Interview with Gabrielle Hartley
Author of Better Apart: The Radically Positive Way to Separate
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gabrielle Hartley for this interview.
Gabrielle Hartley Esq. is a leading divorce attorney, mediator, coach, author and speaker. Her new book, Better Apart; The Radically Positive Way to Separate (Harper Collins) is the first book of its kind to combine the life changing, healing wisdom of mindfulness, meditation and yoga with practical advice and legal wisdom to get the reader through and beyond the divorce. Better Apart was named “the conscious uncoupling how-to” by People Magazine. She has also been featured throughout media channels including The New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, The New York Post, Yoga Journal, Mind Body Green, The Hampshire Gazette, The Brian Lehrer Show. She is a regular guest featured on local television and radio as well as dozens of podcasts around the world.
Transcript with Gabrielle Hartley
So today I'm here with Gabrielle Hartley, a leading divorce attorney, mediator, coach, author and speaker. She's published the book Better Apart, the radically positive way to separate, it's the first book of its kind to combine life changing, healing wisdom of mindfulness, meditation and yoga with practical advice and legal wisdom to get the reader through and beyond divorce. Gabrielle, thank you so much for being here today. I am so excited to be interviewing you and talking to you.
I'm so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Absolutely. So I would first just want to start a with a little bit about your background in law because you have a really unique story. Listeners, you got to get ready cause this woman is full of energy. So take a deep breath and sit down and prepare yourself for the next little bit of time with Gabrielle here. If you can start with your background in law and then just tell us a little bit about your progress, where you've been, what you do now, and give us that whole snapshot that'd be awesome.
Sure. So, my background in law, I went to Cornell university and then to Brooklyn law school and having grown up with divorced parents and having experienced force from the kid's perspective, although my parents divorce was really a very good one and a very peaceful one. I was pretty much done with the whole topic of divorce. And so then in law school I decided to take a family law's med one pastel class because I'm just sort of finished the topic. But what happened was I realized that I loved it and I was really into it. And then I shortly after school, I started to work for Judge Jeffrey Sunshine in New York City where I resolved hundreds and hundreds of trial awaiting divorces. Our system is good but it's still, a very adversarial system and it's really not appropriate for families. After working there I just decided it was time for a positive divorce movement. I created the Better Apart method and I wrote Better Apart the radically positive way to separate which Gwyneth Paltrow endorsed and People Magazine called the conscious uncoupling how to book. And so I'm really grateful. It's been an incredible seven months since the book launch and here we are.
That's amazing. Congratulations.
Thank you so much.
What was that moment like when you found out that she endorsed it and when you were getting all this media spot and attention?
Um, you know, to be honest, I didn't really feel like anything. I mean I just really want, it felt like I was starting to felt like it'd be like the beginning of traction, but it wasn't like the magical sensation that I imagined it would feel like. It did give me hope that people would start to listen and start to be attracted to the concept of a positive divorce movement and the better apart method. Um, but it wasn't like, um, I don't know. It just, it just didn't feel like how I imagined different feel. I don't know if that makes sense, Shannon.
Yeah, I think knowing you the way that I do it probably was your opportunity to feel like, okay, now the world's going to see what I've been seeing. And so it wasn't about you, it was about your service to the positive divorce movement in general.
Yeah. Yeah. And it's, and it's, um, it takes a real ego system of people really energetically moving the message forward in a positive direction. So I do lots of work with professionals and with, you know, lawyers and mediators and divorce coaches and life coaches. And I worked once a one with people and I have an online program, all this stuff. But then there's also other companies that, you know, I like to partner with who do all, who are bringing all kinds of great resources. Like there's co-parenting apps, like there's something called FAYR, which is, fully accountable for your family. That's an amazing co-parenting app to help organize, schedules and that sort of thing and communication. And so what's started to happen is there's bit of a snowball and we are starting to be at more and more events around the country speaking to groups of people going through difficult divorces and speaking to professionals who are working with these people and leading workshops and doing all kinds of things to just bring greater permission for the end user and giving the young lawyers permission to just do things in a different way, to be more innovative and creative in how they approach their family's separation.
