In this episode, Jaime talks with Steve Schleupner, Certified Divorce Coach and Financial Planner, about his personal experience with divorce and how it inspired him to become a divorce coach. Steve shares his journey of navigating divorce as a single father and the challenges he faced in balancing his career and responsibilities. He introduces Stoic philosophy and its application in coaching men through divorce, emphasizing the importance of perception, actions, and focusing on what is within their control. Tune in to this enlightening conversation to gain valuable tools and strategies for men to achieve a positive outcome in divorce and rebuild their life.Need help from Steve? Contact him by visiting www.youtreecoaching.com.If you are in need of legal assistance in North Carolina, contact us at Gailor Hunt by visiting www.divorceistough.com.Like this show? Rate it here!
Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.
Jaime: Welcome to A Year and a Day. I’m Jaime Davis, board certified family law attorney at Gailor Hunt. On this show, I talk with lawyers, psychologists, and other experts with the goal of helping you navigate divorce without destruction. In this episode, I’m speaking with Steven Schleupner, Certified Divorce Coach and Financial Planner and Host of the podcast, A Man’s Journey Through Divorce, which shares tools and strategies to help any divorcee achieve the best possible outcome they truly want. Thanks for joining me, Steve.
Steven: Thanks for having me, Jaime.
Jaime: So, Steve, you started coaching after you personally went through a divorce. Can you share a little bit about your experience? And what about your experiences inspired you to go into coaching?
Steven: Yeah, I have been a lifelong planner or career long planner, and when I moved from Maryland to Vermont, my divorce happened, and I found myself trying to juggle many of the aspects that a single father would have. And I really wanted to have 50-50 custody. And what was happening is I was finding a hard time balancing my career alongside with these new responsibilities, and it just caused me to take pause and try to figure out what I really wanted in terms of work and what I really wanted in terms of my role as a father. And in that, I decided to take a gap year. And in that year, I spent a lot of time understanding some of the stuff that was coming up, some of the things I didn’t want to let go of. And I took really, a year to heal. In that time frame, I was trying to figure out, what is it that I wanted to do? And I had come across a man that lived in my neighborhood. I knew him vaguely, and in our conversation that we ultimately had, I was finding that I was able to connect with him with some areas around his divorce. And really what had happened is, when I first connected with him, we were actually having breakfast at a counter, and his divorce had just been finalized the day before, and he had told me that he had lost everything. He had lost custody, had lost his assets. He got into an intense legal battle with his father in law, and he was kind of forced to drop things. And in that conversation, he was at his deepest despair. And I shared with him some of the things that I had learned through the year long process that I have gone through, and it kind of just eased the pressure for him. And we ended up going on a long walk. He had disclosed to me that he had thought about taking his life, and I found myself in probably the most difficult situation I could find myself in. But I just wanted to help him. We spent time talking. I worked him through some forgiveness exercises and volunteered to help and coach him going forward for free. And that’s what I did, and we made a lot of progress. I was able to establish a good foundation with him. And that was the first clue that divorce coaching was finding me. And I wasn’t really setting out to pursue it, but I just followed that clue and allowed it to envelop. And here I am, probably, what, six years later.
Jaime: Wow, that is such a powerful story. Had you done any coaching before that time?
Steven: I hadn’t. I mean, as a financial planner, I had always coached people to break habits, to work together to handle a difficult transition such as retirement. And I started to see that some of what I was doing as a financial planner was rolling over to this possibility as a divorce coach. But I hadn’t done that much in-depth coaching before.
Jaime: So in your experience, do you believe that divorce affects men differently than women?
Steven: Absolutely. I think there are three things that men struggle with. A lot of it’s based on the archetype that we were taught as boys. Many men will come into their role in a marriage and take on a provider role. Not to say that women don’t do this either, but men have this ingrained thing that we were taught by our fathers and the forefathers before them, and we fall into that archetype, and that brings on a lot of pressure. But I find that men aren’t really tuned into developing the right support network around them as women are. We don’t necessarily understand our emotions. We don’t know how to nurture ourself through difficult time or even instill our own self-care because our role has been so much reaching out to be that provider archetype. I also think men allow their male egos to get the best of them. They seek comfort in sex, different habits that may not serve them. They also tend to want to control things that aren’t necessarily within their control. And all these have a greater ramification on their ability to make their way through divorce and end up with the best possible outcome that they can achieve.
