It’s intimidating to spill our guts to a stranger, even when that person is a highly trained and licensed professional.Many of us feel that making an appointment with a psychotherapist means that there is “something wrong” with us.
Rachel Sussman allays any fears you might have about seeking counseling. Rachel is a licensed psychotherapist located in New York City, but she helps individuals and couples all over North America with their relationship issues.
Rachel is well known as a relationship expert. She has shared her expertise on the Today Show, CBS Early Show, The Dr. Nancy Snyderman Show, and Martha Stewart Radio. She has also been featured in major news publications and magazines, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The New York Daily News, and in national magazines including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, Redbook, Esquire and Details.
Rachel is the author of the book, “The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman's Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce ”.
There is no shame in seeking help when you are going through emotional turmoil. Divorce is emotionally, mentally and physically devastating to your well-being.
Rachel puts people at ease. She has a gentle manner and a great sense of humor, but she also has the expertise to guide you through a relationship breakup and help you work towards a new and fulfilling chapter in your life.
First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Rachel about her insightful book and the steps for managing your emotional health during divorce.
Can you tell us about your book “The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce”? That sounds like something every woman should read.
RacheI: “The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce”was published in 2012 by Random House. There are a lot of things that are unique about my book as opposed to other ones on the market. My book is written from a female psychotherapist to an all-female audience – women who are breaking up or are broken up and divorcing, so that’s one thing that’s unique.
Before I wrote the book, I interviewed close to 200 women, so along with my voice and my advice, you hear from a chorus of women who have been through difficult breakups and divorces and have turned a corner and healed, so it is kind of like group therapy. You’re not only hearing it from me, you are hearing it from the public and there is a real validation to that. What so many women tell me, is that when they are going through a breakup or divorce (before they create a support system and get that validation) is how isolated and lonely that they can feel.
I am trying to create a community, which is very much what you are trying to do as well. My book is written in three sections: healing, understanding and transformation. My ‘understanding’ section is very unique. I have an exercise called creating your personal love map so you can trace patterns in your family and your childhood – to trace how your self-esteem was formed. At the end of the exercise, you’ll have an understanding of why you chose who you chose as your partner, and how you behaved in the relationship and how he behaved.
At the end of it, you should have a real understanding of your own piece in it because even if you only have five percent responsibility, everyone has some responsibility in the ending of a relationship. After all, you did choose this person to be with. I think a lot of people at the end of this, will say, Wow, I see now that maybe I picked someone who wasn’t in my best interest. or There were signs that the relationship was ending and I didn’t want to see it, or this is why it took me so long to heal and now I understand that and can move on.
At the end of reading my book, you’ll have all sorts of tips and tools that can be very applicable to any breakup or divorce. In my final section, ‘transformation’, I really focused on putting your breakup and your divorce behind you and moving on to create a fabulous life. I have a chapter on dating at the very end.
Therapy is very helpful for women to explore their inner thoughts and be more insightful about what happened in their relationship.
RacheI: Exactly, I was in a session tonight with one of my clients whose husband left her two years ago, and she’s in an amazing relationship now with the nicest guy. She was talking about her mother in tonight’s session and how narcissistic her mother is. Her husband was a very narcissistic guy.
A year ago, she wouldn’t have put together her mother and her husband being narcissistic. Today she’ll say, well I didn’t even realize my mother was narcissistic, I just thought that was my mother and this is my husband and they’re kind of alike. So I think through therapy or reading this type of a book, you can make those types of connections and if you can’t make those types of connections then you aren’t really healing and you can’t really move on.
I guess a lot of women talk to their girlfriends about all this, but it’s not the same as having a guided group therapy session.
RacheI: Absolutely! A good girlfriend will often just agree with you or validate you and say, he is a real jerk or he was a real jerk, or he really treated you wrong, but she doesn’t really have the training to help you understand why you picked this person or know all the history of their relationship. Whether it’s going to a therapist or group therapy you can learn a lot of that through counseling.
It is especially hard for women with children going through divorce.
Very scary, depending on what your settlement is. If your finances are OK, it’s a little less scary, but I think what a lot of women with children think about is – my standard of living is going to go down. How am I going to be able to support myself and my children? How am I ever going to be able to move on because this person is going to be in my life forever?
The nice thing about getting support from friends who are divorced or from a book like the Breakup Bible is that you’ll see you put one foot in front of the other and you slowly are able to figure it all out, but it’s very scary for women with children.
A lot of women are miserable, but are afraid to leave, even when they are in an abusive relationship because they don’t know how they are going to survive. How do you get the strength to make that move?
RacheI: That’s a really good question, and I’m a big proponent of one day at a time. I think when people think about the future it’s really scary to them. If it’s a woman who has been out of work for a while, she might not have an understanding of how she is going to support herself.