Okay. So that's an interesting transition into my next thought. Given all of your expertise and knowledge, I feel like you are a real shining light in this space because you’ve had the litigation experience, you've had the personal experience, you've had hundreds and hundreds of cases that you settled and been involved in. And you're also not the typical lawyer who's going to be unemotional or detached from the people who are moving through one of most life's, most difficult events. So you kind of are the total package in this. Given all of your experience and your knowledge, what are the top three things you would say if you were just on the world stage about the topic of divorce, what messages would you want people to know and hear?
Okay, so one message, and these are, I'm thinking of them as I'm saying this, they're not going to be in any particular order, but one message is that just remember if you are feeling stigmatized or full of shame or barest or something, just remember that everybody, every single human being has things in their lives that are not perfect. Some of our things are more obvious to the naked eye and some of that are hidden and we all have been. So just know that you are not alone and that you are going to be okay. And that divorce, and I guess that's message one, write that like that. We all have things that can be improved upon and be better. I just remember that just because your thing is no, and by the way, remember divorce is still, so I'm viewed with shame because it's a fairly new concept.
People stayed married. Women didn't have rights. The whole concept of divorce as we know today is quite new. Okay. So that's number one. Number two, I would want people to know that divorce can be really viewed as a happy circumstance. Because if your relationship was good and it was serving you and your partner, you would probably have stayed married even if you're not the one who chose to leave. Right? Like why would you want to spend your life with someone who doesn't want to be with, who doesn't appreciate you? It doesn't make sense. So divorce is actually, if you can get past / when you can get past all those negative, horrible grieving feelings, which by the way, you need to allow yourself to feel.
But then after you get through all of that your divorce can actually be an opportunity to meaningfully and powerfully reframe your life. I'm going to say that again. Divorce definitely does not feel like an opportunity when it's happening. Not to most people at least, but, actually, you know, that expression - what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger? There's a reason that that's an expression of something, you know, you might say, “Oh, I didn't need to go through that. I was showing up” And believe me, I totally get that feeling. But there's, truth to it and that's why it's an expression. And so, maybe there were certain things you did in your first marriage. Maybe there was a dynamic where you were always in the one down position and you were complicit in that. Maybe you’re married to someone who travels a lot for work and you know, then h’e’s ( let's just say he) wasn’t home, I don't need to be gendered, it’s just an example. He was training for a marathon, going fishing or hunting or going out to the bars with his friends or whatever. He liked to do stuff at home with the kids doing all the chores. And then when you take a step back, like did you need to be, what would have happened if you had decided to take the power back within yourself? In the context as you move forward in your next relationship, you can step into your own power from the outset. So it's an opportunity.
Yeah. I was actually just speaking with a client this morning about that exact thing and it's such a time of transition because we can't go from this devastating life event no matter what the cause was or who, who was the person who ultimately pushed the button to this newly created life where we're fulfilled and happy. There's this gap in between. And what I love about what you said is we all need to go through it. We will all get to the other side. We will all be okay. You know, this is not going to kill us. However, it is an opportunity to do the work that's required to create, intentionally create a life that you love and desire. And so it is an opportunity to do just that. But I think it's so important to remind each other of that, to remind our clients about, to remind the people who are going to the divorce, um, to be the light of possibility and to show them there is a path that they can intentionally choose to go down. They don't need to stay stuck where they are.
I love that. What you just said, the light of possibility. I absolutely love that. And so the third part actually dovetails onto that, which is that you should sort of take a step back and recognize that while you and your spouse may have been a horrible couple, you may, and I'm not saying everybody will, but you may actually be better apart, meaning not to feel better, but you may be able to, if you have children, co-parent better when you're no longer with each other. Because sometimes of course there's a set of people who are married to incredibly selfish, if not narcissistic people. Some people, um, you know, just fight too much and then, and then there's people that just decide to split because they don't have good chemistry. I mean there's so many reasons we in America are all getting married because we want to feel in love, right?