Jaime: So if these habits are so just ingrained in men, how do you help them work through breaking those habits?
Steven: Right. The key is in the emotions. A lot of times when you start to experience a tough transition, you’re going to have emotions that come up. And I like to see the emotions as opportunities, because when you’re faced with divorce and this archetype is breaking, what I mean is that men or anybody going through divorce, but I’ll speak to it from a male’s perspective. There are three divorces that happen throughout the divorce process. The first one is you lose your spouse. Whether you love them or not, you had great memories together and you’re losing an important part of your life. That’s what I call the first divorce. Then we move into the second divorce, and the second divorce is the breaking of the Sacred Vow . Now, a Sacred Vow is when you get married and you automatically start to attach dreams around what your future will hold. It’s also similar to holding your child for the first time and looking at your child in the face and saying, this is what I’m going to do for you. It’s a deep-seated intention. It’s the highest attention that we can set. And when we break that, we’re breaking away from the dreams that we attach to and that becomes very difficult. The third divorce is the divorce of the identity. We’re not the full time provider, we’re not the full time partner, we’re not the full time father. And so that starts to open up these fissures in who we think we are. And when you start to divorce away from the identity, you know you’re not the person you thought you were. The divorce is introducing this to you. You’re not the person you thought you were, but you don’t know quite who you are. So there’s this transition that we go through. So a lot of times when men come into me, they’re really struggling with this divorce of the identity. And the trick is to help them be patient through this space of learning that opens up for them. Most of them want to rush through it or mask it in some way because it’s uncomfortable. And the trick is learning how to be patient so you can figure out who you really are because you’ve attached to this form of identity that’s given you a lot of self-worth, but it’s not necessarily who you are. That’s what divorce teaches us.
Jaime: I was going to say that’s very interesting. I have never heard it described that way, that there are actually three divorces that happen, but it makes sense, and especially the divorce of the identity. I mean, you’ve been living for however many years as a married person and that is very much a part of your identity, your social space, your interactions with your neighbors and your friends and your coworkers. And then all of a sudden you’re a single person. And so I can imagine that that’s just huge.
Steven: It is. It’s the most complex and it’s the one, I think that we run from the quickest.
Jaime: So what is your philosophy for coaching men through divorce?
Steven: Well, I was introduced to studying Stoic philosophy, so we have all this great wisdom that was built thousands of years ago and a lot of actual psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is somewhat based on principles of Stoic philosophy. So I started researching different forms of philosophy and what it means. And what I found is that the idea behind the Stoics is to live well. And when you’re going through divorce, divorce is presenting you challenges that are going to test every element of whether or not you can live well. So you have a choice do I want to live well and follow this in a virtuous way, or do I want to work against it. So if you choose to want to live well, if you choose to want to look at the divorce as an opportunity to thrive, then you need to have a platform to do that. So the Stoic philosophers teach that it’s important to perceive things correctly. We have a choice. Do we want to perceive something in the negative, in the victim state, or do we want to perceive it as an opportunity or a challenge that I can work around? How we perceive all the things that come up in divorce really dictate the next part of Stoic philosophy, which is direct your actions from your best self. Now, the divorce itself is going to present obstacles and challenges and these interactions with an attorney or a mediator or your ex spouse that that are going to attempt you to drop into your lower self. And when you do that, you fall into these patterns of self imposed suffering. And then the third part of the Stoic philosophy is control only what it is that you can control. Now, when we’re working as a married couple, we’re working to bring in the most certainty as possible. We want certainty of income. We want certainty to know that all is going to be well with ourselves and our family and our kids. Divorce enters into a window of tremendous uncertainty, so it starts to peel that away. So our reaction is to try to control the things that we can’t control, to try to regain certainty. Now, when you drop into your lower self, you control the things that you can’t control, and you’re perceiving things wrong, then you open up the door to suffering. Now, suffering happens. A lot of things in the Buddhist religion will teach that suffering happens in your life as a result of three things. One is feeling that I’m not good enough, two is feeling that I’m alone, and three is wanting what I cannot have. So when you start to work against those three principles of Stoic philosophy, you’ll find yourself running up into one of those three forms of suffering. And it’s easy for us to sit back and blame and judge as the cause of our suffering and our pain onto something else. But most likely, everything that’s happened to you has already happened, and you’re making a choice whether or not you want to continue your suffering. And the reason that occurs is because people don’t have a structure. They’re absent a structure to move beyond. So they’re falling into these unconscious patterns that they don’t realize are there.
