Christine Clifford is the CEO and co-founder of Divorcing Divas. The best selling author of eight books created the organization to help women going through this difficult time.
We call people who rise above personal challenges “survivors”. Christine is more than that; she’s someone who makes a difference. Right now, Christine is going through treatment for breast cancer. She has already beaten that disease once. Twice divorced, Christine has the understanding of someone who has been there and learned from her experience. She is a powerhouse. The author and public speaker is also an entrepreneur and sales and marketing whiz.
Christine used her talent and experience to help other women going through cancer treatment by founding The Cancer Club. She is a strong, and lovely woman who is a real joie de vivre. It’s Christine’s sense of humor that gets her through. She inspires other women through her books, lectures and annual Divorcing Divas Conference in the Twin Cities, where Christine makes her home. This year’s conference Navigate Your Journey to Happily Ever After, takes place Saturday, October 26.
First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Christine about her personal challenges and triumphs and her gift of using humor to help other women through these difficult times.
I hear you are going through cancer treatment right now, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
Christine: I am, I went 20 years of being cancer free and found a lump doing self-exam, just like I did 20 years ago. So, I’m back in treatment. This time, I had to have a little more radical surgery, but I’m doing great. So, thanks!
I had breast cancer many years ago as well, I’ve known so many women who have gone through this.
Christine: I have another organization called The Cancer Club. I’ve written a number of books about using humor to get through the cancer experience.
You have to be able to laugh, it’s so healing.
Christine: I’ve tried to do the same with the divorce.
That’s another thing we have in common, I’ve also been divorced twice. It sounds like you’re staying pretty busy, even while going through treatment.
Yes, very busy. It’s good to be busy when you are going through this.
You have your Divorcing Divas’ conference coming up in October.
Christine: It’s a fabulous conference; this is our fifth annual. It’s a day of hope, inspiration and resources for women facing divorce. Women are allowed to share their stories. But most importantly, it’s a day to make new friends. (Pam, I would then delete this part: I wish it could become kind of a destination location for people around the country and Canada, but it’s been primarily geared to the Twin Cities; Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota.)
We need more events like that. There are so many women who need support when considering or going through divorce. You wrote about your experiences and how you missed the red flags your second husband was waving in your book, The Clue Phone's Ringing...It's for You! Healing Humor for Women Divorcing. I can relate, even though I was a private investigator, I still missed all the clues.
Christine: Well you do, it’s human nature. It’s not that we don’t see them, we ignore them.
Your friends or family are more likely to notice that a man isn’t really the prize we think he is. Do you think we should kindly mention these red flags or clues to our friends?
Christine: I think you have to walk a fine line with that. A lot of people, such as close friends might appreciate it, if you pointed out things to them. Other people resent that, and the friendship ends as a result of it. That never happened with me, my friends and family pointed out everything that was wrong with husband number two, but I was in love and ignored it.
After divorce, we sometimes make the same mistakes all over again. We have these patterns where we pick the same kind of men over and over. I think that is why getting back into the dating scene can be so scary. I went to therapy to figure out why I kept choosing the same destructive relationships.
Christine: I also went to therapy. I think that’s a good thing. It’s interesting. We host a lot of meetings for Divorcing Divas with that topic in mind. We’ve had two speakers this year; one was a guide to Internet dating and the other was a guide to dating smarter. Certainly what none of us want to do when we get back in the dating scene is make the same mistakes we’ve made before.
I actually kind of repeated the same mistake I made with husband number one with husband number two. I was bound and determined that I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
I’m actually in a relationship right now and have been for over a year. Over the 4th of July weekend, I actually moved in with my boyfriend, and he doesn’t have the issues that my husbands had, which was that they were financially insecure and both committed financial infidelity. This guy is extremely secure, and so it’s great.
It’s hard to trust someone after you’ve gone through a bitter divorce. How do you deal with the lace of trust and also avoid making the same mistakes?