If it is someone who is working, they don’t know how they are going to be able to take care of the children with one less pair of hands. I think that what you don’t know is, you don’t fully know what the future is going to be like. If you are in a relationship with someone who is controlling or abusive, what you don’t realize is how stuck and depressed you feel, and how scared you are – how living day to day is such a struggle. What you can’t see is that emotionally at certain point of time, if you do go ahead and separate or divorce, you might be in a much better emotional state.
If you are in a better emotional state, if you’re not with someone who is controlling or abusive, you’re going to be less depressed, you’re going to be less anxious and you’ll sleep better. You’re going to take better care of yourself and you’re actually going to have more energy to be a better parent. If you can continue on down that pike, it frees you up potentially to be able to get involved some day with someone who will be a much better partner and be able to have love in your life.
You have to be able to think – there’s always hope. You’ve got to be able to think – somehow I am able to work this out. Sometimes, it’s a matter of sitting down with a friend and making a plan. Sometimes, it’s taking a friend and booking an appointment with a divorce attorney or someone like Ivy Menchel, (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™) who will say to you, OK, what’s your biggest fear, is it finances? Then let’s lay it out, let’s make an Excel spreadsheet. How many years were you married? What’s in your savings account, what’s your house worth? Are you working and how much do you make?
A lot of times, it’s the money that makes you the most fearful, if you can look to see that you can make it, then you get that one ounce of confidence. That second ounce of confidence could come from meeting with a divorce attorney who says, you know it sounds like you are in a really bad marriage and you should get out and I can help you.
That third ounce of confidence could come from being with your parents who say we are going to help you out with the children or we are going to help you out financially. Then you start slowly seeing what your life might be like without him in it and you start putting those steps into place.
Always remember that you’re not alone. There are lots of ways that single moms can get help and be part of a community. Not all women are married to abusive guys and there are a lot of marriages that have just run the course. Or, someone feels that they’re not in love or they never were in love with this person. That is an exhausting prospect to begin with; waking up day after day with someone who is more like a roommate.
Sometimes those are easier divorces because there isn’t the acrimony. I know if you are in an abusive relationship it’s really scary because you talk about ending it and the person will say I’m going to take your children and you’ll never see them again, but you’ve got to remember that for most people there are laws that will help them. It is scary. I do want to validate that. Making a big change in your life like that is scary.
There are people out there to help you if you are in an abusive relationship; there are centers you can go to get help. If your biggest concern is financial, take advice from someone like Ivy. If you can’t afford someone like Ivy, or a divorce lawyer, read up on it as much as you can. That’s what First Wives World is for; to let people know what their rights are under the law.
Even if you don’t get child support, there are all kinds of resources. If you do have to take advantage of social services for a while to get back on your feet, there is no shame.
RacheI: Even temporarily. If you have to go to a shelter, go to a shelter, but if you are being abused you need to take one step at a time to get the help that you need.
I saw a video on your website about middle aged or older women getting divorced after long marriages.
RacheI: The grey divorce. That’s a big change that is happening – the divorce rate for women and men under forty is declining and it’s increasing for couples over fifty. It’s called the grey divorce and what that means is that as women spend more time in the work force and have their own money, when the kids leave the house and you don’t have too much in common with that guy anymore, you have the resources to leave. That’s happening with the baby boomers.
It’s a positive thing in a way. If you haven’t been happy all these years, why spend your last years being unhappy?
RacheI: Exactly, and also people are living longer. I think that’s one of the reasons for the grey divorce – people are saying to themselves, hey, I’m sixty years old, I’m still young, I’m still healthy, I’m exercising, I’m going to the gym, and if I’m really unhappy. I’m going to get out of this thing.
I notice that there is a new trend in women celebrating divorce with parties and events. I guess you can take it two ways; it could be a little superficial or it could be celebrating a new start to your life.
RacheI: Well listen, I’ve definitely seen people have divorce parties before and it’s complicated. I can’t say that would be my style and as long as it’s, “Hey, I’m in control of my life and I feel great about where I am.”, I guess that’s good.
You’re celebrating a loss because even if you want to break up, you have to mourn and like you say, you have to heal.
RacheI: It is, and I think that as far as empty nesters and divorce parties, you really want to think everything through. I’m a big proponent of taking the high road. Do you really want your ex and your children to think you are having a divorce party?
If you are a young girl and there are no children involved, and you found out your ex cheated on you, that’s one thing. I had a client whose husband was cheating on her through the engagement period, the wedding and the honeymoon. Someone like her – if you want to throw a divorce party and you got a good settlement, go for it.
I think for most people to have a divorce party and put it on Facebook, you’re not exactly taking the high road, especially if kids are involved and your ex’s family or friends are on your Facebook.
Even if you are in an abusive relationship, you’ve got to be careful how much you are going to share with your children while they are still children. When they get to be an age when they can handle talking about it, you can talk about it, but it’s complicated.