Jaime: So this is so interesting to me. I have never referred to it as Stoic philosophy, but so many of the things that you’ve just said, I try to counsel my clients through the divorce process all the time. We tell our clients, Take the high road. It’s not going to help you to get down in the mud and argue with your spouse if that’s where they are. There is no truth, right? There’s just perspectives. There’s each spouse’s perspective of what had happened. And so often I will have clients say, well, that’s not true, that’s not what happened. And I have to remind them, well, there’s another side to that story. And your spouse may have viewed that interaction very differently than you did. So I think this is great. Can you share some of the tools that you teach men as they’re going through a divorce?
Steven: Yeah, absolutely. So we need to have a tool, right? When you’re going through a divorce, it’s only a result because your marriage wasn’t working for the both of you. It’s not broken, it’s not a failure. It’s just simply not working. But the divorce process itself requires us to go through some steps to legally dissolve a marriage. There’s a legal process to that. And that process and the interactions that you had with your spouse will build up levels of uncertainty. They’ll create time and energy, distraction. I’m a big believer that we have to focus on full prosperity, recapturing full prosperity, which just isn’t money. It’s our time, our energy, and our health. So the divorce process itself will create distractions. It’ll bring in unfairness. It’ll tap us into areas where we feel like a victim. So some of the things that I do, first off, is I help clients get clear intentions on what they want. I use a 5F model. The F stand for Family, Finances, Fitness, Fervor, and Faith. So what are your intentions for each of those things? And an intention is different than a goal. An intention is a noble goal without attachment. It’s something I’m going to reach towards, but allow things to guide me as I reach towards this higher self-intention. So the first thing that we’ll do is we’ll set intentions. Then the way you start to tackle an elephant, I was always told you, eat an elephant one bite at a time. So how are you going to eat your divorce, one bite at a time? You do it on a day-by-day and moment by moment method. So I teach them how to book into each day the right way. The way you start is very indicative of the way your day will unfold and how it will finish. So we start the day with a routine, and we end the day with a routine that will actually do things like help us get better sleep. And then inside the day, you’re going to have these tendencies to fall or drift. So we’ll customize a rebound strategy that you can fall on to stop those patterns of rumination that are distracting you from your own well-being and who you want to be. As a coworker, as a parent, as an ex spouse, I teach people how to become aware of their emotions and to see their emotions as teachers, we have tools for that. We have tools for enhancing sleep, using breathing to reduce anxiety, increasing movement through our day, probably my favorite ones are tools to recognize the Toxic Dance. And I call the Toxic Dance as the lower self-invitations that you and your ex will give each other. And you have a way of poking each other and you’ve developed and you’ve perfected your Toxic Dance while you were married and you still want to dance when you’re in divorce. So the idea of the Toxic Dance is to recognize the patterns that lead to the Toxic Dance and then develop your own unique way to stay off that dance floor. You want to find a new way to dance. You don’t want to go through divorce in this toxic manner. And the last thing that I spend a lot of time doing is educating them on the ending of Unequals. The ending of Unequals happens because most divorces will go through a phase during the marriage where one spouse will disengage from the other. And through that disengagement, they are releasing their spouse. They’re accepting the fact that their financial life is going to change. They’re accepting that there’s going to be a new living situation. They’re accepting the loss and they tell the other person it’s over. So the person that’s done the disengagement has exited at what I call the higher stair of the ending of Unequals. And they’re telling the person at the lower stair it’s over. And even though that person may be unhappy, they sit there and they ask why? Why won’t you work on it? Why wasn’t I good enough? Why weren’t my efforts the right way for you? And they think that they’ll get the answers to those whys and everything will be okay, but it never is. And eventually understanding that dynamic, what’s happening, whether you’re the person that’s choosing to leave or you’re the person that received the news, will help you better understand how the divorce is coming through and why you’re experiencing some of the challenges that you have.