Christine: I think first and foremost, it’s really important to write down a list of what you are looking for in a partner and keep that list close to heart. For example, you are looking for someone who is financially secure. You meet someone like I did, who had all those other qualities; handsome, athletic, same hobbies, great family, but wasn’t financially secure. You need to move very slowly and you need to assess. Ask yourself, “Do I want to go through this situation again?”
I decided I didn’t. I’d been through it with two marriages, so that relationship actually went on for eight months, but I decided it wasn’t for me. Take it slowly, really assess what it is you are looking for. Therapy is obvious, and take baby steps. You don’t have to plunge into another marriage, you don’t even have to plunge into a serious relationship, but you can certainly cultivate friends and learn to trust again, which is something I think anyone who goes through divorce has to do. We’ve all had trust broken in some way or other, whether it was through physical or financial infidelity, whether it was through substance abuse or other addictions; those things shatter trust and that’s the thing we have to build.
Women who have been in a verbally or physically abusive relationship have an even harder time.
Christine: Well that’s what my second marriage was, it was both. My second husband broke my nose, among other body parts. It wasn’t until I divorced him that I learned he had a history of violence. I hadn’t done my homework. I can tell you this: there were signs of his violence from the very beginning, but he was very clever about the whole thing. My first husband is a really good guy and we’re still friends. We divorced after 29 years of marriage and I actually had him and his girlfriend over for Thanksgiving. I still see his family. I ended the marriage because of financial infidelity. Husband number two, however, was a diagnosed sociopath. I of course, didn’t know that. He was almost a million dollars in debt when I married him, which I did not know and had a history of violence, which I didn’t know about. Talk about the Clue Phone ringing!
Men who are successful and who are violent tend to operate very quickly, so we had a whirlwind romance. Literally, I hate to even tell the story, but I told it in detail in the The Clue Phone's Ringing...It's for You! He actually asked me to marry him on our second date and I said yes. I was just infatuated with him. They move quickly, but when you discover who they really are, then the violence comes out. After he broke my nose, I got him to willingly go in for an evaluation for alcoholism and he went willingly because he thought he wasn’t an alcoholic. They told him he was a severe alcoholic and needed to get into treatment immediately. He didn’t go, and I tried to stay in the marriage for another year, for a lot of reasons. Then, he became extremely verbally abusive. He became a dry drunk and quit drinking on his own and the verbal abuse was even worse than the physical abuse.
For me personally, learning to trust other men when it came to physical violence was much easier for me to do, to trust that that wouldn’t happen, than it probably is for other things that happen to women. It’s a pretty sick person who physically abuses people and I just wasn’t going to jump into any relationship where I wasn’t 100 percent certain that that wasn’t part of their personality. I have no fear that my current boyfriend would ever lay a finger on me.
A lot of people are using a private investigator to check out potential mates, so they know who they are getting involved with.
Christine: I was really upset with my divorce attorney and went to the county courthouse to look up records on him. While I was there, I looked up my second husband. Three nights before I met him, he had spent the night in jail. There are all kinds of information out there now you can easily uncover before you even go out on a first date with somebody.
For sure, even just checking their social media pages, confirming their address online, doing a Google search can bring up information that may make you think twice about dating someone. Once we are in a relationship, it’s harder to get out.
Christine: You need to value yourself. Life is short. There is no reason to go through life unhappy. In a lot of cases, women would be better off by themselves than in an unhappy relationship. They find happiness just by being alone. I had a couple of stretches in the last five years after I got divorced where I was single. I relished being alone because I went from a college romance at the age of 19 and a 29-year marriage/ 31-year relationship and then jumped right into another marriage. I’d never really lived alone and I loved it. I could do everything I ever wanted to do without anyone telling me I couldn’t do it or shouldn’t do it, or whatever.
I think a lot of women who have been in long term relationships haven’t had the chance to find out who they really are because they’ve always been a part of that partnership which became their identity in some ways. You’ve made a great career for yourself. When did you start Divorcing Divas and what was the impetus?
Christine: I started it in 2009. As painful as it was going through two divorces, I felt empowered, like I had taken control of my life. Yet, I looked around at friends, colleagues and total strangers that I had been introduced to who were going through a divorce and who were barely functioning. Many of them were suffering from clinical depression. I thought, what did I do that made me feel so good and these people feel so bad? This was after enduring huge financial loss, broken bones, the shame of two divorces, and yet I felt really empowered.
