An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
You must choose being happy over being right. Getting divorced will throw up endless opportunities for conflict. Whether it’s finances, children or general communication, you could lose yourself in the need to be right and prove them wrong. When I decided that being happy was more important for my peace of mind, I learned to pick only the important battles with my ex-husband.
As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marissa Walter.
Marissa Walter is a therapist specializing in empathic breakup and divorce coaching which shifts your mindset as well as your emotions. Since 2011 she has been advocating self-love and personal growth as tools to heal from heartbreak. She is the founder of Break Up and Shine, a published author and the creator of the 30-day online program Stop Focusing On Your Ex. You can follow her in her free Facebook group and on Instagram.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in London and was quite a sensitive and introverted child, unsure of where I fitted into life. I always felt my future would involve sharing empathy and support but didn’t have a clue what that would look like. I found myself interested in psychology at school and then, in university, I was particularly drawn to studying therapy. Back then, I didn’t have the confidence or self-belief to pursue it as a career. It was 20 years later, as my life took a dramatic change, that it became my calling.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2010 my marriage ended in shock and devastation, when my husband left me to be with someone else. I was alone with three tiny children, and it was the lowest point of my life. I had to dig deep into my soul to turn things around. I began to share my healing journey through blogging and loved that my experience was inspiring others. This led me to eventually publish my book, Break Up and Shine, in 2017.
It dawned on me that what had been missing all those years ago at university, was the lived experience to deeply empathize as a therapist. I decided to train as a counselor to specifically focus on supporting challenging relationships and healing from breakup, and now I work with clients 1:1 as well as run a support group and an online course.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I originally thought that my path lay in couples’ therapy. I believed that the divorce lessons which I learned could help me to support couples, so that they did not get to the point of breakup. After qualifying as a counselor, I took additional training in couple therapy and I worked mainly in this area.
But it came with challenges and limitations, and I began to realize that my greatest strength lay in helping individuals rebuild their lives post-breakup. I had to accept that my path wasn’t in preventing the breakups but helping people rebuild themselves after a relationship ends. So, I listened to my inner voice and stopped the couples work to focus on breakup healing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Training in therapy is an uncomfortable growth process and brings up all your unhealed parts. Although it wasn’t funny at the time, I look back now and laugh at when I thought I was ready to train as a counselor but spent a whole weekend workshop sobbing through my own unprocessed grief over the divorce!
I decided it was way too soon to begin my career and left it another year. Once I’d let myself fully feel the emotions of the breakup, I could immerse myself in exploring and growing from it, while I learned to support others.
The biggest lesson I learned is that you can’t move forward while squashing down unexpressed emotion. The timescale will be different for everyone, it might be weeks, months or more. But if you don’t allow yourself to process the grief, you just delay your ability to grow and move on fully.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
One of my favourite inspirational quotes is: “Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have” by Rabbi Hyman Schachtel
I adopted a gratitude practice early on in my divorce healing journey and it changed my life. We don’t always get the circumstances we want in life, but I learned that it is possible to be grateful even for the setbacks, disruptions, and heartbreaks.
This quote was a tough lesson because it was saying that letting go meant not wishing for my situation to be different. But my life felt like a car crash and of course I wanted it to be different! However, little by little, daily acceptance crept in with a realization that somehow, for reasons I could not yet see, this divorce was happening for some higher good. I could choose to embrace it and want it. To this day, gratitude journaling is something I teach in my work because it is so powerful at shifting perspective.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My current online program Stop Focusing On Your Ex is all about the mindset and strategies needed to make yourself a priority after your relationship ends. However, I’m now working on a new course which teaches you to take the next steps in creating your future. It’s called Dreaming Big After Breakup and will focus on conceiving a vision for your life and the goal-setting steps to get there!
Many people find it hard to visualize a better life after divorce. Even if they have hopes and wishes, it’s normal to lack confidence that they will ever become a reality. In this new project I will be helping people to uncover futures which are so intuitively driven that they feel compelled to happen! There will also be practical strategies to ensure that you take action and that it doesn’t just stay a dream.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?
My divorce was the catalyst to move into my most fulfilled life, and this is what I teach to others going through breakup. In my experience you have to allow yourself to feel the loss; if you bury emotion or try to move too quickly into positive mindset work, you are heading for a setback. However, there comes a point where you are tired of your own cycle of pain. At this point you make a choice: continue to stay stuck and see it as the end of your happiness or find the opportunity in the loss.
My divorce allowed me to reassess who I had been my whole life. Doing the internal work meant I not only healed the wounds of the marriage, but other previous pain and patterns too. I was determined that this devastation should not have been for nothing. As well as creating a happier, healthier me, it also ensured that I was entering any future relationships as my best and most authentic self.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
I find that people are kept stuck by focusing too much on the things they cannot control and looking externally to get closure. This can include things like believing you need an apology or explanation from your ex to move on; becoming fixated on blame and being “right”; getting into rebound relationships to find happiness or filling your life with distractions to avoid the deeper healing work.
To prevent this and really move on in a healthy way, you need to stay focused on the things that are within your power. Even though you can’t control what has already happened, or may still be happening, you are in charge of your response to it. Focusing on self-awareness and personal growth is the key. Shifting how you respond to external circumstances becomes easier once you start to trust your deeper intuitive voice, instead of the anxious mind-chatter.