Jaime: Yeah, some of the more difficult cases that I see involve situations where one spouse or the other has made the decision quite some time ago that they want a divorce and the other spouse had no idea. And so they’re coming into it from two very different places and it just takes a lot longer for the spouse who was kind of, I’ll call them the outspouse because they didn’t know to get to the same place that the other spouse is in terms of the divorce. And that can make trying to resolve the property and financial issues, custody issues, much more difficult just because the one spouse just wasn’t ready and it was really out of left field for them.
Steven: Right, exactly. There’s a lot of catch up. So the spouse who’s leaving needs to understand this as well. I need to be a little bit gentle, impatient as the other spouse tries to catch up. And oftentimes what I’ll see is the spouse that’s on the lower stair will actually catch up and surpass the one. Then the spouse that started it ends up asking, why was it so easy for you to move on?
Jaime: Right. It’s like the spouse on the lower stair is forced to do the work, to do the soul searching to figure out some of what has gone on. And so they can often end up probably better off in the process.
Steven: Right. They actually have a greater growth opportunity.
Jaime: And I love your analogy about book ending the day. I think that is so thoughtful and apropos of this situation. And really it sounds like it’s all about self-care and learning how to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, throughout the process. Is that right?
Steven: Yeah, that’s where the philosophy comes in. Stoic philosophers weren’t really tuned into practicing their philosophy only in the most difficult times. They were tuned into making sure that I’m making a life change. There is a miracle hidden behind every person and every divorce. And you can choose to say, I just want to get through this divorce. And you will divorce successfully, but it doesn’t mean you will have a successful divorce. The real success comes from learning and understanding these things that are here to teach you so that you can then grow and move on being a much more, a better father, better mother, better partner, better co-worker. There’s things that you can learn here about yourself that will be instrumental tools to help you in many situations in your life going forward.
Jaime: Right. Because the goal should be not to just survive your divorce, but to thrive through it.
Steven: Right. Divorce is an ongoing process. I am about eight years through my divorce. My ex-wife and I still I say that we’re married in every element that we used to be, except we don’t engage in intimacy anymore. And so I continue practicing different ways to handle situations that come up. And I’m sure it’s going to be like that for a long time.
Jaime: Right. I mean, like it or not, you’re connected to your ex-spouse in many cases forever, especially if you share children. You’re going to be co parenting with that person till your kids are 18. And then once they’re adults, you’re going to be attending graduations together and weddings together and births of grandchildren together. And so you have to find a way to make it work.
Steven: Right, exactly.
Jaime: Well, at what stage of the divorce process do you recommend men seek out a coach to help them?
Steven: Well, obviously as early as possible. That’s the best way to do it. However, if you’re not Amicable so on my website I have an assessment called the Divorce Suckiness Assessment.
Jaime: I love that.
Steven: But when I talk to men and I say, how’s your divorce going? 90% of the responses are going to say, it sucks.
Steven: So I built this assessment so we can gauge the suckiness and what it does is it starts to show you three general scores. You’re either going to be Amicable, you’re going to be fully Contentious, or you’re going to be what I call Ami-tentious, which means you’re Amicable in many ways, but there’s some areas of specific Contentiousness that are really driving you crazy. So if you’re not scoring at an Amicable status, then we need to figure out how to lower your suckiness so you can work on the things that you need to work on so you can walk away from this with a better possible outcome. So if you’re going through divorce and you have these things, these elements of contentiousness that exist, and there’s these dynamics that you haven’t learned how to work through with your ex, you need to have a strategy to help you get through this. Otherwise you’re going to be tied to the pain body of the divorce.
Jaime: What are the biggest mistakes you think men make during the divorce process, and how can they avoid them?