I realized that I’d gone about my divorces very systematically. Maybe I’d approached them as a business. For the first time in my life, I got a financial advisor. I got a realtor and sold my house and got out from under huge payments. I got an attorney. That didn’t go so great, he took financial advantage of me, but that’s a different story. I got a psychologist who is absolutely the one who saw me through it and made sure I wasn’t going to repeat the same mistakes. I thought, “What if I vetted the best of every category of people who help women get through divorce in the Twin Cities and bring them together for a conference?” That’s what I did. The first conference was successful and we took off from there.
That kind of environment - where you are connecting with other women in the same situation, really helps.
Christine: Absolutely. I think the most important thing that comes out of our conference is the way women make friends. I actually met a woman through Divorcing Divas who I shared a home with for a year and a half. We became best friends. I see that a lot of that coming out of our conference.
Not everyone is a writer, but everyone can keep a journal. Do you find writing helps you get through those difficult times, such as health issues or divorce?
Christine:Enormously! I encourage everyone to share their story. At the very least, their ancestors and their family are going to appreciate reading back on what they went through.
I love that you use humor. Laughter is truly healing.
Christine: I totally believe that. Doctors have been studying the physiological effects of laughter on the human body for years and have come up with positive results, but the long and the short of it is: it feels a lot better to laugh then to cry. Not that crying doesn’t play a role, it does, particularly in divorce. I think that people who can look back on horrible situations, whether it’s their health, or divorce and find something to laugh about, whether it’s a funny story or situation that occurred as a result of that, they thrive better. Their families thrive better. Not that you’re not taking it seriously, but it’s a great way to alleviate pain.
Where did you get your sense of humor, have you always been funny?
Christine: I call it my sick sense of humor. It really came out of nowhere. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 1994, had my surgery on New Year’s Eve, and then started my treatments right after the New Year. Six weeks after I had surgery, and started chemo and radiation therapy, I woke up in the middle of the night and went downstairs into our family room. On the spot, I started sketching cartoons of things people had said to me or done to me, or I had done to them or done to myself. I drew 50 cartoons, and I had never drawn before.
I went back upstairs and crawled back into bed. There was this TV show in the 1950s or 60s called The Twilight Zone, and I pulled the covers over my head and thought, what was that? I thought I had just gone into the twilight zone. So the next day I got up and went to a national bookstore chain and the local library and asked to see all their humorous books about cancer. Both of their reactions ended up being cartoons in my very first book.
I’ve written eight. My first was called Not Now...I'm Having a No Hair Day. I personally look back on my first cancer diagnosis as a total gift to me. It changed my life in so many positive ways. I started doing all these creative things I never knew I had inside of me, like write books, lecture, start a business. I started The Cancer Club. I’ve traveled the world on behalf of the companies that I’ve started and the lectures that I give and the books I’ve written. That sense of humor has propelled me for 20 years, so back in 2009, when I was going through my second divorce, it just came to me again.
And the book The Clue Phone's Ringing...It's for You! is full of cartoons, like “You might be a Divorcing Diva if… You kept the Lexus and gave him the minivan. Super diva if you gave him the jumper cables to go with it.” It’s tongue in cheek things about how you might be a Divorcing Diva. The sense of humor really came out of adversity.
I can see that. It is like a gift that comes when you need it. It helps you and it helps others. Is there anything else you want people to know? You’re a vibrant woman with a lot of interests.
Christine: I feel blessed that way, being able to help others. I have a consulting company called Christine Clifford Enterprises. I have three websites - Divorcing Divas, The Cancer Club and christineclifford.com. I primarily consult with authors and speakers who want to elevate their careers to the highest level.
There is one thing that I tell everybody: Don’t forget to laugh!™
Thank you, Christine! It has been a pleasure.
Dear women, please send Christine some messages of encouragement during her cancer treatment and share your funny stories in the comment box below.
*All images courtesy of Christine Clifford