But that tends to be the prevailing reason but actually are so many other reasons that people come together. And so when we separate, there's also so many reasons people part and what I want to do is meaningfully give permission from my vantage point that you can be okay. You can be better than okay. You can be your best self. In fact, I co-organized an event earlier in the spring in Los Angeles called The Best You Ever divorced retreat. And it was, it was a magical day because it was all focused on the individual on you. And actually my masterclass, which is a six weeks self paced class that you can get at, GabrielleHartley.com. It's all about you. We connecting with you through the lens of patience, respect, peace, clarity and forgiveness, forgiveness. And it's all about you getting more than live with your inner foundations. And so like for instance, like so patients like what does patients mean? It means like when you're going through the divorce process, there are so many things that you have to wait for your permission to judge. You have to wait for the law, you have to wait for your kids to catch up. You have to maybe be patient with a therapist who doesn't see your perspective. I mean, I could go on for like three hours about everything.
And so how do you develop patience, right? If I am the least patient human being, right? And so that's why I made the first step. It's not like it's the first step for everybody, but for me, I mean I get stuck in that step right now. It's just about really taking a few deep breaths before reacting. It's about learning to respond. Then we can tap into that light of possibility.
Absolutely. And I love how number three is actually tied back to number two because I do hear from clients so many times when they're further down the road - well, we're actually doing a phenomenal job co-parenting, we're friends now, or this is easier, or we're getting along and they circle back to number two like…well, why are we even divorced in the first place? And it's important to I think, hold your ground because I see this path as stepping stones. And so we make progress and we move from one stone to the next. It's important to focus on that next stone in front of us and not be constantly looking back because that's where we lose our traction. Let me take a step back, then we're recalculating something that we've already made a decision on. And we made that decision in the time in place based on who we were, who the other person was. The filters perspective, circumstances we are dealing with. And now when we take a new step forward, we're actually not the same person anymore. We're constantly changing, growing stronger, developing new characteristics. And so when we look back six months, a year previous, surely make a different decision because we're a different person now. The circumstances different. So I think it's important to hold the ground of progress that we're making.
That's right. And, and, and I also just want to highlight there, there's a set of people, ( I'm thinking of litigators) actually like divorce lawyers and those of you who are listening who don't know what I mean, when I say litigator, I mean like people who go to court every day and fight, right? Not people who help you work it out. They, when they're introduced to the concept of Better Apart and the methodology, they say, Oh, well, you know, they don't believe in mediation. What I would say is, you know what? Whereas I may think that resolution and mediation is appropriate for collaborative law is appropriate for, you know, 95% of all people there. There's a big set of people who are, because the other 5% is definitely sizable. Like the methodology, of Better Apart is all about you dealing with yourself regardless of how difficult your ex may be.
Right? That you are feeling that the sense of trap, like the sense of nobody understands how I feel because this person is so freaking impossible for me to deal with. Right? Like you, you feel trapped, you feel like beholden and then you, and then you might keep you feel guilty like, Oh, well they're my kids' mother, my kid's father. And you know, and there's so much deep work to be done and to Shannon's point, the more you can get in touch with, you know why you did this, then it will help you move yourself forward.
Yeah, absolutely. So that's actually a great transition into, the impacts that coaching can have. Obviously therapy has its role in divorce. The litigators have a role, mediators have a role, forensic accountants have a role. What do you see as the role and impact of coaching in the process?
I wish that all lawyers would understand how useful. There are different types of coaches - you need to find a coach to your personal needs, right? A coach can help you stay on track in a very concrete way and keep you moving forward and making better decisions. For instance, you do divorce coaching, and I so do I, but we're switching from the kind of coaching we do. I imagine while there's obviously overlap there some differences in it, right? Like you're probably not going to call your clients lawyer and you know, and explain all the legal intricacies to the client, right? And I may not do the same sort of emotional hand-holding that you are. It’s completely separately from the legal process, right? It all depends on what you need. There's something called The Divorce Concierge who does everything such as organizes your movers and she'll put your match.com profile up for you.