Steven: The biggest mistake men make first is falling into a scarcity mindset. So we measure success oftentimes by what we’re able to retain and how much money we’re able to have, and we drop into scarcity mode rather than prosperity mode, and we start to try to protect what we can. So they don’t necessarily want to spend money on therapy or coaching or anything that they think they can shoulder themselves. The second thing is men don’t tend to have a support network. They might reach out and speak to their buddies or a family member, but that male ego starts to resolve and you’re going to be okay. I’ve been divorced, I’ve worked through many situations. In fact, I just got together this last weekend with my college buddies, and one of my good friends is going through a divorce, and we’re sitting there watching the games, and he came to me seeking help, but he doesn’t feel comfortable even open up and speaking to another man about it. So men aren’t as good as women are in nurturing each other through our needs. We tend to step in and say, this is the bravado male ego. Smack them on the butt, get out in the field, you’re going to be okay. And that doesn’t necessarily work. And I think the third thing that people in general, not just men, is you’re going to argue against the truth. And Byron Katie has a great book called Loving What is and in there, her whole premise is when you argue against the truth, you’re only going to lose 100% of the time. And that’s what I see men doing. So how you get around it is you need to have a structure or a foundation. I believe each man has their own innate wisdom that they can fall on and they can get themselves through this. They’re smarter than they think, they’re more capable than they think. They just need to become aware of the things that are missing and having different tools and strategies and a structure on which to build, and they’ll be okay. But not taking any steps, thinking that you can shoulder this transition yourself, is difficult. I’ve been a financial planner for over 20 years. I’ve had clients die. I’ve had clients get disabled. I would say a divorce is as difficult, if not more difficult, than some of those other major life events that occur. So we need to have support, and we need to support each other through this in the right way.
Jaime: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think people are surprised to learn that divorce takes a village and that you often need a team of professionals to help you through it. It’s not just your lawyer, it’s not just your coach, it’s not just your therapist. It’s not just your financial planner or your accountant. You need everybody to help you get through the divorce process, in my opinion.
Steven: Yeah, absolutely. What I would encourage men to do is sit back and look at your child, if you have children. One of my sons started JUULing. Right. A common thing. But when I found this out, I pulled together his mom and the school and the counselors, and we found other parents that had dealt with kids that were JUULing and got advice from them. And I surrounded my son with his whole and support network to make sure that his life is heading in the right direction. So why wouldn’t a man do that for himself when he’s going through this major transition? They’ll do it for their kids, but they won’t do it for themselves.
Jaime: Sounds like that’s. What they would have you for, is to help them look inward and make some of those changes that they need to make.
Jaime: If you could only give one piece of advice to someone going through a divorce, what would it be?
Steven: I think the one piece of advice is if there’s levels of unresolved contentiousness with your ex or there is high degrees of financial complexity, realize that these don’t necessarily work through the legal process efficiently. So it’s very important to pause. Pause. And if you have high contentiousness, that’s a symptom of you and your ex. Probably not fully understanding what your shared intentions are. I’ve worked with some couples in the past, and the first step that I’ll do is have them express to each other what their shared intentions are for themselves, for the other, and for their family. And oftentimes after they get through it, they see that they have the same shared intentions, but they haven’t had a platform to work that through. So ideally, it would be to pause and make sure that you’re approaching this the right way. When you jump right in with levels of contentiousness, things start to compound through the divorce process. They don’t start to go away.
Jaime: Yeah, I think that’s wonderful advice. Like folks say, if you don’t know what to do. Just don’t do anything. Take a minute and pause. I like that. If someone listening is interested in reaching out to you for coaching through their divorce, what is the best way for them to connect with you?
Steven: Probably through my web page. You can find me @www.youtreecoaching.com that’s youtreecoaching.com. Just go on the contact page. Send me a message.
Jaime: Okay? Thanks, Steve, for joining us.
Steven: All right. Thank you for having me, Jaime.
Jaime: Thank you all for listening. If you like this episode, be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcast so you don’t miss the next one. While this information is intended to provide you with general information to navigate divorce without destruction, this podcast is not legal advice. The information is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have any questions before taking action, consult an attorney who is licensed in your state. If you are in need of assistance in North Carolina, contact us @gaylorhunt by visiting divorcestuff.com. I’m Jaime Davis, and I’ll talk with you next time on A Year and A Day.