People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?
I believe the biggest positive to divorce is rediscovering who you are and what you are capable of. In most relationships we lose ourselves to a certain degree, more so in unhealthy or toxic ones. Divorce can be a chance to choose yourself, as well as relearn how healthy relationships look, and recognise that they start with genuine self-love.
There was point soon after the split when I realised that all my energy and time was focused on my ex-husband. I was spiraling about what he had done; the ways he was still behaving; how I could get him to understand my pain; the way his new relationship made me feel. On a particularly tough day, when I was drained and despairing from ruminating so much, I turned inwards and asked what was needed to get through this. I heard a voice which said very clearly “Save yourself!”.
I recognized that this voice was a deeper truth within me. The part that knew that my life was not over just because this marriage was. It was my job to save myself by rediscovering what my life was about, and making it count for something. Since then, I have experienced so many achievements, joys, lessons and relationships that I would never have discovered if I was still in that marriage.
Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?
My first advice is to be sure that meeting new people is what you want, not what you think you should be doing! It’s actually preferable to hold back from dating while you heal and learn to fully love yourself again. If you feel scared, then check in with yourself whether there is still healing to go through.
However, if you’re at a point where you know you are procrastinating because of scare stories, I would say go with an open mind and curiosity, rather than attachment and expectation.
If you enter the dating world from a place of great self-worth, you’ll most likely be self-aware enough to spot the potential horrors and avoid them before they happen. When you have done the healing and growth work, and a date goes badly, you will be in a good enough emotional place not to make it mean anything negative about you. It may even become a funny story one day!
What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?
People should always be open changing to how they choose to perceive what is happening. For me, the reframe from seeing a broken relationship as a devastating loss, to viewing it as an opportunity for a new life, was the ultimate turnaround.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Of course! I describe these as the “5 Inconvenient Truths” about moving on from divorce because they are often uncomfortable to get onboard with but will ultimately take you forward quickly and effectively.
- You must choose being happy over being right. Getting divorced will throw up endless opportunities for conflict. Whether it’s finances, children or general communication, you could lose yourself in the need to be right and prove them wrong. When I decided that being happy was more important for my peace of mind, I learned to pick only the important battles with my ex-husband.
- It’s your responsibility to heal even if the pain wasn’t your fault. You cannot expect the person who hurt you to make things OK. If I had waited for my ex-husband to apologize or make amends before I moved on, I would have remained stuck and in pain. Moving on is an inside job, and this feels so daunting or unfair in the beginning — especially if we didn’t cause the devastation. But when you do the work, you realize how strong you really are. This is empowering and unlike any emotional compensation you can receive from someone else.
- Your happiness was never dependent on someone else, and it won’t be in the future. We are led to believe that happiness comes from having a good relationship. I have learned that it’s the other way round. Good relationships come from people who are already taking responsibility for their own happiness. One of the greatest joys I get from client work is when people realize that they are completely enough on their own, and always have been. The marriage may have been an enormous part of your life, and it’s loss will leave a huge empty space, but it did not define your being and you are whole without a partner.
- You must learn to embrace change instead of fear it. Loss itself is not inherently bad or scary, it’s the way we view it that affects how we respond and cope. Reframing loss as opportunity is a powerful tool which, I admit, is not always easy. But when you step back from the narrow perspective of what is happening, you can see a bigger picture. It allows you to see hope that you cannot see from a fearful perspective.
- Time will only heal if you do something different within that time. I am an impatient person and when I used to hear the phrase “time heals a broken heart” it frustrated me so much because I just wanted to know “how long?”. The thought of waiting months or years to start moving on felt depressing.
Then I learned that true healing is not passively waiting for the pain to go. It means actively processing, learning and growing. If you really want to move on you must put the time to good use to create the future happiness. This means stopping certain behaviours, focusing on what is within your control and creating new healthy habits.
The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?
Get the right support. If you are fortunate enough to have family and friends who want to help, use them. If you don’t, there are endless resources online and professional support in the real world.
I would also add that it’s important to find support that uplifts you and helps you see possibility, rather than emotional support that reinforces how hard this is and keeps you stuck as a victim. It’s absolutely vital that we get our feelings honoured, but the best support will show you that you are capable of coming back stronger from this.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
“When Everything Changes, Change Everything” by Neale Donald Walsch. I mentioned before how about shifting the way you perceive change will be a huge turning point, and this was the book that showed me how! It is filled with deep truths about how we see life-changing events. I put the book down noticing something had permanently shifted in the way I felt and it’s one I recommend to people all the time.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire one movement it would be teaching self-love. It really is the foundation for moving on from a painful relationship breakup. Divorce can tap into all our worst fears or core beliefs that we are flawed or unlovable. All emotional healing starts with truly believing you are worthy of happiness.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I love women who teach you how to use the end of your marriage to find your authentic truth. Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle are two amazing examples of this, and I have loved reading their work. What I find interesting is that in both cases, these women were the ones who decided to leave the marriage, whereas I was the “abandoned party”. I would love to have a conversation about the differences and similarities that these endings bring up when it comes to moving on.
Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!
Marissa Walter of Break Up And Shine: 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After Divorce was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.