I mean, we all have our own personalities and our own strengths. We coaches. And when you find a coach, there's coaches that specialize just in narcissists. There's just a wide variety of coaches and you need to find the coach who's style works for you and whose packages work for you. And I would not worry too much about bringing a coach into the legal process. The one thing I would say, um, for people who are thinking about hiring a coach, make sure that your coach has a lot of experience with the legal process or has a law firm that they consult with regularly. Because from my perspective as a divorce lawyer, um, there are coaches who unfortunately give information that does not help their legal case. So that's a complexity. And I think that that's part of the reason why lawyers often shy away from bringing coaches in short.
That makes complete sense. I feel like it's similar to a medical diagnosis. If it’s cancer you're going to have your oncologist, you're going to have your surgeon, you're going to have your chemo team, you're going to have your radiation team, and then you need your support system of family and friends and caretakers. But you're not going to your radiologist for the surgery; everybody has their area of expertise. And it's important to know that and to draw upon the correct professional with the question or issue at hand.
Exactly. I think that the other thing is I wouldn't be afraid to move from one type of a divorce coach, just like you may move from one specialist to another. Oftentimes like I'm on a case for the first three to six months and then the person still needs coaching to move forward, but they don’t need the same level of intensity. They might transition to a different kind of divorce coach more on the ground stuff or more just emotional stuff. You don't really want to use your law firm to bounce a lot of things off of because you're getting too much information from the same place. It's good to have a little bit of distance between the firm was handling your case. The person who's sort of giving the second eye to what the firm is saying.
It's basically getting a second opinion. Really valuable insight and information. Thank you for sharing all of that. What would you say to the women specifically who are in the thick of it right now?
First of all I’d tell everybody, just go on Amazon and grab a copy of Better Apart because it really is going to take you through the five steps to make you feel better. It has accessible tools for you and your family, it really lays out things that can make you feel better. But for right now, I would just tell them that you need to grieve. You need to go through the steps of the grief process and know that you're going to come out on the other end and feel better. One quick little handy trick beyond the breathing that I like to share is if you find that you're feeling really reactive, often a great way to slow yourself down is to create a mantra for yourself that you repeat throughout the day.
Write it down, put it maybe you know, in the mirror where you brush your teeth or on your bathroom, a new bed stand or somewhere that you're gonna see and repeat it even when you're calm. So that way when you're feeling triggered, it's going to be easier to access and you can be a bit more responsive in how you reply to things. So for instance, I like to say “I am really, really calm”. I say that to myself all day long. I practice yoga four or five days a week. And during the practice that's sort of my ongoing mantra and the reason that I use that mantra is because I'm not calm at all. So “I am really calm”. So that that way when something happened like that is annoying or personally to me, I say, “Oh, I’m really calm.” It serves as a reminder. Just try to be kind to yourself. Take your days if not a day at a time, an hour at a time. It's not an hour at a time or moments at a time and carve out even if you feel like total crap right now, be militant about carving out a couple of minutes a couple of times a day where you do something that makes you feel good.
I love that advice because I feel like the women listening right now are like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Easier said than done cause I got a thousand things to do with this divorce and I get that you've experienced people going through that. I've experienced it personally but I will completely agree with you. It is the most critical and important thing we can do. In the myriad of the chaos that's going on, putting ourselves first is not selfish. That's right.
In fact, putting yourself first can be the most selfless thing you do to radically empower, fully move yourself and your family forward.
100% couldn't have said it better myself. When you just touched upon the book, I just was curious what empowered you to write the book? Where did that come from? That spark inside?
You know, I have to say it was really a deep feeling inside of myself. I spent, I'm going to say probably two or three years writing where I kept pulling articles, right? So I was writing these sort of essays and then I was never sending them out because I just felt like if I just send out an article to this magazine and that magazine, it's like not really gonna have impact. And I just was sort of patient, which was not easy with myself to figure out like the best way to bring us all forward. And over time it just shaped and became a book. So, then I started to send out proposals to agents and it was pretty funny because my whole thing was about bringing in meditation, yoga and mindfulness and divorce. And if I tell you, I mean now at it sounds like obviously a lot of people were like, I don't really understand what one has anything to do with the other. I did find an agent (who really understood the concept) at Harper Collins is subsidiary Harper. She bought it and the rest is history and it's been amazing. We've gotten great coverage in the New York times, the New York post compared Better Apart to Marie Kondo's tidying up. And you know, when I read that I said to myself, well, I'm not sure that breaking up is actually joy, but I could totally be on the launch pad to the rest of your beautiful life.
