Divorce doesn’t have to be a destructive life change. Sometimes extricating yourself from a bad relationship can inspire you to step outside of your comfort zone. Many of us have found ourselves when we have a new purpose for focusing on our own needs, or those of our children. We go back to school or we find a new career.
Lisa Thomson was a stay-at-home mom of two children when her marriage of 18 years ended. The Vancouver, British Columbia resident grew up on the prairies of Alberta. She raised her children in Edmonton, Alberta, but prefers to live near the ocean.
Lisa pursued a certificate inResidential Interiors after her separation. She took online courses, which is an excellent choice for stay-at-home moms who want to continue their education.
She also wrote about her divorce experience in “The Great Escape: A Girl's Guide to Leaving a Marriage”. It’s a wonderful book. Lisa shares the lessons she learned during this difficult time, but it’s not just an advice or “how-to” book. Lisa’s voice is funny, heartbreaking and intimate.
Lisa’s website and blog are also valuable and entertaining resources for any woman thinking about divorce or going through the process.
First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa about rebounding from divorce as a single mother and her inspiration for her writing.
Your book,The Great Escape: A Girl's Guide to Leaving a Marriageis so personal and heartbreaking, but hopeful – for example, the part where you tell your ex that you are pregnant and he says, “I was going to buy a sports car.” That made me angry and sad. It also reminded me of parts of my own relationships. Was it difficult to share the intimate struggles of a relationship that wasn't working or was it cathartic for you to write about your divorce?
Lisa: It was both difficult and cathartic. I think when it was happening the weight of it hadn’t fully hit me. In trying to cope I used denial to continue in the marriage, even after the miscarriage. So when I started writing the book, events and moments like that one really came into focus. I hope that sharing this kind of experience can help the reader understand when it’s time to stop making excuses and when it’s time to admit there is something wrong in their own marriage.
The purpose of my first chapter is to help the reader accept that unhappiness can exist in spite of abundance. For example, even though I was living in my dream home, the pain of the past could not be erased or denied.
Accepting that moments in time can really define where we are and what our marriage is about if we’re willing to face that. Part of deciding to end a marriage is accepting those defining moments.
Also, giving ourselves permission to be unhappy is a theme in my first chapter. I used to tell myself, “What are you complaining about? You have a beautiful home and a gorgeous vehicle, your kids are healthy…” and I would list what I should be grateful for. But what was missing was love. If you don’t have love then much of the joy in life is sapped.
How did you start writing? You are a wonderful and prolific writer.
Lisa: Thank you, Pamela! I always wrote in a journal. I took an evening writing class many years ago. It was something I had wanted to pursue but never made the time. I’ve always been an avid reader since childhood so that helps as far as expressing ideas.
You were a stay-at-home mother when you split from your husband. It’s one thing when you are making your own money and you know you have an income coming in, but it can be intimidating worrying about how you are going to make a living. The financial aspect probably keeps some women from making that move. How did you muster up the courage to go on your own with two children and what plans did you make to start your new life?
Lisa: Definitely finances are a concern for many women. However, it can be a fear mongering tactic for husbands when they don’t want the marriage to end. I mustered up the courage with complete decisiveness and a dash of ignorance. Sometimes, if we know what lies ahead we won’t ever take a chance and that’s where the ignorance comes in handy.
I think we have to take a leap of faith at times and this was one of them for me. I had faith we wouldn’t live in poverty. I knew my husband would have to support us to a point. I also borrowed money from a family member to secure a new housing arrangement. My plans weren’t exactly organized and that is one of the reasons I wrote the book and included the steps to take before leaving the matrimonial home. I’m hoping my suggestions will provide a smoother experience for other women.
Do you have any advice for other women who are stay-at-home moms who don’t know how to make the next move, especially if the chances are good that they won’t be getting a great deal of child support, or perhaps no support?
Lisa: Before I answer that I have to emphasize that there is no reason that a man will not be obliged to pay support for his wife and children, when she was the stay at home, full time parent. The only two reasons she would not receive support is if he has no income or if he refuses to pay. In the first case, he can still be court ordered to pay a certain amount until he finds work. In the second case, there are measures she can take to ensure support is forthcoming.
Stay at home moms who are thinking of leaving need to begin making their escape plan.
Firstly, research and investigate the marital financial situation. Do you have RSP’s? How much? Does your husband have a 401k (pension fund)? How much credit card debt is there? How much mortgage is owing on the matrimonial home? This bit of investigating and snooping will help her avoid big financial surprises later in the process.
Secondly, they should open their own bank account if they don’t already have one. Begin putting any personal income or some of the joint income into their new account. Yes, that joint account is half theirs…legally speaking.
Third, get their own credit card in their own name to begin establishing a credit rating. For privacy, they could rent a P.O. Box for a private mailing address for personal credit card statements.
Also, choose one confidant they can trust and rely on for an emergency or simply moral support.
Those are some of the initial steps a stay at home mom could take to set up some security before ending the marriage. I do cover this in greater detail in my book.
