Gabrielle Hartley is a leading attorney based in the US for nearly 25 years and is known for her unique, non-toxic approach to divorce. She is also a mediator, a divorce coach, speaker and the author of the book “Better Apart – The Radically Positive Way to Separate.” She has co-authored this book with Elena Brower who is a teacher, author and speaker who has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1999.
People magazine called her book “The Conscious Uncoupling How To Book” and the New York Post compared it to Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up.” Gabrielle says that although divorce may not spark joy it can be the launch pad to “your beautiful life if it is approached in the correct way.” Gwyneth Palthrow said that the “book is filled with potent and accessible tools for your family and your future.”
I had the pleasure of speaking to Gabrielle about her book and the topic of Peaceful Divorce that we are both passionate about. She has recently started the Positive Divorce Movement in the US and is working tirelessly to smash the stigma around divorce.
What prompted you to write the book?
When I was 9 and my brother was 6 years of age my parents separated and they did it in a way where they had shared custody of the two of us before it was a thing. I remember they were quite braggy about it at the time and about how well they were doing it. In my personal experience I didn’t really think it was so fantastic but when I completed my legal studies I went on to clerk for Judge Jeffrey Sunshine in New York City, I worked on thousands of trial ready divorce cases and I witnessed how horribly people treated each other. It made me appreciate what my parents had done and I realized that they had done things right and they had done it differently. I have also being practising yoga and mindfulness from a very early age and have incorporated these principles into this book. I have distilled my insights and experiences and set it out in this book so people can use this book as a companion when going through divorce.
You see divorce as a transformation, a new chapter, can you elaborate on this?
When people experience a difficult divorce that causes them pain they are given the opportunity to radically reframe how they see it. Experiencing the pain is hard but rather than avoiding it, I think it is important to lean into the pain and grief and this experience provides for transformation. It gives you the opportunity to look to the future and ask yourself the important questions so you can refocus your mind, to re-narrate, re-tell yourself a different story and see a different perspective. So often we don’t realize what unbelievable agency we have within ourselves. What we need is to tap into our inner courage to access our power. I find intentional journaling a great tool to notice thought patterns and then to create the pathway to take small steps in reframing how you think.
You talk of using mindfulness and meditation to manage the process and make your clients feel better. Lawyers maybe somewhat skeptical of this. approach. How would you broach the subject with them?
I did an event at a litigation firm recently about my book and what I said to my colleagues is that both lawyers and clients want to feel better. They all want to feel whole in themselves and feel good. When you look at it from that perspective client’s will not see lawyers as being weak. Encouraging clients to recognize that strong does not mean unkind, is certainly not going to be frowned upon. When they encourage their clients to take up some of the practices set out in this book clients may even feel a greater sense of empathy and connection with the attorney.
In the book I also encourage people to think of a positivity mantra and use this to help them when they are struggling with a particular issue. A mantra is a positive affirmation. I regularly tell myself “I am radiantly calm” I re-state this mantra to myself during the calmest moments.
When I feel irritated or impatient it is accessible to serve. I can take a step back because “I am radiantly calm.” This positive affirmation helps me to take the much-needed pause (just a moment) to refocus
My advice to lawyers is to capture a piece of advice in the book that resonates with them and use it and encourage their clients to use it too. It’s about starting to rewire our brains. Begin by taking a few deep breaths and using an affirmation. Do it regularly so the new thinking patterns become ingrained in you.
Divorce is not synonymous with “peace.” What do you think a person needs to do to cultivate peace and have a peaceful divorce”?
I love that question. To me peace is about getting to a place of neutrality. It’s not about chasing rainbows and unicorns. It’s about making the internal space to slow the mind and focus on the neutral, to focus on what is good enough though it may not be ideal. So it’s about recognizing something good the other parent does (however small) and acknowledging it. If they pick up the kids on time take the time to acknowledge this. Focus on what they did right however small. I learned a lot about this raising three boys. When they used to play together I would acknowledge the little things they did to keep the peace and say to them “ I see you haven’t thrown sand at anyone in 15 minutes.”
In the book you talk of the five tenants of a good divorce. Can you talk me through those.
Patience is a process of slowing down.
Respect is respect for boundaries and recognising what brings you to a place of equanimity and joy.
Clarity is about focusing on what is, what is not and what can be, what cannot be. It is to start visualizing with clarity where you want to go and to stop playing the blame game.
Peace is about achieving neutrality.