Absolutely. I mean for myself, I was this full of life, spark doing all this stuff and then, you know, took on professional roles, got married, had kids, and you get these layers upon you, it's like an onion and that light goes dull for a little bit. And we do it because we love someone and we love our families and we have gifts we want to give to the world professionally. But until we really get back in touch with that true bit of ourselves and do the things that activate what we value in our life, that like light is dim. Sometimes divorce can be that trigger that splits that onion back open again. And we're like, Oh my gosh I have all of this spark and light and energy inside me and I just lost touch with it. So to your point, it can be this silver lining - This is who I am. This is what I value in life and this is how I want to live it out.
That's right. And even if you feel like you're doing everything you want to do, you might still feel that shame. Getting back to that first thing, I really feel strongly, I grew up with divorced parents. Like I really never liked it when people referred to my home as broken. It's not broken. Words have power and we need our children to feel whole. And how can you feel whole if you come from something that's broken? Right? So, you know, it's important that we feel whole because we can pass that down. It's like many people in our generation, like their parents' parents. Okay. So like our grandparents, those of them who were born in the United States, many of them were born around the time or lived through the great depression. And so many of our parents were raised by people who experienced the depression.
So there's this great sort of scarcity mentality that gets passed down. Intergenerationally it's the same thing. Why, you know, the whole divorce, the idea of feeling stigmatized, but then also, oftentimes it's a pattern that repeats itself. So it's a whole conversation shift. It has to start to happen so that we can engage in our lives. I feel good about where we are right now. Stop self-flagellating and let go of our bitterness, resentment, rage. I grew this, my whole section on forgiveness is about the concept of holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
And like why would we want to do that? Because it's still, it's only hurting us. We want forgiveness. Frees us. It's not about them. It's about you.
Correct. Right. And what I love about all of is - it is a choice.
It's within everyone's power to get to that place mentally where they're able to make that choice and then take action upon it.
Okay. So we’re getting towards the end of the interview. I don't want to take too much of your time. So just to wrap up, if we could make one thing different about the divorce process, what would that be and how can we collectively work towards that?
Oh my gosh, that's a very big question. How can we make the process better? By getting really clear about what we want and what we need. Step away from the blame and engage with our active inner visionary. So when we start putting more energy in what we want and what we can do and take more energy out of what should have been, what the other person is failing to do, we have power within ourselves. We have agency that we found while we can do is start acting upon it or agency by by harnessing it and by creating clear visions to bring them forward. And what we can do is talk about it and be positive and don't gossip about your acts and don't say negative things. I don't mean you have to hold in everything and never talk to a confidant. Obviously you're human and you need to feel your feelings and share your feelings with someone. But the more positivity that we can spread, and I'm not talking about fake positivity, I mean real essential your essence. When I say essential positivity because we can be honest and kind. I talk about peace, noticing the neutral, and using that I'm noticing the sense of feeling of good enough and moving forward from there. That's the way you start to usher in a sense of deep compassion, positivity and emotional freedom.
Wow. Powerful words and a powerful message. That's amazing.
Is there anything else you want to share or say?
I just would love to invite your listeners to come and visit email@example.com Take a look at the masterclass and send a message to me. If you have any questions whatsoever about your divorce process or how I can be of help to you.
Perfect. Thank you so much Gabrielle. It’s such a pleasure to spend time with you. Like I said, I feel like you are a positive light in a space that's a very difficult time for most people. I just love the energy and the positivity that you bring to this topic, to this positive divorce movement that you're creating. It was a real pleasure to spend the time with you, so thank you.
Thank you so much. A pleasure to get to spend time with you as well.