The Great Escape: A Girl’s Guide to Leaving a Marriage Image source: Lisathomsonlive.com
Your book and your blog have a wealth of advice on everything from seeking legal counsel to co-parenting and financial matters from the perspective of a woman who has been through a divorce. What was your biggest challenge as you were going through the process and how did you handle it?
Lisa: Probably the legal part of the divorce was my biggest challenge. Watching my savings burn was difficult but it was also necessary to ensure my support and long term security. The next biggest challenge was co-parenting with my ex.
As far as the legal challenges went, I just kept changing lawyers until I found the right one. My fourth lawyer was my final one. I know, it sounds nuts but the more people I talked to the more I realized it wasn’t unusual to switch lawyers during the process. Once, I secured the right lawyer things went much smoother.
After the divorce was over my ex appealed the decision. I then had to make a tough choice; continue paying for legal counsel until I had nothing left, or figure out what I needed to do and get it done myself.
Co-parenting turned into a real nightmare for me. While I was trying to parent by the rules, my ex was constantly interfering with my weeks and my plans with the children. He would even enlist friends and family to request the children on my time. It spiraled out of control and I quickly had to learn to enforce co-parenting boundaries.
You went back to University (Continuing Education) after your divorce for a certificate in Residential Interiors. How did you manage that while raising your children? Do you work in this field now?
Lisa: Yes, the program was designed for part time study which was perfect for my situation. I would take one or two classes in a session. I could attend a morning class or afternoon class while they were in school. It wasn’t as intense as taking a Bachelor’s degree while raising children but I still had to find a balance between studying, working part time and fulfilling my mother duties. I do work in this field now and really enjoy it.
You aren’t afraid to talk about very personal issues, such as being in a sexless marriage. Some people may be able to recapture the passion that they once had, but a lot of couples are too far gone for that. Everyone always assumes it is the woman who doesn’t want sex, but as you’ve pointed out, it can definitely be the other way around. Did you try to rekindle the spark or was it a sign that your marriage was beyond repair?
Lisa: I always tried to keep the spark alive but it became plain to me that it wasn’t going to change. I used to try to talk to him about it and he refused. He felt bothered by my conversations. I began to feel unattractive and uninterested in sex as well. Not a healthy way to live.
That’s actually my most popular blog posts “Sexual Neglect” with many reader comments. I recommend sexual counseling for those couples who are still in love or with a really good person but just lacking in that area.
Did you seek any kind of help before and after the divorce, such as therapy? If not, why not and if so, how did it help you?
Lisa: We went to marital counseling earlier in the marriage. Some changes were made for a while but as time went on old habits returned and I struggled with the same issues.
Later, I did see a therapist before I left the marital home. On my third visit, the therapist told me she had just hung up the phone from my husband. He had called her to tell her that I wasn’t my ‘normal self’ and not to ‘listen to anything’ I said…he also wanted to know what I was saying in the sessions. She told me not to worry that she wouldn’t divulge anything to him. I was so uncomfortable with the situation, I never returned.
I did resume counseling with a different therapist about two years after separation. It did ease the burden and stress I was dealing with.
I like the blog post you wrote, "Stop Being Too Nice". Women have this tendency, I know I do. How do we stop being too nice and be assertive enough to get what we deserve, whether that is love, affection or finances?
Lisa: I know! This is such an important issue and something we definitely learn during divorce. Number one is believing in yourself and not letting other people tell you what is right for you. Listening to your instincts and knowing you deserve certain things, then going after them. Not taking other people’s shit, to put it plainly. Becoming more assertive and letting go of that good girl is a process and it’s something we can work on all the time. Once we improve at the skill of assertiveness, the self confidence will come and so will the good things we deserve.
How long did you wait before you started dating or looking for another relationship and how did you get over the fear we all have when we put ourselves back out there after being diminished by an ex-spouse?
Lisa: This is a tough one. It’s such a personal decision as to when and how one goes about getting back out in the dating world. I waited about six months. Which sounds kind of soon and it was but it was someone I knew from my past. I think if it had been anyone else it would have been too soon. Being with someone I grew up with really eliminated a lot of the doubts one would typically have. The scars from a past relationship take time to heal and I was still re-building when I started my new relationship. The fact that it was a long distance one allowed me the much needed independence, post marriage. I had an opportunity to get to know ‘me’ again. I know that might sound corny but I really did need to do that.
What is your life and that of your children like now? In your photographs you look like someone with a lot of love and joy in her heart.
Lisa: Thank you! I definitely try my best to always express my love for the VIPs in my life. I also have a stepson so I actually have three grown children now. My own children and I have a long distance relationship but we make the best of it. They’re 19 and 21 now and have their own busy lives. We see each other at least once per month and we make it quality…I miss them everyday still. My love for them has kept me going through the whole divorce process.
Thank you, Pamela for the interview. I sincerely hope my words are a source of some comfort for those going through the journey right now.
Thank you, Lisa! We really appreciate your willingness to share your story and your wonderful advice.
Do you have your own story to tell? How did you change your life after divorce? Please share in the comment box below and please check out Lisa's social media in the links above and read her fabulous book.