Forgiveness is having deep compassion for yourself . People are usually so angry and they feel betrayed and they don’t feel like they want to forgive the other party. It’s not about the other person, it’s about yourself. It’s about letting go of expectations, letting go of feelings of disappointment and betrayal. It’s necessary to forgive yourself for being angry and upset that they did not apologise. That may sound weird but even if you didn’t play a part in the breakdown of the relationship it is about recognizing that what happened is not representative of who you are. It’s about their choice and their actions. If you continue to dwell on it as a human being you end up ruining yourself.
If one party adopts the approach you are advocating but the other party is seeking vengeance and will not cooperate, what is your advice in that situation?
Essentially this book is about you and your personal growth. This kind of thinking and approach will change the way you respond and how you manage the process. If you keep going down that rabbit hole of blaming the other party you end up being powerless. That negative loop that we tend to perpetuate can ruin an entire life. We sometimes tend to get so focused on the other person’s role in the dynamic, often times though we are not participating in it, we are complicit. Rather than getting caught up in the blame cycle it is more beneficial if we stop to ask ourselves the question as to how we can make ourselves more whole. By changing how you respond to your ex, he or she will also start acting a little differently. They may not change entirely but they will respond ever so slightly, differently because you are changing the steps of the dance.
I ask my clients to visualize, internalize and realize. I call this the VIR protocol. Pick one small area in your life and work on that area. Visualise the intention. Don’t worry about the how’s. If you focus on the positive it shift’s the energy around you.
With regard to Parenting, when going through divorce people tend to rely on other’s stories and are sometimes influenced adversely I feel. How do you think people should approach the issue of advice that they receive from well-intentioned friends and relatives that may not be ideal?
The theme of your divorce may be similar to another person’s but your situation is unique. We are complicated beings with different needs and how we relate to one another is highly nuanced. Know your family, make a plan depending on the temperament of the children, the parent’s jobs, schedules and ensure that it is doable. It must always take the best interests of the children into account. Don’t worry so much on the transitions, rather work together to mitigate the conflict. Sometimes lawyers care too much about the number of transitions etc. If things are smooth and there is minimum conflict the kids will be fine. You don’t need to even interact with each other if you don’t want to, you can do changeovers at school, or in the park or at a friend’s house but ensure that you keep the children on a positive track.
I sometimes find that there tends be a lot of venting that happens to friends and relatives especially if one of the parties is not handling the separation very well. What do you suggest people do in this situation?
Of course you do need to have a trusted friend or two with whom you can be completely vulnerable but be careful of over sharing with too many people. Get a coach or a therapist instead so you can be vulnerable with them. When you talk to other people you may end up offloading a lot of emotions and the children maybe exposed to the aftermath of what you say years later. It is important to keep the conversations positive instead of stirring the pot. Sometimes this kind of talk creates so much unintended negative consequences. It’s nice to have a community that is positive it’s not about just complaining but rather about reframing your story. I suggest to my clients that they stay off social media when going through the divorce because there may be unnecessary and unintended consequences as a result of certain posts. I do think it’s nice to have a community but make sure it is positive and provides you with the strength and support you need at this time,
So you have now moved away from litigation to mediation and coaching. I find that Divorce Coaching is gaining more popularity in Australia but many people still don’t understand the benefits of coaching and tend to go off to therapy and counseling instead. What do you see as the benefits of Divorce Coaching?
I think Divorce Coaching is a brilliant service that can be very useful for clients as it’s a service that is supportive of the process. The services a coach offers are different to what a lawyer offers. Clients often don’t have a firm grasp of what’s happening to them. This was eye-opening to me as a lawyer. If a coach has a legal background it can be especially useful as the coach can assist clients by acting as an interface between the lawyer, the therapist and other professionals too. The coach can shepherd the client through the divorce process. Coaching is also a process where the coach educates the client and this can also reduce the legal spend of the client. Divorce coaching is transformative for clients and I don’t think you can put a price on it.
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Anne-Marie Cade’s Bio
Hi, I am Anne-Marie. I am also a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner / Nationally Accredited Mediator, Certified Divorce Coach, High Conflict Coach, Parent Coordinator and founder of Divorce Right.
I have created a revolutionary new way for clients to heal and get over divorce or break-up. I am passionate about family and relationships and I work with clients to empower them to improve communication, manage conflict and reach a peaceful, amicable separation, so they can successfully co-parent together. I incorporate mindfulness practices into my coaching and mediation sessions so my clients are able to get more centered and grounded and become more mindful about the decisions they make.
This unique method helps clients manage the conflict, re-frame their relationship with their partner and finalize all the paperwork so they can move on to the next chapter of your life. I believe that this approach will ensure a positive outcome for the family. I am currently working on my soon to be released book “Peaceful Divorce, Happy Kids.”
I offer 1-1 coaching programs, group coaching, online courses, workshops, and mediation services.