Recently Sandra Beck was interview for an aritcle about divorce for a piece coming out in a Divorce Magazine. Here is a copy of that interview:
You went through a very public divorce and chose to talk about it on the radio. Why did you do that?
Beck: Every divorce is public. Whatever your sphere of influence whether it’s family, friends and your local community or thousands of people listening to you each week, it’s still public. It’s embarrassing, humiliating at times and though personally I am usually a very private person I found it fun and entertaining to talk about it on the radio. I’m known for saying things that most people would think but not voice. It’s not always right but at least you know where I stand and what I am thinking.
Did you have any negative responses?
Beck: It probably gave my attorney a heart attack on a weekly basis and some people called me bitter and foolish. The fan mail and support far outweighed the negatives even after the first week. My ex and his affair partner were apoplectic and that was part of the fun. It was also a tool to correct bad behavior. When the affair partner refused to let me see my toddler three minutes prior to my scheduled pickup time and stood there at the baseball park holding him screaming for his mom as she looked at her watch until exactly noon I talked about that on the radio. Funny, it never happened again.
What did that teach you and what can it teach your followers?
Beck: I learned that it was important for people to stand up to bullying and manipulation because there is a lot of that which goes on during the divorce process. In the five years it took me to achieve a final divorce decree I was threatened by both my ex and his affair partner, I was gossiped about by the neighborhood and my professional peers and my children were withheld from me on two holidays to “teach me a lesson.”
Did you talk about that on the air?
Beck: No I handled that through my attorney the first time. The second time day I went to the movies and kept my cell phone handy. I cried the whole time, but I did not let my ex or his affair partner see me sweat and once they realized they couldn’t get a rise out of me they gave up that tactic. You see people are hurting during a divorce for all sorts of reason besides a broken heart. There is disillusionment going on, grief over the ending of a marriage and all sorts of other things. Usually, all those negative feelings are targeted at the ex-wife or ex-husband. And, in the throes of a divorce your ex can and will say anything to anyone about you as long as they relieve their own personal pain, aggression and frustration.
What were some of the things that were said about you?
Beck: At the time, hearing these things was very painful. But now looking back I see that they were attempts to manipulate and control me as well as to discredit me to make their bad behavior acceptable. And also I was a punching bag for his and her frustration at the situation. My ex and his affair partner talked to my neighbors, the parents of my kid’s friends, and pretty much anyone who would listen. I had a birthday party for my older son and no one from my street came except for one woman who said they were all mad at me. Turns out my ex’s affair partner told them awful things so I called each neighbor and explained that they heard gossip about me and to please come to my son’s party and judge me on my own merit not what you heard from my ex and his affair partner. A few did, most didn’t.
What was said about you?
Beck: I guess I didn’t do a good job dodging that answer. Let’s see: a lesbian, a whore, a drug addict, an alcoholic, a cougar, a terrible mother, a work-a-holic, a liar, a cheater. Pretty much anything you can think of. I think the best one was that I had invited my ex’s affair partner to have a threesome and he decided he liked her better. That was a silly one. I heard that one at soccer.
How did you handle that?
Beck: Inside I was mortified. I was like is that what people are thinking? But then I realized I can’t control what people think. I can’t control what my ex and his affair partner are saying or doing. I can’t warn everyone about them and no one would believe me anyway. So I said, “Hey, that’s a good one. What else have you heard?” I find it really entertaining all the gossip about me.” I got an earful as everyone started loosening up and laughing about it. Though it hurt my feelings a lot to be the butt of this awful gossip, standing up to it and not being afraid of it and letting people see that I know and don’t care was a huge step in reclaiming myself during the divorce process.
What do you mean reclaiming yourself?
Beck: Divorce can make you nuts. I’m typically a pretty quiet introverted person unless I am functioning professionally. Getting a divorce is like walking through fire with the wind blowing – you don’t know when or where the next flame is going to burn you. The divorce process turned me into a person I didn’t like being. It was so stressful. At times it felt so out of control and it was. Once you get the process done you can return to yourself. At least that was the way it was for me.
What was the hardest part of the divorce?
Beck: For me I could tolerate the financial loss, the emotional loss, the loss of stability, the loss of a future together and the loss of my children full time. The hardest part was knowing that I had a very powerful adversary. That was scary. Divorce is a naturally adversarial process. I am used to that in business, but in this case your adversary knows your weakest points. They know you better than anyone after a long term marriage and that gives them a huge advantage.
So what do you do?
Beck: It took me a while to do this and to get good at it. I am good at it now. You walk away. You don’t react. You hang up the phone. You don’t let them drive your behaviors. It takes two to fight and most of the time your ex wants a reaction. Who knows why? Once you stop reacting to what they are saying and what they are doing, they don’t get anything from it and they stop. I remember my ex saying he was going to call my friends and tell them I had an “emotional affair” and that’s why he had his “physical affairs.” It was a total lie, and I was nervous because my ex would do just that. So I said okay. He did call some of my friends who hung up on him, told him off and laughed at him. I learned that when you have a hysterical, angry and manipulative ex you can’t stop them so you just learn to stand tall and watch. Most of the time they end up looking stupid.
What about the kids? What do you do when your ex bad mouths you to your kids?
Beck: My ex has told my sons all sorts of things. That backfires eventually because the kids see that what he says doesn’t match up with what they experience with me. Now unfortunately they don’t believe what he says. That was my ex’s choice and his decision to create that in his relationship with his sons. My dad says you give people enough rope and the eventually hang themselves. Bad behavior backfires and the truth always comes out.
His affair partner told my sons that I care more about my work and my career than them and that she never worked and never went to college because all she ever wanted to be was a mom. Because I have an open and honest relationship with my sons they came to me to ask if that was true. I helped them see that it was the actions that count and not the words that were said. I told them I work to pay our bills but I am there at practice, at school events, helping with homework, making dinner. That’s how they know I prioritize them over work. I didn’t get involved in discrediting her or my ex. I simply taught my kids to see and hear, not just listen. It was a good learning lesson for them, both times. I was so angry at both my ex and his affair partner, but if you can turn the negatives into learning lessons about the way people behave you give your kids tools they can learn now instead of the hard way later.
Any last advice for our readers?
Beck: Yes, getting through divorce is only the first part of the process when you have kids. That is what makes it possible for you to move forward and start building your new life and your new normal. The next step once you are divorced is to think about what you want in your life with respect to your family and obligations. You have this amazing “do over” and we very rarely get that in life. Taking the time to set up boundaries with yourself and your ex takes time but is well worth it.
Following up on that, can you clarify what it means boundaries for yourself and your ex?
Beck: After a long term marriage or relationship, things are often taken for granted and given without awareness. I had to set firm boundaries with my ex in that he gets to know nothing about my personal life, my finances except what is court ordered, my friendships, my work or my health. I learned this one day when he was walking through my house and my housekeeper asked him to leave when he came upon her folding laundry in my bedroom. He said he was looking for one of my son’s items. I was so angry, but my son had let him in.
I had to explain to the kids that their dad can only come in mom’s house if mom is right there. It’s sad that relationships come to this, but without strong boundaries for your new personal life your ex can cause all sorts of harm to your relationships intentionally or otherwise. Its best just to shut the door on the past- treat your ex like a delivery person delivering your kids and move on with your life. Firm, fair and polite, but at least in my experience I divorced this person for a reason, so why would I let them have the same rights and privileges as my friends who love and care for me? People who do mean and spiteful things have no place in my life. In most divorces, your ex is a total jerk and unless you are a glutton for pain and punishment its best to let that ship sail. Moving on means closing those doors that give you the peace, the freedom and the space to love again.