In this episode we speak with Terry Gaspard, therapist, college instructor and author of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship. She discusses the impact divorce has on your relationships, with children, coworkers, money and more. There’s a lot of great information in this episode you do not want to miss!
To learn more about Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, get her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship on Amazon. Be sure to check out her website movingpastdivorce.com to contact Terry and learn more about her services.
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This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Shawn: Today we have a very special guest. I have with me on the line Terry Gaspard; a therapist, college instructor, and the subject of today is she’s an author of the book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship. Terry, welcome to the show.
Terry: Thanks Shawn. I appreciate you asking me to be on.
Shawn: Let’s start with your own divorce story, and also weave in the daughter factor as well.
Terry: Sure. Well that’s fairly easy to do, because I grew up in a family with four girls. I have three sisters. We were all clustered pretty close in age. I’m from Los Angeles. Divorce, as you know, became quite popular in the late 1960s in California with the No Fault Divorce legislation. So my parents divorced when I was very young, and it was a conflictual divorce. I have to say we were split up a lot, my sisters and I, and as a result of that we didn’t have a lot of consistency with both of our parents. That was before co-parenting, and sharing time between homes, living in two homes was really popular. So back then in the 1970s you were either with one parent or the other parent. For me that often meant that I didn’t have access to all three of my sisters.
Then another thing that complicated our lives was that both of our parents got remarried fairly quickly. My dad married someone with a child. My mother married someone who didn’t have a child. She subsequently about two years later ended up getting another divorce. So when I say in my interviews, and in my book, divorce runs in my family, it runs in my family for that reason, but two of my sisters have been divorced, and my grandparents and great grandparents have also been divorced. Then my nephews have been divorced. My own children, fortunately…I have two grown kids, and one teenager, they have not been divorced. It does sometimes feel like divorce is wired into my body, and I’m going to recreate it in my own life. So that set the stage for a lot of the reasons why I wrote the book.
Shawn: Can you tell us also about your professional credentials. I know I mentioned that you were a therapist, and also a college instructor, but why don’t you give us your professional background.
Terry: Sure. I went to college in California when I was young, and originally wanted to be a teacher, so I studied that. Then I realized I was really interested in psychology, so I studied psychology, majored in that, and became a licensed clinical social worker. I have really focused my practice on working with women, because so many of the women I work with have low self esteem, and they have trust issues. I also work with families, I work with children, I do work with some men, and they do like to read my blog. I came around to specializing in divorce because I was always going back, and researching it. I have also been a college teacher all along. So as a college professor interested in research, having access to a lot of subjects, found I was always studying divorce. So I started researching divorce in the 1990s, and then put it aside. I had some publications, I felt like I had studied a lot, and then put it aside for a while. I got a divorce myself, ended up getting remarried. Then I went back and did this huge study of over 300 daughters of divorce, which led to the publication of the resource book fairly recently.
Shawn: That brings up a nice segue, which is Daughters of Divorce isn’t just a personal story by any means, it’s actually rooted in science. Is that correct?
Terry: Definitely. I studied with a great author and research Judith Wallerstein. I had a conversation with her before she died. I’ve really learned a lot from researchers, such as Eden Maybeth Hetherington from the University of Virginia. So I’ve always been one to delve into research, see what studies have been done. All of my studies were done in the college setting, they were all supported by the college, and also Rhode Island College, where I got my master’s degree, so they were deemed to be reliable, valid studies. The last one that I did was a very in depth look with extensive interviews of all the women who identified as being daughters of divorce, because their parents had gone through that, and they weren’t all negative stories.
So what we did was, my daughter and I wrote the book with a lot of the issues in mind. Each chapter describes a key theme, and how to work through it so that they can move beyond the past, and have successful relationships of their own. The book is filled with research, but it’s also filled with poignant stories, which tell you about how the women have coped with the different themes, like the father daughter relationship, difficulty with being vulnerable, dealing with money, dealing with intimacy, and how they’ve gone on to use certain steps to feel more confident in terms of romantic relationships. So it’s definitely a self help relationship book with a research background to it.
Shawn: You mentioned something important in that answer, in that you go through both the positive and the negative aspects, negative meaning the way that a lot of people might react, or replicate some of the trauma in their relationships. Positive in the sense that there are lots of helpful tips and information you provide to help overcome those past experiences. I want to dig into some of those in a little bit more depth. Let’s start with something you mentioned about vulnerability. Why don’t you tell us how divorce can have that impact, and maybe some practical advice as to how you can get past that.
Terry: Vulnerability is really related to trust, and they go hand in hand. So when you trust someone, when you feel that you can count on them, Shawn, and they’re going to be there for you, and not abandon you, you’re more likely to be vulnerable and open with them about your thoughts, your feelings, your wishes, maybe concerns you have. How the money is being spent, that’s an issue that has been a big theme in my life. So you trust someone, you share certain things, and you hopefully don’t fear that they’re going to leave you as a result of you being open and honest with them. That’s where vulnerability and trust goes hand in hand.