In your practice, you counsel women one on one and in group therapy. If a woman is still in a relationship and wants to leave, do you counsel her first and help her through the entire process?
RacheI: Sometimes people come in when they are in a relationship that they aren’t happy with and they’re not sure what they want to do. We’ll go through the pros and the cons. Some people, when they come to see me they are ready to make a move and other people are highly conflicted.
Like I said, there are a lot of good guys out there. I’ve seen a lot of women who are married to really nice guys and maybe there is no passion, or maybe they chose this guy because he was safe or because all their friends were getting married. Those are hard decisions to make. If someone is inherently a good person and they love you, how do you get up the guts to make a move like that? And then you’re scared and you wonder will I meet someone else? You can’t promise someone that they are going to meet someone else, but it’s just a matter of how uncomfortable they are in the relationship that they are currently in. It’s not easy. Not all relationships are Hollywood romances.
Do you suggest women take their time when going through a transition such as a divorce and starting a new chapter in their lives?
RacheI: I think you need to really think it through. Why are you unhappy? Are you unhappy for the right reasons; for healthy reasons? Are you unhappy for more selfish reasons, or are you comparing yourself to someone else? Maybe your husband isn’t making enough money or taking you on lavish enough vacations. I hear all sorts of reasons.
I think sometimes women will come to me more for something like psycho education, as in describing their marriage and asking my opinion. I might say, he sounds like a really good guy and he might not be as career minded as you would like him to be, but you have a really good career. Maybe you can’t have two people who are going to be masters of the universe. Do you want to have children? If you’ve got this big job and he’s got this lesser job, maybe that would work really well for you in a couple of years.
I always say, it doesn’t always work great with two “type A” people. I see a lot of these successful “type A” women that want an equally successful “type A” husband. It doesn’t always work that way, and not all really successful men want equally competent and successful women. Some successful men are really traditional and they prefer someone to stay home and raise children. I’m not going to judge that type of guy for wanting that any more than I judge a woman for wanting a husband to be a provider.
I do suggest people slow down the process, take a good look at it and really try to tease out what they are looking for in a relationship. Sometimes, I hear about mostly good marriages, and sometimes they just need some work and I’ll suggest they visit a couple’s counselor. See if that will work for you. If it doesn’t, really skilled couple’s counselors will help you break up.
When women have gone through divorce and are ready to start dating again, are you an advocate of online dating?
RacheI: I’m a huge advocate of online dating. I don’t think that anyone can pass up online dating today. It is now in the fiber of our society. More and more people are getting comfortable with it. I think it is great “dating school”. It can be very organic and flow, where you spend a couple of months just working on your profile. You can post your profile and not do anything with it for a while just to get more comfortable, and you can slowly go on a date or two.
What I see is that when people get comfortable with online dating and they've got a bunch of dates lined up, then they are going to be at a party that weekend and they are going to have more confidence that someone is going to ask them out. When they go on a date with someone that asked them out from a party, they’ve been on ten Match.com dates already, so they are better at it, they’re not as shy. It’s cutting your teeth.
If you’re not going to meet someone at work – you are in a small office, or a female oriented profession or you are a stay at home mom, where else are you going to meet someone? We don’t go to bars anymore.
It’s true, online dating is a great way to meet people.
RacheI: I read a cute article in the New York Times this week by a guy whose mother is a widow and they were both dating online at the same time. The mother was on Match.com and he was on OKCupid. The mother met someone before he did, and I thought it was really cute.
For people that say I’m not doing that because there are just creeps on there –that’s your own insecurity, check that at the door. I say to my clients, look out the window, how many people do you see on the street? I don’t know, maybe 100, 150. How many of those people are creeps? Probably 100 of them.
You walk into a party and there are fifty people. You might only like one or two of them, so it’s the same thing on the Internet. You’ll have seven bad dates before you have a good one, but laugh about it.
If you are smart, you can figure out if someone is a creep.
RacheI: Exactly, And whenever one of my clients is telling me about a really bad date from the Internet, I say, let’s start from square one. What did you like about his profile? What did you like about the way he spoke to you? Why did you accept the date with him, did you see that coming?
They say, well, yes, I kind of did. OK, so if someone is a flat out creep, you should be able to pick that up in the email back and forth and on the telephone. If you don’t, hey, it’s one hour of your life.
Just don’t get your hopes up so high that he’s going to be the one. You can’t be desperate; you have to have realistic expectations. I say think of it like you are going to meet a new person and you are going to learn something. Like an informational interview.
One of my friends dated a guy for ten years that her friend had gone on a Match.com date with. She told him, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you are my type, however, I think my friend might love you. Would you be open to meeting my friend? He said sure and they dated for ten years. You just never know.
Thank you, Rachel, for your compassionate and insightful advice. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you!
Are you considering divorce and afraid to make that move, or are you trying to cope with unresolved emotions after a breakup? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.