesson. Learn from it.
  2. Get familiar with your darker side, in order to get past it. This may sound ominous, and even contradictory of what I’ve been saying all along. But there will be times you get into a dark place or think of things, even say things, that are outside of your character. When we are braced against a wall, and the fight or flight response will kick in — most of us, will fight. When we first separated, we were awful to each other. Both of us said and did things that neither one of us thought the other capable of. You may do this as well, not because you want to inflict pain, although that could be a reason, but it’s because you’re hurt. I was hurt, and the process of getting a divorce was my decision. Once I was able to recognize that I wasn’t a terrible person, and I wasn’t a failure, was I able to start moving past that part of myself that I didn’t like, and leave that darker version of myself behind. Talking with someone you wholly trust and writing in a journal may also help tremendously. Because you come face to face with that part of yourself, it’s easier to take the high road and move on from them.
  3. It’s okay to be selfish. As a matter of fact, it’s a good time to start being selfish. As I mentioned before, I was so busy taking care of our marriage, my spouse, and my children, that I didn’t even know HOW to take care of ME. I slowly started to put myself first. Do the things I wanted to do. Let go of the things that I didn’t want in my life. The fact of the matter is, this is the reason they say to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else: you need to take care of yourself, in order to truly take care of someone else.
  4. Let go of what you can’t change. I believe it’s fairly common to want to fix what is broken, dwell on what has gone wrong, and find answers to things that we don’t understand. But you need to let it go. What does holding on do for you? What does focusing on something you can’t change, do for you? Short answer: nothing. About a year after we separated, I got into this dark place of self-loathing. Both my ex and I were in new relationships, but now he was expecting another child. Honestly, I was crushed. How could someone that claimed to love me so deeply, so hard, move on so quickly and start another family? What was it about me that was so unlovable? Why was I so replaceable and forgettable? Truth is, none of that was about me. It was about him. I had to learn to let all of that go. Instead of focusing on what was right in front of me, I was dwelling on questions and wanting answers for things that wouldn’t change anything anyway. Plus, I now love myself enough for both of us.
  5. Embrace the support from family & friends. You may need help from them in more than just moral and emotional support. It’s okay to seek help and accept help from those around you. At the time I was going through my divorce, I had a group of girlfriends I heavily relied on for support. They didn’t judge me for the choices I made. They listened to all the crazy rants, my fears, and their support was unyielding. I also grew closer to my sister-in-law. My mom too, was my rock throughout the process.

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?

There is no shame in seeking professional counseling. Actually, I recommend it. This helps with unloading a lot of your pain, dislike (sometimes hate), and fears with someone that is truly nonbiased. They’re also there to give you tools and resources to guide you along the way. This is also a great way to see things from other perspectives. Sometimes, we are blinded by our emotions, and talking with someone to help us see around our own emotions is life-changing.

Working out is a great way to clear your mind, and keep from seeking comfort in food. Of course, allow yourself a pint or two with your break-up movies and songs, but it’s best to work out your pain in healthier ways, such as yoga, running, or even weight lifting.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

Honestly, I avoided all things divorce when I was going through mine, something I actually regret. I can’t explain why, but I felt like it was something I had to go through on my own? Of course, I wasn’t going through it alone since I had the support of my family and friends, but it would have helped me tremendously with the thoughts I had of FEELING alone. However, there are three books I read that have changed my life:

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

3 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do: Own Your Power, Channel Your Confidence, and Find Your Authentic Voice for a Life of Meaning and Joy by Amy Morin

All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living by Morgan Harper Nichols

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. 🙂

Besides the “tell us about your childhood” question we opened with, this has been the hardest one to put thoughts to paper, or keyboard, as it were.

There is SO much I want to do to empower people to be their best self. I want to help people, especially women, find their voice and be their microphone. To help them not only realize that they aren’t failures, bad or wrong, but learn to embrace their quirks, their flaws, and love them all.

That being said, since I was a young mother myself, it’s been a passion of mine to help teen moms. I was privileged enough to have such a supporting family, and resources to further my education but a lot of teen girls to this day, don’t have that support. I want a place to help them finish their schooling, teach them about having a home, being a teen mom, and loving themselves.

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 🙂

There are so many people that I would love to sit down with. Although I am an introvert, there are some that I would throw that out the window for!

My top person would be Lady Gaga. She has gone through so much in her life, from bullying and struggling with her mental health, and learning to live with those things as an adult. She is kind, with such a big heart, and I would love to sit down and just bask in her positivity. There is so much I have learned from her already through her music, her foundation, The Born This Way Foundation, so imagine what I could learn by having a conversation? But most of all, I would love to tell her Thank You, for being who you are, and helping so many be kind.

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!

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