But because so many of us, including myself, have had to deal with feeling mistrustful that our relationships were long standing, and going to endure the test of time, regardless of any mistakes that we made, or problems that we had, we tend to hold back. We tend to go inside of ourselves, and internalize a lot of our thoughts and feelings. Then we don’t communicate them that well, and along with that comes the feeling that the other person doesn’t care about me, they’re not there for me. That mistrust plays itself out in a lot of ways where many women actually might even leave a relationship, that’s what happened in my own family, it has happened to a lot of the people that I know.
Women now are actually getting divorced more so than men. 2/3 of divorces are initiated by women. Daughters of divorce are twice as likely to get a divorce than their counterparts who aren’t from divorced homes. So this feeling of I can’t be vulnerable, I can’t trust you, you walk on eggshells. Then it’s a weird mix where you don’t really share things that are important to you, but then sometimes you might blame the other person, and mistrust them. So it creates a lack of intimacy. So I talk a lot in the book about how being vulnerable, and learning to trust yourself, your own judgment is important. Obviously if you pick a partner who you can’t trust, if they’re not consistent, then that’s not going to work for you from the beginning.
But assuming you are in a relationship with someone who is trustworthy, why not work on extending trust, and being vulnerable with them, and sharing things. If you overspent when you went shopping, or you forgot to pay a bill, or you have anxiety about certain things. Maybe you’re fearful that they’re having conversations with one of the women that they work with, or you overhear them on the phone talking to someone, all those things that come up in day to day life. Those, when they’re shared appropriately without a lot of fear and suspicion, those can typically be worked through. But the problem with a lot of women that I’ve worked with, and this has happened in my own life, we bring it to a heightened degree, and it becomes very intense. Then it’s hard to rebound from that, and come back, and feel comfortable with your partner.
Shawn: You’ve mentioned your relationship briefly with money. There’s a chapter in the book on self reliance, and how that can be both a good and a bad thing. Do you mind telling us a little bit more, both your experience that still applies today, and also what your research has shown you?
Terry: That’s great. My research has shown that many individuals are raised in divorced homes, not just women. I’ll tell you the spin that often women have on it. But individuals raised in divorced homes almost become caretakers, and controlling about money at times, because we were in the position of being what’s referred to as little adults. We grew up fast, and maybe worried too much about who was going to pay the rent, how was money going to be handled. There was perhaps some chaos and stress. In my case, my parents are both deceased by the way, so I’m comfortable saying, that and my sisters have read the book, that they didn’t get along when it came along to money. So a lot of their arguments were about money. Then after the divorce there was a lot of disagreement about child support, and how that was all going to play out.
So I get very anxious about money, and I tend to store money away, but not really be very honest and forthcoming about it. I want to have a lot of control over the checkbook. That’s not really a very good way to build intimacy in a relationship, because I’m not likely to share with my partner how I want to spend money, or talk to him about planning for the future. Those types of interactions are pretty typical for a lot of couples, but for myself I have to really work on sharing, being able to talk about how we spend our money, and not be filled with a lot of concern and worry. It’s not about my money versus his money, that’s how it plays itself out for me. It’s really how we can discuss, and share our resources in a way that really benefits our family, so we can do things like plan nice vacations.
Because my first response when my husband says, do you want to go on vacation? No, we can’t do that, we don’t have the money. He’ll just look at me really perplexed. What do you mean we don’t have the money? I thought we were putting money away in a joint account for those kind of expenses. So I have anxiety about money, but I think it’s because I had too much worry about it as I was growing up. I have actually encountered that with many of the individuals, not just women, but women and men, that they had concerns about money, and how things were going to be paid for. Money, as well are aware of, is a big area of conflict for couples anyway. It’s a hard thing to talk about. But given the backgrounds that I mentioned it makes it even more difficult. So I always get back Shawn, to awareness.
Shawn: Terry, you mentioned something, that you worry a lot about money, but at the same time you’re very protective of it. It sounds like you’re self reliant, but not necessarily self confident.
Terry: Exactly. Self reliant to a fault. It’s a double edged sword, that’s the way we describe it in that chapter. You would see me multitasking, if I tell you all the things that I do during the day, going between my college classes, and my therapy sessions, and my grocery shopping, whatever. You would probably think, as some people do, wow, she really accomplishes a lot. Multitasking is something that a lot of women do well, and I think I do it very well because I started doing it when I was quite young. My mom had to work two jobs, and there was a lot of that going on, so I was alone a lot, and managed a lot. But I don’t feel it’s an asset in all situations. It’s good that I can get a lot accomplished, that I can perform all these things, and handle a lot of tasks, but it’s not good that I don’t feel I can be interdependent on my husband.
In the past other relationships have really failed because of that. Sharing that vulnerability, that trust. Knowing that if I give this information to someone I’m going to feel confident in myself, and in them. So I’m overconfident in some ways, that I can handle things on my own, which can lead some women to go. That’s why we tend to get a divorce more often, because when things get difficult we tend to think well I don’t need my partner, I don’t need my husband, I can do this on my own. I’ve done it before, I’m very independent. That attitude, that ultra self reliance can lead a person to give up on love too quickly, and throw in the towel so fast that they don’t even slow down to see, this isn’t an issue that’s really worth ending the relationship over, if you’re following me.
Shawn: Can you transition a little bit to how divorce can impact relationships in the workplace? I don’t mean romantic ones, I mean in a professional sense.
Terry: Sometimes trust issues, frankly, are just that. If you have trust issues you might at times mistrust some of your colleagues, and coworkers. So you have to be aware that certain situations are going to make you more vulnerable, certain people, certain things that you’ll come up against. For instance, it could be you’re a daughter of divorce, and your boss has some resemblance to your father who left when you were young. So you’re very fearful that they’re not going to accept you, and that you’re not doing a good job. So it might make you a little non assertive, you perhaps don’t speak your mind, or feel confident.
In my case, because if you read my book you’ll see that my mom was the one that initially left, I actually have the reverse. When I have a supervisor or a coworker who is a woman, and in some ways reminds me of my past I can become less confident, and feel to threatened, and stressed out by that relationship. So what I’m really learning to do, and I teach other people to do, is a lot of mindfulness. Step back, be aware of those feelings. Are they from the past, or the present? Instead of jumping to conclusions, and assuming that person wants the worst for you, and is trying to catch you doing something wrong. Don’t shoot that email back right away. Don’t send that text message when you’re feeling a little threatened. Stop, pause, reflect, and maybe even think about it for a few hours, or overnight, and get a better perspective on it. Unless that person has really given you reason not to trust them then maybe you’re reacting from some old baggage.
Shawn: Let’s flip the script a little bit. You talk about in the book how if you understand the context of divorce that it can be a positive thing. Can you tell us a little bit about how being a daughter of divorce so to speak can be beneficial to your relationships, and your life in general?
Terry: Well you know about the fragility of love, and you value it. You often put a high value on it, and you have a sacred place for love in your own life. You really want to have a very close, intimate relationship, kind of to find the love that you lost. So you’re very sincere. You can take it hard sometimes when things don’t work out. But you have a lot to give, you have a lot of insight. You may have ideals about, okay, this is how I want things to be. I want to have a good relationship, or perhaps a good marriage. Most people do want to get married, eventually. They don’t all do that, but…
So with your eyes wide open you can go into a situation and try to recreate a different kind of relationship than the one you grew up with, and be more aware of some of the red flags of people that you know are not going to be a good match. Just a quick example, my parents were complete opposites, personality wise, what their interests were. It took me a while to figure out that I was reenacting that. I was dating, and my first husband and I were complete opposites. I say that in the book, and he would say that too. There’s nothing wrong with that, we’re just very different in the way we see the world, our interests. So what I came to learn through analyzing, and going back, and looking at my own parents, and their marriage and divorce was I don’t need to recreate that.
So my husband, we’ve been married for 19 years, we actually enjoy doing a lot of the same things together, and we have similar values and beliefs about things. So I do recommend…In fact, one of the first steps in the book is to go back and take a look at the past, use it as the way to screen out potential partners, and certainly someone that if you’re thinking about getting married. So you’re not just reacting by instincts, and intuition, because sometimes that will fail us, but you’re being a little bit more practical about love. I hope that answers some of your questions.
Shawn: Most certainly. So for the people who want to learn a little bit more about you, your work, obviously the book, what’s the best place for people to contact you?
Terry: Well I have a website, and it’s movingpastdivorce.com. On that website there are three blogs, and a lot of blogs interact with each other, and they read them to give them information on a variety of topics related to divorce, including what we’ve talked about today. They can leave a message for me if they want. I have coaching available on there if they want to sign up for that through Skype, or through voice coaching. I also am very active on Twitter @movepastdivorce. I post a lot of articles, and different inspirational quotes, things like that. Then the other way they can reach me, which is very popular for a lot of people who like Facebook, is Moving Past Divorce has a Facebook page, and there they can obviously get access to a lot more information.
Shawn: That’s great. So you’re still working with people one on one in addition to your research.
Terry: Yes. I do see some clients, and I do a lot of coaching. Not a lot, I take on a certain amount of coaching, especially in the summer when I’m not teaching. So during the school year I’m a little busier with classes and stuff, I don’t do as much. But I’m also in the process of writing my second book.
Shawn: Excellent. Well we look forward to reading that when it comes out. In the meantime we’ll be certain to get Daughters of Divorce: Overcoming the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup, and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship. Terry, thank you so much for joining us, and sharing so much about your story.
Terry: You’re welcome. Thanks Shawn.